The Grand Admiral Part II


Dönitz’s handling of these problems calls to mind those earlier reports of his ‘ability and quick perception of essentials …’ in staff appointments, and his deftness in dealing with other ministries. This was particularly noticeable in his handling of the Führer himself. In three apparently effortless stages he not only reversed the edict on scrapping the big ships, but turned the whole naval production situation round. The initial steps were taken during his first conference with the Führer on February 8th; Hitler agreed in principle that no more skilled workers engaged in U-boat construction or repairs should be called up for the Army; the next day he agreed that the big ships should be ordered out to battle as soon as a worthwhile target appeared, and that once out they should be allowed to operate on the force Commander’s initiative without any restrictions such as Hitler himself and the naval staff had imposed on earlier sorties. It is interesting that the British naval intelligence assessment of Dönitz’s character led them to predict that his appointment as C-in-C would lead to the big ships being used to attack the northern convoys or to attempt a desperate break-out into the Atlantic.

At his next meeting with the Führer on February 26th, Dönitz said that in his opinion the Archangel convoys with war supplies for Russia would make excellent targets for the surface forces and he considered it his duty, in view of the heavy fighting on the eastern front, to exploit this possibility to the full. To Hitler’s disbelief he went on to propose the despatch of the Scharnhorst to reinforce the Tirpitz—both condemned in his earlier plans—in northern Norway for the purpose.

Hitler objected that he was strongly opposed to any further surface ship engagements since, beginning with the Graf Spee, they had led to one loss after another. ‘The time for great ships is over. I would rather have the steel and nickel from these ships than send them into battle again.’

There were strong grounds for this view; the Pacific war had demonstrated that the gunned surface warship had been mastered by air power, and German naval-air co-operation had not begun to meet the challenge. However, Dönitz countered by implying again that the previous failures of German surface units had been due to restrictions placed on the force Commanders.

Hitler denied that he had ever issued orders of that sort, and contrasted the lack of fighting spirit shown in the surface ships with the bitter fighting by German soldiers on the eastern front and said how unbearable it was to see Russian strength built up continually by the northern convoys.

Dönitz seized his chance: he would consider it his duty, instead of decommissioning the Tirpitz and Scharnhorst, to send them into action whenever suitable targets for them could be found.

After further discussion at which both stuck to their guns, Hitler said finally, ‘We will see who is right. I will give you six months to prove that the big ships can still achieve something.’

There was a price to pay for Dönitz’s victory; as Michael Salewski, author of one of the few scholarly works on the German naval High Command, has pointed out, from that moment on Dönitz was under pressure to use the heavy ships in the way he had promised; their success was in the nature of a wager struck between the two men, the stake the big ships themselves.

In his efforts to gain more steel for the Navy, continuing through the spring, Dönitz fully convinced Hitler of the necessity for his expanded programme but there were so many other urgent priorities for the fighting in the east and so little steel that the matter was only fully resolved when he allowed Speer to take over naval construction. This was what Speer had been attempting to gain from Raeder; that Dönitz agreed to it—with suitable safeguards in the shape of a naval shipbuilding commission under his own nominee, Rear Admiral Topp—demonstrates his excellent sense of priorities. The scheme was fought through in the teeth of the naval construction department under Admiral Fuchs, whom Dönitz wanted to sack, but he could find no replacement for some time. While there was still a chance of rational production it proved itself: Speer had virtually the entire production resources of the Reich at his disposal and could exploit the materials and manpower in this vast empire better than individual services fighting their own corner. The measure also released Dönitz from one of Raeder’s constant frustrations, allowing him to devote more time to operations.

The Battle of the Atlantic was now at its height; from Dönitz’s point of view there were several disturbing developments. The first, noted in January, was the success with which the enemy routed his convoys around U-boat groups and the fact, confirmed by intercepts of allied U-boat disposition reports, that they had a very accurate knowledge of where the groups were. Hessler and the 1A Operations, Kapitänleutnant Schnee, made a detailed analysis of all the information probably available to the allies from bearings of U-boat wireless transmissions, sightings, radar contacts and U-boat attacks on ships, matched this with the allied reports and came to the conclusion that it was possible—except in one or two unexplained instances—for the enemy to have arrived at their precise knowledge by these means.

Dönitz’s suspicion of treachery was strong, nonetheless, and every member of the U-boat staff at am Steinplatz was subjected to investigation within the department; this turned up indiscreet French liaisons but no traitor. Finally only Dönitz and Godt remained to be vetted. ‘Shall I investigate you,’ Godt asked, ‘or will you investigate me?’

Meanwhile, despite the conviction of the communications experts that the enemy could not have broken the Enigma codes, Dönitz had ordered U-boats at sea to use the fourth rotor in their enciphering machine. It was a good move; the cryptanalyists at Bletchley Park had broken in again on the previous December 13th and the accurate situation reports were in fact based on decrypts. The fourth rotor blacked them out for a while, but they soon broke in again. B-Dienst was reading the allied convoy routing signals at the same time and as the speed of both sides’ decrypts varied randomly from a few hours to several days it is hardly possible to say which had the edge, nor is it important; this climax of the U-boat campaign was decided on other factors.

The most potent of these was manifesting itself to U-boat Command by a sharply increased rate of losses of boats on the way to or from their Biscay bases. The war diary for March 23rd noted:

between November 1942 and January 1943 enemy air activity against U-boats had little result but since February its effect has increased to an alarming extent. We cannot tell whether this is due to improved location gear or more suitable types of aircraft …

There had been suspicions for several weeks that a new type of radar location was being used since Commanders were reporting being attacked by aircraft at night or out of low cloud without any warning from their Metox radar search receivers now in use on all boats. It seemed as if the enemy had deliberately developed a location device working on frequencies outside the range of this warning apparatus.

These were indeed the first signs of a very short wave allied radar operating on a wave length of only 10 cm instead of the old 1·5 m, designed not to outwit the boats’ receivers, but to gain greater range and definition. By these early months of 1943 the revolutionary set was being fitted to surface escorts as well as aircraft. As for the aircraft, the Boeings, Beaufighters, Liberators and Fortresses probing Biscay outmatched the few Junkers possessed by the Air Commander, Atlantic, who did not expect anything better in the near future. ‘There will be further particularly painful losses,’ Godt predicted.

Yet, despite all difficulties it was still possible towards the end of March for Dönitz to believe that with more boats and a tremendous effort he could win. The latest battle in the North Atlantic had resulted in the biggest success ever for U-boat packs against convoys.

The operation had been set off by B-Dienst, on top form, supplying U-boat Command absolutely current routing instructions for Convoy HX 229 eastbound off the US coast. On Dönitz’s instructions other operations had been broken off and all boats in the area formed into three patrol lines, Raubgraf (robber baron), Stürmer (daredevil) and Dränger (Harrier) across their route. While the boats were speeding to their positions B-Dienst intercepted new allied routing instructions for the convoy and another nearby convoy, SC122, which was also heading east; these were designed to steer the convoys around the northernmost Raubgraf line, which had revealed its presence by attacking a westbound convoy. The U-boat lines were now re-positioned and early in the morning of March 16th, U 603 of Raubgraf found herself in very heavy weather in the midst of one of the convoys. She reported and shadowed in exemplary fashion and U-boat Command ordered half the available boats towards her convoy, then after an intercept by B-Dienst suggested that the other convoy had passed, ordered all boats at full speed towards her position.

