Frank Jack Fletcher

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia -- 4 July 2008

Frank Jack Fletcher
April 29, 1885(1885-04-29)April 25, 1973 (aged 87)

Vice Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, USN Photographed aboard USS Saratoga, 17 September 1942. Official U.S. Navy Photograph
Place of birth Marshaltown, Iowa
Place of death Bethesda, Maryland
Allegiance Flag of the United States United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1906-1947
Rank Admiral
Battles/wars Veracruz (1914)
World War I
World War II
Battle of the Coral Sea
Battle of Midway
Guadalcanal campaign
Eastern Solomons
Awards Medal of Honor
Navy Cross
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Relations Nephew of Frank Friday Fletcher

Frank Jack Fletcher (April 29, 1885April 25, 1973) was an admiral in the United States Navy during World War II. Fletcher was the operational commander at the pivotal Battles of Coral Sea and of Midway. He was the nephew of Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher.


Early life and early Navy career

Fletcher was born in Marshalltown, Iowa on April 29, 1885. Appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy from his native state in 1902, he graduated from Annapolis on February 12, 1906 and commissioned an Ensign on February 13, 1908 following two years at sea.

The early years of his career were spent on the battleships Rhode Island, Ohio, and Maine. He also spent time on USS Eagle and USS Franklin. In November 1909 he was assigned to USS Chauncey, a unit of the Asiatic Torpedo Flotilla. He assumed command of USS Dale in April 1910 and March 1912 returned to Chauncey as Commanding Officer. Transferred to USS Florida in December 1912 he was aboard that battleship during the occupation of Verz Cruz, Mexico, in April 1914. For distinguished conduct in battle at Vera Cruz he was awarded the Medal of Honor (see citation below).

World War I and post-War period

Fletcher became Aide and Flag Lieutenant on the staff of the Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet in July 1914. After a year at this post, he returned to the Naval Academy for duty in the Executive Department. Upon the outbreak of World War I he served as Gunnery Officer of USS Kearsarge until September 1917, after which he assumed command of USS Margaret. He was assigned to USS Allen in February 1918 before taking command of USS Benham in May 1918. For distinguished service as Commanding Officer USS Benham, engaged in the important, exacting, and hazardous duty of patrolling European waters and protecting vitally important convoys, he was awarded the Navy Cross.

From October 1918 to February 1919 he assisted in fitting out USS Crane at San Francisco. He then became Commanding Officer of USS Gridley upon her commissioning. Returning to Washington, he was head of the Detail Section, Enlisted Personnel Division in the Bureau of Navigation from April 1919 until September 1922.

Interwar service

He returned to the Asiatic Station, having consecutive command of the USS Whipple, USS Sacramento, USS Rainbow, and Submarine Base, Cavite. He served at the Washington Navy Yards from March 1925 to 1927; became Executive Officer of USS Colorado; and completed the Senior Course at the Naval War College, Newport in June 1930.

Fletcher became Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet in August 1931. In the summer of 1933 he was transferred to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Following this assignment he had duty from November 1933 to May 1936 as Aide to the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Claude A. Swanson. He assumed command of USS New Mexico, flagship of Battleship Division THREE in June 1936. In December 1937 he became a member of the Naval Examining Board, and became Assistant Chief of Bureau of Navigation in June 1938. Returning to the Pacific between September 1939 and December 1941 he became Commander Cruiser Division THREE; Commander Cruiser Division SIX; Commander Cruiser's Scouting Force; and Commander Cruiser Division FOUR.

World War II

Wake Island — December 8 - December 23, 1941

Responding to reports from US Marines on Wake Island of Japanese bombardment and a subsequent invasion attempt in the first week after Pearl Harbor, Fletcher was sent west with the carrier Saratoga (Task Force 11) to provide relief. He was one day away when plans were changed and ordered to wait for Lexington (Task Force 12, Vice Admiral Brown).[1] The next day the Japanese successfully invaded Wake Island. The task force was recalled by Admiral Pye, who was "keeping the seat warm" until Admiral Nimitz could arrive at Pearl and take over as Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet.

Fletcher was one day away from engaging any enemy forces attacking Wake Island. He is often criticized for not arriving on station at Wake in time to defend the island. His desire to maintain "frequently refueling operations" for his destroyers to keep them ready for "high speed chase" is often cited as the critical delaying factor.[2] Both Fletcher and Pye have been criticized as exhibiting "poor seamanship and decision making".[3]

January - April 1942

On January 1, 1942, Rear Admiral Fletcher took command of Task Force 17 built around the carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5). He, a surface fleet admiral, was chosen over more senior officers to lead a carrier task force. He learned air operations on the job while escorting troops to the South Pacific. He was junior TF commander under tutelage of the experts: Vice Admiral William Halsey on raids in the Gilbert Islands in February; Vice Admiral Wilson Brown attacking the enemy landings on New Guinea in March; and had aviation expert Rear Admiral Aubrey Fitch with him during the first battle at Coral Sea.

