Thursday, April 8, 2021

Recent Reads: The Quiet Warrior: A Biography of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance by Thomas Buell


Admiral Raymond Spruance seen in April 1944 (Naval History and Heritage Command)
Reviewed by Lee Duckworth
HRNM Docent

The impetus for writing The Quiet Warrior was a 1963 interview with Admiral Raymond A. Spruance and follow on work at the Naval War College in the early 1970s. Author Thomas B. Buell, CDR USN (Ret.) used extensive interviews with the Spruance family and members of the admiral’s staff, letters, official reports and oral histories in writing his book. The author spends some time on Spruance’s early years and post-retirement as Ambassador to the Philippines but concentrates on his US Navy WWII career.

Buell alternates chapters chronologically with the preparation and planning for an upcoming battle, followed by the ensuing battle and results. Woven in are vignettes about home life. He makes excellent use of how Spruance applied lessons learned from previous battles into planning for the next battle.

How does a Navy Captain with only a shipboard background make his way in three years to four-star rank and command of the largest naval battle ever fought? The biggest force Spruance ever commanded prior to the June 4-6, 1942 Battle of Midway was a cruiser division of only four cruisers. Yet he accomplished this meteoric rise through his professional competence, intelligence and leadership traits. He was a listener, student of naval strategy and tactics, and a master at delegating work (in fact, he admits to being lazy and wanted others to do the work—and receive the credit). Spruance believed in being at the front and recognized that accurate and timely intelligence was imperative to success. Perhaps most importantly, he had the ability to see the big picture and hired good people to work for him.

Planes of Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6) prepare to launch off USS Enterprise (CV 6) on the morning of June 4, 1942 during the Battle of Midway. Enterprise was Spruance's flagship during the battle. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

With no aviation experience, Spruance was thrust into the role of leading a two-carrier task force in battle with the Japanese Navy at Midway. He was seemingly unperturbed as Admiral Chester Nimitz gave him excellent intelligence and broad guidance: he would be “…governed by the principle of calculated risk” which he was to interpret to mean to avoid exposure of his force without a good prospect of inflicting greater damage to the enemy. With two days advance notice, he set sail aboard USS Enterprise for Midway.

The author doesn’t delve deeply into the details of the Battle of Midway but he addresses the controversy surrounding Spruance and his perceived lack of aggressiveness in this battle, as well as others over the next three years. Buell puts Spruance on a bit of a pedestal and states that he was operating under the principle of calculated risk and his plan was bold, arguing that there was no lack of aggressiveness. The author admits that there were delays in the June 4 aircraft launch and a number of miscommunications during the course of operating the carrier group, but Spruance confidently launched his entire air wing. Another major mistake was Spruance’s failure to launch search planes on June 4 and 5. Spruance made his June 5th decision to turn on shipboard lights to assist aviators in finding the US fleet at night. This was a conscious decision made prior to the mid-afternoon launch, knowing it would be dark on their return. There is still much controversy nearly 80 years later as to whether he should have pressed the attack but in Buell’s mind, Spruance wasn’t being too safety-conscious and deserves the title “warrior.”

Spruance’s task force grew in size and complexity as the war continued and he attacked the Marianas, Gilberts, Marshalls, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa from 1943 to 1945. By the latter battle his command had grown to 1,500 ships (1,200 of them were amphibious) and included 16 aircraft carriers.

Admiral Chester Nimitz (left), Spruance (center), and Marine General Holland Smith (right, with helmet), looking out from a 20mm gun tub while inspecting preparations for the Gilbert Islands campaign in October 1943. (Naval History and Heritage Command)
Who was this now four-star admiral who very much avoided the public and publicity and was a private man who rarely let feelings show? Described by one of his staff: “He was like a sphinx…” and thoroughly disliked public speaking and talking with reporters, a real contrast to his counterpart Admiral “Bull” Halsey. His personal quirks included ignoring people when they were talking to him or requesting a decision, and taking random long hikes of ten miles or more nearly every day. He would attempt to bring members of his staff to accompany him, despite the pleas that they had too much work to do.
Admiral William "Bull" Halsey (left) with Spruance aboard USS New Mexico (BB 40) off of Okinawa in April 1945 (Naval History and Heritage Command) 

As WWII progressed, Spruance clearly became a master at seeing the big picture and felt he had to be in the vanguard rather than remain in the rear. He rarely acted as the Officer in Tactical Command as he left that to his junior admirals so he could concentrate on executing the battle plan. Spruance left the planning to his experts and exercised overall command. He refused to become involved in personnel squabbles and let others intervene or just let it fester in the hope it would resolve itself.