By dusk that evening seven boats were in contact, working their way ahead on the surface into attack positions, and at 10 o’clock U 603 herself opened the action from inside the escorts, scoring one hit. The other boats came in at half-hour intervals throughout the night, hitting another seven merchantmen although reporting rather more. The five escorts, meanwhile, who had to spend much of their time in rescue work, damaged two of the boats in depth charge attacks.

At the same time one of the Stürmer boats, U 388, heading towards the scene found herself in the midst of another convoy, actually SC 122, and attacked, scoring four hits. There was some confusion at U-boat Command about whether this was the second convoy or whether she had made a mistake in navigation, but the situation clarified during the next day, and orders were sent out distributing the boats roughly equally between the two convoys. Meanwhile reports of sinkings amounting to fourteen ships of 90,000 tons and a further six damaged had induced high spirits at U-boat Command, where the staff had been up all night. Godt sent a jaunty signal to all boats in the style of his chief. Dönitz was in Italy at this time, but it is possible he dictated the order by telephone.

Bravo! Dranbleiben! Weiter so!’ (‘Bravo! Keep at it! Carry on like that!’)

The convoys were in the central Atlantic ‘air gap’ now but approaching the extreme limit of very long range Liberators stationed in Northern Ireland, and one of these ordered out that morning reached the leading convoy, SC 122, and forced two of the shadowing boats to dive; she could not stay for long, however, and in the interval before the arrival of another aircraft, U 388 was able to work ahead into position for an underwater attack and she sank another merchantman. Similar underwater attacks were made on the original HX convoy which lacked air cover and three of whose escorts were attending merchantmen crippled the previous night; two more ships were sunk.

More and more boats were homing in meanwhile to both convoys but the appearance of Liberators shortly before dusk forced them to dive, and probably because the weather was still bad and the convoys made the usual dusk alterations throwing off the shadowers contact was not regained until the following day. By this time the actions were moving out of the ‘air gap’ and the boats were constantly forced to dive by the appearance of shore-based aircraft. They hung on nevertheless for another two days and nights, sinking another seven merchantmen until continuous air cover around the convoys made prospects hopeless. Before the operation was finally called off one boat was sunk when attacked by aircraft through squall clouds.

Analysing the results at U-boat Command it was noted that ‘As in so many actions the surprise attacks on the first night were the most successful …’ but then owing to the appearance of land-based aircraft ‘the U-boats from the second day on had a hard struggle’. Results were assessed as 32 ships totalling 186,000 tons and one destroyer sunk, and nine other ships hit. ‘This is so far the greatest success obtained in a convoy battle and more gratifying in that nearly 50 per cent of the boats shared in it.’ The Propaganda Ministry, badly needing good news, boosted the tonnage to 204,000 and early in April, as a further propaganda exercise, Hitler presented Dönitz with the oak leaves of the Knight’s Cross in recognition of the triumph and the total March sinking figures of 779,533 tons (actually 627,300 tons) which closely approached the record set the previous November.

The actual results of the battle were 22 merchantmen of a total 146,596 tons sunk (no destroyer hit) against only one U-boat destroyed; the shock impelled both Roosevelt and Churchill to intervene personally; as a result more destroyers were made available for ‘support groups’ to reinforce the convoy escorts under attack, and more long-range Liberators were provided to close the ‘air gap’. In this sense the U-boats’ undoubted triumph in the four-days’ battle, March 16–19th, hastened their ultimate defeat—for it seems that the allied chiefs of staff needed such a jolt to remind them of the Casablanca Conference decision that the defeat of the U-boats was their first priority.

In another sense, the balance was bound to tip against Dönitz at some stage, and the process was already well under way. On the very day that the U-boat Command war diary noted ‘the greatest success so far obtained in a convoy battle’ the British Commander of the Western Atlantic defences, Admiral Sir Max Horton, wrote to a friend, ‘I really have hopes now that we can turn from the defence to another and better role—killing them.’ He went on:

The real trouble has been basic—too few ships, all too hard worked with no time for training… The Air of course is a tremendous factor, & it is only recently that the many promises that have been made show signs of fulfilment so far as shore-based air is concerned, after three and a half years of war … All these things are coming to a head just now and although the last week has been one of the blackest on the sea, so far as this job is concerned I am really hopeful.

The U-boats’ successes had been made possible by the diversion of allied resources to the North African landings, the Pacific campaign and to bombing raids over Europe, aimed first at knocking out the U-boat bases and, when it proved impossible to penetrate the giant concrete shelters provided by Todt and Speer, to crippling German industry in the Ruhr. There were already more than enough long range Liberators to cover the whole North Atlantic convoy routes, and if a fraction of the effort devoted to these ‘offensive’ raids had been spent on the protection of convoys Dönitz’s gloomy forecasts of the late summer of 1942 must have been fulfilled and a great many allied ships and fives saved—not to mention civilians in France and Germany who also paid the price for the mistaken bombing policy. In this sense the crisis in which the allies found themselves in the spring of 1943—and which Dönitz and most German authorities on the U-boat war have used to claim that the Atlantic battle was a close-run thing—was entirely self-induced. There was never a possibility that the U-boats which Dönitz was throwing into the attack could have cut the Atlantic lifeline; directly they threatened to do so, allied resources must have been re-allocated from so-called offensive operations to the defence of this vital artery, and since the contemporary German U-boat had been rendered obsolete by improved aircraft performance and weaponry, his surface and group tactics by radar, this must have proved fatal.

Martial Women of Medieval Europe and the Crusades


Eleanor of Aquitaine: (A.D. 1122?–1204) Romancers have placed her in the Second Crusade, clad in polished armor, plume dancing in the sun, dashing over the hillsides and killing Moors. The reality is hardly less impressive. On Easter Day, A.D. 1146, she offered the Abbé Bernard of Clairvaux, at Vézelay, her thousands of vassals, who formed the core of the Second Crusade. She intended to lead her legion personally and opinions vary as to how far she actually succeeded, although contemporary legend assumes the most. On the day of her army’s departure, Eleanor appeared in Vezelay riding a white horse, clad in armor, “with gilded buskins on her feet and plumes in her hair,” surrounded by other armored women, including Sybelle, Countess of Flanders, Mamille of Roucy, Florine of Bourgogne, Torqueri of Bouilon, and Faydide of Toulouse, all splendidly appointed. If it was a charade, she kept it up all along the route to the Holy Land. She met the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Komnenos and went from his court, by sea, to Syria, where her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers, one of the most brilliant knights of the age, was ruler. She went thence to Jerusalem, where she was greeted by Queen Melisande, ruler of Christians during the Crusades. Melisande not only fought Moslems, but also her own son, refusing to give up her rule when he came of age.

Independent evidence from the Greek historian Nicetas describes European women in the Crusades, and names especially “the Lady of the Golden Boot,” whom we can reasonably assume to be the same Eleanor with gilded buskins who started out from Vézelay, though some historians believe Nicetas referred to a troop of women in the employ of the German Conrad. The Greek historian describes her elegant and martial bearing, and describes, as well, her armored ladies with spears and axes, mounted on fine chargers.

Eleanor had been inspired by Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered and the character of Clorinda when she had armor specially made for herself and her ladies-in-waiting. Many historians today dismiss this event, and suggest that, at the first sign of trouble, she and her women turned around and headed home. Nicetas’ report strongly suggests otherwise. The Bull of the Third Crusade (1189) expressly forbade women to join the expeditions, although the First Crusade included equal numbers of men, women, and children, and the Second seems to have included numerous noblewomen inspired by Queen Eleanor after her spectacle at Vézelay, where she had ridden about the countryside calling for crusaders. Whether the Bull of the Third Crusade was obeyed seems unlikely, as too many of the warrior-monks were of denominations that included nun auxiliaries, and a great many mendicant-nuns were free to roam at will.


