In and Out of Big Time Naval Aviation
The United States Fleet had been reorganized in April 1931, and the use of the terms Battle Fleet and Scouting Fleet discontinued. Under the reorganization, there was a large Battle Force in the Pacific Ocean with battleships, carriers, destroyers, minecraft, and shore-based patrol squadrons, and a smaller Scouting Force in the Atlantic Ocean with no minecraft and fewer of all the other types, but strong in cruisers. There was a widely dispersed Submarine Force to supersede the Control Force, and a Base Force, the latter performing expanded duties of the former logistic Train, and including a few shore-based aircraft squadrons, largely patrol aircraft.
Executive Officer--Saratoga (CV-3)
The Saratoga was half of the aircraft carrier strength in the mighty Battle Force, sharing that honor with the Lexington. The third carrier in the United States Navy, the ex-collier Jupiter, now the Langley, was in the Scouting Force. The number of battleships on 1 July 1931 was at a new low, as only 12 battleships were in full commission, and the number of enlisted personnel in the whole Navy was down to the post World War I low of 79,700.
Just to make the modern naval officer's mouth water at the thought, the percentage of reenlistments in 1933 was over 90 percent, and to shed a tear, the 15 percent pay cut was in effect and officers did not receive any increase of pay when promoted or when completing stipulated periods of naval service.1
Fleet Problem XIV was to be held in 1933 in the area between the Hawaiian Islands and the Pacific Coast, and Fleet Problem XV was held in 1934 in the Caribbean.
The Captain of the Saratoga was Rufus F. Zogbaum. In his nostalgic book From Sail to Saratoga, he wrote, in the early 1950's:
My executive officer was a man who has since become famous in commanding many of the great amphibious operations in the Pacific War, Kelly Turner, sometimes referred to in newspapers as 'Terrible Turner.' He had taken over his new duties at the same time as I had taken command, so we had both to get acquainted with the ship as well as with one another, and to plan how she was best to be run under our new regime.
New brooms generally sweep too clean, and so, after all the publicity the Saratoga had lately gotten in the newspapers, on account of her grounding, we decided to proceed with caution in any reforms we intended to make. In my first talk with Turner, I felt we were in complete accord, that with this able and brilliant second-in-command I could leave him all the details that go with the executive's job. Although he was aggressive, dominant and could see quickly the best way of doing things and demanded they should be done thus and with despatch, I never found anything 'terrible' about Kelly Turner.2
Captain Zogbaum was of the same Naval Academy class of 1901 as Ernie King. He had gone to Pensacola as a junior captain at age 49, the same age as King ventured into aviation. He had completed the aviation course about 18 months after Turner and King. He was justly proud of qualifying as a naval aviator, and of his fine command, the Saratoga.
Commander Turner was Executive Officer of the Saratoga for 18 months from the day after Christmas 1932 until 11 June 1934, and served throughout Captain Zogbaum's command tour.
On the final fitness report which Captain Zogbaum gave Commander Turner, he wrote:
No Commanding Officer could ask for a better Executive. Recently selected for Captain and should go far in the Naval Service.
One of the outstanding senior lieutenants in the Sara remembered:
To Work as Exec
I was the Assistant Gunnery Officer on the Saratoga when R.K.T. came aboard as Exec. When his orders to the ship were posted I seem to recall rumors going around to the effect that he was somewhat a sundowner.
He had the single-minded devotion to duty which I sense in Russ Ihrig [Commodore Russell M. Ihrig]. He wanted things done as they should be
Commander Richmond Kelly Turner, Executive Officer of the USS Saratoga (CV-3), 1 October 1933.
done--right the first time--and he followed up his orders. The Sara was to be the best ship in the Fleet and her boats were one way of showing this. He demanded a spick and span crew and brass work that winked, canvas scrubbed and bleached, with lots and lots of real sailor-made awnings, turksheads and rope mats. None of this was in the nature of make-work, however. He felt that a good ship had good boats and vice versa. To be sure that he was always a man who had his wits about him when duty called he did not drink on week days, and his weekend drinking was so moderate as to be almost abstemious. Under his eye, we did a good job when Long Beach was hit by the quake.3
Another shipmate of early aviation days remembered:
While Exec of the Saratoga, Kelly was a legend. It is said he studied music so that he could give the band hell.4
Before the 1932 Christmas holidays were over, the new Executive Officer had gathered together all the naval aviators of the squadrons attached to the Saratoga and told them:
You are all naval aviators, and from what I hear, darn good ones. But from now on, you have got to also be naval officers!5
The practice under the previous Executive, a classmate of Turner' s, Commander A. H. Douglas, had been for the squadron aviators to do their flying and a very minimum of ship-keeping and watch standing. Kelly put them all on the ship's watch lists, the younger ones as Junior Officer of the Watch or as Officer of the Deck, the senior ones on a Squadron Watch List similar to the ship's Head of Department Watch List. The squadron officers took their duty turns with the ship's officers, a day of watch duty every fourth day, but watches so scheduled to give them eight hours off watch before flying.
This broad concept of officer seagoing and ship qualification endeared Commander Turner, neither to the officers, nor to their wives when the Saratoga was in port. However, the policy paid big, big dividends in formation handling skills and in self-confidence during World War II when a number of these aviators increased in rank markedly and, by CINCPAC fiat, automatically senior to all non-flying officers in surface ship commands in the same unit or group and thus the task unit or task group commander. This Saratoga policy spread its wings softly throughout the aeronautical organization of the Fleet during later pre-World War II years.
The cruise in the Saratoga included all the usual chores borne by Executive Officers of that 1933-1934 period including much umpiring of other ships, most frequently the Lexington, gunnery and torpedo practices, and much inspecting and writing of reports.
This latter aspect resulted in Commander Turner receiving two official letters of praise from the Commander in Chief of the United States Fleet, Admiral David F. Sellers, one stating that his report had shown "a broad tactical knowledge."6
In late March 1934, Commander Turner learned that his services were
being sought for duty on their staff by two Flag officers, each a qualified aviation observer, rather than a qualified naval aviator. The two were Rear Admiral Henry V. Butler, a rear admiral of the upper half, and currently away from aviation and commanding Battleship Division Three, Battle Force, and Rear Admiral Alfred W. Johnson, a rear admiral of the lower half and currently commanding Aircraft, Base Force. Aircraft, Base Force, contained all the aircraft patrol squadrons of the major Fleet air bases.
However, Rear Admiral Butler was slated to fleet up to vice admiral and take over Aircraft, Battle Force, containing the two largest carriers of the Fleet, and their healthy contingents of fighting aircraft. The problem was further complicated by the desire of the Department to do its own detailing. As described by Mrs. Turner:
Kelly is still at sea about his job. Admiral Butler wants him for his Chief of Staff, and, of course he is crazy for the job. The Bureau wants another man, and the thing is still hanging fire.
His relief has been ordered. The Butler job will keep him away until December. If he goes to Admiral Johnson's Staff, he will be back in Coronado for six weeks, and then go to Alaska for three months. I am afraid there will be so much fuss they will just order him to some shore job.7
But feminine intuition proved wrong and on 11 May 1934, the Bureau of Navigation ordered Commander Turner detached from the Saratoga in June and assigned him as Chief of Staff to Commander Aircraft, Battle Force. The orders were delivered in Gonaives, Haiti, on 17 May and executed in New York City on 11 June 1934.
The problems in 1934 of the childless Navy wife with a seagoing husband are timeless, as indicated by the following abstracts from Mrs. Turner' s letter:
The Feminine Front
It is so dead here [Long Beach], and everyone is so blue, it is awful.
I can't seem to fill up the days.
I started taking steam baths and massage at the club, and it made a new woman of me. Lost eight pounds. Must go to the dressmaker. I lost so much weight, all my clothes are falling off.
Ming [the dog] expects her puppies any day now. I am hoping they will come so that I can go to the Riverside Dog Show Sunday.8
The Naval Directories of 1 July 1924 and 1 July 1934 list "Ships of the Navy in Commission" as follows:
The 1934 Seagoing Navy
1924 1934 Battleships, first line 18 15 Heavy cruisers, first line 0 14 Heavy cruisers, second line 5 0 Lightcruisers, first line 8 10 Lightcruisers, second line 3 0 Aircraft carriers, first line 0 3 Aircraft carriers, second line 1 1 Minelayers, second line 2 0 Destroyers, first line 103 102 Light minelayers 6 4 Submarines, fleet 0 3 Submarines, first line 77 50 Submarines, second line 3 0 Gunboats 9 8 Auxiliaries (large) 52 30 Total 291 241
In the 10 years from 1924, the Fleet had shrunk, particularly in numbers of enlisted personnel, and in submarines and auxiliary strength. But, and it was a great big BUT, in 1934, there were 46 new ships building compared with only 17 building in 1924.
