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Raymond A. Spruance

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Raymond A. Spruance

Raymond A. Spruance
Spruance in April 1944
Birth name Raymond Ames Spruance
Born (1886-07-03)July 3, 1886
Baltimore, Maryland
Died December 13, 1969(1969-12-13) (aged 83)
Pebble Beach, California
Buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Navy
Years of service 1907–1948
Rank Admiral
Commands held

United States Fifth Fleet

United States Pacific Fleet

World War I
World War II

Awards Navy Cross
Navy Distinguished Service Medal (3)
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Other work Ambassador to the Philippines

Raymond Ames Spruance (July 3, 1886 – December 13, 1969) was a United States Navy admiral in World War II.

Spruance commanded US naval forces during two of the most significant naval battles that took place in the Pacific theater, the Battle of Midway and the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The Battle of Midway was the first major victory for the United States over Japan and is seen by many as the turning point of the Pacific war. The Battle of the Philippine Sea was also a significant victory for the US. The Navy's official historian said of the Battle of Midway "...Spruance's performance was superb...(he) emerged from this battle one of the greatest admirals in American naval history".[1] After the war, Spruance was appointed President of the Naval War College, and later served as American ambassador to the Philippines.

Spruance was nicknamed "electric brain" for his calmness even in moments of supreme crisis: a reputation enhanced by his successful tactics at Midway.[2]


  • Early life 1
  • Career prior to World War II 2
  • World War II 3
    • Before Midway 3.1
    • Spruance at Midway 3.2
    • Truk, Philippine Sea and Iwo Jima 3.3
  • Late Navy career 4
  • Post Navy life 5
  • Personal characteristics 6
  • Legacy 7
  • Awards 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life

Spruance was born in Baltimore, Maryland to Alexander and Annie Hiss Spruance. He was raised in Indianapolis, Indiana.[3] Spruance attended Indianapolis public schools and graduated from Shortridge High School. From there, he went on to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1906, and received further, hands-on education in electrical engineering a few years later.

Career prior to World War II

Spruance's first duty assignment was aboard the battleship USS Iowa (BB-4), a 11,400 ton veteran of the Spanish–American War.

In July 1907 he transferred to the battleship USS Minnesota (BB-22) and was aboard her during the historic around the world cruise of the Great White Fleet from 1907 to 1909.

Spruance's seagoing career included command of the destroyer USS Bainbridge (DD-1) from March 1913 to May 1914, the USS Osborne (DD-295), three other destroyers, and the battleship USS Mississippi (BB-41).

In 1916 he aided in the fitting out of the USS Pennsylvania and he served on board her from her commissioning in June 1916 until November 1917. During the last year of World War I he was assigned as Assistant Engineer Officer of the New York Naval Shipyard, and carried out temporary duty in London, England and Edinburgh, Scotland.[4]

Spruance ran a quiet bridge, without chit-chat; he demanded that orders be given concisely and clearly. In one incident a distraught officer rushed to report, "Captain, we've just dropped a depth charge over the stern!" "Well, pick it up and put it back," was Spruance's measured response.[5]

Spruance began attendance at the Naval War College in 1926, and graduated in 1927. He served as executive officer of the USS Mississippi from October 1929 to June 1931. He also held several engineering, intelligence, staff and Naval War College positions up to the 1940s. He served as an instructor at the Naval War College from 1935 to 1938. He commanded the battleship USS Mississippi from April 1938 to December 1939, when he was promoted to Rear Admiral. On February 26, 1940 Spruance reported as Commandant of the TENTH Naval District with headquarters at San Juan, Puerto Rico. On August 1, 1941, he finished his tour in Puerto Rico.

World War II

Before Midway

In the first months of World War II in the Pacific, Spruance commanded the four heavy cruisers and support ships of Cruiser Division Five from his flagship, the USS Northampton . His division was an element of the task force built around the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise commanded by Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. Early on, Halsey had led his task force on hit and run raids against the Japanese in the western Pacific: striking the Gilbert and Marshall islands in February 1942, Wake Island in March, and projecting the air power of the Doolittle Raid against the Japanese homeland in April. These raids were critical to morale—setting a new tone of aggressiveness by US commanders while providing invaluable battle experience for the commanders and sailors of the US Navy.[3]

Spruance at Midway

During the third week of May 1942 US naval intelligence units confirmed that the Japanese would—by early June—invade Midway Island. Capturing and occupying Midway was the brainchild-plan of Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. With it he intended to significantly expand the IJN's outer defense perimeter across the central Pacific; and, he believed, this very powerful stroke against Midway would so severely threaten Hawaii and Pearl Harbor that the US government would be induced to sue for peace[6] (see Battle of Midway: Background). On the other hand, Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz knew he must intercept the Japanese invasion fleet, and that he must give battle to the enemy aircraft carriers before they could project their overwhelming power against the naval air station at Midway.

