The Amphibians
Came to Conquer


USN (Retired)


With an introduction by
USN (Retired)


Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner enroute to Kwajalein on board USS Rocky Mount, January 1944.

Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 71-603853

For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
Washington, D.C. 20402. Price: $17.45, domestic postpaid; $16.25 GPO Bookstore
per set of 2 volumes, sold in sets only


Chapter   Page
Prologue v
Acknowledgments vii
Foreword ix
Introduction xix
I The First Thirty Years of "Kelly"; 1885-1915 1
II Ten Years of Big Ship Gunnery; 1916-1926 51
III Early Years of a Decade of Service in the Naval Aeronautical Organization; 1927-1932 87
IV In and Out of Big Time Naval Aviation; 1932-1940 115
V Planning for War with Germany or Japan, or Both; 1940-1941 153
VI 1941 Naval Organization, Doctrine and Landing Craft Developments for Amphibious War 201
VII WATCHTOWER; One for Ernie King 229
IX Success, Then Cliff Hanging 319
X SAVO--The Galling Defeat 355
XI Logistics, the Heart of the Six Months Battle; August 1942--February 1943 403
XII HUDDLE Slowly Scuttled 435
XIII Polishing Skills in the Russells 457
XIV Planning for Paring the Japanese Toenails in New Georgia 481
XV Tough Toenails Paring; 30 June 1943 to 15 July 1943 533

Chapter   Page
XVI To the Central Pacific and Tarawa 597
XVII The Pushover--Makin 651
XVIII The Real Toughie--Tarawa 683
XIX At Long Last "The Perfect One," The Marshalls 733
XX Roi-Namur, and The Frosting on the Cake--Eniwetok 801
XXI The Nut Cracker; Saipan-Tinian-Guam 853
XXII The Nut Cracker After the Fall of Saipan; Tinian-Guam 925
XXIII Iwo Jima; Death at Its Best 969
XXIV Okinawa and Four Stars 1053
XXV End of the War and United Nations Organization Duty 1113
XXVI The Last Long Mile 1137
Appendix A -- USS Richmond K. Turner 1175
Appendix B -- A Note on Primary Sources 1179
Appendix C -- The Last Word 1181
Bibliography 1185
Index 1191


In a letter to the Director of Naval History, 9 November 1956, Admiral Kelly Turner wrote as follows:

But the matter of my writing a book - and particularly a history of all past amphibious war fare - is quite a different thing, and one which I would not care to undertake. Before retiring in 1947, I did give serious thought to writing an account of the amphibious operations in which I participated, but decided against doing so for several reasons.

In the first place, writing history is quite a field in itself, and one with which I am unfamiliar. I definitely would not attempt it by the use of a 'ghost'. Look at all the lousy books that ghosts have produced since the war! Again, it would have meant living in Washington for several years, of digging into many thousands of documents written by other officers as well as by my staff and myself, and of which I do not have copies. Finally, I scarcely could have avoided controversy, and giving myself 'breaks' that perhaps would be undeserved.

So, Judge, the whole thing simply did not appeal to me then, and appeals to me even less now. Future professional historians will write what they feel like writing anyhow, whether truthful or not. So I'm willing to let them disagree among themselves!

When I had my first interview about this book with Kelly Turner, he told me with a grin:

When Judge told me that you were willing to undertake the task, I thought, 'Well, he's just enough of a son-of-a-bitch to do a good job.' So, I told Judge 'all right'.



During the nine years that the author of this factual study of the life of Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner worked on these volumes, hundreds of all ranks and ratings in the Armed Forces have been interviewed. My very real thanks go to each one of them for their contribution to this work, but particularly to those who had the intestinal fortitude to permit themselves to be quoted when they had something critical to say about the subject.

To the Director of Naval History, Rear Admiral E. M. Eller, who initiated this factual study, who encouraged me to undertake it and then patiently, very patiently, waited for the end product, more than thanks is due. My warmest gratitude extends to him.

The long siege of my efforts was mostly carried through in the Navy's Classified Operational Archives, whose physical location shifted frequently, but the courtesy of Dean Allard who heads the Archives Division and of Mrs. Mildred Mayeux, research assistant, who was a thousand times helpful, never shifted. They are real gems in the naval historical research field.

To Mr. Paul A. Sweeney of the Office of Naval Operations, who took my maps and diagrams and made them come alive with his cartographic art, my deepest thanks.

To my friends of many years, Vice Admiral T. G. W. Settle and Captain John E. Dingwell, who read the manuscript and pointed out my errors, thanks again for their patience and real help.

To a former Ships Writer of mine, Chris A. Miller, who persisted through his retirement years in the decipherment of my handwriting and the typing (and then retyping) thanks ten times over. And to Mrs. Jean Ellinger who typed the final smooth copy so well, an accolade.

