by Walter Mow
Marc Mitscher was born January 26, 1887 in Hillsboro, Wisconsin. His family would move to Oklahoma when Marc was two but he would attend school in Washington D. C. He would be appointed to the Naval Academy in 1904 by Oklahoma Representative Bird Segle McGuire. Here he was hazed and nick named “Oklahoma Pete” by upperclassmen (Shortened to Pete). His academics and deportment would bring “Pete” to a forced resignation from the academy.
Mitscher would reapply for and be granted reappointment to the academy but he would be required to re-enter as a first year Plebe. He would graduate 113th out of a class of131, June 3, 1910. After nearly two years of sea duty as a Midshipman aboard the USS Colorado, he was commissioned an Ensign on March 7, 1912. He requested to be transferred to Aviation in his second year aboard the Colorado but was declined. He continued to request transfer to aviation while serving on the destroyers USS Whipple and the USS Stewart. It was while serving in charge of the Stewart’s engine room when he received his transfer to the Naval Aeronautic Station, Pensacola, Florida.
(Lt. jg?) Mitscher received his wings and the designation Naval Aviator Number 33 on June 2, 1916. He would report aboard the USS West Virginia April 6, 1917 as the Navy continued to experiment with aircraft catapults. Mitscher’s career began to take off with his promotion to Lieutenant and command of Naval Air Station “Dinner Key”. Dinner Key was the second largest naval air facility in the US at the time; its primary mission was to train seaplane pilots. On July 18, 1918 he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. He would leave Dinner Key in February 1919 and transfer to Chief of Naval Operations Aviation Section.
May 10, 1919 three Curtiss NC Flying Boats took off from Newfoundland in a trans-Atlantic flight attempt. Mitscher, piloting NC-1 and his crew were unable to complete the flight and went down near the Azores. He and his crew sat atop the “Nancy” while awaiting rescue. The attempt was completed by one of the craft, NC-4; for his contribution in the effort he was awarded the Navy Cross and the Order of the Tower and Sword by the Portuguese government.
Lt. Commander Mitscher would serve aboard an aircraft tender; the Aroostook from October 1919 to May 1922. In the interim he was promoted to Commander July 1, 1921. His next assignment was command of Naval Air Station Anacostia, D.C. Mitscher would testify before the “Morrow Board” studying the use of aviation in National Defense on October 6, 1925.
Commander Mitscher would serve aboard the first US carrier the “USS Langley” (CV-1). Many of the techniques of handling aircraft aboard ship were the creation of Mitscher and the infant arm of Naval Aviation. Commander Mitscher would lead his air group aboard the newly commissioned “USS Saratoga” (CV-3) January 11, 1928. In a mock attack on the Panama Canal one year later, his air group would be successful in avoiding detection, theoretically scoring major damage to the locks and infrastructure.
Mitscher was promoted to Captain in 1938; Captain Mitscher assumed command of the “USS Hornet” (CV-8) October, 1941. The “Hornet” was in training with her new crew when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor. It was decided that a carrier raid on Japan was the only offensive action that could be carried out.
The Doolittle Raid by sixteen B-25 bombers was carried out from the decks of the “USS Hornet”, Saturday, April 18, 1942. “Hornet” with Mitscher in command would participate in the “Battle of Midway”, June 4-7, 1942.
Promoted to Rear Admiral, his assignment, command of Patrol Wing 2 was a desk job. His next command would be as Commander Fleet Air, Noumea. April 1943 and Mitscher was assigned Commander Air, Solomon Islands by Admiral Halsey saying, “I knew we’d probably catch hell from the Japs in the air. That’s why I sent Pete Mitscher up there. Pete was a fighting fool and I knew it”. August 1943 and he returned stateside to command Fleet Air, West Coast; another promotion in early 1944, Vice Admiral and command of the Fast Carrier Force in the Pacific.
NOTE: The Fast Carrier concept was one of Mitscher’s own and he would exhibit both the daring and leadership necessary to make the Fast Carrier Group a premier part of the Navy.
Command of the Pacific Fleet rotated between Admirals Spruance and Halsey; Spruance was in command it was the 5th Fleet and Task Force 58; when Halsey was in command it was the 3rd Fleet and Task Force 38. (This must have been confusing to the Japanese)
“Operation Flintlock”, (January 31 to February 4, 1944) and Mitscher’s Task Force 58 is engaged in the Marshall Island campaign; Mitscher’s pilots would establish air superiority the first day. “Operation Hailstone”, (February 17-18, 1944) a strike against Truk from behind a shielding weather front, Task Force 58 destroys 250 aircraft and sinks 40 ships in the harbor. “Operation Reckless” (April 22-27, 1944) Task Force 58 is support for the landings at Hollandia.
The Marianas Campaign (June 14- August 10, 1944) would change the tempo of the Pacific War. The “Battle of the Philippine Sea”, commonly known as “The Marianas Turkey Shoot” (June 19-20, 1944) was a crushing defeat for the Japanese with the loss of 3 fleet carriers, as many as 600 aircraft destroyed and nearly 3,000 killed, most of them pilots and air crew members. Night fall June 20, 1944, Mitscher breaks all the rules and orders his carriers to light their decks to enable his pilots to find their way back to the fleet. Of the 80 aircraft forced to ditch with their crews, only 16 pilots and 3 crewmen were lost. Mitscher’s memory of awaiting rescue made him extend every effort to rescue his downed pilots.
In a series of sweeping raids by Mitscher’s Task Force 38, September 6-8, 1944 they hit the Palau Islands; September 9-10, they attack Mindanao and then spend two days striking Visayan Islands in the central Philippines. A second series of raids beginning October 10 with Okinawa; the 11th they attack northern Luzon; October 12-16, 1944 they attack Formosa; the resulting Battle of Formosa would cost the Japanese in loss of life and aircraft as 300- 500 aircraft were lost along with severe damage to military installations and infrastructure.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 23-26, 1944) entailed 4 engagements: the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, the Battle off Samar and the Battle of Cape Engano. Mitscher’s carriers would be involved in two of these engagements. In the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea (October 24, 1944) Mitscher’s pilots sank the Japanese Battleship Musashi. Mitscher’s pilots would attack and sink 4 Japanese carriers in the Battle off Cape Engano (October 25-26, 1944).
Admiral Mitscher had been at the helm of the Fast Carrier Task Force since early January and was scheduled for a rest. He was replaced by Vice Admiral McCain October 30, 1944.
Mitscher would return to active duty January 30, 1945; in mid February his aircraft would carry out the first carrier raid against the Japanese home Islands since the Doolittle Raid in April, 1942. Task Force 58 supplied air support for the Iwo Jima Campaign (February 19 – March 26, 1945) and the invasion and Battle of Okinawa (April 1 – June 22, 1945). As part of that battle Mitscher’s pilots would sink the mighty Japanese Battleship Yamato (April 7, 1945); and be forced to stay on station off Okinawa for two months while under near constant Kamikaze attack. Mitscher would be forced to transfer his flagship twice May 11, 1945 due to these very heavy kamikaze attacks.
Commended by Admiral Nimitz after the Okinawa Campaign saying, “He is the most experienced and most able officer in the handling of fast carrier forces who has yet been developed. It is doubtful if any officer has made more important contributions than he toward the extinction of the enemy fleet”.
May 30, 1945 Vice Admiral Mitscher is replaced by Admiral McCain ending Mitscher’s war service. March 1, 1946, advanced to full admiral and command of the 8th Fleet, his life would be cut short by a heart attack at age 60, February 3, 1947.