Medieval nuns were often members of wandering sects and traveled armed for self-defensive reasons. Others were adjunct to famous sects of fighting monks and accompanied them on the Crusades. Still others learned to fight for the protection of their lands and convents in a tumultuous age, as was the case with Philothéy Benizélos of Greece and Julienne du Guesdin of Brittainy. At the siege of Seville by Espartero, an anticleric, the nuns of Seville rose against him, so that his siege was repelled. There can be no question but that nuns and abbesses have had a great propensity for violence, as witness the stories of Chrodielde and Leubevére warring in the sixth century for control of an abbey, or Renée de Bourbon in the late 1400s in armed struggle for reforms. In the monk wars of early Christian Ireland, women were reported fighting amidst the clergy, undoubtedly nuns.

An eleventh-century nun’s marginalia in an illuminated manuscript shows a nun jousting with a monk on horseback and defeating him. This piece can be seen reproduced in Karen Peterson and J. J. Wilson’s Women Artists (1976). Some would say the artist was being satiric, but the reality of her age better upholds the conclusion that she was depicting actual military exercises practiced by monks and nuns. The ill-fated First Crusade led by Peter the Hermit was most assuredly made up of men, women, and children. Misson in Voyage d’Italie (1688) reported his personal inspection of an arsenal of the Palazzo-Real, which included cuirasses and helmets for women, which he was told were worn by Genoese ladies who fought Turks in 1301. Searching for confirmation, he uncovered three letters in the archives of Genoa, written by Pope Boniface VIII, discussing in detail the “warlike infatuation” of Genoese ladies who were Crusaders in 1383. As they are referred to as “ladies” rather than courtesans, and known to the pope, it is probable that they took vows before leaving for the East, in the manner of the monk-knights. If these women had not taken such vows, their troop would almost certainly have been referred to in a manner similar to that of the twelve hundred women-at-arms accompanying the duke of Alva in Flanders in the late 1500s, who were considered harlots for not taking vows.

An account survives, written by the sister of a monk (perhaps “sister” is not literal but a reference to her status as a nun), describing her experience during Saladin’s siege of Jerusalem: “I wore a helmet or at any rate walked on the ramparts wearing on my head a metal dish which did as well as a helmet. Woman though I was I had the appearance of a warrior. I slung stones at the enemy. I concealed my fears. It was hot and there was never a moment’s rest. Once a catapulted stone fell near me and I was injured by the fragments.”

Crusading women were romanticized in literature, plays, and songs, so that even Eleanor of Aquitaine was inspired to a women’s crusade and had armor made for her ladies-in-waiting. Among the queens of Europe whose valor in the Crusades is certain, we must count Florine of Denmark, Marguerite de Provence and Berengaria of Navarre. Additional indicators include the “troop of Amazons” that accompanied Emperor Conrad to Syria, and the women Crusaders in the ranks of William, Count of Poitiers, as reported by Guibert de Nogent in Gesta Dei per Francos (God’s Deeds of the Franks), book VII.

Of later periods, there are clear records regarding the unconventional activity of nuns. Le Lusca in Introduzione al Nouvellare was amused by the women of the Alpine convents who on certain days “were permitted to dress up as gentlemen, with velvet caps on their heads, tight-fitting hose, and having sword at side,” and come out of holy seclusion to partake, as gallants, in carnival society. Antonio Francesco Grazzini reports also of nuns who arrived at carnivals clad as cavaliers, swords at side, acting as gallants. Until reforms started by the Council of Trent, Italian convents were places of considerable liberty, with young patricians sporting in the gardens with the nuns, or, even more notoriously, the nuns “converting” maidens and widows by spending nights in their beds and taking them afterward to their convents. Novelists may seem to have exaggerated these propensities, yet the records show that in 1329 the nuns of Montefalco were excommunicated for such behavior; in 1447, several nuns were “reformed” by means of life imprisonment; and, in 1472, a Franciscan commissioner reported on the “irreligious and unbridled lives” of nuns. A 1403 law prohibited citizens of Bologna from any longer hanging about the convents or to converse and play music with the nuns.

Le President de Brosses, in Lettres familière écrites d’Italie, volume 1, was equally amused by Italian nuns, who as a rule carried stilettoes. These Lettres include an account of the abbess of Pomponne who fought a duel with a lady who wished to take over the abbey. Various popes found it necessary to declare the heretical nature of fighting women, in an attempt to minimize their participation. The centuries-old ban on women wearing armor would be the technicality upon which Joan of Arc was condemned to burn.


Florine: Betrothed to the king of Denmark, she accompanied him in A.D. 1097 on the ill-fated First Crusade, and died with him in battle.

Marguerite de Provence, Queen of France: (A.D. 1221–1295) Daughter of Raymond Berenger, she married Louis IX in 1254. She accompanied him on the Crusade and was in Damietta with him during a siege. At the height of the battle, she elicited a vow from an officer to behead her if the Moslems breached the walls. She behaved “with heroic entrepidity” when the king was captured.

There were many such women of the Crusades. They were “animated by the double enthusiasm of religion and valor,” and they “often performed the most incredible exploits on the field of battle, and died with arms in their hands at the side of their lovers.”

Berengaria of Navarre: (A.D. 1172?–1230?) Daughter of Sancho the Wise, King of Naples. She married Richard the Lionheart in 1191 and accompanied him to the Mideast, participating in the Crusade against Saladin. After the death of Richard, she founded an abbey and ruled its vast estates.

Chrodielde: A martial nun of the convent of Poitiers. Her bid to usurp Leubevére, abbess of Cheribert, in A.D. 590, began with political maneuvering and escalated to battle. Repulsed from the convent along with her partisans, Chrodielde withdrew to the fortified cathedral of St. Hilary and there raised an army of criminals and outcasts, who fought against the bishops seeking Chrodielde’s arrest. At the heart of Chrodielde’s popularity with the peasants was the greed of the landholding church authority, who were frankly no better than any other landlords then or now. It seems evident that nuns and midwives commonly filled the void of sympathetic leadership among the peasants of the medieval world, which is but one of the reasons for the massive witch burnings.

Childebert, King of France, sent his troops to put down the war between Chrodielde and Leubevére, “but Chrodielde and her banditti made such a valiant resistance that it was with difficulty the king’s orders were executed.” Chrodielde was ultimately excommunicated for leading peasants to rebellion.

Leubevére: Falsely accused of impious crimes by Chrodielde, Leubevére, abbess of St. Radegunde convent, repulsed her rival and afterward waged war against Chrodielde’s army of thieves, outcasts, and disenfranchised peasants. The convents and monasteries of A.D. 590 tended to be little more than the estates of wealthy landholders with forces to defend their rights and to manage troublesome serfs. The bishops called upon the king of France to quell these warrior-nuns. King Childebert sent forces that were hard put to suppress Chrodielde. Leubevére was later found innocent of Chrodielde’s charges, but was nonetheless dragged in the streets by her hair, then imprisoned, for leading nuns to battle.