How did this “quiet warrior” thrive during WWII when so many (e.g. Halsey, King, and MacArthur) seemingly had to be in the spotlight? Spruance won over his superiors and subordinates with his intellect, hand’s-off approach and total focus on the big picture. He was an advocate of Mahan and felt that surprise and striking first were essential to victory. It is difficult to fault this thinking as he had successful outcomes in every major battle he fought.
Spruance (right) seen with Nimitz (left) and Admiral Ernest King (center) aboard USS Indianapolis (CA 35) in July 1944. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

Spruance was superb in his delegation of authority and often took a long time to make decisions and was fearful of making mistakes. His lack of aviation, amphibious and logistics experience didn’t seem to bother him and he became adept at each as the war progressed. He was scrupulous in planning for the concentration of his naval assets and saw it as a force multiplier in offensive military operations.

War for Admiral Spruance become one of a scale and complexity that will not be seen again. The Quiet Warrior provides excellent insight into Spruance’s thought process and how he led naval forces during WWII. He was successful because he didn’t overmanage from afar, trusted his intelligence staff, had faith in those under him, and had the support and confidence of admirals Nimitz and King. Could he have been more aggressive and pressed the attack at Midway and the Philippine Sea? Most certainly, but both battles are regarded as tremendous American victories and Spruance took the more cautious approach to ensure the fleet would survive to fight another day.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

A Tragedy on Granby: Part 2

(George Tucker/Virginian Pilot/TCA)

By Captain Alexander G. Monroe (Ret.)
HRNM Docent and Contributing Writer

This is the second part covering the December 9, 1958 crash (Part 1 available here) of a Navy AJ-2 tanker airplane into a Norfolk neighborhood. 
(Virginian Pilot/TCA)

The task before the investigators at Naval Air Force Atlantic Fleet, at the Naval Aviation Safety Center, and in the Squadron was to determine what happened and why. The initial thrust of the investigation was reported in the Virginian Pilot on December 11. An unsigned piece noted that “two smashed engines probably hold the grim key to Tuesday’s tragedy in the 8900 block of Granby Street.” An anonymous investigator opined that, “we are not overlooking the possibility that fuel ready for transfer had been commingled with the Savage’s fuel supply.”[i] The aircraft was removed from the crash site and taken to the Overhaul and Repair Department of the Naval Air Station where investigation began. It was colored by the statement of the investigator noted above. Though a reconstruction layout was not possible because of the extensive destruction of the airplane, the wreckage was sifted and components worthy of study were removed and photographed.[ii] Fuel samples from the aircraft were removed for comparison with those taken prior to take off. The upshot of the examinations was that no JP-4 contamination was found in the plane's fuel tanks and there was no evidence of contamination in the pistons, cylinders or carburetor.[iii]
Headline from December 11, 1958 (Virginian Pilot/TCA)

(Virginian Pilot/TCA)
The cause of the engine malfunction and resulting crash remains speculative, and opinions of the entities conducting the investigations and the endorsers have never been made public. Provisions of federal law, calculated to encourage frank discussion of causes and protect the privacy of those whose performance is under scrutiny--and their families--prohibit such disclosure. It is thought that the safety of Naval Aviation could be improved by non-disclosure.[iv] The squadron commanding officer wrote a final endorsement to the accident report on February 13, 1959. Heavy Attack Squadron 15 was disestablished two days later.[v] His endorsement and those of others, to include Commander Naval Air Force Atlantic Fleet, were heavily redacted. There have been at least five other major air crashes since December 9, 1958, at or in the immediate vicinity of Naval Air Station Norfolk (now known as Chambers Field on Naval Station Norfolk). The accidents have resulted in nine fatalities and involved Patrol, Transport, and Electronic Warfare aircraft. The first and last involved crashes into Willoughby Bay and Ocean View Beach, and one involved an approach and “hard landing”[vi] of a P2V Neptune aircraft in rain with visibility reduced to half a mile.

