Halsey graduated in 1904 from the Naval Academy with several athletic honors, and he spent his early service years in battleships and torpedo boats. The United States Navy was expanding at that time, and the Navy was short on officers; Halsey was one of the few who were promoted directly from Ensign to full Lieutenant, skipping the rank of Lieutenant (junior grade). Torpedoes and torpedo boats became specialties of his, and he commanded the First Group of the Atlantic Fleet's Torpedo Flotilla in 1912 through 1913, and also several torpedo boats and destroyers during the 1910s and 1920s. Lieutenant Commander Halsey's World War I service, including command of USS Shaw in 1918, was sufficiently distinguished to earn a Navy Cross (which was not a medal for life & death valor, as it later became).
Beached by a very severe attack of psoriasis just before the Battle of Midway, he lent his chief of staff, Captain Miles Browning, to his hand-picked successor, Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance, who, under the overall command of Vice Admiral Fletcher, and despite difficulties from Browning, led the American carrier forces to a victory against the Japanese Combined Fleet.
Halsey took command in the South Pacific Area in mid-October 1942, at a critical stage of the Guadalcanal Campaign. After Guadalcanal was secured in February 1943, Admiral Halsey's forces spent the rest of the year battling up the Solomon Islands Chain to Bougainville, then isolated the Japanese fortress at Rabaul by capturing positions in the Bismarck Archipelago.
Admiral Halsey left the South Pacific in May 1944, as the war surged toward the Philippines and Japan. From September 1944 to January 1945, he led the U.S. Third Fleet during campaigns to take the Palaus, Leyte and Luzon, and on many raids on Japanese bases, including on the shores of Formosa, China, and Vietnam.
In October 1944, amphibious forces of the U.S. Seventh Fleet carried out major landings on the island of Leyte in the Central Philippines. Halsey's Third Fleet was assigned to cover and support Seventh Fleet operations around Leyte. In response to the invasion, the Japanese launched a vast operation (known as 'Sho-Go') involving almost all their surviving fleet, and aimed at destroying the invasion shipping in Leyte Gulf. A force built around a relatively weak group of Japanese aircraft carriers (Admiral Ozawa's 'Northern Force') was meant to lure the covering U.S. forces away from the Gulf while two other forces (the 'Southern' and 'Center' Forces) built around a total of 7 battleships and 16 cruisers broke through to the beachhead and attacked the invasion shipping. This operation was to bring about the Battle for Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle of the Second World War and, by some criteria, the largest naval battle in history.
The Center Force commanded by Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita was located and attacked by American picket submarines on 23 October, and on 24 October, in the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, Third Fleet's aircraft attacked it, sinking the giant battleship Musashi and damaging other ships. Kurita turned westwards, towards his base, but later reversed course and headed again for San Bernardino Strait through which he intended to pass to reach Leyte Gulf. By this stage, the carriers of Ozawa's decoy Northern Force had been located by Halsey's aircraft. Halsey made the momentous decision to take all his available strength northwards on the night of 24–25 October to strike the Japanese carrier force on the following morning. He resolved to leave San Bernadino Strait entirely unguarded. As C. Vann Woodward wrote, "not so much as a picket destroyer was left."
Halsey had swallowed the bait. He also failed to advise Admiral Kinkaid and Seventh Fleet of his decision. However, the Seventh Fleet intercepted an organizational message from Halsey to his own task group commanders, which led Kinkaid and his staff to believe that Halsey was taking his three available carrier groups northwards, but would be leaving Task Force 34 — a powerful battleship & cruiser force — guarding San Bernardino Strait.
Despite ominous aerial reconnaissance reports on the night of 24–25 October, Halsey continued to assume that the approaching Japanese Center Force had been neutralized, and he continued to take his entire available strength northwards, away from San Bernadino Strait and Leyte Gulf.
As a result, when Kurita's powerful Center Force emerged from San Bernadino on the morning of the 25 October, they found not one Allied ship to oppose them. Advancing down the coast of the island of Samar towards their objective — the invasion shipping in Leyte Gulf — they took Seventh Fleet's escort carriers and their screening ships entirely by surprise. In the desperate and unequal Battle off Samar which followed, Kurita's ships destroyed one of the small escort carriers and three ships of the carriers' screen, and damaged many USN ships, but the heroic resistance of the escort carrier groups took a heavy toll on Kurita's ships, and his nerves. He decided to withdraw towards San Bernadino Strait and the west without achieving anything further.
When the Seventh Fleet's escort carriers found themselves under attack from the Center Force, Halsey began to receive a succession of desperate calls from Kinkaid asking for immediate assistance off Samar. For over two hours Halsey turned a deaf ear to these calls. Eventually, at 10:00 hours, an anxious message was received — "Turkey trots to water. Where is repeat where is Task Force 34? The world wonders" — from Admiral Chester Nimitz, the CINCPAC, Halsey's immediate superior, referring to the battleship/cruiser force thought to have been covering San Bernadino Strait, and thus the Seventh Fleet's northern flank. This message helped finally to persuade Halsey to turn his battleships and their escorts southwards, which he did at 11:15, but he then delayed for a further two-and-a-half hours while refuelling the accompanying destroyers. By then, it was too late for Task Force 34 either to assist the Seventh Fleet's escort carrier groups or to prevent Kurita's force from making its escape.
This succession of actions on Halsey's part during 24 and 25 October was thought by some observers to have strongly damaged his reputation — both in the Third Fleet and throughout the U.S. Navy. They derisively call the operation "The Battle of Bull's Run".
In January 1945, Halsey passed command of his fleet to Admiral Spruance (whereupon its designation changed to 'Fifth Fleet'). Halsey resumed command of Third Fleet in late-May 1945 and retained it until the end of the war. In early June 1945 Halsey again sailed the fleet into the path of a typhoon, and while ships sustained crippling damage, none were lost. Six lives were lost and 75 planes were lost or destroyed, with almost 70 badly damaged. Again a Navy court of inquiry was convened, and it suggested that Halsey be reassigned, but Admiral Nimitz recommended otherwise due to Halsey's prior service.
|Ensign||Lieutenant, Junior Grade||Lieutenant||Lieutenant Commander||Commander||Captain|
|February 2, 1906||February 2, 1909||February 2, 1909||August 29, 1916||February 1, 1918||February 10, 1927|
|Rear Admiral (lower half)||Rear Admiral (upper half)||Vice Admiral||Admiral||Fleet Admiral|
|Never Held||March 1, 1938||June 13, 1940||November 18, 1942||December 11, 1945|
Halsey never held the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade, as he was appointed a full Lieutenant after three years of service as an Ensign. For administrative reasons, Halsey's naval record states he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (junior grade) and Lieutenant on the same day.
At the time of Halsey's promotion to Rear Admiral, the United States Navy did not maintain a one-star (Commodore) rank. Halsey was therefore promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral of the line (lower half; one-star) from captain.
|Navy Distinguished Service Medal with three gold stars|
|Army Distinguished Service Medal|
|Presidential Unit Citation (US)|
|World War I Victory Medal with Destroyer Clasp|
|American Defense Service Medal|
|American Campaign Medal|
|Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal|
|World War II Victory Medal|
|Mexican Service Medal|
|Philippine Liberation Medal|
|Knight of the British Empire|