Besides new and better ships, another essential for fighting a major war, a professionally trained officers corps, also was being slowly but steadily built up. The number of Line officers had increased from about 4,700 in 1924 to 5,800 in 1934, nearly 25 percent. Thus gradually the professional corps that could instruct the tens of thousands of Naval Reserve officers who would instruct the millions of citizen sailors during World War II, was being gathered together.
The Commander in Chief of 1934, David F. Sellers, as had Admiral Coontz in 1924, thought that "the replacement of our obsolete submarines" was the first and primary deficiency of the Fleet, needing correction. In 1934 "suitable tactical flagships for submarine squadrons operating with the Fleet," and "suitable tenders specially designed to facilitate the operation
of patrol planes" edged out faster ships "in the Train" as the second most urgent deficiency needing to be corrected. However, in connection with the 1934 Train, the Commander in Chief stated:
It is essential that we should have faster oilers. Either the Navy should build them or we should subsidize private interests to build them.9
This latter suggestion, in effect, bore real fruit several years later, when the Maritime Commission built the 18-knot Cimarron (AO-22), and the Navy acquired her.
1934 was a year of major progress toward the proficiencies needed from 1942 to 1945, and from 1950 to 1953. Fleet Problem XV was conducted in the Pacific Ocean approaches to the Canal Zone area and continued in the Caribbean during April-May 1934. A tentative cruising doctrine for a trans- Pacific campaign was developed and published. "Three day" Fleet tactical exercises were held at intervals of six weeks, and "in all during the year twenty Fleet tactical exercises were conducted." Actual carrier air attacks with hundred pound bombs were carried out on the de-armed ex-battleship Utah, which represented enemy carriers and was part of the enemy task force. Reminiscent of the Coral Sea Battle of 1942, the Utah was located only after the planes passed through a "wide belt of dense fog." At this time also abbreviated plain language contact reports were used for the first time in tactical exercises.10
The Fleet Marine Force, which had been established in December 1933 by Navy Department General Order, picked up the amphibious tasks of the former Expeditionary Force, and more closely integrated these tasks into the daily work of the Fleet. Unfortunately, in February 1934, the 5th Reinforced Battalion of the Fleet Marine Force, embarked in ships of the Train, could not carry out a planned amphibious landing on San Clemente Island due to bad weather and lack of a "safe, landing beach."
All destroyers were fueled at sea, and all ships of the Fleet transited the Panama Canal in 47 hours. Further progress under Admiral Sellers towards success in World War II was evidenced by these three extracts from the Commander in Chief's Annual Report:
Intelligence units on individual ships for the interception of enemy messages and the taking of direction finder bearings of enemy ships were formed.
Throughout the year, the Commander-in-Chief has endeavored to interest the younger officers in tactics. He has searched for merit in the junior grades
and given warm commendation when it has been earned by some outstanding performance.11
Voice radio was being tested in the Fleet.12
However, voice radio was slow to catch hold in the Fleet.
Commander Turner had a highly successful year as Chief of Staff to Commander Aircraft, Battle Force. When he reported for this duty in June 1934, Aircraft, Battle Force, consisted of three carriers, the Lexington, Saratoga, and the old Langley, carrying all together 15 squadrons of aircraft, totalling 169 planes, as well as the short-lived dirigible Macon, due to be lost 12 February 1935.
Aircraft Battle Force (1934-1935)
In the spring of 1935, the 15,000-ton aircraft carrier Ranger completed her final trials and joined, bringing five squadrons of aircraft totaling 77 planes with her.
The value of night flying skill for naval aviators had been impressed upon Commander Turner, and he was able to persuade his Admiral of a widespread need for this skill in his command, the largest seagoing naval aircraft command in the world.
So, as one old-time skilled naval aviator wrote:
As C/S for Admiral Butler, he [Turner] left his mark by starting the practice of having all squadrons alternate working only at night.13
This again paid big dividends to the Navy in World War II.
As Commander Turner's sea cruise drew to a close, the question as to where he would do his upcoming shore duty must have been high in his mind. No clues on his desires were found by this writer, except that his fitness reports showed that his preference of duty was for duty and instruction at the Naval War College. And as a member of the senior class, to the Naval War College he was ordered, being detached in time to drive across country and report in late June 1935.
To the Naval War College
Selections to captain from the Class of 1908 extended over three years. The 1933, 1934, and 1935 Selection Boards all worked on 1908. Since Turner was selected by the 1933 Board and since he was not ordered before the naval examining board until just after he arrived at the War College, he had 18 months of pleasant relaxation knowing that he was over the hump and just waiting to make his number, which he did on 1 July 1935.
Promotion to Captain
The years 1933, 1934, and 1935 were lean for the Line of the Navy. All up and down the Navy List, as far as percentage of officers selected was concerned, only a bit better than one out of every two lieutenants, lieutenant commanders, and commanders were being chosen to continue their careers in the Navy.
The top of 1908 did well with the 1933 Selection Board with 14 out of the top 16 being selected. The next year, 27 out of the middle 50 were lucky, but in 1935 only seven out of 25 from the bottom of the class were tapped. In each of the two latter years, one commander was picked up by the Selection Board, after having missed the boat once.
So of the 100 who made commander eight years before, only 50 reached the charmed grade of captain. Forty-two of the 50 were promoted in 1936, 28 years after graduation from the Naval Academy, which is about the time the Line officer of today starts wondering whether he will make three stars.
The students at Naval War College during the 1930's were a cross section of the Navy. It was far from being a place where only officers "going places" in the Navy or "the brains" were detailed by the Bureau of Navigation. The War College was a perfect place to send officers whom the Bureau wished to put in a specific slot the following summer, and needed to be kept on ice for the ensuing year. It also was a perfect place to send an officer for whom, at the moment, the Navy had no appropriate detail. Unfortunately, it also was a place where an officer, whom nobody in command really wanted at the moment, or anytime, could be kept for a year, with the hope that a turn in his health or the ceaseless pruning of the Selection Boards would eliminate him as a detailing problem.
The Naval War College
And of course, there were always in each class at the Naval War College a small number of eager beavers, who yearned for a broader appreciation of
the political, economic, and psychological problems of the world and a keener knowledge of the strategical military aspects of any future world conflicts, whether between Blue (United States) and Black (Germany) or even Orange (Japan) and Blue. Despite the Bureau of Navigation's frequent circular letters that no request for the War College was necessary, or desired, these eager beavers requested such duty.
In the five years, June 1930-1935, before Commander Turner became a student at the Naval War College, there had been only one naval aviator on the staff of more than 20 officers of that institution. In the Line student body of 70 to 90 officers there was only one naval aviator in three out of these five years. Throughout this period, there were over 800 naval aviators in the Navy, out of a total averaging 5,500 officers in the Line of the Navy. The number of students at the Naval War College during each of these five years was approximately one out of 60 to one out of 80 of the Line of the Navy, but the number of naval aviator students during three of these five years was only one out of 800 naval aviators, and always less than one out of 160.
Naval Aviation and the Naval War College
Bearing in mind the reluctance of the Bureau of Aeronautics to designate any of its charges for a detail outside the Naval Aeronautics Organization, it was a minor miracle that Commander Turner was so designated.
This divergence between the Naval War College and the Naval Aeronautical Organization had a large part of its basis in the slowness with which the "Damage Rules" of the Naval War College, used in all Fleet Problems and tactical exercises, came to recognize the potency of the air bomb and the accuracy with which carrier aircraft delivered it. Thus, one aviator wrote:
I had the old Sara Air Group as we headed for Pearl on the annual cruise. We were ordered to attack the 'enemy,' three California's and three Idaho's. We came in from 22,000 feet, effected complete surprise with 74 a/c and roughly 54 half ton bombs. Squadrons of the group had won all the gunnery trophies that year. The Chief Umpire, going by War College rules, slowed one BATDIV two knots!!!
So you can see the thinking at that time at the Naval War College.14
Admiral Turner recalled that duty at the Naval War College was "much to his liking."15 The President of the Naval War College was Rear Admiral
Edward C. Kalbfus, who was to fly four stars, when he next went to sea. Captains Frank H. Sadler, Milo F. Draemel, Raymond A. Spruance, and Robert A. Theobald were members of the War College Staff, and Commanders Walden L. Ainsworth, Lawrence F. Reifsnider, Alvin D. Chandler, Bernhard H. Bieri, and Edmund D. Burroughs were all members of his Senior Class. All these were to be Flag officers during World War II. Another member of Turner's class was Lieutenant Colonel DeWitt Peck, USMC. The latter served with Turner in War Plans in Naval Operations and on COMINCH Staff in 1941-1942, as well as a General officer in the Solomons in 1942-1943.