Last, but not least, my wife of 48 years bore with me and my writing chore with remarkable understanding, year after year after year, and my public thanks to her.

George C. Dyer




This book is a story of a fighting man -- Kelly Turner -- of the maturing United States Navy, and of the people who helped develop the man into a fighting admiral. It is also a story of the seagoing part of the amphibious operations of World War II in which Kelly Turner fought.

Since Kelly Turner was a United States Naval Officer and fought only in the Pacific Ocean in World War II, this book deals primarily with the amphibious matters of the World War II Pacific campaigns. But it does not pretend to tell the whole story of our naval war or the amphibious campaigns in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. After all, it took that distinguished historian, Samuel E. Morison, nine of his 14 volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II and 18 years to do that chore.

Kelly Turner's claim to permanent naval distinction arises out of his contributions to the amphibious phases of World War II in the South and Central Pacific Oceans. So this volume moves from Pacific island to Pacific atoll to Pacific island again, as our bone crushing amphibious operations cleared the stepping stones to Tokyo.

It also tells a bit of the state of the purely naval aspects of the amphibious art when World War II started. And, more importantly, what happened as the war moved along to improve the art, as Kelly Turner and a million other Americans brought their minds to bear on "the most difficult problem" in warfare, an amphibious operation.

During the 24 years since World War II ended, most of the titans of the World War II Navy -- namely Leahy, King, Nimitz, Halsey, Edwards -- have told their last anecdote and voyaged over the line into their last snug harbor. In an effort to get a well-rounded picture of Kelly Turner and of the various amphibious operations, those of the titans (Nimitz, Kinkaid, Spruance) still alive when this was being researched and many of his other seniors and principal subordinates have been consulted about a vast variety of matters


in connection with which they were in a position to witness events or to have informed opinions.

Keeping in mind that the historian's rule is that the pale ink of a contemporary record is better than the best memory, still there are some facts and many important opinions never committed to that contemporary record. At least that was this biographer's own experience during service through three wars in the United States Navy. So it is only fair to say that the contents of this book are colored by the facts revealed and opinions expressed by those consulted, as well as by the basic contemporary record.

Every major amphibious operation in the South and Central Pacific campaigns was born and bred among strong men of strong professional opinions. The student of amphibious warfare and of the Navy will benefit from mention of those differing opinions, for he must prepare himself to operate successfully in an atmosphere of strong professional judgments in any future arena of war.

George C. Dyer
Pendennis Mount
Annapolis, Maryland

April 23, 1969



Admiral Dyer has created a unique book about a unique man in these pages filled with the clear understanding, the seeking for truth and the salty language of a true sailor. He has done this by years of indefatigable persistence not unlike that of his subject -- a man never known to quail before a barrier or to shrink from work, danger or hardship. In fact, those on the receiving end of his amphibious typhoon soon learned that Admiral Kelly Turner didn't even know the word barrier.

Of the millions of Americans who greatly served our times afloat and ashore in the Pacific in World War II, few did not know of Kelly Turner, one of history's ablest military leaders. He was a man greatly admired by many, greatly loved by some and greatly hated by others. He was a genius, a relentless driver of himself as well as of everyone under him, an unusual leader who could integrate into his computer brain more details of an operation than the experts on his staff knew. At the same time he could make the big decision instantly and then carry it through with unrelenting drive. He had the rare ability to see all the trees and at the same time comprehend the forest. "Terrible Turner," as many called him, was terrible indeed to the enemy, as well as to some of those under him who did not measure up to his almost impossible standards of effectiveness.

Admiral Dyer's fascinating biography of this remarkable naval leader has many appeals. Not the least is his unremitting effort to get at the truth and frankness in relating it. He pulls no punches showing Turner just as this tough and fearless leader wanted to be shown -- without camouflage. Thus the dark cruises in company with the bright. Note a few of the statements about Kelly Turner picked at random from the book:

  1. A "fresh caught" ensign who served in Kelly Turner's spit and polish cruiser before World War II recalls vividly: "Captain Turner was the meanest man I ever saw, and the most competent naval officer I ever served with."

  2. A splendid Marine officer who served first on the Staff of Major General Holland M. Smith, USMC and then on Turner's staff recollects: "Admiral Turner had an almost unbelievable capacity for


    work. He drove himself without mercy, and he expected and demanded the same of those around him. I never saw him relax or take his ease."

  1. General Holland M. (Howling Mad) Smith, Turner's able counterpart in the Marines writes: "Kelly Turner is aggressive, a mass of energy and a relentless task master. The punctilious exterior hides a terrific determination. He can be plain ornery. He wasn't called 'Terrible Turner' without reason.