Prince Junio Valerio Borghese

"Junio Valerio Borghese in the guise of officer of Regia Marina; member of the noble Borghese family, he got on during World War II. Italy. (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)"

“Junio Valerio Borghese in the guise of officer of Regia Marina; member of the noble Borghese family, he got on during World War II. Italy. (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)”

(1906–1974) naval officer and political figure

This member of the BORGHESE FAMILY carried on the family military tradition. His personal charisma, independence of mind, military professionalism, and ability to inspire loyalty suggest similarities with the Renaissance CONDOTTIERI of his ancestry. His well-planned attacks on ships supplying the anti-Franco forces during the Spanish civil war could not be publicized at the time because Italy was not officially at war, but they caught the attention of BENITO MUSSOLINI and gave Borghese access to Italy’s highest military and political circles. He developed new techniques of naval attack using small submarines, torpedo boats (MAS), and human-guided torpedoes. During WORLD WAR II he led successful attacks with human-guided torpedoes against British ships in Gibraltar and Alexandria. After Italy’s surrender to the Allies in September 1943, Borghese was among the few naval officers who sided with Mussolini and continued to fight against the Allies. As commander of the battalion Decima Mas he fought against Italian and Yugoslav partisans. His insistence on independent action led to his temporary arrest for insubordination, but he was too popular with the troops to be detained. The slogan of his corps was Tutti per Junio, Junio per tutti (All for Junio, Junio for all). His troops attempted to keep Tito’s Yugoslav forces out of Italian territory. A tribunal sentenced him to 12 years in jail after the war, but he was released almost immediately. In post- war politics he was active in the neo-Fascist Italian Social Movement ( MSI ). In March 1971 he staged a coup against the government with a ragtag band of followers that was quickly dispersed. He fled to Spain to avoid arrest. His funeral in Rome brought out large numbers of personal admirers and political sympathizers. His book of memoirs covering the years 1935–43 was published in English under the title Sea Devils (1952).


Decima Mas

The most innovative naval arm was the “ X ” MAS (Decima Mas). This unit was made up of (1) midget submarines; (2) underwater swimmers trained in sabotage; (3) surface speedboats filled with explosives and piloted by crewmen who jumped off shortly before the vessels hit their targets; and (4) the slow-moving torpedo, or SLC, which was ridden by two men under water into enemy harbors. The most successful of these weapons was the SLC, directly developed from a World War I weapon that was employed against Austria-Hungary with good results; it was usually launched from a submarine. The most spectacular success for the SLCs occurred on 18 December 1941, when three of them entered Alexandria harbour and crippled the British battleships Queen Elizabeth and Valiant. With the exception of the midget submarines, the naval High Command ignored these weapons until 1935 and then only grudgingly supported junior officers involved in innovative development. A more forceful development program begun after World War I might well have made an important difference in World War II.


Post 1943 the “ X ” MAS (Decima Mas) unit was an autonomous force organized by Prince Julio Valerio Borghese. Composed of 25,000 volunteers, it gained a reputation for effective and hard fighting against the partisans, primarily Tito’s Yugoslav Partisans in Istria. It also included a women’s unit. In addition, the Germans recruited Italian volunteers into the Waffen-SS. These units had both Italian and German names and usually were commanded by German officers. They performed well on the Anzio Front and against partisans.

Borghese family

This family of the Roman aristocracy traces its origins back to 13th-century Siena. They moved to Rome in the 16th century, gaining influence in the Catholic Church and the court of Spain. Camillo Borghese became Pope PAUL V ; other family members were cardinals, senators, and soldiers. Marcantonio Borghese (1598–1658), nephew of Pope Paul V and the largest Roman landowner, received from the Spanish king the titles of prince and grandee of Spain. Breaking with the family tradition of loyalty to papacy and monarchy, Prince Camillo Borghese (1775–1832) sided with the JACOBINS in 1798 and supported the Napoleonic regime. He married Pauline Bonaparte (1780–1825), a sister of NAPOLEON I , at the emperor’s request, became a general in the French army, and governor of Napoleon’s Italian possessions. The Borghese did not support the movement for Italian unification and remained loyal to the PAPACY . They belonged to the so-called Black Aristocracy of Rome that made peace with the Italian state slowly and grudgingly. The family’s monumental Palazzo Borghese, a splendid example of aristocratic architecture, was an exclusive meeting place for national and international celebrities. The Borghese Museum and Gallery, open to the public, house the extensive art collections of the family.

Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa (1886–1966)


Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa (October 2, 1886 – November 9, 1966) was an admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. He is most notable for commanding the Japanese fleet during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and the Japanese “Decoy” Force during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He also served as the final Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Ozawa was nicknamed the “Gargoyle” because he was extremely tall (6’7 , 2 m) and was commonly regarded as one of the three ugliest admirals in the Imperial Japanese Navy. He also had a reputation for being both courageous and compassionate towards his men. Many historians regard Ozawa as one of the most capable Japanese flag officers.

Jisaburo Ozawa had a distinguished naval career and succeeded Toyoda as the last Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet in May 1945, when the end of the fleet and surrender of his country was simply a matter of time. A modest man, he refused promotion to admiral because he believed that serving his country was more important than rank.

He was born on 2 October 1886, in rural Koyu County on the Japanese island of Kyushu. Like his contemporaries at the head of the Imperial Japanese Navy, he attended the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy, which he left in 1909, not especially highly placed amongst that year’s graduates. He served as a midshipman on the cruisers Soya and Kasuga and battleship Mikasa. Promoted to ensign, Ozawa served on the destroyer Arare, battleship Hiei and cruiser Chitose, and as a lieutenant, on Kawachi and Hinoki. He specialized in torpedo warfare. He attended the Japanese Naval War College in 1919, afterwards being promoted to lieutenant commander, and was given his first command, the destroyer Take. He subsequently commanded Shimakaze and Asakaze. He served as chief torpedo officer on Kongo in 1925.

Except for a twelve-month visit to the United States and Europe in 1930, he served in staff positions from 1925 until 1933. On 15 November 1934, he was given command of the Maya and of the Haruna in 1935. On 1 December 1936, he was promoted to rear admiral. He continued to serve in various staff positions, including Chief of Staff of the Combined Fleet in 1937 and Commandant of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy. He was promoted to vice admiral on 15 November 1940.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ozawa became responsible for Japan’s naval operations in the South China Sea as Commander-in-Chief of the Southern Expeditionary Fleet, providing support for the invasion of Malaya. Between January and March 1942, his fleet was involved in the invasions of Java and Sumatra. Despite his conventional naval background, Ozawa was one of the leading advocates of naval aviation in the Imperial Japanese Navy – he was the first high-ranking officer to recommend that the Japanese aircraft carrier forces be organized into an air fleet so that they could train and fight together. No doubt if he had commanded the attack on Pearl Harbor, the outcome would have been different, but he did not replace Chuichi Nagumo as commander of Japan’s carrier forces until 11 November 1942. It was too late, for while Ozawa proved an aggressive and skilled commander, he was overwhelmed by the numerical and technological superiority of the United States at the Battle of the Philippine Sea. After the battle, he offered his resignation, but it was was not accepted.

The remnants of his fleet were present at the Battle of Leyte Gulf against the forces of Admiral William Halsey. Despite being the senior admiral there, the overall Japanese battle plan was to sacrifice his force as a decoy so that Kurita’s Centre Force could attack MacArthur’s invasion forces on the Leyte beaches. Nevertheless, Ozawa commanded his forces well and many believe that he was the foremost amongst Japan’s wartime admirals. Despite this, his fleet ended its career off of the Philippines with flight decks empty for lack of aircraft and pilots. Afterwards, he succeeded Toyoda as the last Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy from 29 May 1945. He refused promotion to full admiral and remained as vice admiral until the final dissolution of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

He died in 1966 at the age of eighty.

