On this day in 1942, Vice. Adm. William F. Halsey replaces Vice Adm. Robert L. Ghormley as commander, South Pacific.
The man nicknamed “Bull” by the press began his military career as a destroyer commander during World War I. Halsey was made a captain at the age of 53, earned his naval aviator’s wings, and was promoted to vice admiral in 1940. But it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor that would mark out his future for him. Halsey’s task force was one of the few functioning battle groups left after the destruction of so much of the American fleet, placing him in the position of making the unpredictable and aggressive strategic decisions for which he would become renowned.
In 1942, he led surprise attacks on the Marshall and Gilbert Islands and supported the American reinforcement of troops on Samoa. It was his task force (a temporary organization of a fleet for a specific operation) that carried the 16 B-25 bombers for Jimmy Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo in April 1942. By this time, Halsey’s reputation for being where the action was had made him arguably the most famous American admiral of the war. And so it is ironic that he missed two major Naval engagements: the Battle of the Coral Sea (his fleet was not strategically positioned to participate) and the Battle of Midway (a severe case of dermatitis put him out of commission).
But by October 1942, Halsey was back just in time to be appointed commander of South Pacific operations by Admiral Nimitz, who wanted Vice Admiral Ghormley replaced. (Ghormley had suffered several defeats militarily and severe cases of indecision and anxiety personally.) Brilliant work in the capture of the Solomon Islands and New Guineas led to Halsey’s promotion to full admiral. His career continued to strike awe in his admirers and terror in his enemies, as he succeeded in destroying the Japanese fleet in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944, and commanding U.S. forces in the operations that led to the capture of Okinawa and the surrender of the Japanese there.