    "He commanded the FIFTH AMPHIBIOUS FORCE, while I commanded the Expeditionary Troops which went along with the Navy and our partnership, though stormy, spelled hell in big red letters to the Japanese."

As a young officer, many years his junior, I had not heard of Kelly Turner before World War II. His name hove in sight for me with his well- executed landing on Guadalcanal and subsequent bitter defeat in the Japanese surprise night attack of what we then called the first battle of Savo -- and of which as part of my duties on Admiral Nimitz's staff, I prepared the CINCPAC action report. The same questions about this battle that Admiral Dyer so well explains without bias, but with care to present all of the evidence, likewise deeply concerned us at the time. Yet I think most agreed with the decision that the defeat did not mean that Admiral Turner would be relieved.

In November 1942 on a trip to Guadalcanal and elsewhere in the Pacific related to training, battle lessons, and improvements in ordnance and gunnery, I first met Admiral Turner in his flagship at Noumea. Subsequently I rode with him in his flagship, as in the Gilberts operation, or visited him from another ship in later mighty amphibious assaults including Okinawa that swept awesomely across the Pacific like successive typhoons. I saw him often at Pearl Harbor in the planning stages of these far-reaching campaigns as we and his staff worked closely on bombardment plans, shore fire control parties, tactics, training, and other facets of amphibious operations like underwater demolition teams. The initial team developed late in the planning for the Gilberts operations evolving from intelligence on boat mines close inshore and the problem of reefs interfering with movement to the beaches. The first makeshift team, hurriedly assembled, served such good purpose in the Gilberts operation that a full program sprang from it.

No man could have been more courteous, gentlemanly and kind than Admiral Turner was to me, a visitor and observer in his domain. At the


same time I could see the relentless tenacity with which he cracked his whip over those who formed his team. He drove them ruthlessly but none more so than himself, as Admiral Dyer clearly brings out.

If I were to measure the traits that make a leader succeed, I would place at the top courage and drive (the will to win), faith in Divine guiding power, preparation and knowledge, integrity. If a leader has these, few things short of death can stop him. If to them he adds generosity of spirit, compassion and patience with people, overlaid on his own impatience to succeed, he will be greatly loved.

Though often lacking this last noble trait, Admiral Turner had the qualities necessary to succeed to an eminent degree. Nothing fazed him. Difficulty and danger stirred him to his most brilliant endeavor. He seemed to fear neither death nor the devil and hurled himself into the forefront of the greatest peril. On one of the operations I remember being shown by the flag censor an outgoing letter from a sailor on the flagship. It read something like this, "We are getting ready to sail on a big operation. I don't know where we are going but this is probably your last letter from me. Terrible Turner is on board and where he goes you are lucky if you come back."

Admiral Turner obviously had compassion and understanding of men. His own swift grasp of the whole picture, however, his customary near perfection in action, his relentless urge to hit ever faster and harder, resulted in lashing impatience against those who couldn't steam at his flank speed 18 hours a day.

The United States needed a leader of his capacity in the rough, tough and complex amphibious game in the Pacific. After victory, we also needed to get a clear account of this man and his methods against the unknown crises the future would bring. Years ago upon relieving Rear Admiral John B. Heffernan in this job, I found an excellent program of command studies underway on two of our senior naval leaders who had played key roles in shaping events from World War I on. To these we happily were able to add many others in full or partial studies by joining in the Columbia University Oral History Program through the generous aid of Allan Nevins.

In addition to these oral history studies, some leaders covered personal recollections of the momentous events of World War II at least in part by published works as in the case of Admirals Leahy, King, Halsey and Mitscher. Admirals Nimitz, Spruance and Turner, three titans in any history of war, steadfastly refused to record anything. Each had personal reasons that repeated efforts could not shake. We kept trying. At last when we found


the right officer to prepare his command study, but near the end of his voyage on earth's troubled seas, Admiral Turner gave in.

Sadly, early in the study Admiral Turner embarked upon his last great expedition -- to storm the gates of the Beyond. Very soon thereafter Admiral Spruance, his close friend and neighbor as well as companion through many valiant days, agreed to enter the program. This resulted in the excellent book Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, USN, A Study in Command by Vice Admiral E. P. Forrestel, USN (Retired). Admiral Nimitz went part way, but, for reasons one must respect, even to the end, would not enter into a full command study.

Admiral Turner knew that he had in Admiral Dyer an officer of great sagacity, excellent balance and judgment, wide experience in both planning and operations -- a man like himself, tenacious for the truth. He desired and knew that Admiral Dyer would spare no effort to find the facts and to present them as he found them, let the chips fall where they may. In the interesting pages that follow, the reader will swiftly note these characteristics of the sailor-author along with seagoing language filled with the tang of salt spray.