Captain Turner, while a student at the Naval War College, submitted his main thesis, on "The Foreign Relations of the United States." He pointed out in the thesis the need for a clearly stated national policy for the United States and softly stated that such a policy did not now exist but was "in a state of flux." He added:
The reason for the better definition of the policies of certain other powers is that in the gamble of European politics their very existence as nations is at stake, while the United States, besides trying to protect its foreign trade, is chiefly concerned in keeping out of wars which, in no respect, threaten its real security.
This secure condition of the United States did not continue for long after 1936, because of the rampaging Adolph Hitler.
As early as it was decently possible, February 1936, Captain Turner's orders from duty "under instruction" to duty on the War College staff in June 1936 were issued.
Duty on the Naval War College Staff
One of Captain Turner's productive chores at the Naval War College, and which he looked back upon with pride, was the drafting of a letter in 1937 to the Chairman of the General Board for signature by the President of the Naval War College on the subject of "New Destroyer Construction" for the 1939 Building Program.
At this time, when the United States was still bound by the total tonnage allowances of the Naval Disarmament Treaties, there was considerable pressure to plan to build in 1939 and 1940, within the highly restricted available authorized destroyer tonnage, a larger number of small destroyers
in lieu of a smaller number of large destroyers. It was said that the larger number of small destroyers would more adequately meet the overseas convoy tasks, as well as the anti-submarine and anti-aircraft problems of the Fleet.
The specific problem upon which the opinion of the Naval War College was requested by the General Board covered the desirability of building 42 destroyers of 1,200 standard treaty displacement tons in lieu of 32 destroyers of 1,600 standard treaty displacement tons, or some intermediate number of an intermediate tonnage.
The War College reply, after analyzing the problem, set forth the following counsel:
Superior seakeeping qualities and long radius are the strategic characteristics which ought to be considered fundamental in the determination of design of destroyers for the United States Navy,
Larger ships would be more efficient in unfavorable weather, and could keep the sea for longer periods of time.
[The 1600-ton ship was] favored, but it should be given a maximum speed of from 38 to 40 knots. [in lieu of the 35 knots being considered]16
The influence of this letter, which Turner drafted, on the General Board is unknown, but it is a fact that the "1939 Building Program Destroyer Characteristics," as approved, called for destroyers of 1,630-ton standard displacement.17
That this tonnage was none too great for the ships expected to keep the seas in the Western Pacific and provide anti-aircraft and anti-submarine protection to Task Forces, was evidenced when one destroyer of this 1,630-ton displacement, the Spence (DD-512), along with two of the lesser 1, 200-ton type, Hull (DD-350) and Monaghan (DD-354), were lost in a typhoon which the Third Fleet plowed through on 18 December 1944.
A contemporary at the Naval War College furnishes these opinions in regard to Captain Turner:
In the first year of our association there, he was like myself a student. He no doubt had in mind staying on the staff the following year or two. He was very active and came up with fine papers and solutions to the problems, but didn't see eye to eye with the strategical section which at that time was headed up by Theobald. For one thing Turner did not think that Theobald was giving
the proper weight to air and its possibilities. He considered Theobald a bit unimaginative and hide bound, and did not hesitate to intimate as much. In the lecture question periods and during the critiques, he was very effective, and when he had a different point of view, could expound it well. There were some interesting clashes between these two men, particularly over the role that air would have in the event of war in the Pacific, and looking back on it, there is little doubt that Turner was more often more prophetic than Theobald.
In the two years as head of the Strategic Section of the Staff, Turner did much to revamp the problems and this part of the course to bring it in line with the most probable developments in naval expansion and the paths that this might take. The problems and staff presentations had not changed much for several years and were getting a bit stale. A look at the problems used during Turner's time will show that he had a good idea of what the war in the Pacific would be like. He moved away from the idea that the war would center around the battleships, and intensified the interest in air operations and amphibious campaigns. He also outlined a new series of staff presentations, of which he delivered a good number, which will no doubt still be in the archives of the College. For one thing he insisted that the staff be able to present their subjects without reading them and this made for more interesting sessions. As was to be expected he was very good in conducting critiques and had more consideration for the opinion of the others than his predecessor had had.18
Another contemporary related:
I was a student at the Naval War College in 1937 and went to the staff there just as Turner was leaving in June 1938. He was highly effective on the staff--an excellent moderator when strategical and tactical situations were being discussed by the students. He had a sharp tongue, was quite humorless, but well read and intensely interested in the work of the College.19
Specific lectures delivered by Captain Turner at the Naval War College in order to fulfill his instructional duties were legion, but he had special pride in "Operations for Securing Command of the Seas." In this lecture, besides covering the strictly naval aspects of the problem, he took a long look forward and stressed the need for developing and establishing an organization and a system of national strategy and national tactics in order to provide realistic guidance for handling "the particular problems which may confront American naval officers."
Therefore, the rough patterns of the National Security Council and the
Joint Chiefs of Staff were dimly outlined in this two-day lecture of 9-10 July 1937.
This seems a good time to introduce a thumb-nail sketch of the Kelly Turner character at this stage of his career with 29 years of commissioned service behind him.
Kelly Turner at 51
At that time (1936) he was a newly appointed Captain about 51 years of age. He was about six feet tall and in apparent excellent physical condition, lean and quick acting. He gave the impression of being very alert, was military in bearing and actions, and was well groomed.
He was serious and devoted to his profession. Being very forceful and when convinced, of strong convictions, he was inclined to be abrupt and sometimes tactless, but he was intellectually honest and if one had a point, he could be convinced. He was aggressive and decisive. He had great ability to express himself clearly and well, not only on paper but verbally. He made no point of trying to make people like him, but he commanded a high degree of respect by the manner in which he mastered his profession and performed his duties. There was no doubt in my mind, even at that time, that he was an aggressive, competitive, combatant type, and that when and if the opportunity came, he would know how to do, and do a good job. When we in the Staff were given a job, he let us do it. He was free with good ideas but not insistent that one use them if one had any himself. I profited much professionally from my association with him at this time.
As to his drinking habits, I can say that I never noted that he used it to excess. I attended quite a number of stag affairs over the two and a half years that I was there and Turner was at most of them. To my recollection, he handled his liquor well.20
The officer who relieved Captain Turner as Head of the Strategic Section of the Staff of the Naval War College wrote:
I went to the Naval War College as a student in June, 1937. Turner was Head of the Strategy Section of the College Staff. I felt that I learned a great deal from him during the year ending May 1938.
I remained on the War College Staff until late May 1940, serving the last year as Head of the Strategy Section.
This experience was invaluable to me in the commands I held in World War II and later.
I observed convincing evidence during my tour at the College of the outstanding
contributions Admiral Turner had made to the course of instruction.21
Captain Turner was aware of the fact that he had trod on many toes in getting his fellow aviators "up on the step" and in line abreast with the seagoing capabilities of the rest of the general Line officers during his duty in the Saratoga and on Aircraft Battle Force Staff. He had never been a popularity hound and never intended to be one, but he was keenly aware of criticism, even when he refused to let it temper his actions. He was aware that on a Flag Selection Board, the opinions of the naval aviator members carried great weight with the non-aviator as to which naval aviators should or should not be selected.22
To Stay or Not to Stay in Aviation
He also longed to get back to a ship where guns were the first order of importance and not the last. He also thought that if he had a large non- aviation combatant command, he would be a better Flag officer if he should be selected and later have a command in the top echelons of the Navy. He looked at the Navy List and saw that Captain Patrick N. L. Bellinger, Naval Aviator Number 18, was just two numbers senior to him, Newton H. White, a designated naval aviator since 1919 only one number senior to him, and Albert C. Read, Naval Aviator Number 24, not too much further up the Navy List. A Johnny-come-lately naval aviator might not fare too well in that competition. So he made up his mind to seek a non-aviation detail on his next sea cruise, as indicated in the following correspondence:
Bureau of Aeronautics
Washington, 31 August 1936.
In connection with preparation of the Captain's slate for several years in the future, I would like to recommend to the Bureau of Navigation that you remain on your present duty until about June 1938. The Wasp should be completed in the Fall of 1938 and it is my present intention to recommend you for command. However, it appears practicable to assign you to the Ranger in June '38 if that would be preferable from your standpoint. Please advise me which assignment would be most agreeable to you.
