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World War II: Admiral Raymond Spruance

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World War II: Admiral Raymond Spruance

Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, USN

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

Raymond Spruance - Early Life & Career:

The son of Alexander and Annie Spruance, Raymond A. Spruance was born at Baltimore, MD on July 3, 1886. Raised in Indianapolis, IN, he attended school locally and graduated from Shortridge High School. After further schooling at the Stevens Preparatory School in New Jersey, Spruance applied to and was accepted by the US Naval Academy in 1903. Graduating from Annapolis three years later, he served two years at sea before receiving his commission as an ensign on September 13, 1908. During this period, Spruance served aboard USS Minnesota during the cruise of the Great White Fleet. Arriving back in the United States, he underwent additional training in electrical engineering at General Electric before being posted to USS Connecticut in May 1910. Following a stint aboard USS Cincinnati, Spruance was made commander of the destroyer USS Bainbridge in March 1913 with the rank of lieutenant (junior grade).

In May 1914, Spruance received a posting as Assistant to the Inspector of Machinery at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company. Two years later, he aided in the fitting out of USS Pennsylvania, then under construction in the yard. With the battleship's completion, Spruance joined its crew and remained aboard until November 1917. With World War I raging, he became Assistant Engineer Officer of the New York Navy Yard. In this position, he traveled to London and Edinburgh. With the end of the war, Spruance aided in returning American troops home before moving through a succession of engineering postings and destroyer commands. Having attained the rank of commander, Spruance attended the Senior Course at the Naval War College in July 1926. Finishing the course, he completed a tour in the Office of Naval Intelligence before being posted to USS Mississippi in October 1929 as executive officer.

Raymond Spruance - War Approaches:

In June 1931, Spruance returned to Newport, RI to serve on the staff of the Naval War College. Promoted to captain the following year, he departed to take the position of Chief of Staff and Aide to Commander Destroyers, Scouting Fleet in May 1933. Two years later, Spruance again received orders for the Naval War College and taught on the staff until April 1938. Leaving, he assumed command of USS Mississippi. Commanding the battleship for nearly two years, Spruance was aboard when World War II began in Europe. Having been promoted to rear admiral in December 1939, he was directed to assume command of the Tenth Naval District (San Juan, PR) in February 1940. In July 1941, his responsibilities were expanded to include oversight of the Caribbean Sea Frontier. After working to defend neutral American shipping from German U-boats, Spruance received orders to take over Cruiser Division Five in September 1941. Traveling to the Pacific, he was in this post when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7 forcing the US to enter the war.

Raymond Spruance - Triumph at Midway:

In the opening weeks of the conflict, Spruance's cruisers served under Vice Admiral William "Bull" Halsey and took part in raids against the Gilbert and Marshall Islands before striking Wake Island. These attacks were followed by a raid against Marcus Island. In May 1942, intelligence suggested that the Japanese were planning on assaulting Midway Island. Critical for the defense of Hawaii, the commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, intended to dispatch Halsey to block the enemy thrust. Falling ill with shingles, Halsey recommended that Spruance lead Task Force 16, centered on the carriers USS Enterprise and USS Hornet, in his stead. Though Spruance had not led a carrier force in the past, Nimitz agreed as the rear admiral would be aided by Halsey's staff, including the gifted Captain Miles Browning. Moving into position near Midway, Spruance's force was later joined by Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher's TF 17 which included the carrier USS Yorktown.

On June 4, Spruance and Fletcher engaged four Japanese carriers at the Battle of Midway. Locating the Japanese carriers as they were rearming and refueling their aircraft, American bombers inflicted massive damage and sank three. Though the fourth, Hiryu, managed to launch bombers which caused critical damage to Yorktown, it too was sunk when American aircraft returned later in the day. A decisive victory, Spruance and Fletcher's actions at Midway helped turn the tide of the Pacific war in favor of the Allies. For his actions, Spruance received the Distinguished Service Medal and, later that month, Nimitz named him as his Chief of Staff and Aide. This was followed by a promotion to Deputy Commander in Chief, US Pacific Fleet in September.

Raymond Spruance - Island Hopping:

In August 1943, Spruance, now a vice admiral, returned to sea as Commander Central Pacific Force. Overseeing the Battle of Tarawa in November 1943, he guided Allied forces as they advanced through the Gilbert Islands. This was followed by an assault on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands on January 31, 1944. Successfully concluding operations, Spruance was promoted to admiral in February. That same month, he directed Operation Hailstone which saw American carrier aircraft repeatedly strike the Japanese base at Truk. During the attacks, the Japanese lost twelve warships, thirty-two merchant ships, and 249 aircraft. In April, Nimitz divided command of the Central Pacific Force between Spruance and Halsey. While one was at sea, the other would be planning their next operation. As part of this reorganization, the force became known as the Fifth Fleet when Spruance was in charge and the Third Fleet when Halsey was in command.

The two admirals presented a contrast in styles as Spruance tended to be quiet and meticulous while Halsey was brash and more impetuous. Moving forward in mid-1944, Spruance embarked on a campaign in the Marianas Islands. Landing troops on Saipan on June 15, he defeated Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa at the Battle of the Philippine Sea a few days later. In the fighting, the Japanese lost three carriers and around 600 aircraft. The defeat effectively destroyed the Japanese Navy's air arm. Following the campaign, Spruance turned the fleet over to Halsey and began planning operations to capture Iwo Jima. As his staff worked, Halsey used the fleet to win the Battle of Leyte Gulf. In January 1945, Spruance resumed command of the fleet and began moving against Iwo Jima. On February 19, American forces landed and opened the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Mounting a tenacious defense, the Japanese held out for over a month. With the island's fall, Spruance immediately moved forward with Operation Iceberg. This saw Allied forces move against Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands. Close to Japan, Allied planners intended to use Okinawa as a springboard for the eventual invasion of the Home Islands. On April 1, Spruance began the Battle of Okinawa. Maintaining a position offshore, the Fifth Fleet's ships were subjected to relentless kamikaze attacks by Japanese aircraft. As Allied forces battled on the island, Spruance's ships defeated Operation Ten-Go on April 7 which saw the Japanese battleship Yamato attempt to break through to the island. With Okinawa's fall in June, Spruance rotated back to Pearl Harbor to begin planning the invasion of Japan.

Raymond Spruance - Postwar:

These plans proved moot when the war came to an abrupt end in early August with the use of the atom bomb. For his actions at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, Spruance was awarded the Navy Cross. On November 24, Spruance relieved Nimitz as Commander, US Pacific Fleet. He remained in the position only briefly as he accepted a posting as President of the Naval War College on February 1, 1946. Returning to Newport, Spruance remained at the college until retiring from the US Navy on July 1, 1948. Four years later, President Harry S. Truman appointed him as Ambassador to the Republic of the Philippines. Serving in Manila, Spruance remained abroad until resigning his post in 1955. Retiring to Pebble Beach, CA, he died there on December 13, 1969. After his funeral, he was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery near the grave of his wartime commander, Nimitz.

 

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