Click on the picture to watch Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr at the start of the Cold War, asserting the United State's right to send its warships anywhere, despite Stalin's objections. This 1946 Universal Studios' newsreel footage streams in 256k Mpeg4, free from the Internet Archive. For more information and format choices, click here.
Halsey was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on 30 October 1882, the son of Captain William F. Halsey, Sr. USN. He attended the Pingry School as a boy and later graduated in 1904 from the United States Naval Academy with several athletic honors. He spent his early service years in battleships and torpedo craft. The United States Navy was expanding at that time, and the Navy was short on officers; Halsey was one of the few who was promoted directly from Ensign to full Lieutenant, skipping the rank of Lieutenant (junior grade). Torpedoes and torpedo craft became a specialty for him, and he commanded the First Group of the Atlantic Fleet's Torpedo Flotilla in 1912 through 1913, and several torpedo boats and destroyers during the 1910s and 1920s. Lieutenant Commander Halsey's World War I service, including command of USS Shaw in 1918, was sufficiently distinctive to earn a Navy Cross.
From 1922 through 1925, Halsey served as Naval Attache in Berlin, Germany, and commanded USS Dale during a European cruise. During 1930–1932, Captain Halsey led two destroyer squadrons. He studied at the Naval War College in the mid-1930s. Prior to assuming command of an aircraft carrier, he received aviation instruction, taking the more difficult Naval Aviator rather than Aviation Observer program. He insisted on taking the full twelve week course, and was the last one of his class to graduate. He then commanded the carrier USS Saratoga and the Naval Air Station at Pensacola, Florida. Halsey was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1938, commanding Carrier Divisions for the next three years, and, as a Vice Admiral, also serving as Commander Aircraft Battle Force.
Vice Admiral Halsey was at sea in his flagship, USS Enterprise, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Upon learning of the Japanese attack, he was overheard remarking that after this war the Japanese language would only be spoken in hell. During the first six months of the war, his carrier task force took part in raids on enemy-held islands and in the Doolittle Raid on Japan. By this time he had acquired the nickname "Bull," after his slogan, "Hit hard, hit fast, hit often". Beached by illness just before the June 1942 Battle of Midway, he lent his brilliant chief of staff, Captain Miles Browning, to his hand-picked successor, Admiral Raymond Spruance, to devastating effect against the Japanese Combined Fleet.
Halsey took command in the South Pacific Area in mid-October 1942, at a critical stage of the Guadalcanal Campaign. After Guadalcanal was secured in February 1943, Admiral Halsey's forces spent the rest of the year battling up the Solomon Islands Chain to Bougainville, then isolated the Japanese fortress at Rabaul by capturing positions in the Bismarck Archipelago.
Admiral Halsey left the South Pacific in May 1944, as the war surged toward the Philippines and Japan. From September 1944 to January 1945, he led the Third Fleet during campaigns to take the Palaus, Leyte and Luzon, and on many raids on Japanese bases.
In the Battle of Leyte Gulf, he took the Third Fleet in pursuit of a force of Japanese carriers, leaving the Japanese surface fleet to engage a task force of destroyer escorts and light carriers. The Battle of Leyte Gulf was a complicated affair, in part because portions of the American fleet were uninformed about the other's areas of responsibility. (The mish-mash of signals is covered in detail in the novel War and Remembrance, by Herman Wouk.)
Despite aerial reconnaissance reports on the night of 24–25 October, Halsey or his staff failed to take note of the approaching Japanese center force via San Bernardino Strait. When the crisis erupted off Samar the next morning, the 3rd Fleet striking arm was headed north to engage Japanese carriers off Cape Engaño. In his absence, the Seventh Fleet lost an escort carrier and three destroyers (totaling 660 men) to Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita's battleships and cruisers.
A message from Admiral Chester Nimitz asking for the location of Task Force 34 ("Turkey trots to water. Where is repeat where is Task Force 34 The world wonders"), the battleships that should have been covering the approaches to Leyte, led to ill-feeling due to a misunderstood piece of security padding (see "the world wonders"). Halsey recovered, though, by winning the battle though without the hammer-blow victory for which he had hoped.
After the Leyte Gulf engagement, the 3rd Fleet was confronted with another powerful enemy: "Halsey's Typhoon" in mid December. While conducting operations off the Philippines, the force remained on station rather than avoiding a major storm that sank three destroyers and inflicted damage on many other ships. Some 800 men were lost in addition to 146 aircraft. A smaller typhoon assailed the fleet a month later.
In January 1945, Halsey was routinely relieved by Admiral Raymond A. Spruance in command of the fleet (during this time called Fifth Fleet). Halsey resumed command of the Third Fleet from late May 1945 until the end of the war; he was present when Japan formally surrendered on the deck of his flagship, USS Missouri, on September 2, 1945.
Despite his record at Leyte and failure to avoid two typhoons, Halsey was promoted to Fleet Admiral in December 1945, and retired from active duty in March 1947. Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey died on August 20, 1959 and was interred in Arlington National Cemetery. While he can hardly be censured for charging at the IJN at Leyte Gulf, the facts remain that the job of protecting the destroyer escorts and light carriers from an overwhelming enemy force known to be proceeding to the island was also part of his task. After the war, this fundamental point colored his decisions regarding Leyte Gulf. Had he not charged off into the deep ocean to pursue the enemy, and instead stayed to smash the oncoming IJN force, he doubtless would have entered the history books as the next John Paul Jones.
Two ships have been named after Halsey, a decommissioned guided missile frigate (later cruiser) USS Halsey (CG-23) and a modern destroyer USS Halsey (DDG-97), see USS Halsey for further details.