Robert Lee Ghormley Edit Profile
While attending the University of Idaho in Moscow, he was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland and entered there on September 23, 1902, and graduated in June 1906.
Promoted to the rank of commander in July 1921, Ghormley served as Aide to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1923 to 1925 and as executive officer of the battleship Oklahoma for the next two years. In 1927 he became Secretary of the Navy's General Board, in Washington, D.C., Captain Ghormley was Chief of Staff to the commanders of the Battle Force and U.S. Fleet during the early 1930s.
After working with the Chief of Naval Operations, he became commanding officer of the battleship Nevada from June 25, 1935 to June 23, 1936. In 1936, he returned to the U.S. Fleet staff. By 1938, he completed the senior course at the Naval War College. Rear Admiral Ghormley became Director of the War Plans Division and Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, remaining in those positions until August 1940. He then was sent to the United Kingdom as a Special Naval Observer for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was subsequently promoted to vice admiral on October 1, 1938.
The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, by the Japanese Imperial Navy using fast offensive aircraft carrier forces wrought destruction on the American battleships there at anchor. This dramatically changed the strategic and tactical (doctrinal) emphasis of the U.S. Navy for the rest of World War II. Until the attack on Pearl Harbor, the battleship was widely accepted and held as the supreme weapon of naval power. The attack from aircraft launched by carriers made it clear that air power had instantly superseded the battleship as the primary asset of naval power. In the days after the Pearl Harbor attack, the U.S. Navy attempted to immediately reinforce Wake Island, and in another mission sent Vice Admiral William Halsey Jr. on counterattack forays on various enemy held islands.
In addition, naval intelligence had decoded transmissions indicating an attack on Midway Island, which if taken by the Japanese would have immediately threatened Hawaii. All of the pressing needs to protect and retaliate required the use of the few aircraft carriers then available, along with their escort and support ships. Into the summer months of 1942, the United States struggled on a "shoestring" to rush an offensive force consisting of the 1st Marine Division (11,000 men) commanded by Marine Major General Alexander Vandegrift and supported by two carrier task forces (Saratoga and Wasp). The plan, called Operation Watchtower, was to immediately attack, seize, and hold the Solomon Islands of Guadalcanal and Tulagi.
It was into these critical early days of the Solomons Campaign that Vice Admiral Ghormley was rush-assigned command of South Pacific (COMSOPAC) on the recommendations of Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet, and Chief of Naval Operations Fleet Admiral Earnest J. King. It is possible that Ghormley was appointed to the position over other commanders with superior carrier and aviation expertise and experience because of his association with President Roosevelt. Nimitz's choice was Admiral William S. Pye, but since Pye had recalled the Wake Island relief attempt, Admiral King was hostile to Pye. Vice Admiral Ghormley had last held sea command in 1938 on the battleship Nevada and had not been back to a sea command since. And, in addition, he had never commanded a carrier. Upon taking command as COMSOPAC, Ghormley had only the carriers Saratoga and Wasp, later joined by Enterprise.
Ghormley's performance appeared to be lackluster and pessimistic, as reflected in his continuing reports to Admiral Nimitz at Pearl Harbor, to which Admiral King took exceptional note. Ghormley had been directed through original operational orders by Admiral King to "personally oversee" the Guadalcanal/Tulagi attacks by U.S. forces, meaning he was expected to be on site or in the immediate area of conflict. However, Ghormley was either absent in the early planning phases and subsequent invasions or else holed up in his headquarters once he finally moved to Nouméa, more than 900 miles (1,400 km) from Guadalcanal. He apparently was overwhelmed by the quick developments of the overall operation as well as lack of immediate resources, paperwork, myriad details and petty political squabbling caused by New Caledonia's French government hosts, rather than being present in the immediate conflict areas. It was noted that Ghormley failed to set foot on Guadalcanal or to make himself "visible" to combat forces as a morale presence.
Ghormley also conveyed weak or indecisive communications to his commanders and was absent at critical planning meetings, which were marked by vociferous arguments between Admirals Frank Jack Fletcher and Richmond K. Turner over the length of time that carriers would be able to provide air cover to landing forces and supply ships. Fletcher seemed to place more concern on protecting the aircraft carriers and on the overall fuel needs of the fleet over the immediate support requirements of the invasion force. Part of the problem was also due to Fletcher's attempts to interpret Admiral Nimitz's dictum against over-exposure of carriers to attack unless more damage could be inflicted upon the enemy; Admiral Fletcher was left to interpret this rather than Vice Admiral Ghormley, and Fletcher's interpretation was seen as over-cautious. The heated arguments aside, Ghormley had assigned Fletcher as the Commander, Expeditionary Force who had overriding authority to move carrier air support out of the battle area. After only 36 hours, and with at least two to three days (estimate as high as five by Turner) needed to unload supplies to the Marines fighting on Guadalcanal, Fletcher ordered carriers to pull out of the immediate critical invasion operation, leaving many supply ships unloaded and vulnerable to Japanese attack, and with no carrier air support for ground forces.
As a result of all these mitigating circumstances, problems and misjudgments, both Admirals Nimitz and King became highly concerned with the precarious state of the conflict and Ghormley's ability to command in a sound manner. In consequence, Vice Admiral William F. Halsey flew to Nouméa on October 16, 1942 to interview Ghormley and his staff. It became apparent to Admiral Nimitz that Ghormley and his staff did not have answers to serious questions that they should have had. In consequence, Admiral Nimitz had to make a personal appearance on Guadalcanal to bolster morale.
Dismayed by Ghormley's shortcomings, on 18 October Admiral Nimitz replaced him with Vice Admiral Halsey, who quickly and decisively took leadership command and fully restored the balance of trust. Placing Halsey in charge demonstrated that the job had required a decisive, aggressive and trained battle carrier admiral. As Ghormley should have done from the beginning, Halsey had no problem with making frequent numerous appearances and taking the lead. Some time later, according to Elmer B. Potter, the biographer of Nimitz, Ghormley "was found to be suffering from abscessed teeth, possibly the main cause of his shortcomings as ComSoPac."
After a few months' duty in Washington, D.C., Ghormley returned to the Pacific to become Commandant of the 14th Naval District in Hawaii. In December 1944, Ghormley became Commander, United States Naval Forces Germany, and served in that position until December 1945. He spent his last months of active duty as a member of the General Board, at the Navy Department, and retired in August 1946.
While recovering from surgery in 1958 at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Ghormley died at age 74 on 21 June, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Member Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Delta Theta. Club: Army-Navy (Washington).
Married Lucile Elizabeth Lyon, October 20, 1911. Children: Daniel Dyer, Alice Elizabeth (Mistress.
DiedJune 21, 1958 (aged 74)
Resting placeArlington National Cemetery, Arlington County, Virginia, United States
May 23, 1917
1923 - 1925
1935 - 1936