Trusting that you are enjoying your present duty and with best regards, I remain,
Very sincerely yours,
Rear Admiral, U.S.N.
Captain R.K. Turner, USN,
U.S. Naval War College, Newport, R.I.
P.S.: The Saratoga, Lex, Yorktown and Enterprise in June 1938 will all be commanded by officers senior to you.
Note: The Wasp was a comparatively small 14,800-ton 29-knot carrier, whose contract date of completion was November 22, 1938, but which due to delays, was not actually commissioned until April 25, 1940. The Ranger was of approximately the same tonnage.
Naval War College
5 September 1936.
My Dear Admiral,
Thank you for your letter of 31 August, and for your consideration with regard to my choice between command of the Wasp and Ranger. I had expected that circumstances would require my remaining here until the summer of 1938.
There is, however, a serious difficulty with regard to my next sea assignment, at least from my own standpoint. This difficulty is due to the fact that I will have only one captain's cruise before I come up for selection for admiral. Naturally, it is very important for me that my cruise be such as will meet two conditions; 1st, that it will best fit me for flag rank; and 2nd, that it will give me a record of well-rounded service such as will appeal to the Selection Board.
In 1938 I will have been continuously in aviation for nearly twelve years. If I then go to sea in command of a carrier, in 1942 when I come up for selection my continuous aviation service will probably have been sixteen years.
This does not seem to me to be a very good record with which to go before the Board. I therefore intend next year to request officially, as I have already done on my report of fitness, to be sent in command of a battleship. Kinkaid tells me that my seniority in 1938 will probably give me a good chance for a battleship.
This decision should by no means be construed as due to a waning interest in aviation. On the contrary, I am more than ever convinced that we still have a long way to go to exploit its full value to the Navy. I certainly hope to get a later chance to have more aviation duty, which to me has been far more interesting than any other.
There will doubtless be an ample number of officers in 1938 for all the aviation commands. This is as it should be, in order that aviators may from time to time have an opportunity to obtain straight line service a rotation absolutely essential, if they are to fit themselves for general command duty in the grades of captain and admiral. In my opinion, the most serious
personnel problem facing 'us is the development of a plan whereby we can give our splendid young aviators enough general line duty to fit them for the highest positions, as the Navy by no means can afford to lose what in many respects is its best element. Possibly my return to general service may influence others to take the same step.
I talked this over with Mitscher in June, but didn't wish to bother you with it at the time.
I hope you will forgive this long letter to a busy man. Again with thanks, and best regards and wishes,
Note: Commander Mark A. Mitscher in June 1936 was Head of the Flight Division, Bureau of Aeronautics.
The first quoted letter above, the one from the Chief of Bureau of Aeronautics, only a little over a year after Turner had gone ashore, brought the matter of his staying or not staying in aviation to a head. Admiral Turner's 1960 reaction to stories about his being heaved out of the aeronautical organization was strong.
Anyone who says I was assed out of aviation, doesn't know the facts, and you can consider the statement was generally father to the wish. Cook may have been worrying about his promising me the Wasp and he may have been joyous over my request for a battleship or cruiser, but if he had any thoughts of heaving me out of aviation, I beat him to the punch by many many months.23
The rest of the official record reads as follows:
Naval War College
Newport, Rhode Island, 12 November 1937.
My Dear Admiral,
Today I have submitted an official request for my next sea cruise to be in command of a battleship or heavy cruiser, rather than an aircraft carrier. You may remember that I took this matter up with you last spring and you indicated that you were agreeable to the proposal. The reason I am submitting an official request is to have the record show that this step will be taken on my own volition.
Rear Admiral A.B. Cook, USN,
Chief of Bureau of Aeronautics,
Naval War College
Newport, Rhode Island, 8 November 1937.
From: Captain R.K. Turner, U.S. Navy,
To: The Chief of the Bureau of Navigation,
Via: The President, Naval War College.
Subject: Request concerning command assignment for next sea cruise.
There are several matters in connection with my next assignment to sea duty which I desire to bring to the notice of the Bureau.
I will complete my normal tour of shore duty in the spring of 1938. Assuming a two year sea cruise, followed by a normal three year shore tour, I will not go to sea again until 1943. In that year I will have completed thirty-five years of service since graduation from the Naval Academy. It is apparent, therefore, that I am likely to have but one sea cruise in my present grade before my class appears for selection to flag rank.
I have performed duty in the Aeronautic Organization of the Navy since 1 January, 1927. If I continue in this Organization during my next sea cruise, I will come up for selection after a period of sixteen years of continuous aviation duty. Even though, during this time, my actual duties have been little different from those performed by other members of my class, I believe that my apparent lack of general line experience might operate to reduce my chances for selection. Furthermore, a variation in duty at this stage of my career would also tend to increase my usefulness as a flag officer, should I be selected as such.
For the above reason, I request that during my next sea cruise I be assigned to the command of a vessel not in the Aeronautic Organization. I would prefer the command of a battleship; but if my seniority will not entitle me to this assignment, I request command of a heavy cruiser. In either case, I desire command of a vessel in the active part of the Fleet.
As I will have but one captain's cruise, it must necessarily be at least two years in length in order to establish eligibility for promotion. Because my total sea service is somewhat less than the average for my class, and because of my desire for a maximum of command experience, I earnestly request that the Bureau permit me to remain at sea for as long as possible in excess of two years.
This letter should in no manner be construed as indicating a lessening of my interest in aviation, as such is not the case. In order to remain eligible for aviation duty at a later period, I request that the Bureau continue in effect my present designation as naval aviator.
Copy to: Naval War College, Bureau of Aeronautics.
Naval War College
Newport, Rhode Island, 12 November 1937.
My Dear Sharp,
I have just submitted an official request for command of a battleship or heavy cruiser during my next sea cruise, rather than command of an aircraft carrier. You may recall our conversation on this subject last spring. The reason for the official request is merely to show that I will not have been "assed" out of aviation, but am leaving of my own volition.
With best wishes,
Captain Alexander Sharp, U.S. Navy,
Bureau of Navigation,
Note: Captain Sharp was the Captain Detail Officer in the Bureau of Navigation.
In December 1937, at Captain Turner's annual aviation physical examination, the absence of adequate ocular accommodation was noted and in February 1938, the Bureau of Navigation officially informed Captain Turner that he was "qualified for duty involving flying only when accompanied by a co pilot." The defect was not an unusual one for a man nearing age 53, but Captain Turner was a man who didn't like defects in others, much less in himself.
No matter what the record shows, it is almost a standing tradition of naval aviators that Kelly Turner was thrown out of aviation. The "heave ho" story will not down. According to one aviator:
I am positive that Kelly's imperturbable stubbornness as Chief of Staff for Henry Butler played a large part in his failure to stay in aviation. Butler's Flag Lieutenant committed suicide, thereby unjustly giving Turner's critics the chance to say he had been too tough on everyone.24
But after reading the correspondence on this subject the same officer wrote:
I have always thought, as have others, that Jack Towers was the one to deprive Kelly of his rightful command of a large carrier. I am glad to know differently.25
Before Captain Turner left the Naval War College, Rear Admiral Edward C. Kalbfus and Rear Admiral Charles P. Snyder, the two Presidents of the Naval War College under whom he had served, had written on his fitness reports:
High Praise From Above
a superior officer in every respect . . . a keen analytical mind and in an assiduous search for the truth . . . has made a substantial contribution to the College . . . Widely read . . . an accomplished strategist and tactician.
The 16 December 1933 copy of Plane Talk, the ship's paper of the Saratoga, printed Commander Turner's picture and the "hearty congratulations of the ship's company on his selection to Captain." The lead article was headlined "Astoria Launched Today."
To the Astoria
Four years and nine months later, the Astoria and Captain Turner got together again.
The Astoria (CA-34) was a 10,000-ton heavy cruiser, carrying nine 8-inch 55-caliber guns in three turrets, and eight 5-inch 25-caliber guns in her anti-aircraft battery. She was reasonably new, having been commissioned in April 1934 and was currently assigned to Cruiser Division Six of the Cruisers, Scouting Force. The Minneapolis was the flagship of the division. Rear Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll was the Division Commander, and Rear Admiral Gilbert J. Rowcliff (1902) was Commander Cruisers, Scouting Force.