Though it has taken time to issue regulations that would reduce the likelihood of aircraft accidents in a high density area such as Hampton Roads, initial steps have been taken with the publication of Air Installation Compatible Use Zones studies with respect to Naval Station Norfolk’s air facility Chambers Field. The studies set forth regulations applicable to various governmental entities in the vicinity of Chambers Field. They also establish zones in which construction and occupancy are constrained by existence of the airfield. It assigns various functions and responsibilities to certain entities. For example, in certain areas, such as the approach end of runway 10/270, development is prohibited. On the departure end, the intensity of use of existing structures in the civilian community may not be increased. Such regulation would be within the authority of the Building Commissioner of the City of Norfolk. The Plans of Development would be reviewed by Navy staff to determine if they were in conflict with aviation operations. The resulting apparatus has evolved over a number of years, though its operations have not been without some turbulence as Norfolk has grown.[v]
The 1958 crash was the first in Norfolk in which civilians died (Virginian Pilot/TCA
At the time of the December 9, 1958 crash, it was opined that diverting the aircraft to the Naval Air Station at Oceana in what was then relatively pristine farmland might have been a preferable course of action, rather than attempting to reach the home station. However, the area around the station has been built up over the years, and aircraft operations now present a hazard to nearby residents. Although most citizens in South Hampton Roads accept the risk of accidents, they do occur occasionally with devastating results. Since 1967, over 25 air crashes have occurred on the station or in the vicinity of Oceana.[viii]
An F-4 from VF-41 flies over NAS Oceana in 1971. The area was even more rural in 1958. (Wikimedia Commons)
As happens in the Navy, those whose lives were touched by the events of December 9, 1958, moved on, and many are now deceased. A major thoroughfare overlooking Hampton Roads on Naval Station Norfolk is named for Admiral Hughes, who died on December 23, 1960, while on active duty. The CO of VAH-15, Commander Shepard (later Rear Admiral), went on to the staff of Commander Naval Air Force Atlantic Fleet, as Air Operations Officer in USS Essex (CV 9), as Naval Aide to President John F. Kennedy and Commanding Officer of USS Aucilla (AO 56)[ix] and USS Princeton (LPH 5). The squadrons configured for refueling, VAH-15 and 16, were disestablished about 60 days after the terrible crash. In fact, by the summer of 1959 all VAH squadrons had been re-designated RVAH (reconnaissance) Squadrons. What is admirable and lasting is that various Navy and civilian organizations have taken action to lessen the risks and problems that emerge when, as Admiral Hughes aptly expressed it, “we have aircraft continually flying over our heads,” though there may, as a practical matter, be only so many preventative steps that may be taken.


[i] “Wreckage studied for clues to crash,” Norfolk Virginian Pilot, December 12, 1958, p.1.

[ii] AAR 1-58,  p.96.

[iii] Ibid.,pp.70-73; See also CO NAS NORVA(Code 98E/310/869 F11 Ltr of 24 December 1958.

[iv] United States Code, Section 552(b)(5) and United States Code Section 552(b)(6)

[v] The West Coast Heavy Attack Squadron, VAH-16, was disestablished fifteen days earlier. 

[vi] Bureau of Aircraft Accidents (B3A) entry in the case of Norfolk Chambers Field NAS; “Neptune Crash Hurts 6,”  Norfolk Virginian Pilot, Al Edmonds, July 22, 1964.

[vii] For some recent friction see Official Warns about Threat to Naval Station’s Airfield,” Eric Hartley, Norfolk Virginian Pilot, March 17, 2016, p.1.;“Norfolk business owner says she’s broke, stuck in limbo after debate over Navy’s flight path,” Norfolk Virginian Pilot, Eric Hartley, p.A1. September 8, 2016; “Seven months later, banquet hall back on track to open in Navy Crash zone,” Norfolk Virginian Pilot, Eric Hartley, p.A1. September 10, 2016.