Coral Sea — May 4 - May 8, 1942

In May 1942, he commanded the task forces during the Battle of the Coral Sea. This battle is famous as the first carrier-on-carrier battle fought between fleets that never came within sight of each other.

Fletcher with Yorktown, Task Force 17, had been patrolling the Coral Sea and rendezvoused with Rear Admiral Aubrey Fitch with USS Lexington, Task Force 11, and a tanker group. Fletcher finished refueling first and headed West. On hearing the enemy was occupying Tulagi, TF 17 attacked the landing beaches sinking several small ships before rejoining Lexington and an Australian cruiser force under Rear Admiral John Gregory Crace on May 5.

The next day intelligence reported a Japanese invasion task force headed for Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and a Carrier Strike force was in the area, The morning of May 7 Fletcher sent the Australian cruisers to stop the transports while he sought the carriers. But first he sank Japanese aircraft carrier Shōhō, escorting the enemy troop ships, -- "Scratch one flat top." Meanwhile, Japanese carrier planes of Rear Admiral Chuichi Hara found the American tanker, USS Neosho (AO-23), and sank it with its destroyer, Sims.

The Japanese launched a dusk patrol of 27 bombers that found nothing, but was detected on radar and attacked by Wildcats that shot down nine ; eleven more splashed while attempting night landing.

On 8 May, at first light, "round three opened." Fletcher launched seventy-five aircraft, Hara sixty-nine. Fitch had greater experience in handling air operations, and Fletcher had him direct that function, as he was to do again later with Noyes at Guadalcanal. Shokaku was hit, but not damaged below waterline; it slunk away. Zuikaku had earlier dodged under a squall. The Japanese attack put two torpedoes into Lexington, which was abandoned that evening. Yorktown was hit near her island, but survived. Hara failed to use Zuikaku to achieve victory and withdrew. The invasion fleet without air cover, also withdrew, thereby halting the Port Moresby invasion. Fletcher had achieved the objective of the mission at the cost a carrier, tanker, and destroyer. In addition, his Wildcats had beaten Japanese air groups, 52 to 35, and had damaged Shokaku,; neither Japanese carrier would be able to join the fight at Midway the following month.

This was the first time the Imperial Japanese Navy had been stopped. In their rampage across the Pacific from Pearl Harbor, East Indies, Australia, Ceylon; they defeated the British, Dutch, and Asiatic Fleets; and had not lost a fleet ship larger than mine sweepers and submarines — until they met Fletcher.

Midway — June 4 - June 7, 1942

In June 1942, he was the Officer in Tactical Command at the Battle of Midway with two task forces, his usual TF 17 with quickly repaired Yorktown, plus TF 16 with USS Enterprise and USS Hornet. Vice Admiral William Halsey normally commanded this task force, but became ill and was replaced by Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance. When aircraft from four Japanese carriers attacked Midway Island, the three U.S. carriers, warned by broken Japanese codes and waiting in ambush, attacked and sank three enemy carriers – Akagi, Kaga, Soryu. Enterprise and Hornet lost seventy aircraft. Return attack damaged Yorktown. Fletcher's scouts found the fourth carrier and Enterprise with Yorktown planes then sank Hiryu. At dusk, Fletcher released Spruance to continue fighting with TF 16 the next day. During the next two days, Spruance found two damaged cruisers and sank one. The enemy transport and battle fleets got away. A Japanese submarine, I-168, found crippled Yorktown and sank her and an adjacent destroyer, USS Hammann. Japan had had seven large carriers (six at Pearl Harbor and one new construction) – four were sunk at Midway. This did not win the war, but evened the odds between Japanese and American fleet carriers.

Landing at Guadalcanal — August 7 - August 9, 1942

As the U.S. took the offensive in August 1942, Vice Admiral Fletcher commanded the invasion of Tulagi and Guadalcanal. Close air support was provided at Tulagi. The invasion of Guadalcanal was uncontested, Fletcher withdrew his carriers from dangerous waters when they were no longer needed. Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner's offloading of supplies did not go as well as expected, he did not tell Fletcher, and then had to withdraw the transports after Fletcher left. The Marines refer to this as the 'Navy Bugout', but the 17,000 Marines were in little danger from a construction battalion. The few US carriers could not be risked against multi-engine, land based, torpedo bombers, when they were needed for combat against carriers. He chose to withdraw on the third morning to prepare for the inevitable Japanese counterattack.