Less than two days before launch from Pearl Harbor, Nimitz's commander of the Fleet carrier force, Admiral Halsey, was hospitalized with severe shingles;[7] Halsey immediately recommended Admiral Spruance to Nimitz as his replacement. Although Spruance was proven as a cruiser division commander, he had no experience handling carrier-air combat; Halsey reassured Nimitz, and he told Spruance to rely on his newly inherited staff, particularly Captain Miles Browning, a battle-proven expert in carrier warfare.[8] Spruance assumed command of Task Force 16 with its two carriers USS Enterprise and USS Hornet under battle command of Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher. Fletcher’s flagship USS Yorktown had been badly damaged at the Battle of the Coral Sea, but—at Nimitz's behest—it was patched-repaired in 'rush' time purposefully to join the Midway operation.

The US Navy intercept force centered on the three carriers Enterprise, Hornet, and Yorktown and their air-attack squadrons; it faced an IJN invasion fleet organized into two groups: the air-attack task force of four carriers with support ships under command of Admiral Nagumo; and the surface and occupation forces under Admiral Kondo and others. Admiral Yamamoto commanded the combined invasion fleet from aboard his flagship Yamato.

The battle commenced on the morning of June 4; the first several waves of US attack aircraft were badly beaten, both near Midway and at sea around the Japanese task force. Then US dive bombers from Spruance's Enterprise located Nagumo's fleet of four carriers—which, fatefully, were without air cover. Most of Nagumo's attack planes had just returned from the first strike on Midway and were immobilized on the carrier decks, while his CAP cover planes were engaged with battling torpedo bombers sent by Spruance from Hornet (see Battle of Midway: Spruance judged.. and he gambled..). The US dive bombers critically damaged three Japanese carriers including Nagumo's flagship Akagi; all three eventually sank. The surviving carrier, Hiryū, gave the Japanese some (brief) respite by sending strikes that crippled Yorktown. But several hours later—near the end of daylight hours—a US scout plane located Hiryū again. Spruance quickly ordered his dive bombers to strike, which fatally damaged the fourth Japanese carrier; it was scuttled the next day.

The US Navy counterforce sank all four Japanese carriers while losing one of its own, Yorktown. The devastating repulse of the IJN invasion fleet at Midway, largely directed by Spruance, essentially ended Japanese superiority in naval air-fleet power in the Pacific.

In 1949 naval historian Samuel E. Morison noted that Spruance was subjected to criticism for not pursuing the retreating Japanese and allowing the surface fleet to escape.[9] But in summing up Spruance's performance in the battle, Morison wrote: "Fletcher did well, but Spruance's performance was superb. Calm, collected, decisive, yet receptive to advice; keeping in his mind the picture of widely disparate forces, yet boldly seizing every opening. Raymond A. Spruance emerged from the battle one of the greatest admirals in American Naval history".[10][11]

For his actions at the battle of Midway Rear Admiral Spruance was awarded the Navy Distinguished Service Medal and cited as follows: “For exceptionally meritorious service… as Task Force Commander, United States Pacific Fleet. During the Midway engagement which resulted in the defeat of and heavy losses to the enemy fleet, his seamanship, endurance, and tenacity in handling his task force were of the highest quality.”[12] Both Fletcher and Nimitz recommended Spruance for the Distinguished Service Medal for his role in the battle.[13]

The Battle of Midway is generally considered to be the turning point of the war in the Pacific. Before Midway, a small and fractional US Navy faced an overwhelmingly larger and battle-hardened Japanese Combined Fleet. After Midway, although the Japanese still held a temporary advantage in vessels and planes, the US Navy and the nation gained confidence and, most critically, time. The setback in the IJN timetable to encircle the Pacific gave the US industrial machine time to crank-up war production, and ultimately, to turn the advantage on Japan in the production of ships, planes, guns, and all the other matériel of war. An epic battle of aircraft carriers and attack air squadrons, Midway infused the US Pacific Navy with confidence. And with this battle the American forces gained, and afterwards continued to gain, hard combat experience; so the Japanese lost that crucial advantage as well.

Truk, Philippine Sea and Iwo Jima

Shortly after the Midway battle, Spruance became Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet (CINCPAC) (i.e. Admiral Nimitz) and, in September 1942 was appointed as Deputy Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet.