[viii] “Life in the flight path, noisy, unnerving,” The Norfolk, Virginian PilotAlec Klein, Sherrill Evans and Angelita Plummer, June 20, 1992. p. A9; “Mayhem from above, amazingly no deaths reported in Navy Jet crash; dozens displaced after Hornet’s  crash destroyed Beach apartments,” Mike Hixenburg and Kate Wiltrout, Norfolk, Virginian Pilot, p.A.1., April 7, 2012; “Oceana has had 25 plus crashes over 4 decades,”  Norfolk, Virginian Pilot, Bill Sizemore, April 7, 2012.

[ix] Captain Alexander G. Monroe, USN (Ret.), author of this blog, served as an Ensign as Gunnery Officer on board Aucilla during the period of Captain Shepard’s deep draft command tour.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

A Tragedy on Granby Street: Part 1


The tragedy was covered on the front page of the Virginian Pilot on December 10, 1958. Note the tail of the plane visible in the picture, as well as the four air crew killed in the crash. (Virginian Pilot/TCA)

By Captain Alexander G. Monroe, USN (Ret.)
HRNM Docent & Contributing Writer

Just after noon on December 9, 1958, an AJ-2 Savage (Bureau number 130416) aircraft assigned to Heavy Attack Squadron Fifteen (VAH-15) crashed near the intersection of Granby Street and Bay Avenue on its return to Naval Air Station Norfolk. The entire aircrew was lost and two infants in a nearby house also perished. The accident was the first in the city in which civilians were killed.[i] It led citizens, Navy and civilian, to consider the hazards of military aviation in a congested area and to further develop ways to reduce these dangers. The Commandant of the Fifth Naval District, Rear Admiral F. Massie Hughes, an experienced naval aviator, opined that dangers “would be a continuing problem as long as we have aircraft flying over our heads…”[ii] Concurrently, he stated that there would be a need to “look progressively and constructively in order to stay ahead of such heartbreaking trouble.” Editorial opinion was similar,[iii] though the Norfolk Virginian Pilot’s editors said that an important ingredient in the investigations underway would be determining whether the decision to bring the aircraft home was “sound doctrine.”[iv] In the years since 1958, certain steps have been taken to lessen danger, including publication of Air Installations Compatible Use Zones Study for Naval Station Norfolk. The difficulty of conducting high density aviation operations in the area shared by three military air facilities and a major civilian airport remains vexatious to this very day, just as Admiral Hughes observed in 1958.
The same AJ-2 Savage (Buno 130416) that crashed in Norfolk is seen on the runway at NAS Glenview, Illinois in 1958 (Naval History and Heritage Command)

There was nothing to suggest that there was anything inherently dangerous about the local refueling mission of December 9, 1958, which was to service naval aircraft from NAS Oceana. The plane was in a mechanically sound “up” status. From September 9 to November 14, the plane had flown thirty six and a half hours in local training flights and some farther afield (Chicago and Newfoundland).[v] The maintenance history was “one of relatively little trouble.”[vi] Further, the pilot, Lieutenant Commander George Wilson, had a strong record of 3,500 flight hours and “could be expected to handle any emergency in a correct and positive manner.” His co-pilot, Ensign Fred Melton Clancy III, who replaced his regular co-pilot, had been involved in a situation necessitating an emergency landing at NAS Oceana in October that year and had reacted well to it.[vii] Their plane, with the radio call sign “3 Revolver,” departed NAS Norfolk on runway 28 at 10:40am with 10,000 pounds of 115/145 aviation gasoline and 8,000 pounds of JP-4 jet fuel on board, climbed to 22,000 feet and joined aircraft waiting for refueling at 11:00am near Weeksville, North Carolina.
An AJ-2 Savage refuels a F3-H2 Demon in 1958. (National Naval Aviation Museum)

The mission proceeded as briefed until about forty-five minutes into the evolution, when the pilot reported to the NAS Norfolk tower that he was experiencing engine trouble, discontinued refueling of a Navy jet, began dumping JP-4, and reported that he was returning to base. The first receiving aircraft’s pilot reported that the refueling hose known as the drogue was still deployed and dumping was in progress. No indications of engine malfunction such as vibration, smoke, and fire or other unusual conditions were observed. At 12:03pm the VAH-15 base radio received a call noting that both engines were cutting out at 17,000 feet and one minute later notified Norfolk Tower that both engines were cutting out at 6,000 feet. He was 3 miles east of the Naval Air Station and requested immediate landing. The pilot was given an altimeter setting, instructions for left turns, and a track that would bring him over Willoughby Bay and safely into runway 10.[viii]
A hand drawn map featured in the newspaper on December 11 to illustrate the flight path of the stricken AJ-2 plane, and its crash site. (George Tucker/Virginian Pilot/TCA)

