Raymond A. Spruance

Raymond Ames Spruance (July 3, 1886 – December 13, 1969) was a United States Navy admiral during World War II. He commanded U.S. naval forces during two of the most significant naval battles that took place in the Pacific Theatre: the Battle of Midway and the Battle of the Philippine Sea. At Midway, Spruance scored the first major victory for the United States over Japan; most historians consider Midway the turning point of the Pacific War.[1]

Raymond A. Spruance
Spruance in April 1944
Born(1886-07-03)July 3, 1886
Baltimore, Maryland
DiedDecember 13, 1969(1969-12-13) (aged 83)
Pebble Beach, California
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Navy
Years of service1907–1948
Commands heldUnited States Fifth Fleet
United States Pacific Fleet
Battles/warsWorld War I
World War II
AwardsNavy Cross
Navy Distinguished Service Medal (3)
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Navy Commendation Medal
Other workAmbassador to the Philippines

Official Navy historian Samuel Eliot Morison characterized Spruance's performance as "superb", and said that he "emerged from this battle one of the greatest admirals in American naval history".[2]

Spruance was nicknamed "electric brain" for his calmness even in moments of supreme crisis, a reputation enhanced by his successful tactics at Midway.[3] After the war, Spruance was appointed President of the Naval War College, and later served as American ambassador to the Philippines.

Early life

Spruance was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 3, 1886 to Alexander and Annie Hiss Spruance. He was raised in Indianapolis, Indiana.[4] Spruance attended Indianapolis public schools and graduated from Shortridge High School. From there, he went on to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1907, and received further, hands-on education in electrical engineering a few years later.

Career prior to World War II

Spruance's first duty assignment was aboard the battleship USS Iowa, an 11,400 ton veteran of the Spanish–American War. In July 1907 he transferred to the battleship Minnesota and was aboard her during the historic around the world cruise of the Great White Fleet from 1907 to 1909.

Spruance's seagoing career included command of the destroyers Bainbridge from March 1913 to May 1914, Osborne, three other destroyers, and the battleship Mississippi.

In 1916 he aided in the fitting out of the battleship Pennsylvania and he served on board her from her commissioning in June 1916 until November 1917. During the last year of World War I he was assigned as Assistant Engineer Officer of the New York Naval Shipyard, and carried out temporary duty in London, England and Edinburgh, Scotland.[5]

Spruance ran a quiet bridge, without chit-chat; he demanded that orders be given concisely and clearly. In one incident a distraught officer rushed to report, "Captain, we've just dropped a depth charge over the stern!" "Well, pick it up and put it back," was Spruance's measured response.[6]

Spruance began attendance at the Naval War College in 1926, and graduated in 1927. He served as executive officer of USS Mississippi from October 1929 to June 1931. He also held several engineering, intelligence, staff and Naval War College positions up to the 1940s. He served as an instructor at the Naval War College from 1935 to 1938. He commanded the battleship USS Mississippi from April 1938 to December 1939, when he was promoted to rear admiral. On February 26, 1940, Spruance reported as commandant of the 10th Naval District with headquarters at San Juan, Puerto Rico. On August 1, 1941, he finished his tour in Puerto Rico.

World War II

Before Midway

In the first months of World War II in the Pacific, Spruance commanded the four heavy cruisers and support ships of Cruiser Division Five from his flagship, the heavy cruiser USS Northampton. His division was an element of the task force built around the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and commanded by Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. Early on, Halsey had led his task force on hit-and-run raids against the Japanese in the western Pacific: striking the Gilbert and Marshall islands in February 1942, Wake Island in March, and projecting the air power of the Doolittle Raid against the Japanese homeland in April. These raids were critical to moralesetting a new tone of aggressiveness by U.S. commanders while providing invaluable battle experience for the commanders and sailors of the U.S. Navy.[4]


During the third week of May 1942 U.S. naval intelligence units confirmed that the Japanese wouldby early Juneinvade Midway Island. Capturing and occupying Midway was the brainchild-plan of Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. With it he intended to significantly expand the Imperial Japanese Navy's outer defense perimeter across the central Pacific; and, he believed, this very powerful stroke against Midway would so severely threaten Hawaii and Pearl Harbor that the U.S. government would be induced to sue for peace[7] (see Battle of Midway: Background). On the other hand, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Chester Nimitz knew he must intercept the Japanese invasion fleet, and that he must give battle to the enemy aircraft carriers before they could project their overwhelming power against the naval air station at Midway.

