Vice-Admiral Robert Lee Ghormley, 1883-1958

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Vice-Admiral Robert Ghormley is most famous for having been the overall American commander at the start of the Guadalcanal campaign, a role he is considered to have performed quite poorly.

Ghormley was born in Oregon in 1883. He attended the University of Idaho, going on to the USNA, from where he graduated 12th out of 116 in 1906. He rose steadily through the ranks, and by 1940 was a rear admiral. In that year he was part of an American team sent to London to decide if Britain could fight on alone, and if so what help the United States could give while still remaining neutral.

In the spring of 1942 Ghormley was appointed Commander of the South Pacific Area (COMSOPAC), arriving in New Zealand on 19 June 1942. Only ten days later Admiral King suggested that the time was right for the first American offensive of the war, an attack into the lower Solomon Islands. Both Ghormley and MacArthur declared that their forces were not ready for this, but on 4 July 1942 reconnaissance aircraft discovered that the Japanese were building an airbase on Guadalcanal. If this base had been completed, then it would have covered the flanks of a Japanese advance towards Port Moresby and even for an attack on Australia. Ghormley and MacArthur had no choice but to go along with King's plans, and prepare to attack Guadalcanal.

Ghormley worked fast, issuing his plans on 16 July, and the attack itself was made on 7 August 1942. The Marines landed unopposed, and quickly captured the Japanese airfield, soon renamed Henderson Field, but after that things began to go wrong. The basic problem was the poor command structure. Although Ghormley was the overall US naval commander in the area, direct command over the fleet at Guadalcanal was held by Admiral "Black Jack" Fletcher, while the amphibious forces were commanded by R.K. Turner. Fletcher and Turner both took part in the actual campaign, while Ghormley remained in New Zealand (eventually moving to Noumea on New Caladonia). A radio blackout during the early days of the campaign meant that Ghormley had no effective control over the course of the fighting, and could do nothing to stop Fletcher from removing his carriers on 9 August. This forced Turner to withdraw his transport ships, and left the marines isolated.

Two months into the campaign, Ghormley had still not visited Guadalcanal, and on 18 October 1942 he was replaced as COMSOPAC by Admiral Halsey. From 1943-44 he commanded the Hawaiian Sea Frontier and 14th Naval District, and in 1945 he was commander, US Naval Forces in Germany, retiring on 1 August 1946 as a vice-admiral. He died in the Bethesda Naval Hospital on 21 June 1958.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (5 May 2008), Vice-Admiral Robert Lee Ghormley, 1883-1958 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_ghormley_robert.html

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