A separate incident must be mentioned : the Battle of Savo Island - 9 August 1942.

Allied warships under Rear Admiral Victor Crutchley, RN, screening the transports were surprised at midnight and defeated in 32 minutes by a Japanese force of seven cruisers and one destroyer, commanded by Japanese Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa. One Australian and three U.S. heavy cruisers were sunk, and one other U.S. cruiser and two destroyers were damaged in this lopsided Japanese victory. However, as Crutchley notes, the transports were not touched. Fletcher is sometimes criticized because his carriers were at the far end of their nightly withdrawal, steaming back for the morning, yet too far to away to seek revenge.

East Solomons - August 24 - August 25, 1942

Fletcher used the carriers he had saved two weeks earlier when he fought a superior Japanese fleet intent on counter-invasion in the carrier aircraft Battle of the Eastern Solomons. He started the engagement and sank his sixth carrier, Ryujo, The ensuing battle was essentially a giant aerial dog fight interspersed with ship borne antiaircraft fire. The U.S. lost 20 planes, the Japanese lost 70. Enterprise took a couple of bombs and Chitose was nearly sunk, but survived. The enemy withdrew without landing troops on Guadalcanal. They had to resort to the Tokyo Express : overnight delivery of a few hundred troops and supplies by destroyers. Fletcher, as always, was second guessed by non-combatants, and was criticized by Admiral Ernest King, in Washington, for not pursuing the Combined Fleet as it withdrew. This criticism may have affected the decision to not return Fletcher to his command after his flagship, the carrier Saratoga (CV-3), was torpedoed and damaged by a Japanese submarine on August 31, 1942. Fletcher himself was slightly injured in the attack on Saratoga, suffering a gash to his head and was given his first leave after eight months of continuous combat. His successors lost two carriers in two months for no victories, such that in the first week of November there were no active US carriers in the Pacific.


In November 1942, he became Commander, Thirteenth Naval District and Commander, Northwestern Sea Frontier to calm the public fear of invasion from the north. A year later, he was placed in charge of the whole Northern Pacific area, holding that position until after the end of World War II, when his forces occupied northern Japan.

Postwar and final days

Vice Admiral Fletcher was appointed to the Navy's General Board in 1946 and retired as Chairman of that governing board in May 1947 with the rank of full Admiral. He enjoyed life on his county estate, Araby, in Maryland.

Many of Fletcher's papers were lost in combat, he declined to reconstruct his papers from Pentagon archives and sit with Morison who was writing the naval history of World War II, and in return received no consideration by Morison, an attitude picked up by later authors.

Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher died on April 25, 1973, four days before his 88th birthday at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Medal of Honor citation


For distinguished conduct in battle, engagements of Vera Cruz, 21 and 22 April 1914. Under fire, Lt. Fletcher was eminent and conspicuous in performance of his duties. He was in charge of the Esperanze and succeeded in getting on board over 350 refugees, many of them after the conflict had commenced. Although the ship was under fire, being struck more than 30 times, he succeeded in getting all the refugees placed in safety. Lt. Fletcher was later placed in charge of the train conveying refugees under a flag of truce. This was hazardous duty, as it was believed that the track was mined, and a small error in dealing with the Mexican guard of soldiers might readily have caused a conflict, such a conflict at one time being narrowly averted. It was greatly due to his efforts in establishing friendly relations with the Mexican soldiers that so many refugees succeeded in reaching Vera Cruz from the interior.


During the first months of WW2, when the Allies were losing the war, the Japanese Combined Fleet had defeated the U.S. Battle Feet, U.S. Asiatic Fleet, British Far East Fleet, and Netherlands East Indies Fleet in attacks from Hawaii to India, Alaska to Australia without loss of any ship larger than a submarine or auxiliary destroyer. Until they met Fletcher. He was never able to advance upon the enemy, but he was able to stop them -- three times, always with a smaller force. These successes allowed the U.S. to mobilize and to build 119 carriers during the war, while the axis built ten. That story of later victory can be read on other pages. But, with the remnants of a depression era fleet, Fletcher was the most successful of our Admirals in stopping a rampaging enemy. With a near perfect balance of aggression and caution, he sank six enemy carriers with the loss of two. Fletcher must be remembered as the task force commander that held the line to allow time for later, grand victories.

USS Fletcher (DD-992) is named in honor of Admiral Fletcher.


  1. ^ Morison, Samuel E. Supplement and General Index, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume 15, Cumulative Errata
  2. ^ John Costello, The Pacific War: 1941-1945, Harper Perennial, December 1, 1982
  3. ^ Morison, Samuel E., Admiral USN. The Rising Sun in the Pacific, 1931 - April 1942, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume 3.

See also

External links

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