Though the pilot acknowledged the instructions, he did not communicate his intentions. Before the crash eyewitnesses James H. Miller and W. W. Mason noted that the left engine and the centerline jet engine appeared to have failed and that the aircraft was in a ninety degree bank with the right wing down. There was no fear or urgency in the tower tapes as the co-pilot, Ensign Clancy, went down the pre-landing checklist according to Commander Tazewell Shepard, Jr., the squadron’s commanding officer. It was assumed that the aircraft commander was attempting to land on runway 28.[ix] Tragically, the AJ-2 Savage crashed near the intersection of Granby Street and Bay Avenue about one half mile short of the runway. In so doing, it demolished or destroyed homes at 8935, 8939 and 8954 Granby Street, the residences of, respectfully, T. H. Hill, W. C. Poore, and Lieutenant and Mrs. Joseph Tondera and their three children. It also damaged a load of 750 fifty-pound bags of potatoes in a truck operated by Charles Sheppard of Suffolk.
(Virginian Pilot/TCA)
Potatoes lay strewn across the road from the cargo truck struck by the plane, as naval personnel watch firefighters try to douse the flames. (Virginian Pilot/TCA)
Initial efforts and action focused on survival and rescue of those in the aircraft and homes struck by the plane and in the resulting fire. Admiral Hughes and Navy rescue crews responded rapidly. Mrs. Edna Bellamy, the maid for the Hills, was the only occupant of the house at 8935 Granby Street. She was terrified by the fire all around her and was rescued by two Navy sailors. Though badly shaken, she had the presence of mind to rescue the Hill’s shivering fourteen-year-old cocker spaniel, Tag, and wrap the frightened animal in her coat.[x] The Poore home at 8939 was unoccupied because the owner and his family were at DePaul Hospital where he had been scheduled to have surgery. Neighbors of Lieutenant and Mrs. Tondera attempted to rescue the two infants, one of whom was but fourteen days old, but were driven away by a sudden explosion. Both Mrs. Wilson, the pilot’s wife, and Mrs. Tondera were treated for shock at the NAS Dispensary, and Lieutenant Tondera was airlifted ashore from the submarine USS Requin (SS 481). The scene documented in the Virginian Pilot was one of devastation and poignant sadness to include one image of Father Philip Shannon, NAS chaplain, giving last rites of the Roman Catholic Church to the Tondera children.[xi]
(Virginian Pilot/TCA)
The post-crash period was one for recovery and perseverance in the face of tragic loss of the entire aircrew and the Tondera children. Kind neighbors gave the Tonderas shelter and seclusion, as other neighbors did for the Poore family. In time, the grieving Wilson and Tondera families traveled to their hometowns to lay their deceased to rest. The squadron held a memorial on December 11 at the NAS Norfolk Chapel in the Woods. High Requiem Masses were concurrently held for enlisted men Patrick Toomey and John Delaney at the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at the Naval Station. Ensign Clancy rests in the Arlington National Cemetery.[xii]

Check back next week for the second part of this story.

Special thanks to Troy Valos at the Sargeant Memorial Collection, Slover Library, for his assistance providing scans of the Virginian Pilot's coverage of the accident. 


[i] “ 2 Infants, 4 Airmen Die in Crash on Granby,” Norfolk Virginian Pilot, December 10, 1958, p.1.

[ii] The Plane Tragedy, Product of the Air Age,” Norfolk Virginian Pilot, Richard Mansfield, December 11, 1958.

[iii] “Tragedy at Ocean View,” Norfolk Ledger Star, Editorial Page, December 12, 1958.

[iv] “Search for Causes in a Tragic Crash,” Editorial Page, Norfolk Virginian Pilot, December 12, 1958.