Mariana Islands Campaign and the Great Turkey Shoot

Hitler in Defeat


Gradually Hitler grew accustomed to defeat. It had become so habitual that it no longer offered any surprises. He still relied on the V-bombs and the still more dangerous V-2 weapons to stave off ultimate defeat and surrender. London would vanish from the map; then it would be the turn of Moscow, and perhaps New York. But these were the hopes of a man clutching at straws.

Finally on November 20, 1944, with the sound of the Russian guns already within earshot, he was compelled to leave the Wolf’s Lair, where he had spent the greater part of the war years. General Warlimont commented wryly that they were leaving the East Prussian command post just about the time it was becoming habitable. The concrete was drying out at last, and there was no longer a sour, sickly smell hanging over the place.

The new command post had the code name Adlerhorst (Eagle’s Eyrie). It was situated near Bad Nauheim and consisted of a series of deep underground shelters beneath a wooded hillside on the edge of a grassy valley. Built in 1940, it was surrounded by fortified posts. Here Hitler worked on the finishing touches for his last great gamble—the Ardennes offensive, which originally bore the code name Wacht am Rein (Watch on the Rhine) and later came to be known as Herbstnebel(Autumn Mist).

The idea, the decision, and most of the strategic plans were Hitler’s own. It was not an especially brilliant concept and was riddled with flaws. Essentially the plan consisted of a sudden massive breakthrough in the Ardennes with sixteen armored divisions preceded by a great wave of English-speaking commandos in American uniforms and riding American jeeps, with orders to sow confusion and terror behind the American lines. Once the front was pierced, telephone lines would be cut, signposts would be turned around, dispatch riders would be intercepted, radio stations would be shot up, military policemen directing convoys would be killed, and German military policemen in allied uniforms would direct the convoys in the wrong directions. The refinements of warfare by disguise and trickery had been studied in great detail by Hitler with the help of Otto Skorzeny, who had rescued Mussolini from his mountain captivity and was now placed in charge of the commando units which would carry out the first stage of the operation.

The chief flaw in the stratagem was an obvious one: a German soldier in an American uniform remains a German soldier. Once the Americans had recovered from their initial surprise, they had little difficulty in recognizing the enemy, who spoke English better than he spoke American, and spoke neither language with familiarity. Skorzeny’s commandos knew very little about baseball scores and the private lives of film stars, and this was their undoing, for they were unable to answer the simple questions asked of them. Caught wearing American uniforms, they were liable to be shot out of hand.

Although the intelligence files of the allies were filled with reports of the coming offensive, little attention was paid to them. As Hitler said: “The enemy is so obsessed with his own offensives that he will pay no attention to ours.” The mustering yards of the armored divisions for the Ardennes offensive were the woods and forests of the Eifel region. There, where the autumn mists clung to the trees, they were able to assemble in secrecy. There was a low cloud cover, and no allied airplanes detected them.

As usual Hitler kept postponing the offensive. In October, he spoke of an offensive in November, and in November he spoke of an offensive at the beginning of December. On December 7 he postponed it to December 14. On December 12 he postponed it to December 16. It was the last throw of the dice, and he spent a month shaking them in his cupped hands.

On December 12 Hitler invited all the generals taking part in the offensive to a briefing in the underground bunker at Adlerhorst. Security precautions were stricter than ever. Stripped of their briefcases and their weapons, they were driven to the secret command post in a bus, which deposited them before a double line of SS guards near the bunker entrance. There was something frightening and intimidating about these guards, who descended into the bunker with the generals and then stood guard behind their chairs. General Bayerlein, soon to be leading a panzer division through the Ardennes forests, was so terrified of the glowering SS officer behind him that he was hesitant even to reach for a handkerchief.

Hitler appeared at six o’clock in the evening. He had written out some notes for his two-hour speech, and his hand shook as he turned the pages. For what was probably the last time, he addressed a full assembly of generals and gave a consecutive and reasoned account of his plans and stratagems. His chief argument was that the Allies were divided among themselves, that it was inconceivable that the Russians, the Americans, and the English would ever agree politically, and therefore Germany could still hope to hold them at bay. German forces were relatively stronger than they had been in 1939. With one ferocious blow on a thinly defended front, he intended to hurl back the Western Allies. Later, with another ferocious blow he would drive the Russians back to Moscow.

The stenographic report of the speech survives with only a few omissions. Although he unconsciously betrays his fears, his corroding despairs, and his lack of any real knowledge of the strength of the Allied forces, the speech must be counted among the most impressive speeches he ever delivered. He said:

The enemy must realize that under no circumstances will he achieve success. Once he realizes this—by observing the behavior of his people and of the armed forces and the severe reverses suffered in the field-then the day will come when it is abundantly clear that his nervous energy has collapsed.

Then there will take place what happened to Frederick the Great in the seventh year of his war when he achieved the greatest success of his life. People may say: Yes, that was another situation altogether. But, gentlemen, it was not another situation. At that time all his generals, including his own brother, were near to despairing of success. His Prime Minister and deputations of ministers came from Berlin and begged him to end the war because it could no longer be won. The steadfastness of one man made it possible for the battle to be carried through to victory and thus bring about a miraculous change. The argument that all this would never have happened except for the change of sovereign in Russia is quite irrelevant. For if he had surrendered during the fifth year of the war, then a change of sovereign in the seventh year, two years later, would have meant nothing. One must always wait for the right time.

Gentlemen, there is something else which must be considered. In all history there has never been a coalition composed of such heterogeneous elements with such widely divergent aims as that of our enemies. Those who are now our enemies stand at the farthest extremes: ultra-capitalist states on one side, and ultra-Marxist states on the other; on one side a dying empire—Britain; on the other side a colony, the United States of America, waiting day to day for the moment when it will claim its inheritance, and their interests constantly diverging.

So one might say that the spider sitting in his web watches these developments and sees how, hour by hour, these antitheses are increasing If he succeeds in striking a couple of hard blows, this artificially constructed common front may collapse with a mighty thunderclap at any moment. Each of these partners in the coalition has entered it in the hope of realizing his own political aims either to cheat the others out of something or to win something out of it. The aim of the United States is to be the heir of England. Russia aims to secure the Balkans, the Dardanelles, Persia Persian oil, the Persian Gulf, England aims to maintain her position, to strengthen her position in the Mediterranean. In other words—it can happen at any moment, for history, we must agree, is made by mortal men—the coalition may dissolve, but only on condition that under no circumstances does the battle bring about a moment of weakness in Germany.

Hitler’s theory that all coalitions against him were liable to dissolve in a clap of thunder if he struck hard enough had served him well during his political career. In the past he had never failed to break them. But the theory no longer had any validity: the Allies were drawn together in a common determination to destroy him, and for a little while longer they would remain united.

Hitler’s speech to his generals was therefore a brilliant defense of a hopeless position. If will power alone could have won the war, he would have won it long before. The Ardennes offensive was doomed to failure, as Rundstedt predicted. Ironically, the Allies believed that Rundstedt was chiefly responsible for planning the campaign, when in fact he had almost nothing to do with it.

About this speech there hovers a strange light, gleaming fitfully, like the phosphorescence of a decaying corpse. Hitler, brooding in his subterranean cavern, was dreaming of the dissolution of empires other than his own. To the operation led by Otto Skorzeny, with the disguised German soldiers clawing their way through the allied lines, he gave the code name Greif, the German word for the mythological Griffin, half eagle, half lion, guardian of the gold and precious stones of Scythia, the mysterious land in Central Asia. Mythologies had always fascinated him, and now he was living among them.

