In December 1944, Task Force 38, under Admiral William Halsey, sailed straight into a typhoon in the Philippine Sea. 790 sailors were lost, and many other ships suffered serious damage.
Previously, on October 25, Halsey had been decoyed into chasing empty Japanese carriers while leaving the American invasion force largely unprotected, resulting in the Battle off Samar – the last major naval battle. Six American escort carriers, 3 destroyers, and 4 destroyer escorts faced 4 Japanese battleships (including the Yamato), 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, and 11 destroyers.
My uncle Frank was on the Raymond, one of those destroyer escorts. We won, no thanks to Halsey, but lost 1500 men.
In early June, 1945, Halsey sailed into a typhoon again. A number of ships suffered serious damage, but only six sailors were lost this time.
Halsey fucked up, repeatedly. It’s obvious even to fictional characters, like Marko Ramius in The Hunt For Red October. If not for pressure from the top, Halsey would have been relieved. But Nimitz had reasons for sparing him. Not ones I agree with, but reasons. Halsey was an important symbol of the Navy to the general public, and it was thought that letting it all hang out would hurt the Navy in the expected budgetary fights after the war. And to be fair, Halsey wasn’t a traitor or anything: he was just dumb. Or, as a kinder person than I once said, by 1944, the war had become too complicated for Halsey.
Christ, they gave Halsey five stars, more than Spruance.
Problem is, this seems to be standard policy. Once you soar above a certain level, you never get punished for fucking up. Mangle a major company (like HP) and they whip you with hundred dollar bills – your failure is the stepping stone to a Presidential campaign. Invade the wrong country, turn another into an anarchic sand pile, misread the Soviet Union as the coming thing – you have foreign policy ‘experience’. Reminds me of an 11 year old’s definition of experience – what you have after you’ve forgotten her name..
I’m not quite ready to say ‘off with their heads’ – but surely we could cut back on rewarding high-level failure.