I first met Kelly Turner a couple of hours after he reported on board. It was Sunday. I was the Supply Duty Officer. He sent for me and asked if we carried No Oxide in stock. (I was not the GSK pay clerk.) I told him I would find out. I returned a half-hour later and informed him that we did not, but that I had prepared a requisition for a supply to be delivered either at Panama or Guantanamo, ports we were departing for the following day (certainly soon afterwards). He signed the requisition. The next morning, when the regular clerk returned and I told him about the Captain's desires, he informed me he had about five hundred pounds in stock, but carried under a Navy stock number not its commercial name No Oxide. What to do? It was 8:05, I went to the Captain's cabin and asked his orderly if I might speak to him. He was having breakfast. I was ushered into his cabin. 'Captain,' I said, tremulously I fear, because his reputation had preceded him, 'I've come to tell you that you have the most stupid chief pay clerk in the Navy serving
under you.' His eyes crinkled, then his face became one huge grin. 'Well, do I now?' he asked. I then told him of my discovery and that I had destroyed the requisition. I suppose I still had the undertaker look on my face, because he laughed aloud. Then, suddenly, he became quite serious. 'What made you say what you did?' he asked. 'Because I'm disgusted having muffed the first job you gave me.' He grinned again. 'You outsmarted me. You said about yourself exactly what I would have said about you, had I found out about this before you told me.' Needless to say, the Captain believed what I told him after that.26
Turner had three Executive Officers during his two years in the Astoria-- a bad sign for any Commanding Officer. The first was Commander Paul S. Theiss who reported to the Astoria a couple of months prior to Turner's reporting on 10 September 1938. Theiss was a former shipmate and a good friend. An alert and knowledgeable sailorman aboard the Astoria at the time writes:
The other gentleman who might have much good to say about Turner would be Paul S. Theiss, one of Turner's XO's in Astoria. Conversely, it would be my guess that Turner had genuine respect for Theiss. My reasons for saying this is that Turner normally addressed Theiss as "Paul" when talking to the latter (this was unusual for Turner). The other reason that Turner might have been happy with Theiss is that Theiss was an insomniac thereby able to devote most of 24 hours a day to his job--this would fit in well for Turner, and I believe it did. I know Theiss slept very little for as a QM I had watches on the bridge every night underway. The normal path going on and off watch was such that I could see into the Exec's room. Regardless of the time of night, the Exec was usually sitting at his desk, fully clothed, either working or catnapping. I have never known Theiss to place a call to be awakened in the night call book. No doubt Theiss did sleep in his bunk but I venture to say that it was not very often. I recall also that sometimes during III, Theiss was reconnected with Turner at sea, either on his staff or Captain of Turner's flagship. A good bet would be that Turner asked for Theiss and, if so, because Theiss would work much longer than most people's physical capacity could endure on a continuous basis.27
Rear Admiral Theiss's death in 1956 at a young 66 and long before work on this book started, removed one who knew much about Richmond Kelly Turner.
Unfortunately, after 26 years' commissioned service, and without having
been on board long enough to receive a regular fitness report from Turner, Commander Theiss, the first time his class was considered, failed of selection to captain as "best fitted" that December and was ordered to shore duty the following June. He was selected to captain as "fitted" by the next Selection Board in December 1939 and retained on active duty.28 Theiss's failure of selection in 1938 actually could not be attributed to Captain Turner in any way, since Turner did not arrive in the Astoria until ten days after the regular 31 August 1938 fitness reports had gone into the Department, the last semi-annual fitness report before the 1938 Selection Board met in December.
The second and third Executive Officers were Commanders Marion Y. Cohen, and C. Julian Wheeler. Cohen, Class of 1914, relieved Theiss 15 June 1939, and, by his own official request, in order to better handle a family problem, left in December 1939 for command of San Diego based Destroyer Division 70, when relieved by Wheeler, Class of 1916. Commander Cohen was named "best fitted" captain by his first Selection Board, in a list when only four of the bottom 15 commanders of the Class of 1914, where he was positioned on the Navy List, were so picked. So it can be deduced that Commander Cohen earned more than just highly satisfactory fitness reports from Captain Turner as did Wheeler, who also cleared the hurdle to "best fitted" captain at the first try. Wheeler is still around and comments as follows:
The Astoria under Turner's command was what is known in the Navy as a taut ship. It always stood well in the various competitions we had at that time and was well thought of in the Division.
Due to his brilliance and ability, Admiral Turner was at his best under stress. He was thoroughly in command of the situation at all times.
When relaxed he entered into the spirit of the occasion and joined in the fun, whatever it was. I consider him one of the ablest naval officers of our time.29
A lower decks observer reports:
Turner's reputation reached the fo'c's'le before he took command of Astoria. A crew member had served with him previously and he soon got the word around. Suffice to say 'Turn-to-Turner' was the word. Apparently this phrase was hitched to him some years previously as it may have been hitched to other naval officers. Anyway, it was an inkling as to what to expect. This meant much, because Captain C.C. Gill (Turner's predecessor) was, indeed, a relaxed, 'no-strain,' pleasant little gentleman.
Astoria, of course, was Turner's first major command and command he did.
The first day underway, after having been ashore several years, was a routine evolution. He came up to the bridge, solicited no advice, took the conn and performed as well as anyone could in getting underway and settled down in formation enroute to the training area off San Clemente Island. This pattern persisted for the following two years. He expected that everyone connected with an evolution knew his part perfectly and executed it efficiently. He, in turn, knew all the parts.
Turner never forgot for a moment what he was after and how he was going to get it. He drove himself at full speed with absolute and sincere dedication for the Navy. Turner was going after Admiral stars and of course he got them--no one deserved them more. However, in pursuing his aims--personal and dedicated he no doubt left a bad taste in many officers' mouths as to his ability and as to his relations with them as gentlemen. He was absolutely intolerant of delay, inefficiency, and laxness among his officers. Impatience was exhibited immediately with an ensuing 'chewing out' on the spot regardless of rank or rating in the immediate vicinity. This of course runs against the traditional 'Commend publicly and censure privately.'
I recall vividly when Astoria was coming onto range for a shoot and Turner asked his XO if he had studied the OGE and familiarized himself with the details of the shoot. The XO replied in the negative, after which Turner forthwith ordered the XO from the bridge for immediate study of the exercise. The XO returned in a few minutes with OGE in hand and asked the Captain if he expected him to learn all about the exercise now, indicating that it was an awful lot to digest. Turner replied in no uncertain terms that that was his intent and further that he was amazed that he was questioned about the intent when in the first place the XO should be ready to take over command at any time regardless of evolution in progress and therefore he should have known all about the exercise previously. I heard all this . . . I was manning a pelorus.
D. R. Maltby, a QM striker, performed incorrectly on a particular occasion for which he was called by Turner for explanation. Maltby gave his story that he had been ordered to do such and such. Apparently the situation changed between order and execution whereby common sense would indicate a changed situation and Turner pointed it out to Maltby. He asked Maltby if he recognized the new situation whereby execution of the order would be stupidity. Maltby answered in the affirmative after which Turner in a kindly paternalistic manner informed Maltby thus: 'One of the greatest glories of being an American sailor is that your officers give you the credit for having the ability to think for yourself.' Maltby was very impressed.
There was some humor in Turner and he could smile and laugh. An Incident I recall happened at Captain's Mast. Approximately six men were before Turner for 'shooting craps'. Turner went down the line asking each if he was 'shooting craps'. Each admitted guilt except one colored boy who said he wasn't 'shooting craps'. Turner turned to a witness to ascertain whether the
boy was involved in the game. The witness replied that he definitely was in there with money sticking out of his hands. Turner then asked the colored boy for explanation of his statement. The colored boy answered, 'No such, Captain, ah wasn't shooting no craps, ah was jus fadin.' At this, all semblance of solemnity and dignity went over the side for Turner burst out laughing as did all around him. Suffice to say that each was punished lightly.
I mentioned previously that Turner was after Admiral's stars. He left no stone unturned in pursuance of his aim. He probably was the worst example for training officers in ship handling. I recall no occasion, but there probably were some, when Turner allowed an officer to get the ship underway and form up; nor do I recall an occasion during tactical maneuvers when Turner did not take the conn. I suppose the reasoning was that good maneuvering would evoke a 'well done' from the OTC (usually an admiral). Turner would have each 'well done' certified as a true copy by the Communications Officer with addition thereon of the particular event for the 'well done' after which the copy would be mailed to the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation for insertion in his record. Turner's record must have been full of those messages.30
An officer who served in the Astoria for over three years and under four different captains, remarked:
Kelly Turner's driving ambition was not getting to be an admiral, but was to get the job done in as nearly perfect manner as it could be done. Perfection was his goal.31
The Heads of Departments had varying opinions of their Captain, but they all testified to the high efficiency and capabilities of the Astoria during Turner's command.32 They recalled his "thoroughness," "brilliant mind, " "long hours" and "hard work." To one he was "very strict, very impatient, intolerant of any mistakes, sharp tongued" but "fair." To another, he was "easily understood, and when his requirements were definitely understood, easily followed." To still another, he was "exceptionally smart, but by the same token he expected everyone else to be in the same category." It was recalled that he went on camping trips, fishing trips, and picnics, golfed, and engaged in gardening. One who fished with Turner found him companionable, but felt that his real hobby was his career.
