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Spruance or Halsey?

Discussion in 'Naval Warfare in the Pacific' started by Watson, Aug 29, 2010.

  1. Watson

    Watson Member

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    Who was the better fleet commander? The aggressive Halsey had the longer run, but I have always felt that the old fire-breather might have been more suited to a task force command rather than that of a fleet. He saved the day in the Solomons, but those actions involved smaller units. Later when he was in command of Third Fleet, his focus of the attack led him to make some famously questionable decisions. Between his tangling with typhoons and his taking of the Japanese bait during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, it has always been somewhat surprising to me that he was promoted to 5-star rank after the end of the war. It's true that Spruance has been criticized for his conservative actions in the Marianas, but who would you want in command of your fleet?
     
  2. SymphonicPoet

    SymphonicPoet Member

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    In the words of Halsey, when Nimitz asked him just that: "Ray Spruance."

    Halsey's an interesting character, but I wouldn't want him as a CO. I much prefer the cool, conservative, detail oriented guy who listens to advice. It never ceases to amaze me that the two were close friends. On the other hand, if they can be friends maybe there's hope for the rest of us. And there's certainly room in the Navy for both of them.

    Just put Halsey in charge of the battle line.
     
  3. texson66

    texson66 Ace

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    Ask the survivors of Task Unit 77.4.3 ("Taffy 3") about Halsey.
     
  4. mikebatzel

    mikebatzel Dreadnaught

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    I have always been of the opinion that Halsey would have been better tasked with leading the battle-line. Halsey, while understanding the strategic importance of carriers, simply didn't seem to fit into the mantra. He believed heavily in Nelson's "No man can do wrong by placing his ship alongside of the enemy"(paraphrasing), and attempted to accomplish this in his famous run north.

    Now at the same time I always thought that Halsey got a bad rap from Leyte Gulf. No one knew for sure that the Japanese did not have planes for their carriers and had they, the ships in the northern force were in fact a very significant force.

    At the same time, I'm not entirely sure that Spruance would have reacted quickly enough to spring some kind of trap on the Japanese in the San Bernardino Strait. Let's face it the debate itself, only exists because of Hasley's run north, and night reconnaissance over the strait did not spot the Japanese either.

    Overall the handover between the two fit the USN just right. It gave each commander six months to plan the next offensive, while keeping the task force in operations. It was a drain on the crew of these ships, no doubt, but it also allowed the US to keep the greatest fleet on earth harassing the enemy, non stop, while changing the name of the task force left the Japanese guessing as to where an imaginary fleet was currently located, and what it was planning.
     
  5. SymphonicPoet

    SymphonicPoet Member

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    Sorry, I didn't mean to imply any comment on the handover. I think it was a good idea and it worked well. But given my druthers I do think Spruance was the better commander. Halsey micro managed too much and wasn't really experienced enough with large multi carrier operations. The author of America's Fighting Admirals suggested he could have used a work and learn cruise with Spruance, but you can't really ask a four star to take a work and learn.
     
  6. texson66

    texson66 Ace

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    The world wonders
     
  7. ULITHI

    ULITHI Ace

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    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe I remember reading in Potter's biography on Halsey that they were friends until Halsey started publishing his story of events and blamed Spruance for the miscalculations at Leyte. I think Spruance never forgave him for dragging his reputation through the mud.
     
  8. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    ULITHI,

    In the Potter bio, your thinking of Admiral Kinkaid,
     
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  9. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    SymphonicPoet,

    It was a matter of command style. Spruance would meticulously plan out his orders and battles, whereas Halsey would come up with a general plan and leave it up to his subordinates how to best accomplish those orders. Halsey's approach worked fairly well, early in the war, when the task forces were smaller. However, I feel that Halsey was "out of his element" with the large "fast carrier" task forces of 1944-45. In the later war years, I am of the opinion that it was his staff that was responsible for much of the accolades garnered by Halsey.

    I do however, take umbrage at the last bit "who listens to advice." Both admirals readily listened to advice. Halsey encouraged, regardless of rank, debate amongst his staff. However, they also knew that once Halsey had made a decision, the debate was ended and it was time to go to work.