In August 1943 Spruance was placed in command of the Central Pacific Force which, on April 29, 1944, was redesignated as the Fifth Fleet. At that time, Admiral Nimitz instituted a unique arrangement in which the command of the vessels which made up the "Big Blue Fleet" alternated between Admiral William Halsey, at which time it was identified as the Third Fleet and Task Force 38, and Admiral Spruance, when it became the Fifth Fleet and Task Force 58. When not in command of the fleet the admirals, and their staffs, were based at Pearl Harbor and planned future operations.

The two admirals were a contrast in styles. Halsey was aggressive and a risk taker. Spruance was professional, calculating and cautious. Notwithstanding their different personalities, Spruance and Halsey were close friends. In fact, Spruance had a knack for getting along with difficult people, including his friend Kelly Turner, the hotheaded commander of 5th Fleet's amphibious force. One exception was John Towers, a constant critic of Spruance, whom Spruance came to despise for his naked ambition.[14]

Most common sailors were proud to serve under Halsey; most higher-ranking officers preferred to serve under Spruance. Captain George Dyer of the light cruiser Astoria, who served under both Spruance and Halsey, summed up the view of many ship captains:

My feeling was one of confidence when Spruance was there. When you moved into Admiral Halsey's command from Admiral Spruance's … you moved [into] an area in which you never knew what you were going to do in the next five minutes or how you were going to do it, because the printed instructions were never up to date.... He never did things the same way twice. When you moved into Admiral Spruance's command, the printed instructions were up to date, and you did things in accordance with them.[15]

This gave rise to the description of Spruance as "an Admiral's admiral".

From 1943 through 1945, with ill fated USS Indianapolis or the USS New Jersey as his flagship, Spruance directed the campaigns that captured the Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands, Marianas, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. In August 1943 he was placed in command of the Central Pacific Force, which was also known as the Fifth Fleet and Task Force 58.

Spruance directed Operation Hailstone against the Japanese naval base Truk in February 1944 in which twelve Japanese warships, thirty-two merchant ships and 249 aircraft were destroyed. This occurred at the same time when Admiral Turner's forces were attacking Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshalls, about 700 miles to the west. Spruance himself directed a task group of battleships, cruisers and destroyers that left the main body to go after Japanese ships that were fleeing Truk, sinking the light cruiser Katori and destroyer Maikaze. This was said to be the first time that a four-star admiral took part in a sea action aboard one of the ships engaged. Admiral Spruance commanded with deadly precision, reported an observer.[16]

While screening the American invasion of Saipan, in June 1944 Spruance also defeated the Japanese fleet in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Although he broke the back of the Japanese naval airforce by sinking 3 carriers, 2 oilers and destroying about 600 enemy airplanes—so many that for ADM Halsey in the Battle of Leyte Gulf a few months later the remaining Japanese carriers were used solely as decoys due to the lack of aircraft, and aircrews to fly them—Spruance has been criticized for not being aggressive enough in exploiting his success in the Philippine Sea.[17] Buell quotes Spruance speaking with Morison: "As a matter of tactics I think that going out after the Japanese and knocking their carriers out would have been much better and more satisfactory than waiting for them to attack us, but we were at the start of a very important and large amphibious operation and we could not afford to gamble and place it in jeopardy."

However, his actions were both praised or understood by the main persons ordering and directly involved in the battle. Admiral Ernest J. King told him that "Spruance, you did a damn fine job there. No matter what other people tell you, your decision was correct". Spruance's fast carrier commander, Marc Mitscher, told his chief of staff Arleigh Burke that:

You and I have been in many battles, and we know there are always some mistakes. This time we were right because the enemy did what we expected him to do. Admiral Spruance could have been right. He's one of the finest officers I know of. It was his job to protect the landing force....[5]

Spruance received the Navy Cross for his actions at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.[18]

Spruance succeeded Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz as Commander in Chief, US Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas in November 1945.

On October 16, 1946, the former Secretary of War, the Honorable Robert P. Patterson, presented the Army Distinguished Service Medal to Admiral Spruance, with citation as follows:

Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, U.S. Navy, as Task Force Commander during the capture of the Marshall and Marianas Islands, rendered exceptionally meritorious and distinguished services from January to June 1944. During the joint operations leading to the assault and capture of the important enemy bases, complete integration of Army and Navy units was accomplished under his outstanding leadership, enabling all the forces to perform their closely co-ordinated missions with outstanding success.[19]

Late Navy career

Spruance's headstone at Golden Gate National Cemetery

Spruance's promotion to Fleet Admiral was blocked multiple times by Congressman Carl Vinson, a staunch partisan of Admiral William Halsey, Jr. Congress eventually responded by passing an unprecedented act which specified that Spruance would remain on a full admiral's pay once retired until death. Spruance was President of the Naval War College from February 1946 until he retired from the Navy in July 1948.

