Rear Admiral Jessie Oldendorf, 1887-1972

Jessie Oldendorf (1887-1972) was an American admiral best known as the victor at the battle of the Surigao Strait (25 October 1944), the last naval battle to be fought between two forces of battleships. Oldendorf was a career navy man, graduating from Annapolis in 1909. During 1942-43 he served in the Atlantic theatre, first as the commander of the Aruba-Curaçao area of the Caribbean (1942-43) and then as commander of the Naval base on Trinidad. In April 1943 he moved north to take command of Task Force 24, which provided convoy escorts in the Newfoundland area. He held this post until the end of the year.

In January 1944 he moved to the Pacific war, taking commander of Cruiser Division 4 in Admiral Halsey's 3rd Fleet. From then until the summer of 1945 he commanded a succession of cruiser and battleships groups, mainly providing fire support during the many amphibious landings of the Pacific war.

In January 1944 he took part in the invasion of Kwajalein Atoll. In February he was at Eniwetok, and in April he bombarded Satawan (close to Truk). He took part in the preliminary bombardments of Saipan, and provided fire support during the invasions of Tinian, Peleliu and Angaur.

In October 1944 he was moved from the main 3rd Fleet to Admiral Kinkaid's 7th Fleet, which was operating in support of General MacArthur. Oldendorf commanded the entire fleet until Kinkaid arrived on 20 October, the day of the Leyte landings. He was then given a task group based around six of the US Navy's 'old' battleships, all of which had been modernised to some extent. The Japanese responded to the invasion of Leyte by sending four separate fleets to attack the American shipping in Leyte Gulf. Oldendorf would face Admiral Nishimura's 'C Force', which attempted to break into the Gulf from the south, through the Surigao Strait. Nishimura had two battleships, one heavy cruiser and four destroyers when he began his approach, but by the time he came within range of Oldendorf's big guns this force had been reduced to one battleship, one cruiser and one destroyer. Just before 4am on 25 October Oldendorf's battleships opened fire on the surviving Japanese ships (Battle of the Surigao Strait). For the last time in naval history two forces of battleships were engaged in a gun battle, but it was very one-sided. Oldendorf had 'crossed the T', getting his six battleships in line in front of the Japanese ships. After a short battle Nishimura was forced to withdraw, but it was too late to save his remaining battleship, and the Japanese admiral went down with his ship. Only one of his ships, the destroyer Shigure, survived the battle. A second Japanese fleet, under Admiral Shima, was close behind Nishimura, but when it became clear that the first fleet had been destroyer Shima withdrew. Even so he lost two destroyers during the pursuit. Oldendorf was forced to call of his pursuit early by events further to the north, where a much more powerful Japanese battleship force under Admiral Kurita was threatening to break into Leyte Gulf (Battle of Samar). Oldendorf prepared to move north to fight a second battle, but Kurita retreated before this clash could take place. The battle of Leyte Gulf ended as a massive defeat for the Japanese.

In December 1944 Oldendorf was promoted to vice-admiral and given command of BB Squadron 1. In January 1945 his squadron supported the landings at Lingayen Gulf. 1945 was blighted by two injuries. On 11 March, while taking part in a planning meeting at Ulithi, a boat taking Oldendorf to the flagship USS Tennessee hit a mooring buoy. Oldendorf was badly injured and was out of action until 1 May. He returned to command Task Force 95 during the invasion of Okinawa. His force was then used as a radar picket, watching out for kamikaze attacks. In August Oldendorf himself was injured during one of these attacks, and invalided back the United States, ending his participation in the Pacific. When he returned to duty it was as commander of the 11th Naval District, San Diego. After the war he was commander of the Western Sea Frontier from 1947 until retiring in 1949 as a full admiral.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (1 June 2012), Rear Admiral Jessie Oldendorf, 1887-1972 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_oldendorf_jessie.html

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