Less than two days before launch from Pearl Harbor, Nimitz's commander of the Fleet carrier force, Admiral Halsey, was hospitalized with severe shingles;[8] Halsey immediately recommended Admiral Spruance to Nimitz as his replacement. Although Spruance was proven as a cruiser division commander, he had no experience handling carrier-air combat; Halsey reassured Nimitz, and he told Spruance to rely on his newly inherited staff, particularly Captain Miles Browning, a battle-proven expert in carrier warfare.[9] Spruance assumed command of Task Force 16 with its two carriers USS Enterprise and USS Hornet under battle command of Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher. Fletcher's flagship USS Yorktown had been badly damaged at the Battle of the Coral Sea, butat Nimitz's behestit was patched-repaired in 'rush' time purposefully to join the Midway operation.

The U.S. Navy intercept force centered on the three carriers Enterprise, Hornet, and Yorktown, and their air-attack squadrons. It faced a Japanese invasion fleet organized into two groups: the air-attack task force of four carriers with support ships under command of Admiral Chūichi Nagumo, and the surface and occupation forces under Admiral Nobutake Kondō and others. Admiral Yamamoto commanded the combined invasion fleet from aboard his flagship Yamato.

The battle commenced on the morning of June 4; the first several waves of U.S. attack aircraft were badly beaten, both near Midway and at sea around the Japanese task force. Then U.S. dive bombers from Spruance's Enterprise located Nagumo's fleet of four carrierswhich, fatefully, were without air cover. Most of Nagumo's attack planes had just returned from the first strike on Midway and were immobilized on the carrier decks, while his CAP cover planes were engaged with battling torpedo bombers sent by Spruance from Hornet (see Battle of Midway: Spruance judged.. and he gambled..). The U.S. dive bombers critically damaged three Japanese carriers including Nagumo's flagship Akagi; all three eventually sank. The surviving carrier, Hiryū, gave the Japanese some (brief) respite by sending strikes that crippled Yorktown. But several hours laternear the end of daylight hoursa U.S. scout plane located Hiryū again. Spruance quickly ordered his dive bombers to strike, which fatally damaged the fourth Japanese carrier; it was scuttled the next day.

The U.S. Navy counterforce sank all four Japanese carriers while losing one of its own, Yorktown. The repulse of the Japanese invasion fleet at Midway, largely directed by Spruance, essentially ended Japanese superiority in naval air-fleet power in the Pacific.

In 1949 naval historian Samuel E. Morison noted that Spruance was subjected to criticism for not pursuing the retreating Japanese and allowing the surface fleet to escape.[10] But in summing up Spruance's performance in the battle, Morison wrote: "Fletcher did well, but Spruance's performance was superb. Calm, collected, decisive, yet receptive to advice; keeping in his mind the picture of widely disparate forces, yet boldly seizing every opening. Raymond A. Spruance emerged from the battle one of the greatest admirals in American Naval history".[11][12]

For his actions at the battle of Midway Rear Admiral Spruance was awarded the Navy Distinguished Service Medal and cited as follows: "For exceptionally meritorious service… as Task Force Commander, United States Pacific Fleet. During the Midway engagement which resulted in the defeat of and heavy losses to the enemy fleet, his seamanship, endurance, and tenacity in handling his task force were of the highest quality."[13] Both Fletcher and Nimitz recommended Spruance for the Distinguished Service Medal for his role in the battle.[14]

The Battle of Midway is considered by many to be a turning point of the war in the Pacific, along with the Guadalcanal Campaign. Before Midway, a small and fractional U.S. Navy faced an overwhelmingly larger and battle-hardened Japanese Combined Fleet. After Midway, although the Japanese still held a temporary advantage in vessels and planes, the U.S. Navy and the nation gained confidence and, most critically, time. The setback in the Japanese timetable to encircle the Pacific gave the U.S. industrial machine time to crank up war production, and ultimately, to turn the advantage on Japan in the production of ships, planes, guns, and all the other matériel of war. The Battle of Midway infused the U.S. Pacific Navy with confidence. And with this battle the American forces gained, and afterwards continued to gain, hard combat experience; so the Japanese lost that crucial advantage as well.

