William Frederick "Bull" Halsey Jr, 1882-1959

William "Bull" Halsey was a hard-hitting American Admiral who played a major part in developing the strategy of "island skipping" in the Pacific in 1943-45 which saw the United States bypass a series of Japanese held islands during their advance across the southern and central Pacific.

Halsey was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1882, the son of a naval captain. He was a member of the Annapolis class of 1904, graduating 43rd out of 62. When the United States entered the First World War Halsey commanded destroyer patrol forces in the North Atlantic, winning the Navy Cross. After the war he commanded USS Wickes (DD-75) and served as the American naval attaché in Germany, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, before in 1935 moving into Naval aviation, qualifying as a flier in that year.

USS Wickes (DD-75) moored
USS Wickes (DD-75)
moored

Halsey advanced quickly in his new branch, commanding the carrier USS Saratoga from 1935 to 1937 and the Pensacola Naval Air Station from 1937 to 1938, before being promoted to command Carrier Division 2 in June 1938. His first task was to prepare for the entry of the new carriers USS Enterprise and Yorktown into service . On 3 June 1940 he was promoted to vice admiral, and in 1941 he became commander of the Air Forces of the Pacific Fleet.

William Halsey
William Frederick "Bull" Halsey Jr, 1882-1959

On 7 December 1941 Halsey and his carriers were absent from Pearl Harbor, and thus avoided destruction in the Japanese attack. In February 1942 his carriers took part in the first American counter-attacks, against Japanese positions in the Gilbert and Marshal Islands and on Wake Island. After a brief period of sick leave in the US, he returned to USS Hornet on 13 April 1942, in time to take part in the Doolittle raid, the first American attack against the Japanese home islands.

Soon after this Halsey was struck down by a serious skin condition. While he was absent his carriers were placed under the command of Admiral Raymond Spruance. It was thus Spruance who had command of the carriers during the battle of Midway of June 1942.

In September 1942 Halsey was finally ready to return to active service. He was appointed to command a task force under Admiral Ghormley in the South Pacific, but on 18 October he was ordered to replace Ghormley as USN Commander South Pacific (COMSOPAC). His first priority was to complete the conquest of Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands. Halsey arrived just in time for the battle of the Santa Cruz Islands (October 1942), a costly Japanese victory that ended with the loss of USS Hornet. He was more successful during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal of November 1942, and was able to prevent Admiral Abe's bombardment force from effectively attacking Henderson Field. His naval forces were also able to prevent any significant Japanese reinforcements from reaching the island. On 26 November Halsey was promoted to full admiral.

Admiral Halsey watching troops embark for Bougainville
Admiral Halsey
watching troops
embark for Bougainville
On 15 March 1943 Halsey's forces began the 3rd Fleet, which on 29 March came under the operational control of General MacArthur. Halsey and MacArthur soon developed a good working relationship. At this point MacArthur was still planning to capture the important Japanese base at Rabaul, but Halsey played a part in convincing him to isolate the stronger Japanese bases in what became known as the "island skipping" campaign. Rabaul itself would stay in Japanese hands until the end of the war.

The 3rd Fleet's next target was New Georgia. Halsey skipped past the circular island of Kolombangara, and on 15 August 1943 landed troops on Vella Lavella, at the western end of the New Georgia islands. Two weeks later the Americans attacked Arundel Island, south east of Kolombangara. The Japanese were forced to abandon the central Solomons, and between 28 September and 3 October 1943 retreated back to Bougainville.

Once again the 3rd Fleet bypassed the main Japanese strongholds on Bougainville. On 27 October 1943 the 3rd New Zealand Division captured the Treasury Islands, to the south of Bougainville, and on 1 November General Vandegrift and the Marines landed at Empress Augusta Bay, on the west coast of Bougainville. This isolated location was guarded by only 2,000 Japanese troops and was very difficult to reinforce by land. Although the fighting dragged on into March 1944, American naval strength prevented the Japanese from reacting effectively, and forced the Japanese carriers to abandon Rabaul.

Halsey then moved on to begin the isolation of Rabaul. On 15 December 1943 Allied troops landed near Arawe, at the opposite end of New Britain, securing the place after a month long battle. The next attack came to the east of Rabaul, when on 14 February 1944 (15 February in some sources) the New Zealand 3rd Division landed on Green Island, 37 miles to the north west of Buka, at the tip of the Solomon Islands.

In the summer of 1944 the Americans dramatically redistributed their naval forces in the Pacific. On 14 June 1944 Halsey was relieved as COMSOPAC (and was replaced by John H. Newton). Halsey and the 3rd Fleet moved into the Central Pacific. The 3rd Fleet was then merged with the 5th Fleet. Command of this massive naval force would alternate between Halsey and Spruance, with the name changing with the commanders (3rd fleet for Halsey, 5th for Spruance). Task Force titles would also change, so task force 38 and task force 58 were actually the same unit.

In August 1944 Spruance returned to Pearl Harbour to plan the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, leaving Halsey in command of the 3rd Fleet. This meant he was in command during the battle of Leyte Gulf, the last time the Japanese navy posed a series threat to the US Navy. The elaborate Japanese plan depended on Admiral Ozawa's decoy force being able to pull Halsey's 3rd Fleet away from Leyte, in the hope that this would allow the rest of the fleet to attack the Americans off Leyte.

Halsey began the battle with contradictory orders - he was both to guard the San Bernardino Strait and destroy the main Japanese fleet. When his planes sighted Ozawa's decoy force, Halsey led his sixty four ships north to attack Ozawa's seventeen (24-25 October 1944). Halsey did sink four Japanese carriers and one battleship but his move left the Seventh Fleet in great danger. Fortunately for Halsey and Kinkaid the Japanese Admiral Kurita failed to take advantage, and the danger passed.

After supporting MacArthur's invasion of Luzon in January 1945, Halsey was replaced at sea by Spruance, who took command of the fleet for the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa (as the Fifth Fleet). In May Halsey returned to command, remaining with the fleet (now the Third Fleet again) for the remainder of the fighting around Okinawa and Japan, while Spruance spent his time planning for the invasion of Japan. On 2 September 1945 the Japanese surrender was signed on Halsey's flagship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

On 20 September 1945 Halsey was replaced by Spruance for the last time, and returned to Pearl Harbor to take command of a new seperate Third Fleet. On 22 November 1945 he hauled down his flag and took up a special assignment in Washington. On 12 December 1945 he was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet, remaining in Washington for the next year. In April 1947 Hasley retired from active service and moved to Pasadina, California. He died on 16 August 1956.

Midway: Dauntless Victory, Fresh Perspectives on America's Seminal Naval Victory of World War II, Peter C. Smith. A very detailed and well researched account of the battle of Midway and of the historical debate that still surrounds it, supported by a mass of original documents and interviews with participants. An invaluable look at this crucial battle. [see more]
cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (3 May 2008), William Frederick "Bull" Halsey Jr, 1882-1959, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_halsey_bull.html

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