When General Guderian visited him at Adlershorst on Christmas Eve with ominous news that the Russians were about to mount a huge offensive, Hitler simply refused to believe the intelligence reports. “It’s the greatest imposture since Genghiz Khan!” he shouted. “Who is responsible for producing all this rubbish?” Hitler did not explain why he regarded Genghiz Khan as an impostor. General Guderian stayed for the evening meal and found himself sitting next to the weak-chinned Heinrich Himmler, who by this time had accumulated a formidable array of titles. He was commander-in-chief of the Home Army, commander of Army Group Upper Rhine, Minister of the Interior, Chief of the German Police and Reichsfuehrer of the SS. Like Goering, Himmler concealed his essential nullity behind a façade of titles. Turning to General Guderian, Himmler gave his verdict on the Russians. “You know my dear colonel-general,” he said, “I don’t really believe the Russians will attack at all. It’s all an enormous bluff. The figures given by your ‘Foreign Armies East’ department are grossly exaggerated. They’re far too worried. I’m convinced there is nothing going on in the East.”

Himmler had evidently discussed the matter with Hitler and was merely repeating what he had heard.

Although Hitler regarded the Ardennes offensive as the turning point of the war and believed that in a few weeks he would have the initiative on the Western front, there were many aspects of the war that deeply troubled him. The Americans were incompetent fighting men, the Russian Army had exhausted its strength, and therefore he had little to fear from America and Russia. He was more disturbed by the English, for he believed they had learned all there was to know about the V-bombs and were beginning to produce them in large numbers. He was sure they would soon be hurling their own V-bombs against the Ruhr, which would be reduced to ashes. There was no protection against these deadly weapons, and it was therefore all the more necessary to win the war quickly. Hitler composed a complete scenario for the English discovery of an unexploded V-bomb. He imagined that V-bombs had been examined and taken to pieces by English scientists, who then produced exact blueprints and set to work manufacturing them on a vast scale. The genius of German scientists was being perverted, and their discoveries would soon be employed for the destruction of Germany. Just as Hitler was wrong about the Russians and the Americans, so he was wrong about the English, who were too busy building bombers to have time for building V-bombs.

Again and again Hitler returned to the example of Frederick the Great. Early in the morning of December 30 he summoned General Wolfgang Thomale, Chief of the Inspectorate General of the Armored Forces, and told him that he had found a letter written by Frederick during the fifth and most hopeless year of the Seven Years War. The letter read: “I entered this war with the most wonderful army in Europe; now I have a pile of manure. I have no leaders any more, my generals are incompetent, my officers cannot lead, and my troops are wretched.” Yes, that was how it was, and yet Frederick won the war. And so it always happened when world-historical figures appeared, dominating everyone by their fanatical energy, courage and will power.

For a while Hitler continued in this vein, for it always gave him the greatest pleasure to contemplate Frederick the Great. Abruptly a more sobering thought occurred to him. He said:

We have everything at stake in this war. If one day the other side says, “We’ve had enough,” then nothing happens to him. If America says, “All over, finish, no more young men for Europe,” then nothing happens. New York will still be New York, Chicago will still be Chicago, Detroit will still be Detroit, San Francisco will still be San Francisco. It changes nothing. But if we say, “We’ve had enough, we want out,” then Germany would cease to exist.

Day after day the Germany that Hitler had known was ceasing to exist. The Ardennes offensive was petering out. Finally, on January 14, the Operations Staff war diary noted: “The initiative in the area of the offensive has passed to the enemy.”

On the following day Adlershorst was abandoned and Hitler returned to the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. For just over a hundred days he would continue to give orders, hold military conferences, and discuss the terrible fate reserved for his enemies. But his mind had lost its grip on reality, his enemies were advancing from all directions, and he knew that only a miracle would save him.

Admiral Arturo Riccardi (1878–1966)


Riccardi had the unfortunate task of taking over from a predecessor deemed to have failed in the eyes of Italy’s dictator, Benito Mussolini. Evidence of the failure was not hard to find, with three out of Italy’s six battleships sitting on the bed of the major naval base at Taranto.

Born in Pavia in 1878, Riccardi saw action with the marines in China during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900–1901 and also further action during the First World War, although this would have been relatively limited. Post-war, he spent a period as a staff officer before being promoted to rear admiral in 1932, and after joining the Fascist Party in 1934, he was later promoted to vice admiral in 1935. His responsibilities included naval personnel, making him the equivalent of the Royal Navy’s Second Sea Lord. Succeeding the disgraced Admiral Domenico Cavagnari as Chief of Staff of the Regia Marina on 11 December 1940, Riccardi also held the position of the Navy’s Under-secretary of State.

His duties included liaison with the Kriegsmarine over the defence of Italy, but despite Riccardi forcing a more aggressive strategy at sea, Italian failures continued with the Battle of Cape Matapan, the big clash between the Italian and British navies, where the Axis air power was not provided by the Italian Regia Aeronautica but by the German Luftwaffe.

Riccardi had taken up his new post at a time when Italy had proved incapable of subjugating Yugoslavia and Greece, but the Germans pressed him to cut British maritime communications between Alexandria and Athens. Italian ships were sent into the waters south of Greece to attack British convoys, but British aerial reconnaissance soon spotted the Italian ships. This was a marked contrast to the situation with the Italians, which lacked their own naval air power and relied upon the Air Force to provide reconnaissance as well as air strikes, but cooperation between the two services was so poor as to be virtually non-existent.

The Battle of Cape Matapan exposed a major weakness in Italian battle plans, which was that they did not expect to engage an enemy at night. Lacking radar, night gunnery would have been difficult, but not impossible given training and suitable optical instruments.

Mussolini had boasted that the Mediterranean was ‘Mare Nostrum’, which meant ‘our sea’, but while Italy effectively cut the sea in two, it never controlled it. It was only a matter of time after the Allies invaded North Africa in November 1942, followed by an amphibious and airborne assault on Sicily the following spring. When Benito Mussolini was overthrown, Riccardi also fell from grace and was replaced on 25 July 1943.

While some maintain that Riccardi was a specialist in naval air power, the truth was that he, and other Italian naval officers, had precious little experience of air power. His failure to ensure that the fleet under his command at Taranto was adequately protected was unforgivable, but he was promoted further. It was not his fault that Italian aerial reconnaissance was so bad that the presence of the British Mediterranean Fleet was not detected, but even so, there was complacency at Supermarina, the Italian Admiralty, which took it for granted that British forces would be detected in time for Italian warships to leave harbour and engage them.

It is, perhaps, not surprising that Riccardi did not face charges of being a war criminal.


Although it was a substantial force on paper, the Italian navy suffered from fundamental problems. Italy lagged in several key areas of naval technology. One area was sonar, which was just beginning to be introduced at the start of the war. Also, in the disastrous March 1941 Battle of Matapan, the Italians discovered to their dismay that the Allies had deployed radar on their warships. The Italians did not deploy their first warship radar until a year later, in March 1942. Ironically, Italy’s scientific community had been working on radar in the mid-1930s, but the Italian government did not fully support its efforts. Of ULTRA intercepts, the Italians knew nothing, although they assumed the Germans were letting the Allies know about Italian operations, and the Germans assumed the Italians were doing the same.

Italian ship armor plate was inferior as judged by Allied standards. Italian heavy ships relied on long-range gunnery, but guns in cruiser and destroyer turrets were mounted too close to each other, thus interfering in the flight of shells, a problem compounded by an immoderate 1 percent weight tolerance for shells. This resulted in excessive salvo spreads, as opposed to the much tighter British salvos.

