Spruance was probably America’s greatest and most successful naval commander from the historic victory at Midway to his triumph at the Philippine Sea. He began the war as Commander of a cruiser division at Midway Island and was promoted in June 1942, to Commander of Task Force 16 assigned to prevent any invasion of Midway Island. At the Battle of Midway Spruance took over direction of the battle when FLETCHER’s flagship, the Yorktown, was put out of action and later sunk. His brilliant execution of bomber attacks on the Japanese fleet disabled ten of their ships including four carriers. After this decisive battle, Spruance was appointed Chief of Staff to NIMITZ and was involved in strategic planning.
In August 1943 he returned to active combat as Commander of the 5th Fleet (Central Pacific Fleet) and in November of that year commanded the bombardment of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands prior to its reconquest. In January 1944 Spruance led the successful leapfrogging operation which resulted in the capture of Kwajalein in the Marshalls. This was followed by his attack on Truk in the Carolines which was co-ordinated with TURNER’s attack on Eniwetok, 17 February 1944.
Spruance conducted the naval bombardment which opened the campaign in Saipan on 10 June 1944. His fleet was stationed off the Marianas to protect the invasion force. On the 18 June he was attacked by Japanese aircraft but these were shot down by MITSCHER’s planes. On the next day Spruance ordered Mitscher to send out a strike force against the Japanese fleet including OZAWA’s carriers. This engagement was known as the Battle of the Philippine Sea; after it the Japanese Navy could no longer challenge the Allied Fleets. Spruance was criticized for being overcautious in not deploying Mitscher’s strike force earlier which might have finished off the Japanese Fleet.
Spruance directed the naval side of the Allied invasion of Iwo Jima in mid- February 1945 and then went on in the same month to conduct the first carrier strike on Tokyo. At the end of the war, he was involved in planning the invasion of the Japanese mainland.
Spruance was cautious but effective and always achieved his victories at the minimum cost. He pioneered many naval techniques including the fleet train (which enabled carrier forces to remain in operation for long periods at a stretch) and the circular formation of carriers. Spruance was an unassuming man, unshakable in battle.