Shortly before his retirement, Spruance received the following Letter of Commendation from the Secretary of the Navy: "Your brilliant record of achievement in World War II played a decisive part in our victory in the Pacific. At the crucial Battle of Midway your daring and skilled leadership routed the enemy in the full tide of his advance and established the pattern of air-sea warfare which was to lead to his eventual capitulation..."[19]

Post Navy life

He was appointed as Ambassador to the Philippines by President Harry Truman, and served there from 1952 to 1955.

Spruance died in Pebble Beach, California on December 13, 1969 and was buried with full military honors. His wife, Margaret Dean (1888–1985), is buried alongside him, as are Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, his longtime friend Admiral Richmond K. Turner, and Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, an arrangement made by all of them while living.

Personal characteristics

Spruance was an active man who thought nothing of walking eight or 10 miles a day. He was fond of symphonic music, and his tastes were generally simple. He never smoked and drank little. He enjoyed hot chocolate and would make it for himself every morning. Besides his family, he loved the companionship of his pet schnauzer, Peter. Fit and spare in his 70s, Spruance spent most of his retirement days wearing old khakis and work shoes and working in his garden and greenhouse. He loved to show them to visitors.[20]

Spruance became a shadowy sort of legend in the Navy. His achievements were well-known, but the man himself was a mystery. He did not discuss his private life, feelings, prejudices, hopes or fears, except perhaps with his family and his closest friends. He was uniquely modest and candid about himself all his life. "When I look at myself objectively," he wrote in retirement, "I think that what success I may have achieved through life is largely due to the fact that I am a good judge of men. I am lazy, and I never have done things myself that I could get someone to do for me. I can thank heredity for a sound constitution, and myself for taking care of that constitution." About his intellect he was equally unpretentious: "Some people believe that when I am quiet that I am thinking some deep and important thoughts, when the fact is that I am thinking of nothing at all. My mind is blank."[20]


Bust of Admiral Spruance, located in Spruance Hall at the US Naval War College

The destroyers USS Spruance (DD-963), lead ship of the Spruance-class of destroyers, and USS Spruance (DDG-111), 61st ship of the Arleigh Burke class destroyer, were named in his honor.[21]

The main auditorium of the U.S. Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island is Spruance Hall. A bust of Spruance is in the lobby.


Foreign Honors

  • Companion, Order of the Bath (United Kingdom)


This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.
  1. ^  
  2. ^ Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won
  3. ^ a b Buell, Thomas B. (1974). The quiet warrior: a biography of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance. Boston: Little, Brown.  
  4. ^ U.S. Naval Heritage & History Command, Biography, Raymond A. Spruance, accessed March 17, 2013
  5. ^ a b Tuohy, William. 2007. American's Fighting Admirals: Winning the War at Sea in World War II
  6. ^ Costello, John (1981).  
  7. ^ John Costello, pages 278, 280
  8. ^ Parshall & Tully (2005), Shattered Sword, p. 95
  9. ^ Morison, "Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions: May 1942 – August 1942". (History of United States Naval Operations in World War II), Volume IV, p. 142
  10. ^ Samuel Eliot Morison, The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War, 1963, ISBN 1-59114-524-4, page 162, Google
  11. ^ Thomas Buell, The Quiet Warrior at p. 166
  12. ^ Biographies, 20th century collection, Navy Department Library.
  13. ^ "Adm Spruance's Fitrep after Battle of Midway".  
  14. ^ Kent G. Budge, The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia
  15. ^ Tuohy, William (2007). America's Fighting Admirals:Winning the War at Sea in World War II. Zenith Press. p. 323.  
  16. ^ Michael D. Hull, World War II magazine, May 1998 issue
  17. ^ Buell, Thomas The Quiet Warrior: a biography of Raymond Spruance page 303.
  18. ^ Military Times, Hall of Valor, Citation, Navy Cross, Raymond A. Spruance, accessed March 17, 2013
  19. ^ a b Biographies, 20th century collection, Navy Department Library
  20. ^ a b Michael D. Hull, World War II magazine, 1998 issue
  21. ^ "News Release: Navy Names Two New Guided Missile Destroyers". U.S. Department of Defense. Retrieved February 11, 2012. 
  • Bess, Michael (2006). Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.  
  • (DD-963)SpruanceNaval Historical Center: USS
  • Naval Historical Center, Online Library of Selected Images
  • Bess, Michael (2006). Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.  

External links

  • Raymond A. Spruance Gravesite
Military offices
Preceded by
Chester W. Nimitz
Commander in Chief of the United States Pacific Fleet
Succeeded by
John H. Towers
Preceded by
William S. Pye
President of the Naval War College
Succeeded by
Donald B. Beary
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Myron M. Cowen
U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines
Succeeded by
Homer Ferguson
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