    I do agree that Halsey would have benefited from a makee-learn cruise, not however, with Spruance, but with Mitscher. Halsey had the command element down, but he needed to understand the newer and more complicated "fast carriers." and their limitations and capabilities. After all Halsey by his own admission, "hadn't been with the fleet for more than two years."
     
  10. ULITHI

    ULITHI Ace

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    :eek: Ooops, sorry about that! I knew I should have re-read that part when I got home before posting. Thanks for the correction!
     
  11. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Not a big deal.

    I was thinking it was Clifton "Ziggy" Sprague until I went and re-read the passage.
     
  12. ULITHI

    ULITHI Ace

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    Halsey's task force commander was Slew McCain, correct? Do you not think that McCain gave him a "rundown" as good as Mitscher would have? I know that Mitscher had the job longer though.

    As far as listening to advice, I wonder if Halsey would have listened if Mitscher spoke up during the race up North at Leyte. Or would that have been as you stated, beyond the "end of the debate".
     
  13. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    McCain was one of many TFCs that Halsey had while he commanded TF38. McCain is best known for being the TFC for Halsey's two typhoons.


    While it is true that Mitscher had more time as TFC, 14 months to McCain's 6 months, I don't think it mattered much. Halsey never really utilized Mitscher the way Spruance did. While Halsey was in command, he was essentially the TFC, whomever was TFC of TF38 pretty much "was just along for the ride." While commanding TF38, Halsey mainly focused on working with his staff and not whomever happened to be TFC at the time.

    Halsey had already made up his mind on what action to take. Besides, because of Halsey's command style, Mitscher was relatively clueless as to what was transpiring until the task groups rendezvoused off Luzon around midnight, only then did Mitscher find out that the battle line had not been formed.
     
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  14. SymphonicPoet

    SymphonicPoet Member

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    Sorry, Takao. You are correct, I do owe Halsey an apology. He did listen to advice, but from the secondary sources I've read like Sea of Thunder and Fighting Admirals one gets the impression that his staff was less capable than Spruance's and that several of them acted as rather staunch "gatekeepers." And his rather direct command of TF 38 is precisely the micromanaging I find somewhat disagreeable. If you have a capable commander like Mitscher (who had his own sins, of course, much as all of us), why not use him?

    From what I've read I've gotten the impression that Halsey was a bit more susceptible to a sort of persuasion through camaraderie, which is understandable. He was a more social creature, I think, which is one reason he was so well liked by so many.

    In any case, you are quite correct, Takao. They had different styles of command. And I don't mean to bad mouth Halsey. I think he was an interesting character and whatever else he may have done he certainly stuck his neck out there and fought hard right alongside everyone under him.

    But this was a question of who was more effective and style plays a role in that. Given that, I do prefer Spruance's style of command from what I know of it, and I believe it to have been generally more effective, even early in the war. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Halsey: Santa Cruz, Leyte Gulf. Spruance: Midway, Philippine Sea. To be quite fair, there were things at play in all of the battles beyond the control of the commanders, but given the resources available, the conditions in force, and the strategic objectives to be achieved, I think Spruance did a better job.
     
  15. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    SymphonicPoet,

    I would not call your writing "bad-mouthing," but criticism, and mostly correct at that.

    Well, Spruance's early chief of staff, Captain Carl Moore, was nothing special. He was also the cause of concern given his junior rank. The combination of Spruance & Moore was the cause of grief for many aviators, since both the commander of 5th Fleet and his chief of staff were non-aviators, not to mention the fact that at this time Spruance had filled his staff with mostly non-aviators. While not "yes men," there was little dissension and argument amongst his staff, there were also few "good ideas" produced by them.

    It has been some time since I read "Sea of Thunder," but I believe that they are talking about the later composition of Spruance's staff. Moore was relieved on August 1, 1944, and was replaced with veteran aviator and Admiral King's operations officer, Rear Admiral Arthur "Art" Davis. Also added to Spruance's staff was Captain Abe Vosseller as fleet aviation officer. With the addition of these aviators, the relationship between the staffs of 5th Fleet and Task Force 58 greatly improved.

    The same criticism leveled at Spruance's early staff was the same one that applied to Halsey's staff. While Halsey's staff produced a greater level of discussion and argument as opposed to Spruance's, Halsey's staff was as of "like mind" with their commander, so there was little in the way of dissenting opinion. Hence, their discussions centered around, mostly, one point of view, and did not examine different approaches to a given operation.