Philippine Sea

Shortly after the Midway battle, Spruance became chief of staff to Admiral Nimitz, and in September 1942 was appointed as Deputy Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet.

In August 1943 Spruance was placed in command of the Central Pacific Force, which, on April 29, 1944, was redesignated as the Fifth Fleet. At that time, Admiral Nimitz instituted a unique arrangement in which the command of the vessels which made up the "Big Blue Fleet" alternated between Admiral William Halsey Jr., at which time it was identified as the Third Fleet and Task Force 38, and Admiral Spruance, when it became the Fifth Fleet and Task Force 58. When not in command of the fleet the admirals, and their staffs, were based at Pearl Harbor and planned future operations.

The two admirals were a contrast in styles. Halsey was aggressive and a risk taker. Spruance was calculating and cautious. Notwithstanding their different personalities, Spruance and Halsey were close friends. In fact, Spruance had a knack for getting along with difficult people, including his friend Admiral Kelly Turner, the hotheaded commander of 5th Fleet's amphibious force. One exception was Admiral John Towers, a constant critic of Spruance, whom Spruance came to despise for his naked ambition.[15]

Most common sailors were proud to serve under Halsey; most higher-ranking officers preferred to serve under Spruance. Captain George Dyer of the light cruiser Astoria, who served under both Spruance and Halsey, summed up the view of many ship captains:

My feeling was one of confidence when Spruance was there. When you moved into Admiral Halsey's command from Admiral Spruance's … you moved [into] an area in which you never knew what you were going to do in the next five minutes or how you were going to do it, because the printed instructions were never up to date.... He never did things the same way twice. When you moved into Admiral Spruance's command, the printed instructions were up to date, and you did things in accordance with them.[16]

This gave rise to the description of Spruance as "an Admiral's admiral".

Truk, Saipan, and Iwo Jima

Spruance directed Operation Hailstone against the Japanese naval base Truk in February 1944 in which twelve Japanese warships, thirty-two merchant ships and 249 aircraft were destroyed. This occurred at the same time that Admiral Turner's forces were attacking Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshalls, about 700 miles to the east. Spruance himself directed a task group of battleships, cruisers and destroyers that left the main body to go after Japanese ships that were fleeing Truk, sinking the light cruiser Katori and destroyer Maikaze. This was said to be the first time that a four-star admiral took part in a sea action aboard one of the ships engaged. Admiral Spruance commanded with deadly precision, reported an observer.[17]

While screening the American invasion of Saipan in June 1944, Spruance also defeated the Japanese fleet in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Although he broke the back of the Japanese naval airforce by sinking three carriers, two oilers and destroying about 600 enemy airplanes (so many that the remaining Japanese carriers were used solely as decoys in the Battle of Leyte Gulf a few months later due to the lack of aircraft and aircrews to fly them) Spruance has been criticized for not being aggressive enough in exploiting his success in the Philippine Sea.[18] Buell quotes Spruance speaking with Morison:

As a matter of tactics I think that going out after the Japanese and knocking their carriers out would have been much better and more satisfactory than waiting for them to attack us, but we were at the start of a very important and large amphibious operation and we could not afford to gamble and place it in jeopardy.

However, his actions were both praised or understood by the main persons ordering and directly involved in the battle. Admiral Ernest J. King told him that "Spruance, you did a damn fine job there. No matter what other people tell you, your decision was correct". Spruance's fast carrier commander, Marc Mitscher, told his chief of staff Arleigh Burke that:

You and I have been in many battles, and we know there are always some mistakes. This time we were right because the enemy did what we expected him to do. Admiral Spruance could have been right. He's one of the finest officers I know of. It was his job to protect the landing force....[6]

For most of the war he preferred to use the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis, named for his hometown, as his flagship. He shifted his flag to the old battleship USS New Mexico of the shore bombardment force after Indianapolis was struck by a Kamikaze off Okinawa. When New Mexico was struck by two kamikaze on the night of 12 May 1945 a hasty search by Spruance's staff found the Admiral manning a fire hose amidship. Determining that New Mexico was not too badly damaged to remain on station Spruance kept her as his flagship for the rest of the campaign.[19] Spruance later chose the battleship USS New Jersey as his flagship, as the huge Iowa class battleship had both room for his staff and the speed to keep up with the fast carrier task forces.