The Italians sought to avoid night fighting by their heavy ships, and the navy lacked flashless night charges for ships with 8-inch or larger guns, an error not rectified until 1942. The navy dropped night-fighting training for large ships in the 1930s, precisely when the British navy was adopting such tactics for its heavy ships, including battleships. Italian losses in night surface actions during the war would be heavy and almost completely one-sided.

Italy also experienced problems with its submarines. There were three classes of subs. The large oceangoing submarines were part of the new oceanic navy. Many were based out of Bordeaux, France. In 189 patrols, they sank over 500,000 tons of Allied ships, with another 200,000 tons damaged. They also conducted mostly ineffective runs to Japan for key war sup- plies, and they operated in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. Medium and small submarines hunted closer to home. In the Mediterranean Sea, these classes conducted 1,553 patrols with dismal results when contrasted to the successes tallied by far fewer German submarines dispatched to that theater. This outcome was, in part, due to the Italian doctrine that called for submarines to submerge during daytime and wait for a target to come within range. The Italians eschewed attacks on the surface in wolf packs at night. Their torpedoes were reliable but had smaller warheads than those of most other nations, thus causing less damage. Despite its long coastline and its colonies, Italy had only 25,000 mines in 1939, and most dated of these from World War I.

In the 1920s, the Italians experimented with the snorkel, a tube to the surface that allowed submarines to secure air while submerged, but they ultimately dropped its development as a dead end. Their submarines also suffered from slow submerging speeds—they were two or three times slower than German boats. Italy also had to rebuild many of its submarines during the war because their large sails (the superstructure where the surface bridge and periscope were located) were easily picked up by radar. Italian periscopes were too short, and the Mediterranean itself was a much clearer sea then the Atlantic, which made it easier for Allied pilots to locate submerged submarines.

In spite of these limitations, the fuel-strapped Italian navy fought bravely during the war and transported to Africa 85 percent of the supplies and 92 percent of the troops that left port. In numerous battles above, on, and below the seas, the navy sank many Allied warships and forced the British to maintain a powerful naval force at both ends of the Mediterranean. In September 1943 when Italy switched sides in the war, the bulk of the Italian fleet joined the Allies.

Italian naval losses before the armistice consisted of 1 battleship, 11 cruisers, 44 destroyers, 41 large torpedo boats, 33 MAS-style PT boats, 86 submarines, and 178 other vessels. After the armistice, Italy lost 1 battleship, 4 destroyers, 5 large torpedo boats, 25 MAS boats, 3 submarines, and 23 other vessels. Mussolini’s Italian Social Republic, organized in north Italy, seized some Italian warships, and most of these were subsequently sunk; the most important was the heavy cruiser Bolzano. Total wartime personnel losses for the Italian navy came to 28,837, with 4,177 of this number occurring after the armistice. Up to the armistice, Italy also lost 2,018,616 tons of merchant shipping.

Admiral Jack ‘Frank’ Fletcher, USN (1885–1973)


Fletcher was the US admiral in command of several of the early campaigns in the Pacific, but he was blamed on more than one occasion for being overcautious, and maybe he was also just unlucky. Despite his reputation for caution and the loss of the carrier USS Lexington, he nevertheless stopped the Japanese from taking Port Moresby at the Battle of the Coral Sea, which could be said to have been a tactical victory for the Japanese, but a strategic victory for the United States.

Known throughout the United States Navy as ‘Black Jack’, Fletcher was born in Marshalltown, Iowa. He came from a naval family with an uncle who was an admiral. He attended the US Naval Academy at Annapolis from 1902 until 1906. On graduating, he served aboard the battleships USS Rhode Island, Ohio and Maine. In November 1909, he was posted to the destroyer Chauncey, part of the Asiatic Torpedo Flotilla and his first command was the Dale in April 1910. In March 1912, Fletcher returned to the Chauncey as her commanding officer. Posted to the battleship Florida in December 1912, he was at the occupation of Vera Cruz, Mexico, in April 1914, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor for distinguished conduct.

During the First World War, he was a gunnery officer until September 1917, when he took command of the Margaret and later was posted to the Allen in February 1918 before taking command of the Benham in May, escorting convoys across the Atlantic, for which he was awarded the Navy Cross. From October 1918 to February 1919 he stood by the Crane at San Francisco as she fitted out, afterwards becoming commanding officer of the Gridley on her commissioning. Returning to Washington, he was head of the Detail Section, Enlisted Personnel Division in the Bureau of Navigation from April 1919 until September 1922.

After serving in the Philippines, he returned to the USA for a posting at the Washington Navy Yards in 1925. He completed the Senior Course at the Naval War College, Newport in June 1930, and afterwards became Chief of Staff to the Commander-in-Chief, US Atlantic Fleet in August 1931. In 1933 he was transferred to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, before becoming an aide to the Secretary of the Navy from November 1933 to May 1936. He took command of the New Mexico, flagship of Battleship Division Three in June 1936. In December 1937 he became a member of the Naval Examining Board and was appointed Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Navigation in June 1938. Promoted to rear admiral and returning to the Pacific on the outbreak of war in Europe, until December 1941 he commanded a succession of cruiser divisions. When Japan entered the war, he was commanding Task Force 11 with the carrier Saratoga and was sent to Wake Island, which was under bombardment by Japanese warships. On 22 December, Fletcher was recalled by a nervous Admiral Pye, who was acting as a replacement for the disgraced commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Rear Admiral Husband Kimmel, until Nimitz arrived.

For his part, Fletcher’s arrival at Wake Island was delayed by his frequent sending away of his destroyers to refuel so that they would be ready for high-speed action. It thus happened that in the early stages of the Pacific War Fletcher acquired an unwanted reputation for being overcautious, as TF11 was late in arriving at Wake Island, and allowed the Japanese to take the island unopposed. In some ways his caution can be understood with hindsight, as this was a war that was fought at sea in a way that few senior officers of his generation could have envisaged, and given the vast distances of the Pacific and the unknown demands of steaming at high speed in combat, the worry about running low on fuel in mid-battle can be understood.

Nevertheless, in May 1942, it was Fletcher who turned back the Japanese in the Battle of the Coral Sea, and while they inflicted heavier losses on the USN than he managed against the Imperial Japanese Navy, the strategic victory overall was his. One of the largest Japanese aircraft carriers, the Shokaku, was so badly damaged that she was not available for the next major move by the Japanese, against Midway. It also showed that the Japanese were no longer invincible, being fought to a standstill. The head of the USN, Admiral Ernest King, wrote to the British First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, that ‘On the whole we had rather the better of it and we seem to have stopped the advance on Port Moresby for the time being.’

Fletcher was still in command at the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942, but when his flagship, the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, was unfortunately lost, Spruance took over tactical command and in the end also took the credit for the victory, which saw four Japanese aircraft carriers lost in a single day. This was sheer bad luck for Fletcher as the battle marked the turning point in the war at sea in the Pacific. From this time onwards, the Japanese had lost all hope of victory, or even fighting to a negotiated settlement, and Japanese strategy became defensive.

All of this could be defended or attributed to misfortune, the sad fortunes of war, but in August, with the Americans on what they called the ‘offensive-defensive’ and starting the long island-hopping advance to victory, what happened at Guadalcanal could not be explained away.

