William Halsey, Jr.

William Halsey, Jr.

(1882-1959)

William “Bull” Halsey, Jr. led the U.S. Navy in many of the most important battles of World War II. Halsey was the son of a i naval officer. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis (1904) and sailed aboard the “Great White Fleet” as a midshipman.

Halsey commanded destroyers in convoy escort duty across the North Atlantic in World War I and was awarded the Navy Cross. After becoming a specialist in torpedo warfare, he commanded groups of destroyers, and then groups of aircraft carriers during the 1920s and 1930s. Finding part of his vocation late in life, he attended flight school and earned the wings of a naval aviator at the age of 52.

When World War II began, Halsey was a vice-admiral in command of the aircraft carri¬ er USS Enterprise. Away from Pearl Harbor, he escaped the Japanese attack of December 7, 1941. Not content to defend in the Pacific, he attacked the Japanese at Wake Island early in 1942. Even more important for American morale, he brought the USS Hornet within 800 miles of Japan.

Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle launched his B-25 bombers from the aircraft carrier’s deck and led the first aeri¬ al bombing ofTokyo on April 18, 1942. As Americans rallied from the destruction of Pearl Harbor, Halsey became a household word; newspapers began to call him “Bull.”

In October 1942, Halsey was named com¬ mander of the South Pacific Force and pro¬ moted to full admiral that November. He defeated the Japanese in key naval battles off the island of Guadalcanal. His victories there gave the momentum in the Pacific to the United States.

Halsey rose to commander of the Third Fleet and the Western Pacific Task Forces in 1944. He directed the first carrier attack against an inland enemy flight station in the Philippines and supported General Douglas MacArthur’s invasion of the islands (see no. 87).

His most controversial battle was in Leyte Gulf (1944). Halsey was lured away from the battle area by a decoy Japanese force. This allowed the main Japanese fleet to enter the gulf and attack the American ships there. Despite being drawn away, Halsey directed his planes in the attack and they sank four Japanese carriers. After this rocky start to the battle, the Americans won the most impres¬ sive naval victory of the war.

Halsey directed his fleet in the carrier attack on Okinawa, and his planes struck again and again at the Japanese mainland, including Tokyo. The Japanese surrender was conducted aboard his flagship, the USS Missouri, although it was General MacArthur who led the U.S. delegation.

Promoted to fleet admiral in 1945, Halsey retired from the navy in 1947.