Spruance received the Navy Cross for his actions at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.[20]

End of Pacific War

Spruance succeeded Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz as Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas in November 1945.

On October 16, 1946, the former Secretary of War, Robert P. Patterson, presented the Army Distinguished Service Medal to Admiral Spruance, with citation as follows:

Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, U.S. Navy, as Task Force Commander during the capture of the Marshall and Marianas Islands, rendered exceptionally meritorious and distinguished services from January to June 1944. During the joint operations leading to the assault and capture of the important enemy bases, complete integration of Army and Navy units was accomplished under his outstanding leadership, enabling all the forces to perform their closely co-ordinated missions with outstanding success.[21]



At the end of the Second World War Congress created a limited number of five-star ranks for the Army and the Navy, designated General of the Army and Fleet Admiral. The Navy, by law, was limited to four Fleet Admirals; three of these appointments were obvious: Ernest King, Chester Nimitz and William Leahy. The fourth was a choice between Halsey and Spruance, and after much deliberation, eventually Halsey was appointed in December 1945. Spruance's achievements were acknowledged by the unique distinction of a special act of Congress awarding him Admiral's full pay for life. Spruance expressed his personal feelings on this matter as follows:

So far as my getting five star rank is concerned, if I could have got it along with Bill Halsey, that would have been fine; but, if I had received it instead of Bill Halsey, I would have been very unhappy over it.[22]

Spruance was President of the Naval War College from February 1946 until he retired from the Navy in July 1948.

Shortly before his retirement, Spruance received the following Letter of Commendation from the Secretary of the Navy:

Your brilliant record of achievement in World War II played a decisive part in our victory in the Pacific. At the crucial Battle of Midway your daring and skilled leadership routed the enemy in the full tide of his advance and established the pattern of air-sea warfare which was to lead to his eventual capitulation...[21]

Later life

He was appointed as Ambassador to the Philippines by President Harry S. Truman, and served there from 1952 to 1955.

Spruance died in Pebble Beach, California on December 13, 1969 and was buried with full military honors at Golden Gate National Cemetery near San Francisco. His wife, Margaret Dean (1888–1985), is buried alongside him, as are Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, his longtime friend Admiral Richmond K. Turner, and Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, an arrangement made by all of them while living.


Spruance was an active man who thought nothing of walking eight or 10 miles a day. He was fond of symphonic music, and his tastes were generally simple. He never smoked, and drank little. He enjoyed hot chocolate and would make it for himself every morning. Besides his family, he loved the companionship of his pet schnauzer, Peter. Fit into his 70s, Spruance spent most of his retirement days wearing old khakis and work shoes and working in his garden and greenhouse; he loved to show them to visitors.[23]

His achievements in the navy were well known, but himself much less. He did not discuss his private life, feelings, prejudices, hopes or fears, except with his family and his closest friends. He was modest and candid about himself. "When I look at myself objectively," he wrote in retirement, "I think that what success I may have achieved through life is largely due to the fact that I am a good judge of men. I am lazy, and I never have done things myself that I could get someone to do for me. I can thank heredity for a sound constitution, and myself for taking care of that constitution." About his intellect he was equally unpretentious: "Some people believe that when I am quiet that I am thinking some deep and important thoughts, when the fact is that I am thinking of nothing at all. My mind is blank."[23]


The destroyers Spruance (DD-963), lead ship of the Spruance class of destroyers, and Spruance (DDG-111), 61st ship of the Arleigh Burke class of destroyers, were named in his honor.[24]

The main auditorium of the U.S. Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, is Spruance Hall. A bust of Spruance is in the lobby.

The Indiana War Memorial in Indianapolis has a meeting room named for Spruance as well as displays honoring his career and that of the USS Indianapolis.

Cultural depictions

Spruance was portrayed by Glenn Ford (a US Naval Reserve officer himself) in the 1976 film Midway, and by Jake Weber in the 2019 film Midway.