Promoted to vice admiral, Fletcher was put in command of a carrier force to protect the Guadalcanal landings. Code-named Operation Watchtower, the landings on Guadalcanal and Tulagi on 7 August 1942 followed an inter-service spat between the USN and the United States Army over which service should take the lead in the Pacific War. In the end, the USN and USMC were given the lead in the Pacific War, a wise move given that amphibious landing succeeded amphibious landing, while in North Africa and Europe, the Army would have enough to occupy its planners. ‘Operation Watchtower’ was prepared in considerable haste, causing some to describe it as ‘Operation Shoestring’, but it was necessary to act quickly before the Japanese could complete the air base, Henderson Field, and deploy aircraft there.

At Guadalcanal, Vice Admiral Ghormley took overall command of the operation, while Fletcher was in command of Task Force 61 with three aircraft carriers, the USS Enterprise, Saratogaand Wasp, as well as the battleship North Carolina, six cruisers and sixteen destroyers. At stake were the landings by 19,000 men from Major General Vandegrift’s 1st Marine Division. A British officer, Rear Admiral Victor Critchley, commanded a force of cruisers to defend the transports.

The makeshift nature of the arrangements had been essential if the Americans were to act quickly and the Japanese were to be prevented from developing the defences of Guadalcanal and Tulagi. Had the enemy sufficient time to complete airfields, the invasion of the islands would have been much more difficult and costly. Initially, most of the fighting was on Tulagi, and at first the operation on Guadalcanal went well, but a steady war of attrition developed, especially around the key objective of Henderson Field, an airfield under construction. After losing twenty-one aircraft in a single day, Fletcher sought permission to withdraw, which Ghormley allowed, but the gap left in the US defences led to the Battle of Savo Island, which started during the early hours of 9 August. Allied warships under the British Rear Admiral Critchley, screening the transports, were surprised at midnight and defeated in little more than half an hour by a Japanese force of seven cruisers and one destroyer, commanded by Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa. After inflicting initial heavy losses on the US and Australian force offshore, sinking four cruisers, HMAS Canberra, USS Astoria, Vincennesand Quincy, and circling Savo Island, Vice Admiral Mikawa did not continue to attack the US transports for fear of being attacked by USN carrier-borne aircraft, not realizing that Fletcher had withdrawn. Fletcher is sometimes criticized because his carriers were at the far end of their nightly withdrawal, and although steaming back ready for the morning, were still too far to away to provide protection. Had the Japanese realized the disposition of the Allied ships, an attack on the transports and on troops ashore could have resulted.

When the Japanese attempted to reinforce their garrison ashore on Guadalcanal, the Battle of the Eastern Solomon Islands developed. After the Japanese managed to land reinforcements on Guadalcanal on 18 August, Henderson Field became the scene of intense fighting. The first batch of Japanese reinforcements – just 915 men – showed that the Japanese had seriously underestimated the strength of the US forces, and was wiped out in a battle on 21 August. A steady war of attrition was then started by the Japanese, with reinforcements being landed under cover of darkness in an operation dubbed the ‘Tokyo Express’ by the Americans. A more determined effort to reinforce their troops on Guadalcanal came in late August when the Japanese sent four transports to reinforce their troops on the island, but the four ‘transports’ were really just elderly destroyers and again the total number of troops to be landed totalled just 1,500 men, as the Japanese were still underestimating the size of the US forces.

The Japanese move found Vice Admiral Fletcher with TF61, still including the carriers Enterprise and Saratoga, but with the Wasp away refuelling, and a total of 176 aircraft available. His opponent was Vice Admiral Nagumo, who had survived the Battle of Midway and had retained his command. Nagumo, who was now responsible for ensuring the safe arrival of the transports, had three aircraft carriers, Zuikaku and Shokaku, with 131 aircraft between them, and the smaller Ryujo, with thirty-one aircraft which, with a cruiser and two destroyers, was to act as a diversionary force. Given the small size and number of the transports, Nagumo had a considerable number of surface vessels to protect these and his carriers, with three battleships, ten cruisers and twenty-one destroyers in addition to those with Ryujo, compared with Fletcher’s single battleship, four cruisers and eleven destroyers.

The Americans were expecting increased Japanese activity and spotted Ryujo early on, but lost track of the Japanese ships by 21 August. On 23 August, American reconnaissance aircraft once again located the Japanese transports, but a strike launched from the US carriers failed to find them. The next day, Saratoga’s aircraft found the Ryujo at 1000 hrs some 300 miles north of TF61; this time the strike aircraft found her and promptly sunk her using bombs and torpedoes. Meanwhile, Japanese aircraft from Shokaku and Zuikaku found and attacked the USS Enterprise. The absence of the Waspmeant that, for the last time in the Pacific War, the Japanese had overall air superiority. Fighters from the Enterprise and the carrier’s AA defences fought off the first wave of Japanese torpedo-bombers, but a second wave of dive-bombers managed to hit the Enterprise three times, starting fires, although these were soon extinguished and the ship remained capable of limited operations. Nevertheless, Fletcher took the blame for the absence of one of his carriers and the lack of local air superiority.

On 25 August, United States Marine Corps aircraft based ashore on Guadalcanal and Esperitu Sanctu attacked the Japanese troop transports, sinking the largest one and a destroyer escort, while a cruiser was also badly damaged. By this time, in addition to the ships lost, the Japanese had lost a total of ninety aircraft against just twenty US aircraft, and Nagumo decided to withdraw.

The United States had won yet another battle in the Pacific War, the Battle of the Eastern Solomon Islands. It is hard to see why the Japanese, having put so much effort into escorting such a pitiful reinforcement convoy, had not assumed a more aggressive role, and the only justification can be that the strategy was one of tying down US forces. Nor did the Japanese cut their losses and abandon the islands as, despite losing the battle, they continued to maintain the ‘Tokyo Express’, while the destroyers engaged on these runs also took the opportunity to shell Henderson Field. On 31 August, a more substantial force of 3,500 Japanese troops were landed on Guadalcanal, building up their forces to a total of 6,000 men by early September, by which time the Americans had 19,000 men on the island. These Japanese troops were defeated in a night battle on 13/14 September.

Later, in a rare offensive by Japanese submarines, the 1-19 attacked the Wasp with three torpedoes on 15 September, with the ship catching fire and eventually sinking. In the end, the US forces prevailed, but could not prevent the Japanese from successfully evacuating some 13,000 troops. A more determined bid by the Japanese to retake Guadalcanal saw the Combined Fleet escorting Japanese reinforcements from Rabaul on 11 October, with the Battle of Cape Esperance following that night, although this was inconclusive. The USMC forces ashore were subjected to heavy bombing by Japanese carrier aircraft after the battle, and Vice Admiral Gormley took the blame for failing to stop the Japanese landing reinforcements and bombing the American forces ashore; he was replaced by Vice Admiral ‘Bull’ Halsey.

Nevertheless, Fletcher was criticized for the premature withdrawal of his carriers, leaving the USMC units ashore without adequate air cover at a time when the Japanese Vice Admiral Nagumo had arrived with his aircraft carriers, the repaired Shokaku, her sister Zuikaku and the smaller Ryujo.

Fletcher was moved out of the way. In November 1942, he became Commander, Thirteenth Naval District and Commander, North Western Sea Frontier to calm fears amongst US and Canadian citizens of invasion from the north. A year later, he was placed in charge of the whole Northern Pacific area, remaining there until after Japan’s surrender, when his forces occupied northern Japan.

Post-war, Fletcher was appointed chairman of the General Board of the Navy, but he was not promoted until he retired in May 1947, when he was given the four-star rank of Admiral. He had lost much of his naval records in combat and in retirement he refused to reconstruct them or collaborate with the official US naval historian for the war. Many believe that in return he received an inadequate appraisal and that this attitude was picked up by later authors.