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Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher

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UduaR5XDDHA.jpg Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher

Fletcher (April 29, 1885 – April 25, 1973) was an admiral in the United States Navy during World War II. Fletcher was the operational commander at the pivotal Battles of Coral Sea and of Midway. He was the nephew of Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher.

January - April 1942

On January 1, 1942, Rear Admiral Fletcher took command of Task Force 17 built around the carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5). He, a surface fleet admiral, was chosen over more senior officers to lead a carrier task force. He learned air operations on the job while escorting troops to the South Pacific. He was junior TF commander under tutelage of the experts: Vice Admiral William Halsey during the Marshalls-Gilberts raids in February; Vice Admiral Wilson Brown attacking the enemy landings on New Guinea in March; and had aviation expert Rear Admiral Aubrey Fitch with him during the first battle at Coral Sea.

Coral Sea — May 4–8, 1942

In May 1942, he commanded the task forces during the Battle of the Coral Sea. This battle is famous as the first carrier-on-carrier battle fought between fleets that never came within sight of each other.

Fletcher with Yorktown, Task Force 17, had been patrolling the Coral Sea and rendezvoused with Rear Admiral Aubrey Fitch with USS Lexington (CV-2), Task Force 11, and a tanker group. Fletcher finished refueling first and headed West. On hearing the enemy was occupying Tulagi, TF 17 attacked the landing beaches, sinking several small ships before rejoining Lexington and an Australian cruiser force under Rear Admiral John Gregory Crace on May 5.

The next day, intelligence reported a Japanese invasion task force headed for Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and a Carrier Strike Force was in the area. The morning of May 7, Fletcher sent the Australian cruisers to stop the transports while he sought the carriers. His combat pilots sank Japanese aircraft carrier Shōhō, escorting the enemy troop ships, — "Scratch one flat top." radioed Lt. Commander Robert Dixon flying back to the USS Lexington. Meanwhile, Japanese carrier planes of Rear Admiral Chuichi Hara found the American tanker USS Neosho (AO-23), and severely damaged days later sunk by USS Henley (DD-391) it after several all-out attacks, believing they had found a carrier, and sinking her escorting destroyer USS Sims (DD-409).

On May 8, at first light, "round three opened." Fletcher launched seventy-five aircraft, Hara sixty-nine. Fitch had greater experience in handling air operations, and Fletcher had him direct that function, as he was to do again later with Noyes at Guadalcanal. Shokaku was hit, but not damaged below waterline; it slunk away. Zuikaku had earlier dodged under a squall. The Japanese attack put two torpedoes into Lexington, which was abandoned that evening. Yorktown was hit near her island, but survived. Hara failed to use Zuikaku to achieve victory and withdrew. The invasion fleet without air cover, also withdrew, thereby halting the Port Moresby invasion. Fletcher had achieved the objective of the mission at the cost of a carrier, tanker, and destroyer. In addition, his Wildcats had beaten Japanese air groups, 52 to 35, and had damaged Shokaku,; neither Japanese carrier would be able to join the fight at Midway the following month.

This was the first World War II battle in which the Imperial Japanese Navy had been stopped. In battles in Pearl Harbor, East Indies, Australia and Ceylon, they had defeated the British, Dutch, and Asiatic Fleets, and had not lost a fleet ship larger than mine sweepers and submarines.

Midway — June 4–7, 1942

In June 1942, he was the Officer in Tactical Command at the Battle of Midway with two task forces, his usual TF 17 with quickly repaired Yorktown, plus TF 16 with USS Enterprise and USS Hornet. Vice Admiral William Halsey normally commanded this task force, but became ill and was replaced by Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance. When aircraft from four Japanese carriers attacked Midway Island, the three U.S. carriers, warned by broken Japanese codes and waiting in ambush, attacked and sank three enemy carriers – Akagi, Kaga, Soryu. Enterprise and Hornet lost seventy aircraft. Return attack damaged Yorktown. Fletcher's scouts found the fourth carrier and Enterprise with Yorktown planes then sank Hiryu. At dusk, Fletcher released Spruance to continue fighting with TF 16 the next day. During the next two days, Spruance found two damaged cruisers and sank one. The enemy transport and battle fleets got away. A Japanese submarine, I-168, found crippled Yorktown and sank her and an adjacent destroyer USS Hammann (DD-412). Japan had had seven large carriers (six at Pearl Harbor and one new construction) – four were sunk at Midway. This did not win the war, but evened the odds between Japanese and American fleet carriers. Following the battle Fletcher was promoted to Vice Admiral and continued to command a carrier group at sea after shifting his flag to USS Saratoga.

East Solomons - August 24–25, 1942

Fletcher fought a superior Japanese fleet intent on counter-invasion in the carrier aircraft Battle of the Eastern Solomons. He started the engagement and sank his sixth carrier, Ryujo. The ensuing battle was essentially a giant aerial dog fight interspersed with ship borne antiaircraft fire. The U.S. lost 20 planes, the Japanese lost 70. USS Enterprise (CV-6) was hit by three bombs and Chitose was nearly sunk, but survived. The enemy withdrew without landing troops on Guadalcanal. They had to resort to the Tokyo Express : overnight delivery of a few hundred troops and supplies by destroyers. Fletcher was second guessed by non-combatants, and was criticized by Admiral Ernest King, in Washington, for not pursuing the Combined Fleet as it withdrew. This criticism may have affected the decision to not return Fletcher to his command[citation needed] after his flagship, the carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3), was torpedoed and damaged by a Japanese submarine on August 31, 1942. Fletcher himself was slightly injured in the attack on Saratoga, suffering a gash to his head and was given his first leave after eight months of continuous combat.


Edited by Poleo1
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Beta Testers
136 posts
11,825 battles

I completely agree with Fletcher being candidate for icon status.  I still feel the man got a terribly raw deal after withdrawing the carriers from the early stages of the Guadalcanal landings.  In my opinion, he made the proper decision.  Carriers were far too valuable to risk in '42 for such operations and besides, suffering from depleted air groups and low fuel compounded an even greater sin; direct fleet carrier support of  amphibious landings was a gross misuse of the most powerful allied striking force then in the Pacific.  To anchor them to a relatively limited area from which they had to operate was not in the best interests of SOPAC at the time. He made the proper choice and when the immediate threat evaporated, he was second guessed and practically sacked.   I think he, more than anyone, prevented an allied LOSS in the Solomons.  He didn't win it but he made damn sure the tools were there when needed.

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Alpha Tester
4,697 posts
2,130 battles

Fletcher is interesting, because on one hand Ernie King had it in for him and so he did perhaps get screwed when his command was taken away after Eastern Solomons.


On the other, he was at best a good commander, while his replacement made way for the elevation of Raymond Spruance, who was a great commander, so it's difficult to say that a mistake was made.

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