William Frederick Halsey

The popular and aggressive American naval officer Fleet Admiral William Frederick Halsey (1882-1959) commanded major Pacific Fleet units during World War II.

William F. Halsey was born in Elizabeth, N.J., on Oct. 30, 1882. The son of a Navy captain, he entered the Naval Academy in 1900. Most of Halsey's early sea duty was with destroyers. At the age of 51 he began flight training and after graduation took command of the aircraft carrier Saratoga. In 1938 he was given command of Carrier Division 2 and was promoted the following year to vice admiral and appointed commander of the Aircraft Battle Force.

Because the U.S. Navy's battleships had been crippled in the Japanese attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, Halsey's carrier force became the heart of the American fleet in World War II. Early in 1942 he led it on daring strikes against Japanese bases that culminated in a raid on Tokyo. While the damage inflicted by these raids was minor, they did much to bolster American morale and to make Halsey a popular hero.

On Oct. 18, 1942, Halsey was appointed commander of the South Pacific Area. He thus commanded America's initial Pacific offensive, the battle for Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Operations there had reached a critical stage, and the appointment of Halsey, with his reputation for audacity and aggressiveness, was welcomed by the beleaguered Marine and Navy units. He lived up to his reputation, summarizing his strategy in a simple order to his carriers on October 26:"Attack—Repeat—Attack." In a series of fierce engagements Japanese naval forces in the area were defeated and American victory on Guadalcanal assured. President Franklin D. Roosevelt promptly promoted Halsey to admiral.

Throughout 1943 and early 1944 Halsey commanded naval operations around the Solomons, overrunning or isolating Japanese garrisons. On June 15, 1944, he was relieved as commander of the South Pacific Area and made commander of the 3d Fleet. This force was the most powerful aggregation of naval striking power in American history.

Halsey and his staff began planning for reoccupation of the Philippines. Unfortunately, Halsey's operational performance failed to match his good planning. During the crucial battle for Leyte Gulf, he sent his main force after a Japanese decoy fleet; this allowed powerful enemy surface units to penetrate the Philippine Sea. Only frantic resistance by a small escort carrier group and a sudden Japanese retreat saved the American landing forces from major damage.

Two months later the admiral's reputation suffered another blow when he maneuvered directly into the path of a typhoon, losing three destroyers. In early summer 1945 Halsey again maneuvered the fleet into the path of a typhoon. Despite this error he retained command until the end of the war, directing the final, successful air and sea attacks upon the Japanese home islands.

Following Japan's surrender in 1945 Halsey was promoted to fleet admiral and assigned what were essentially public relations duties until his retirement in April 1947. In subsequent years he held several business positions and led an unsuccessful drive to raise funds for the preservation of the carrier Enterprise. He died on Aug. 16, 1959.

Further Reading on William Frederick Halsey

William F. Halsey and J. Bryan III, Admiral Halsey's Story (1947), contains material on the admiral's early career but is of limited value for the World War II period. Hans Christian Adamson and George F. Kosco, Halsey's Typhoons (1967), summarizes the problems he encountered in the latter stages of the war. Perhaps the best concise history of naval operations in World War II is Samuel Eliot Morison, The Two Ocean War (1963). The role of American aircraft carriers in that conflict is admirably analyzed in Clark G. Reynolds, The Fast Carriers:The Forging of an Air Navy (1968).

Additional Biography Sources

Halsey, William Frederick, Admiral Halsey's story, New York:Da Capo Press, 1976.

Merrill, James M., A Sailor's admiral:a biography of William F. Halsey, New York:Crowell, 1976.

Potter, E. B. (Elmer Belmont), Bull Halsey, Annapolis, Md.:Naval Institute Press, 1985.