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William F. "Bull" Halsey

Fleet Admiral during World War II

Bull Halsey

William Frederick Halsey, Jr., was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on October 30, 1882, the son of U.S. Navy Captain William F. Halsey. Appointed to the Naval Academy in 1900, he graduated 42nd in his class (of 62) in 1904.

Early Service

Halsey spent his two years of compulsory sea duty aboard the battleship Missouri. He was commissioned as an ensign on February 2, 1906, after which he served on a series of torpedo boats, and was promoted to Lieutenant on February 2, 1909, (skipping over the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade). Between 1909 and 1932, he served as Captain of twelve different torpedo boats and destroyers, Commander of three destroyer divisions, and Executive Officer of the battleship Wyoming. Shore duty during this time included stints in naval intelligence, at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, and on attaché duty in Europe. His service as a Lieutenant Commander during World War I earned him a Navy Cross. He was promoted to the rank of Captain in 1927.

In 1934, Halsey was offered command of the aircraft carrier Saratoga, subject to his completion of an air observer course. Halsey chose to undergo full flight training instead, and on May 15, 1935 he became the oldest person in U.S. Navy history to earn his pilot's wings. He commanded the Saratoga until 1937, when he was placed in command of the Naval Air Station at Pensacola, Florida. He was promoted to Rear Admiral in March 1938, and to Vice Admiral in June 1940. During this time he commanded carrier divisions and served as the overall commander of the Aircraft Battle Force, then based in Hawaii.

World War II

As war with Japan became increasingly likely, the U.S. Navy began reinforcing bases on Wake Island, Midway, and other outlying islands. Halsey's carrier group, including his flagship the Enterprise, was returning from a supply mission to Wake Island when its scout aircraft flew into the heat of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Upon seeing the destruction the day after the attack, Halsey vowed to destroy the Japanese Empire.

In early 1942, Halsey's Enterprise task force began a series of hit-and-run raids against the periphery of the Japanese Empire, attacking the Gilbert and Marshall islands in February, and Wake and Marcus islands in March. Although the raids inflicted little damage on the enemy, it allowed the Americans to get close enough to Japan for U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle to launch Army Air Forces against Tokyo and other mainland cities, in April. It was during this time that a newspaper reporter dubbed him "Bull" Halsey, and the nickname stuck.

By the time Halsey's fleet returned to Hawaii in May he was suffering from severe dermatitis. Unable to sleep because of the terrible itching the condition caused, Halsey was ordered to a hospital for treatment and rest. At Halsey's suggestion, Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, placed Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance in command of Halsey's carrier force, which subsequently played a crucial role in the Battle of Midway.

Halsey was finally certified medically fit for duty in October 1942, at which time he was ordered to replace Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley as Commander of the South Pacific Theater. Within days of Halsey's arrival at command headquarters in New Caledonia, the Japanese launched a combined navy and army assault on Guadalcanal, where U.S. Marines were already desperately tryin to prevent the loss of Henderson Air Field. Halsey immediately committed most of his naval force to fighting the Japanese on and off Guadalcanal. The carrier engagement on October 26, 1942, resulted in an American tactical defeat -- the aircraft carrier Hornet was sunk in exchange for damage of two Japanese flattops -- but Henderson Field remained under management of the U.S. Marines and Japanese carrier aircraft losses gave the Americans air superiority in the subsequent showdown. The final Battle of Guadalcanal on November 12-15 proved costly for both sides -- nine American warships and thirty-six aircraft versus two Japanese battleships, four other warships, eleven transports, and sixty-four aircraft. Despite the heavy American losses, Halsey was promoted to Full Admiral on November 18, 1942. Guadalcanal was declared secure in February 1943, and Halsey then embarked on an "island hopping" campaign that resulted in the entire Solomon Islands chain coming under American control. His forces also supported General Douglas MacArthur's offensives in the Southwest Pacific Theater.

On June 15, 1944, Admiral Nimitz established two huge and "separate but equal" fleets, the Third under Halsey and the Fifth under Rear Admiral Spruance. From September 1944 to January 1945, Halsey led the campaigns to take the Palaus, Leyte and Luzon, and on many raids on Japanese bases. In October 1944, Halsey's Third Fleet and Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet were assigned to support General MacArthur's landings at Leyte in the Philippines. The two fleets ended up engaging the Japanese Navy in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval engagement of the war. Despite a number of miscommunications and tactical mistakes by the Americans, the battle ended up destroying what was left of the Japanese Navy. Many of the decisions made by Halsey during the battle were questioned by his superiors, but no disciplinary action was taken against him.

The Third Fleet was still in the Philippine Archipelago when, in December 1944, Halsey was warned about a powerful typhoon forming in the area. Because at least one forecast said that the typhoon would likely miss the fleet, Halsey chose to keep his ships where they were. By the time it became clear that Halsey had relied on a bad forecast it was too late, and the fleet took the brunt of the typhoon head-on. By the time it was over three destroyers had been sunk, several other ships had suffered major damage, and 802 men and 146 aircraft had been lost. A court of inquiry blamed Halsey for the losses, but again no disciplinary action was taken against him.

In January 1945, Halsey turned command of the Third Fleet over to Vice Admiral Spruance. After spending time back in the United States, he retook command of the Third Fleet in May. The Fleet suffered some damage and loss of life when it sailed through another typhoon in June, and this time a court of inquiry recommended that Halsey be reassigned. Admiral Nimitz ignored the recommendation, however, and Halsey's flagship, the battleship Missouri, became the scene of Japan's surrender.

On December 11, 1945, Halsey became the fourth, and to date last, man to hold the rank of Fleet Admiral. He retired from the Navy on March 1, 1947, and became president of International Telecommunications Labs, Inc., a position he held until 1957. Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. died in Fishers Island, New York, on August 16, 1959, and was buried next to his father in Arlington National Cemetery.

Arlington National Cemetery

World War I
World War II
Douglas MacArthur

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: General History and Description >> Early 20th Century, 1901-1960 >> Military History

This page was last updated on October 29, 2017.