Halsey, Vice-Admiral William ‘Bull,’ 1882-1959

Halsey played a leading part in defeating the Japanese in the Pacific War. He was a leading exponent of naval air strategy, well-known for his flamboyance and quick temper. As Commander of Task Force 16, the carriers Hornet and Enter-prise, he had arrived at his Hawaiian base in April 1942 and had immediately set off to launch Lieutenant General DOOLITTLE’s raid on Tokyo. He could have made a valuable contribution to the Battle of Midway but he was hospitalized because of a nervous skin disease. However he was soon fit and was called in by Admiral NIMITZ to break the stalemate in the Solomons campaign. Halsey was immediately involved in the Battle of Santa Cruz Island in October 1942 when the Japanese outmaneuvered the US. The Japanese anticipated all the American tactics and succeeded in sinking the Hornet. Halsey realized that the assignment to get the Guadalcanal campaign moving was a tough one. However the next major encounter between Japanese and American naval forces was the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on 12-13 November 1942. In this case the US emerged successfully having sunk two Japanese battleships, two destroyers and six transport ships for the loss of two cruisers and four destroyers. Halsey realized that although the US had the advantage of radar they could not exploit it to the full because of the superior nightfighting skills of the Japanese. Together with Vice-Admiral KINKAID he drew up guidelines for nightfighting tactics which contributed to later successes in halting Japanese efforts to supply their troops in the Solomons.

Halsey realized that the step by step strategy in the Solomons would lead to increased resistance and so he suggested leap-frogging over concentrations of Japanese troops and on his suggestion Kolombangara was bypassed. However his forces were still used in 1943 for assaults on the Russell Islands, two islands of the Trobriand group and then Bougainville. Nimitz then decided to transfer him to the leapfrogging campaign in the Central Pacific and he became Commander of the 3rd Fleet. Halsey and SPRUANCE alternately took command of the Central Pacific Fleet (which was alternately called the 3rd or the 5th Fleet). Spruance held the command at the Battle of the Philippine Sea and Halsey at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. In October 1944 Halsey’s fleet was off the coast of Leyte guarding the San Bernardino Strait. He was determined to get a crack at destroying the Japanese carrier fleet and waited for a sighting. When he was given the position of Vice-Admiral OZAWA’s carrier fleet, Halsey went steaming off north with all his 64 ships leaving the San Bernardino Strait unprotected. This was the Japanese plan: they were short of naval avaitors and aircraft and so the carrier force’s only value was as a decoy. Admiral KURITA’s battleships passed the San Bernardino Strait and but for the spirited fighting of elements of ViceAdmiral Kinkaid’s 7th Fleet, they might have inflicted greater damage than the loss of one carrier and three destroyers. Halsey’s pursuit of the carriers was highly successful and he either sank or damaged what remained of Japan’s carrier fleet. Halsey proved himself a brilliant director of naval aviation, liable to take unnecessary risks in contrast with Spruance who tended to be overcautious.

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