All except one department head thought their cruise with Turner was a big help in their future careers. This one reported: "The only unsatisfactory
fitness report in my record . . . It was a rough and tough existence, but I learned a lot about life." Another recalled "that most officers disliked Captain Turner," but "that if you did your job and made no excuses when you did not, he respected you." He "was ready to help you, if you asked for his advice." By and large, the Heads of Department thought the Captain' s efforts and detailed interests unduly spilled over into their own particular areas of responsibility at one time or another. "Inclined to expect the impossible, he was in retrospect, fair, although it didn't seem so at the time."
Memories of these Heads of Departments recalled only two officers who were suspended from duty during the two years, one a Head of Department. Another observer in the Astoria writes:
The Astoria was directed to Guam to assist the merchant ship Admiral Halsted which was grounded in Apra Harbor; Astoria pulled her off. Upon leaving Guam the Astoria steamed close to Saipan and Rota taking many, many photographs with large cameras taken aboard at Annapolis by Navy photographers who embarked as passengers. The photographs of Saipan and Rota were for the purpose of determining whether the islands were fortified contrary to mandate. A four-engine Japanese plane circled the Astoria during which time Turner kept telling the photographers to attempt to photograph such that four engines could be seen. When the photo mission was completed the Astoria then proceeded to search the track area which Richard Halliburton was to traverse from the Orient to the U.S. in a Chinese junk. The ship's planes searched 250,000 square miles of ocean area--results were negative. The photographers also photographed Yokosuka Naval Base just prior to arriving in Yokohama. Apparently the Japanese detected this because when Astoria steamed out a smoke screen was laid by the Japanese between Astoria and Yokosuka Base.33
* * * * *
When Admiral Turner choked to death on a piece of chicken, 'Time' published his death notice. In the short notice it mentioned that Turner 'profaned his way across the Pacific' during the war. I was a little surprised at this characterization. The inference would be that Turner was a profane man. This I don't believe. I know he swore occasionally but I'm sure than unless he changed radically, he was far from being a profane man.34
* * * * *
On the other side of the coin it can be said that Turner's enlisted men were uppermost in his mind and no problem was too trivial for his concern when it applied to his men. He was kind and almost fatherly to his crew but always firm and consistent. He always gave reasons 'why' when one of his men was in trouble or had problems.35
None of the 12 Astoria officer shipmates questioned checked " profane" as a Turner characteristic. They all checked Turner as "hardworking, " "brilliant," "impatient," and "fair." One wrote that "he was a dedicated patriot and put his patriotism ahead of personal glory."
On 26 February 1939, a recent Japanese Ambassador to the United States, Hiroshi Saito, died in Washington, D.C., and the United States Government decided to send his body back to Japan on board an American Man-of- War. Presumably this was to repay a 14-year-old courtesy by the Japanese cruiser Tama which brought the body of the late Ambassador Edgar A. Bancroft to San Francisco, arriving 22 August 1925.36
Mission to Japan
But it was this and a little more, because Saito was no longer the Ambassador to the United States when he died.
Just why the Commander in Chief picked the Astoria to perform this chore is not known, but Admiral Bloch did know Captain Turner quite well, and, as has been related, thought highly of him.
According to our Ambassador to Japan, Mr. Joseph C. Grew, the late Ambassador Saito "knew our country in a way very few foreigners have ever come to know it" and had done "much constructive work." Grew expressed genuine regret at his passing.37 In any case, Captain Turner was directed to do whatever was within his control to ensure that the Japanese became aware of the genuine regret of this country at the death of Ambassador Saito.38
While the Astoria was in Norfolk improving her logistic readiness for the long cruise ahead, Czechoslovakia was dismembered and Bohemia and Moravia became German "protectorates." Hitler's Germany annexed the port of Memel while the Astoria was in the Canal Zone on 22 March, and the Italians invaded Albania just after the ship left Honolulu. Two hundred and five members of the United States House of Representatives had just endangered the military readiness of the country by refusing to authorize the fortification of Guam. The world's political scene was changing faster than the Astoria was moving and Captain Turner whose interest in the
political-military area had been whetted by his tour at Newport must have been hard put to keep abreast, or to guess what might come next.
Along with many other naval officers, Captain Turner did not trust the Japanese public pronouncements, nor did he believe in the bright idea originated at a high level that paying a special honor to a dead Japanese diplomat would cause the Japanese Army officers, in the saddle in Japan, to alter the policies which the majority of Americans disliked, but about which they were not prepared to do anything realistic.
But orders were orders, and he honestly wished and tried to show official good will and to reflect the position of the State Department throughout the special assignment.39
The Captain played the visit straight. I acted as his Aide during the visit and it was my impression that he believed the mission could and would accomplish good if everyone in the Astoria did his part well.40
Captain Turner officially alerted the ships company of the Astoria in regard to their demeanor during the days ahead while carrying out this somber ceremonial chore, with a memorandum published on 18 March 1939, the day the Astoria received the Ambassador's ashes in an urn at Annapolis.
This was just a few weeks after the Japanese had shown their predatory intentions in Southeast Asia by occupying the large Chinese island of Hainan off northern French Indo-China, and just days before they were to raise their flag over the big old walled city of Nanchang in Southeast China, and to annex the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
The memorandum read as follows:
Today the United States pays honor to the memory of a distinguished diplomat, Hiroshi Saito, the late former ambassador of Japan to the United States. Born in 1886, and educated at the Tokyo Imperial University and the Nobles College, he entered the Japanese Foreign Service in 1911. His first assignment was as attaché of the Japanese Embassy in Washington, so that, strange to say, both his first and last duty abroad were in America.
A Mission of Honor
Hiroshi Saito served in the various positions of Secretary, Consul, Minister, and Ambassador, some of his posts being Seattle, London, The Hague, Geneva, and Washington. He achieved success as a writer and public speaker. He was highly popular with his associates, and, working always for the good of his own country, until the day of his death never varied from his purpose of promoting good relations between Japan and the United States.
It is, of course, unnecessary for the Captain to say that he is deeply sensible
of the honor of having the Astoria selected to transport to his final repose the remains of this diplomat so highly renowned and esteemed throughout the world, and especially in America. All hands on board assuredly join in this feeling, and are gratified at becoming the means chosen by the President for expressing respect for Hiroshi Saito.
Let us, then, during the ceremonies today and the long voyage ahead, never fail to show our respect to the memory of the late former Ambassador, and our cordiality toward the foreign guest who accompanies the remains of his former chief.
Captain, U.S. Navy.
Madame Saito, showing great good judgment, refused the offer of the Department of State, that she accompany her husband's remains on the Astoria.
The ship's paper, The Astorian, carried this account.
After participating in Fleet Problem in the Caribbean, the Astoria suddenly got underway on 3 March 1939 from Culebra, Virgin Islands for Norfolk, Va. After taking on a capacity load of stores and fuel, she proceeded to Annapolis, Md., and left there on 18 March bound for Yokohama, Japan, with the ashes of the late ex-ambassador Hiroshi Saito. The ashes were accompanied by Naokichi Kitazawa, Second Secretary of the Japanese Embassy in Washington, on the trip to Japan.
The Astoria in Japan
by R.B. Stiles
After two days in Balboa, C.Z., while various high officials and a delegation from the Japanese colony in Panama paid their respects to Saito's ashes, the Astoria got underway for Honolulu, T.H., on 24 March. Arriving there on 4 April, simultaneously with the Tatuta Maru on which Mrs. Saito and her two daughters were crossing to Japan, the Astoria tied up to the dock and various officials of Honolulu boarded to pay their respects. Two days in Honolulu and the Astoria left Diamond Head astern on the last lap of her twenty-nine day, 10,000-mile trip, across two oceans from Annapolis, to Yokohama. She crossed the International Dateline on 9-11 April, and escorted by three Japanese destroyers, entered Yokohama harbor on 17 April with the Stars and Stripes at half mast, and the Japanese ensign flying from the fore. The 21-gun salute fired by the Astoria was answered by H.I.J.M.S. Kiso.