Spruance is depicted as the controversial victor of Midway by G. D. Spradlin in the 1988 TV mini-series War and Remembrance.[25] He is shown to be at loggerheads with his staff on numerous occasions and corrected by them once.[26] The series, based on Herman Wouk's book of the same name, shows Spruance's decision to end the battle and retreat rather than confront the rest of the Japanese fleet as having been opposed by his subordinates, and he was mocked behind his back as "lacking the stomach." Yet the decision is hailed by the series's narrator as instrumental in sealing the American victory.[27] Wouk writes in his book that "Spruance escaped [the Japanese fleet admiral] Yamamoto's terrible trap by acting on perfect military instinct. Not till many months later did American intelligence ferret out the facts."[28]


1st Row Navy Cross Navy Distinguished Service Medal
with 2 stars
2nd Row Army Distinguished Service Medal Navy Commendation Medal Presidential Unit Citation
3rd Row World War I Victory Medal
with OVERSEAS Clasp
American Defense Service Medal
with FLEET Clasp
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
with eight stars
4th Row World War II Victory Medal Navy Occupation Medal
with ASIA Clasp
Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
(United Kingdom)


  1. H. P. Willmott (2010). The Last Century of Sea Power: From Washington to Tokyo, 1922–1945. Indiana UP. p. 517.
  2. Morison, Samuel Eliot (1963). The Two-Ocean War. Boston: Little, Brown. p. 162.
  3. Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won
  4. Buell, Thomas B. (1974). The quiet warrior: a biography of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance. Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-11470-7.
  5. U.S. Naval Heritage & History Command, Biography, Raymond A. Spruance, accessed March 17, 2013
  6. Tuohy, William. 2007. American's Fighting Admirals: Winning the War at Sea in World War II
  7. Costello, John (1981). The Pacific War 1941–1945. New York: William Morrow and Company. p. 268. ISBN 0-688-01620-0.
  8. Costello, John (1981). The Pacific War 1941–1945. New York: William Morrow and Company. pp. 278, 280. ISBN 0-688-01620-0.
  9. Parshall; Tully (2005). Shattered Sword. Washington: Potomac Books. p. 95. ISBN 1-57488-923-0.
  10. Morison, "Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions: May 1942 – August 1942". (History of United States Naval Operations in World War II), Volume IV, p. 142
  11. Morison, Samuel Eliot (1963). The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War. p. 162. ISBN 1-59114-524-4 via Google Books.
  12. Buell, Thomas (1974). The Quiet Warrior: A Biography of Raymond Spruance. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. p. 166. ISBN 0-316-11470-7.
  13. Biographies, 20th century collection, Navy Department Library.
  14. "Adm Spruance's Fitrep after Battle of Midway". SlideShare.net. Naval History & Heritage Command. June 17, 2010. Retrieved June 19, 2010.
  15. Kent G. Budge, The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia
  16. Tuohy, William (2007). America's Fighting Admirals:Winning the War at Sea in World War II. Zenith Press. p. 323. ISBN 978-0-7603-2985-6.
  17. Michael D. Hull, World War II magazine, May 1998 issue
  18. Buell, Thomas (1974). The Quiet Warrior: A Biography of Raymond Spruance. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. p. 303. ISBN 0-316-11470-7.
  19. Hornfischer, James (2016). The Fleet At Flood Tide:America at Total War in the Pacific. Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0-3455-4871-9.
  20. Military Times, Hall of Valor, Citation, Navy Cross, Raymond A. Spruance, accessed March 17, 2013
  21. Biographies, 20th century collection, Navy Department Library
  22. Buell, Thomas (1974). The Quiet Warrior: A Biography of Raymond Spruance. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. p. 436. ISBN 0-316-11470-7.
  23. Michael D. Hull, World War II magazine, 1998 issue
  24. "News Release: Navy Names Two New Guided Missile Destroyers". U.S. Department of Defense. Retrieved February 11, 2012.
  25. "War & Remembrance (Part 3) (May 26 – July 25, 1942)". YouTube.
  26. "War & Remembrance (Part 3) (May 26 – July 25, 1942) 1988". YouTube.
  27. "War & Remembrance (Part 3) (May 26 – July 25, 1942) 1988". YouTube.
  28. Wouk, Herman, 1915– author. (1978). War and remembrance. Collins. p. 324. ISBN 9781444779295. OCLC 893652792.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

Further reading

Military offices
Preceded by
Chester W. Nimitz
Commander in Chief of the United States Pacific Fleet
Succeeded by
John H. Towers
Preceded by
William S. Pye
President of the Naval War College
Succeeded by
Donald B. Beary
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Myron M. Cowen
U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines
Succeeded by
Homer Ferguson

This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

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