[v]   OPNAV 3750 Aircraft Accident Report 1-58, December 31, 1958 (hereafter cited as AAR 1-58)

[vi] See above at enclosure (19).

[vii] See again AAR1-58, pp.100.

[viii] Ibid., p.101., See also, drawing from Norfolk Virginian Pilot of December 11, 1958, p.1

[ix] “Last Minute Engine Trouble Cause of Navy Plane Crash,” Norfolk, Virginian Pilot, Richard Mansfield, December 11, 1958, p. 1.

[x] “Stories of Fright, Heroics on Granby Street,” Norfolk Virginian PilotDecember 10, 1958, p.1. 

[xi] See again endnote x above and also “Pilot’s wife saw crash,” Norfolk Virginian Pilot, Betty Bradley, December 11, 1958, p.1.

[xii] See again note above

Thursday, March 4, 2021

USS Langley (CV 1): Firsts and an Evolving Mission (Part 2)


USS Langley (CV 1) seen in 1924. Note the crowded and narrow flight deck. (National Naval Aviation Museum)

By Thomas Grubbs
Contributing Writer

Ever since the days of the Spanish Armada, warships had been designed to do one thing: pound one another into wreckage with a battery of the largest caliber weapons that could be accommodated aboard. There had, simply put, never been a ship quite like an aircraft carrier in the world’s navies. No one knew what, if any, role such a new vessel could play in the fleet. Was it a scout? A spotter? An offensive weapon in its own right? It would fall to the crew of the new Langley, sporting hull number CV 1, to literally write the book on aircraft carrier operations for the United States Navy.
Vought VE7s take off from Langley in 1927 (Wikimedia Commons)

An Aeromarine 39B plane comes in for landing on Langley's flight deck in 1922. Note no real catwalk, just sailors using safety nets as such. (Naval History and Heritage Command

As an experimental vessel, Langley would be the scene of a number of firsts for the Fleet. The era of the aircraft carrier for the US Navy began when a Vought VE7 launched from its decks on October 17, 1922. While not the first time a plane had flown from an American naval vessel, it was the first time it had been done from a ship designed for that purpose. Nine days after this, an Aeromarine 39B safely landed aboard, marking the first time a plane had landed on the carrier. Langley would officially join the fleet in January 1923 and spend the rest of that year touring the East Coast from Norfolk to Bar Harbor, Maine, demonstrating the Navy’s new weapon to admiring crowds. Many came simply to watch the aircraft take off and land on the vessel’s flight deck.

Visitors look at a Curtiss F6C fighter plane aboard Langley in October 1926 (Naval History and Heritage Command)
Langley would join the Pacific Fleet in 1924, participating in the annual fleet exercises until the middle 1930s, during which experiments in everything from flight deck operations to mock attacks on the battleline of capital ships would be conducted. It even found time to play a starring role in the silent film The Flying Fleet released in 1929. Sadly, newer and larger ships such as Lexington (CV 2), Ranger (CV 4), and Enterprise (CV 6) soon relegated Langley to an auxiliary role.
Langley (bottom) dwarfed by USS Saratoga (CV 3- middle) and USS Lexington (CV 2-top) at Bremerton, Washington around 1930. (Naval History and Heritage Command)
Since the end of World War One, Imperial Japan was seen as the most likely future opponent of the US Navy. The vast reaches of the Pacific presented a conundrum in the pre and early aviation era: how does one locate the enemy fleet? The answer was seaplanes: these amphibious aircraft and their accompanying tender could turn any sheltered tropical lagoon into a fully functioning airbase in a matter of hours. No longer capable of operating in its designed role, Langley became an ideal candidate for conversion into a seaplane tender thanks to a roomy design and already installed aircraft maintenance and operation facilities.

Langley seen after conversion to a seaplane tender in 1937. The ship was re-designated with the hull number AV 3. (Naval History and Heritage Command)
This conversion took place at Mare Island California between October 1936 and February 1937. The new tender, with hull number AV 3, would spend the next two years operating out of various ports on the West Coast, scouting for the fleet’s battleships and cruisers. But fate had a curve ball in store for the little tender. War clouds were gathering on the horizon and Langley would soon face its sternest test.