This formal entrance of the Astoria into Japan was described aptly by the reporter for a Tokyo English language newspaper with these words:
As grey as the leaden dawn from which she emerged, the Astoria, escorted
USS Astoria bearing the ashes of late Ambassador Hiroshi Saito entering Yokohama Harbor, Japan. HIJMS Kiso is in the background. Woodcut was presented by the Japanese Navy Department to the crew of USS Astoria, 27 April 1939.
(NR & L (MOD) 36118)
by three Japanese destroyers, steamed slowly into Yokohama Harbor at 8:10 in the morning.41
Of the four ships which entered Tokyo harbor together on that morning, only the Hibiki survived the war, although she was damaged by a mine in late March 1945. The Japanese destroyer Sagiri was the first to go, sunk by a Dutch submarine off Borneo on the day before Christmas 1941. The Astoria was the next. She was one of the first to populate Ironbottom Sound north of Guadalcanal in August 1942, and she was joined in that graveyard by the Akatsuki sunk by United States naval gunfire from Rear Admiral Callaghan' s Support Group, Task Group 67., during the night of 13 November 1942.
To make the Astoria's visit stirring and unforgettable, the many Japanese who wished to avoid war with the United States, joined with those Japanese who wished to find in the Astoria's visit an acceptance or an implied forgiveness by the United States Government of Japanese aggression in Manchuria,
Street funeral procession in Tokyo for late Ambassador Saito. (Turner Collection)
U.S. Navy sailor men carrying the ashes of late Ambassador Saito. (NH 69101)
and in central China, including the sinking of the gunboat Panay and the rape and pillage of Nanking.
The State funeral was as formalized and impressive as Orientals can make such a cheerless occasion. Tens of thousands lined the streets. It was the "double cherry blossom season" in Japan. Once it was over, the Japanese good will demonstration rolled up like a South China Sea cloudburst. Poets wrote verses, musicians composed lyrics, the Tokyo newspapers covered the event with massive minutiae. Everyone was friendly. Thousands visited the Astoria at Yokosuka.
In Admiral Turner's effects were three phonograph records with special English and Japanese renderings of an "Ode by Yone Nogushi dedicated to Captain Richmond Turner of the Astoria," a "Welcome Astoria" march and a lyric "Admiral Saito's Return," with special soprano solo.
This day the storms forget to rave,
The angels walk from wave to wave
This ship glides gently over the foam,
That brings the noble envoy home.
The ode:Pale blossoms greet you
Seaman from afar
Who bring him home
Where all his memories are.
Welcome you men with hearts so true
America's best--America's pride
You show that tho the winds blow
That peace and goodwill the storm can ride.
Upon arrival, Ambassador Grew had informed Captain Turner that he was trying hard to facilitate the State Department's purposes of the visit, and to accomplish these, he felt it necessary to channel the Japanese people' s enthusiasm and wave of friendliness for the United States into quiet waters. Suggested remarks for each occasion upon which Captain Turner was to speak were handed to him to parrot.42 A heavy official party schedule was established.
The United States Ambassador entertained Captain Turner, the Executive Officer, Commander Theiss, and seven officers at a dinner which the Japanese War Minister, General Itagaki, and a chief supporter of the Anti-Comintern Pact of 1936 attended. The Japanese Foreign Minister, Mr. Hachiro Arita, a strong proponent of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, gave a tea for the Captain and 35 officers, and the Navy Minister, Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai, later Prime Minister and unsuccessful proponent of the "go slow" policy in antagonizing the United States, gave a full dress Japanese dinner for the Captain and 20 officers. This party was much enjoyed as were other courtesies extended by the Japanese Navy.43
Captain Turner played his delicate part with a skill which pleased the American Ambassador. Speeches with every meaningless, friendly redundant word of condolence or of thanks carefully chosen were endless. Sprigs of cherry blossoms were handed to Captain Turner at all functions. The Imperial Family cabled President Roosevelt a message of appreciation.
Mr. Arita said on one occasion:
Sympathy opens the hearts of men. The spontaneous expression of sympathy of the American people for Japan has so impressed the Japanese people that their gratitude is beyond description.44
On another occasion these nonprophetic words flowed from Mr. Arita:
We are fully aware that nothing must be left undone to preserve and to strengthen the happy relations already existing between America and Japan, which have been maintained unbroken throughout the years since the memorable
visit of Commodore Perry. We are firmly resolved to do our utmost to attain the noble ideals to which Mr. Saito devoted his ceaseless efforts.45
The speakers of both houses of the Japanese Parliament gave a luncheon; the Emperor gave a tea in the Imperial Gardens, which Turner did not attend; the Navy Vice Minister, Vice Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, and the Vice Chief of the Navy General Staff, Vice Admiral Mineichi Koga, gave dinners. These, combined with a luncheon by the American Japanese Society, a Garden Party by the Foreign Office, official overnight sightseeing tours, radio broadcasts to the States, and the big return party by the Astoria to all whom the Captain was indebted, filled the nine days in Japan to overflowing. The Secretary of the Navy had allowed Captain Turner only $300 to cover all his official entertaining in Japan.
Captain Turner's memorandum on this subject ends with: "26 April: Sail for Shanghai, Thank God!"
Captain Richmond Kelly Turner; Mr. Hachira Arita, Japanese Foreign Minister;
and Joseph Grew, United States Ambassador to Japan.
The Astoria's newspaper records the lower deck impression of the visit.
Official calls, ceremonies, and the transfer of the ashes to Tokyo on the 17th, and on the 18th the crew began to realize the gratitude felt and importance attached by the Japanese to the Astoria's mission in Japan. Thirty thousand yen were appropriated for the entertainment of the Astoria's men; presents and tokens of gratitude began to pour in to the Foreign Office from people in every walk of life; a sightseeing tour for each watch was arranged by the City of Tokyo; a garden party with entertainment, beer and sake flowing freely and a Japanese girl as partner for each man at the lunch and entertainment; a 200-mile bus and train trip to Shimoda, the sight of Commodore Perry's visit in 1854 to negotiate for the opening of Japan to foreign commerce, bus and train fares free and all doors open to the name USS Astoria on the blue hats. Everyone was shown a royal good time and all were reluctant to leave when the Astoria left the cheers, 'sayonaras' and 'banzais' from the crowd on the dock behind, and pointed her bow across the East China Sea for Shanghai on 26 April.46
An officer who made the cruise wrote a five-page letter to his mother describing the wonderful spirit of good will poured forth by the Japanese people. Extracted from this letter are several paragraphs of particular interest:
This was the first indication that we had of the genuine gratitude of the people of Japan for bringing Mr. Saito's ashes back in a 10,000-ton cruiser. . . .
It developed later, in discussions with various people who are supposed to know the political set-up in Japan, that the Japanese Government itself was not all in sympathy with the movement, but that the people were grateful.
It seems that Mr. Saito had been kicked out of his post in Washington for apologizing for the sinking of the gunboat Panay before his Government ordered him to do so, and that the Government was unkindly disposed toward him. Some high dignitaries in the Government really looked upon our transportation of Mr. Saito's ashes as an insult by President Roosevelt, since he had sent a cruiser with one whom they had 'dismissed from office.'
* * * * *
We received quite an ovation from the crowd and an elderly Japanese lady who must easily have been seventy or eighty years of age stepped out of the crowd, took my hand and kissed it, saying something in Japanese which I could not understand. I felt very little and meek indeed, and could do nothing but salute and thank her.
The Astoria was presented with embroidered pictures and paintings, a silver plaque and a porcelain statue which were distributed appropriately to the Captain's cabin, the wardroom, and the Warrant Officers' Mess room.
Captain Turner was presented with a cloisonné vase by the Navy Minister and a Daimyo robe from the Foreign Minister "under circumstances that did not admit of refusal."
The Japanese Government followed up the Astoria's visit by considering the presentation of decorations to Captain Richmond K. Turner and Commander Paul S. Theiss. The Navy Department did not perceive any objection and "the honor contemplated is appreciated."47
The Japanese took this step despite a written protest by Vice Admiral Oikawa, Commander in Chief of the Japanese Fleet in China, that the Astoria had failed to salute his flag when passing his flagship in the lower Yangtze en route out of Shanghai for Hongkong. Captain Turner's attention was called to the presence of the Japanese flagship but--perhaps piqued by the previous last-minute Japanese cancellation of an arranged exchange of calls with the Admiral--said "to hell with it" and proceeded on his way.48
After leaving Japan, the Astoria had a pleasurable cruise to China, and on back to the West Coast via the Philippines and Guam. After the war, one footnote to history was added by Admiral Turner on the cruise:
I wonder if you know that Yokoyama, the Jap Junior Aide for the Astoria, was the representative of the Jap Navy in the surrender on the Missouri? In the photos taken from MacArthur's position, he is in the rear rank, the left hand figure. I saw a good deal of him in Washington in 1940-41.49
The Navy Department let Captain Turner remain in the Astoria for a full two-year command cruise, and when he went ashore in October 1940, at age 55, he was credited with a reasonably healthy total of 18 years and 8 months of sea duty. Some captains in the Class of 1908 had acquired as much as 21 years of sea duty by this time, and the average for the Class was about 19 years and 6 months.50
End of Big Ship Command Cruise
One Head of Department reminiscences included: "When he was detached and left the ship, a chorus of boos echoed from the hawse pipe to the flagstaff."51 Several others gathered on the quarterdeck, near the head of the gangway ladder, deny this categorically, but say, in effect, there was "no
question but many breathed a sigh of relief that the Turner command cruise had come to an end."