    Because that is what Halsey was used to and it was how he fought the early part of the war, when task forces were composed of one or two carriers and not the 12-16 carriers of 1944-45. Without the benefit of a "makee-learn" cruise, Halsey could only go with what he knew. While his command style was good early in the war. Task Force 58 was far larger and way more complex than what he was used to.


    Halsey was good at smashing stuff and breaking things and he did well when the carriers were to just go out and cause general havoc to the Japanese. However, actions like amphibious operations required a commander with better attention to detail. Halsey was not suited for command during the more intricate and complex operations. There is a reason why Halsey was only ever in charge of one amphibious operation, while Spruance had all the others.


    Halsey did not fight the Battle of Santa Cruz, that was Rear Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid. At the time Halsey was ComSoPac(Commander South Pacific Area) on the island of Noumea. While Halsey did pass orders to Kinkaid, he did not take part in the fighting. Saying Halsey fought the Battle of Santa Cruz, would be like saying that Nimitz fought Midway, Philippine Sea, and Leyte Gulf.

    Midway is a tough call. Fletcher was in command until he passed it to Spruance on the evening of June 4, by which time much of the damage had been done to the Japanese. Still, no matter how you cut it, Spruance performed admirably at Midway.
     
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  16. drogon

    drogon Member

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    IMHO: A commander (and in this case a fleet commander) must have first and foremost a good general view of the situation so that he is able to consider all the possible enemy actions and then draw his battle plan.

    Leyte = Halsey's decision to go North, rightly so since nobody knew for sure the Japanese carriers only kept a token air power, had one big flaw.
    Air reco had established several times that Kurita main force had turned back and was heading for the strait at high speed.

    Thus:
    . Halsey's opinion that Kurita force was crippled and on its way to Singapore or whatever harbor was wrong, how could a crippled battle fleet head at high speed for the beachead.
    . While of course, he couldn't ignore the Japanese carriers -> given the various task forces he had he should have left at least one behind to guard the strait

    While numerous critics have argued that Lee battleships should have guarded the strait -> I don't agree, Kurita's force wasn't Nishimura's force and while I am sure Lee's battleships would have prevailed -> there would have certainly been higher casualties on the US side in such a battleship's battle.
    (use the task force to destroy as many ships as possible then send the battleships to finish the job)

    Halsey, didn't listen to repeated calls/opinions from subordinates regarding Kurita's force and the strait and decided to concentrate his forces while being aware the enemy had divided its forces in at least 3 groups already identified.
    (Nishimura, Kurita + Ozawa)

    I do believe Spruance wouldn't have done that and would have certainly not let Kurita go as far as he went.

    Just IMHO

    PS: This said -> Halsey's achievement wasn't bad at all:
    . The IJN suffered major heavy losses that couldn't be replaced
    . This led to the conquest of the Philippines and cut the (oil mainly) supply route so the IJN was neutralized anyway

    Just that, I feel Spruance would have achieved a similar or better result with less risks for the US forces and less losses too.
     
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  17. Gebirgsjaeger

    Gebirgsjaeger Ace

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    Sorry to all of you, but i have a maybe thumb question. Wasn´t Fleet Admiral Halsey the one who made the great old style manouvre "Crossing the T" against the Japanese fleet?

    Thanks

    Ulrich
     
  18. Totenkopf

    Totenkopf אוּרִיאֵל

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    I really don't like Halsey, namely because he looked like a fool for the mistake he made following his own catch phrase.

    I would certainly rather Spruance or another level headed fellow taking control of my fleet. Just because the Japanese are over there and we know it; that doesn't mean we need to charge guns blazing just because we can.
     
  19. ULITHI

    ULITHI Ace

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    You are referring to the battle of Suriagao Strait. Halsey by this time was speeding up north after the carriers I believe. I think it was the 7th fleet at Surigao, overall commanded by Tom Kinkaid. The admiral at the scene was Oldendorf I believe.
     
  20. Gebirgsjaeger

    Gebirgsjaeger Ace

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    Ah, good! So i had the complete wrong remembrance. Thanks Darren!

    Regards

    Ulrich
     

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