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Raymond Spruance

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Alpha Tester
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1,149 battles

This fellow is often overlooked in historical pieces on WW2 because he himself was not very forthcoming with his private thoughts. Unlike most people who achieve high military rank, Spruance was not an egotist. He didn't care that his name wasn't in the papers, (he made the cover of Time Magazine, though.)


His style of command was unusual. His contemporary and sometimes boss, 'Bull' Halsey, was a hands-on leader whose agressive and personal command style made him popular with the media and the sailors who served with him. Spruance was almost unknown, even to the sailors in his fleet. Where 'Bull' had a hands-on approach, Spruance would pass instructions to his commanders and they would carry them out. Halsey was passionate, Spruance cool and collected. One nickname I have heard is 'Electric Brain' due to his ability to remain calm under fire, an ability put sorely to the test at the Battle of Midway.


Another distinction was made obvious in their reaction to very similar situations. In the Battle of the Phillipine Sea Ray Spruance virtually destroyed the attacking Japanese fleet, most especially their carrier-based aircraft, (something like 600 planes were destroyed.) As the Japanese fleet retreated Spruance was urged to pursue and gave the order to remain on station to defend the amphibious operation he had been ordered to protect. He was widely criticized for this by everyone save his own boss Adm. King and, of course, the guys who had to wade ashore.


A few months later, in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Halsey was faced with the very carriers Spruance had stripped of aircraft, and left his position covering amphibious operations he had been ordered to protect to pursue them. This diversionary tactic, the very thing Spruance had considered when he remained on station previously, worked, and lead to The Battle Off Samar, in which task force Taffy 3 was forced to fight an overwhelmingly superior Japanese force. At the cost of the Johnston and the St.Lo, and the rest of the destroyer screen, and with a lot of luck on the American side and some uncharistically bad leadership on the Japanese side, the invasion force was saved from disaster. One wonders how the events would have worked out had Halsey's battleships and cruisers remained on station


Adm. Spruance was a cruiser admiral at the start of WW2, and his cruiser division was part of Bull Halsey's task force built around the USS Enterprise. When Halsey went rampaging across the Pacific early in the war, Spruance went with him. When Halsey fell ill just before the Battle of Midway, Halsey advised Nimitz to put Spruance in charge over the objections of some who worried over his complete lack of experience dealing with naval air. It turned out to be a good choice. Faced with a numerically superior and battle-hardened Japanese fleet, Spruance's calm clear direction of the battle lent confidence to his commanders and quite possibly prevented the loss of the only remaining carriers in the US Pacific Fleet after Yorktown was abandoned.


It is merely my speculation that Halsey would have pressed the attack on the retreating Japanese fleet, with possibly disasterous results. The next day repair crews boarded the abandoned carrier and were beginning to make headway in repairs and preparations to tow her home to Pearl when a Japanese sub, tasked to cover the retreat of the Japanese fleet, dumped a torpedo spread into the Yorktown to finish her off. Instead, as the actor Glenn Ford, (playing Spruance,) said in the movie 'Midway', "We've accomplished what we set out to do, now let's go home."


I think this statement best epitomizes the career of Spruance, in every stage from the US Naval Academy to his Ambassadorship in the Phillipines until his retirement in California. "We've accomplished what we set out to do." No grand speeches, no dire threats, no theatrical hysteria or emotionalism was required. He just did what he set out to do.

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Beta Testers
7 posts
9,468 battles

+1  Nice catch with Spruance he does seem to get overlooked often enough.  Anyone besides me happy to see Halsey not getting any mention or love in this section of the forums? I mean forget what he did at Leyte how about the two typhoons he sailed his fleet into? :P

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