A further sidelight about this occasion, recalled by one young officer, who as a freshly graduated ensign was serving as Assistant Navigator in the Astoria in October 1940, reads as follows:
When Captain Turner left the ship, we were all paraded at the gangway ready to say our farewells, when Admiral Fletcher's barge approached. He came aboard, shook the Captain's hand and said, 'Well, Kelly, we never got along, but you always gave me a good ship.'
Captain Turner was the meanest man I ever saw, and the most competent naval officer I ever served with.52
Turner had two Division Commanders while in the Astoria, Royal E. Ingersoll and then Frank Jack Fletcher. Both were still alive with vigorous opinions as they neared eighty.
The Division Commanders Look Back
Rear Admiral Ingersoll's 1938-1939 official fitness report opinions of Turner included:
Captain Turner handled the extensive entertainment program while in Japan with commendable ease, skill and grace. He spoke well and was a credit to the Navy. . . . I can always count on the Astoria doing the right thing in any situation. . . .The Astoria is a splendid ship, clean, efficient, happy, taut and smart.
Rear Admiral Fletcher in 1940 wrote:
Captain Turner is one of the most intelligent and forceful men in the Service. His ship is efficient and unusually well handled. I mark him 'outstanding' in the literal meaning of the word.
Twenty-five years and a long war later, neither Flag officer had changed his mind about Kelly Turner's fitness for top command in the Navy or his great capacity for effective work. Admiral Fletcher added:
Any Captain who relieved Kelly Turner was in luck. All he would have to do is back off on the thumb screws a bit to have the perfect ship.53
Admiral Ingersoll remembered:
I had never served with Kelly Turner until he joined Cruiser Division Six. He ran a taut but smart ship, beautifully handled in formation and at other
times, and always on its toes. You didn't have to tell Turner much. He was usually one jump ahead of you.
I later served with him in Operations when he had War Plans, and I was Vice Chief. He did a magnificent job.
I remember making an inspection of the Astoria. She was wonderfully clean. I had put the heavy cruiser San Francisco in that class of cruisers into commission the same year as the Astoria went into commission, and knew wherever dirt might be found. The main blowers were mounted up on massive circular steel angle irons with small openings around the periphery and keeping them clear underneath was very difficult because it was so hard to get at this space. I looked under them all on the Astoria this day. At one particular blower, I noticed a piece of string sticking out, so I grabbed it and hauled on it. Out came, at the end, one of Walt Disney's dogs 'Pluto on Wheels.' It was fun to watch Turner's expression and the way his lower jaw dropped. We all really laughed at that surprise.
During the war, he was the right man at the right place.
One other thing I remember about the Astoria. I ordered a General Court Martial for their Chaplain who got drunk and overstayed his shore leave. That was the second court-martial of a Chaplain I had as Commander Cruiser Division Six, and both were dismissed.54
As for Admiral Turner's remembrance of the Astoria, he wrote to a shipmate:
Poor old Astoria. It was a bitter pang on the forenoon of August 9, 1942, to stand on the McCawley's bridge while under heavy air attack, and watch that brave, lovely little ship burn and sink. That's one memory that will never leave me--but I'm glad to say that there are many other matters concerning the Astoria, that I remember with the greatest pleasure.55
1. SECNAV, Annual Report, 1933, pp. 8, 14, 16.
2. Rufus Fairchild Zogbaum, From Sail to Saratoga, A Naval Autobiography (Rome: authors wife, 1956).
3. Rear Admiral Charles B. Hunt, USN (Ret.), to GCD, letter, 1 Apr 1965.
4. Arty Doyle.
5. Interviews with Vice Admiral William M. Callaghan, USN, and Rear Admiral Carl K. Fink, USN, both lieutenants in the Saratoga in 1932-1933, 2 Mar 1966.
6. CINCUS to Commander Turner, letters, A16-3/3817 of 29 Dec 1933 and 11-G-O of 16 May 1934.
7. Mrs. Turner to Miss L. Turner, letter, 12 Apr 1934.
9. (a) CINCUS, A.R., 1924, pp. 6, 7, 8; (b) Ibid., 1934, pp. 7, 8.
10. Ibid., p. 12, 13, 14, 15, 18.
11. Ibid., pp. 16, 17, 19.
12. Ibid., p. 29.
14. Admiral Austin K. Doyle, USN (Ret.), to GCD, letter, 28 Mar 1964.
16. (a) Chairman of the General Board to President, Naval War College, letter, GB 420-9 of 9 Jul 1937; (b) President, Naval War College to Chairman of the General Board, letter, 1 Sep 1937.
17. SECNAV to General Board, letter, ser 4510 of 16 Dec 1937.
18. Vice Admiral Bernhard H. Bieri to GCD, letter, 17 Sep 1960. Rear Admiral Theobald commanded the North Pacific Force and Task Force Eight commencing May 21 1942. Turner's naval aviator predecessor at NWC was his classmate, Commander Archibald H. Douglas, whom he had also relieved in the Saratoga.
19. Interview with Commodore Ralph S. Wentworth, USN (Ret.), 9 Mar 1964.
21. Interview with Admiral John Leslie Hall, USN (Ret.), 2-3 Nov 1961.
24. A.K. Doyle to GCD, letter, 1961.
25. A.K. Doyle to GCD, letter, 1964. Note: Captain John H. Towers was Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics when Captain Turner was issued orders to sea duty in February 1938.
26. Commander Roy O. Stratton (SC), USN (a Chief Pay Clerk in 1939), to GCD, letter, 4 Aug 1962. Hereafter Stratton.
27. Lieutenant Commander Vicenzo Lopresti to GCD, letter, 12 Sep 1963. Lopresti was a seaman and quartermaster third class under Turner, having entered the Navy 6 January 1936. Hereafter Lopresti.
28. For explanation of 'best fitted' and 'fitted' selection, see pages 267-69.
29. Rear Admiral C. Julian Wheeler, USN (Ret.), to GCD, letter, 17 Mar 1964.
30. Lopresti. Note: There were no "well done" despatches in Turner's official record.
31. Interview with Rear Admiral Donald W. Gladney, Jr., USN (Ret.), 20 Apr 1964. Gladney was Senior Watch Officer and Plotting Room Officer in 1938-40. Hereafter Gladney.
32. Questionnaire answers from Rear Admirals D.M. McGurl, B.W. Decker, N.D. Brantly, J.K.B. Ginder; Captains S.S. Bunting, K.L. Forster, D.E. Willman, and Lieutenant Commander Harry R. Hubbard, USN (Ret.), to GCD,. Hereafter Astoria Heads.
36. SECNAV, Annual Report, 1925.
37. Speech as reported The Trans Pacific, Tokyo, 20 Apr 1939.
38. (a) Turner; (b) Official Report from USS Astoria CA34/A15/A4-3/(1002) of 2 Jun 1939. Hereafter Saito Report.
41. The Trans Pacific, Tokyo, Thursday, 20 Apr 1939.
44. Arita, Speech, Tokyo Advertiser, 21 Apr 1939.
45. Ibid., 20 Apr 1939.
46. The Astorian.
47. SECNAV to SECSTATE, letter, Op-13/PS May 24/00/P15390529 of 25 May 1939.
49. RKT to Rear Admiral Audley L. Warburton, USN (Ret.), letter, 18 Jan 1950.
50. Navy Register, 1941.
51. Astoria Heads.
52. Commander Tom H. Wells, USN (Ret.) to GCD, letter, 4 Dec 1969.
53. Interview with Admiral Frank jack Fletcher, USN (Ret.), 25 May 1963. Hereafter Fletcher.
54. Interview with Admiral Royal Eason Ingersoll, USN (Ret.), 26 Mar 1964. Hereafter Ingersoll.
55. RKT to Rear Admiral Warburton, letter, 28 Jan 1950.