It has been a deep pleasure working with Admiral Dyer through the years and watching this exhaustive study evolve a study that could be of immense benefit to the Navy as it serves the nation in the trials of the future. We have made all our resources available to him, including the matchless records of World War II. We have helped in every way possible but he has done the work. His own tireless spirit drove him on in sickness and in health through thousands of hours of work. He did much of his research in our Classified Operational Archives aided by our admirable staff there under Dr. Dean Allard. Along with myself, Dr. Allard was among those who read and made recommendation on the manuscript which Admiral Dyer accepted or rejected. Miss Sandra Brown contributed immeasurably in preparing the final manuscript for publishing. Mr. John Gallagher of the Printing and Publications Division of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations deserves special credit for his assistance. But to repeat, this is Admiral Dyer's own work, developed with his own hand without any variation other than his acceptance of some of our suggestions.

The United States Navy's overwhelming and invariably successful amphibious assaults of World War II, which this fine book covers for those directed by that master of the art, Richmond Kelly Turner, did not come solely from the courage, skill and bold leadership that illumined all of them. These qualities of the spirit marvelously shown by hundreds of thousands of Americans


made the assaults succeed. However, the unbroken chain of successes in the Central Pacific where Turner's driving will reigned, in the Southwest Pacific under Admiral D. E. Barbey (Uncle Dan the amphibious man) and in the Atlantic under another master, Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, rested on the marked advantages sea based power had gained over that ashore with every step in invention and technology. Together they had strikingly increased the ancient advantages of navies of mobility, flexibility, surprise and awesome concentration of striking power.

From the first decades of the 19th century to these last ones of the 20th, the gradually accelerating and now exploding industrial-scientific revolution has profoundly changed the world. It has had far-reaching impact upon every aspect of man's life but nowhere more than in the weapons by which aggressors try to spread the rule of tyranny and by which wise men of democracies keep strong if they expect to survive.

One of the most significant results of the repeated scientific- technological revolutions has been the steady growth in ability of power based at sea to overcome that ashore. Over a century ago the introduction of steam (and much later the internal-combustion engine) freed the attack by ships from the vagaries of wind and tide and speeded up every part of an amphibious operation. Indeed the increased capability and precision that steam brought to attack from the sea came at just the right time to play an overwhelming role in Union victory in the Civil War -- insuring a united nation for the great needs and stresses of our times.

Several significant developments besides steam increased relative strength afloat in the Civil War. These included armor that gave ships something of the resistance of forts, much larger guns providing enormous concentrations of heavy mobile artillery that seldom could be matched ashore, and the beginning of rifling that increased the range of attack making it harder for fixed guns to hit distant maneuvering ships.

After the Civil War many other developments followed. It is sufficient to mention a few of the most influential. At the turn of the century the submarines came into the Fleet to enlarge seapower's advantages of secrecy and surprise; in amphibious operations they provided means for undetected scouting and reconnaissance. The airplane, evolving with the internal combustion engine, when based afloat on the moving airfields of carriers gave large concentrations of power and opened vast new horizons for navies. In World War II, radar and the influence fuse joined a long line of advances in fire control, including ancestors of today's computers, that brought large


progress in accuracy and effect of gunfire. This particularly benefited the ship in combat with shore fortifications because of its ability to maneuver and dodge at high speed whereas its target ashore was immobile.

Other developments favoring assault from the sea included increased size and efficiency of attack transports that provided swift movement of armies over long sea distances. Likewise, specialized landing ships and craft of many types developed to speed the assault troops to the beach. Closing the shore, they enjoyed a volume of protective fire never before attained. In most of Admiral Turner's operations the concentration of fire from ships large and small, from planes off support carriers cruising nearby, and from the troops' amphibians, including tanks, was so devastating that, if it did not knock out, it stunned the defenders. Hence the first waves of troops met practically no resistance coming in, or at the beach. After the capture of Guam, for example, Major General Geiger, USMC, commanding the Landing Force sent this message:

. . . I wish to express my . .  appreciation for continuous and effective support rendered. The enemy was never able to rally from the initial bombardment and the continual gunfire support kept him in a state of confusion to the end of the campaign. Naval gunfire contributed largely in keeping losses of the Landing Forces to a minimum and in bringing the Guam Campaign to an early and successful close. . . .

The positions where we landed were heavily fortified. . . . Our naval gunfire and air bombardments were so effective that scarcely a shot was fired at our first four LVT waves until after they were on the beach. At least half of the total amount of fixed defenses were destroyed, and more than that in the vicinity of the landing. Probably 80% of the troops defending the beach either were killed or retreated to other positions.

The foregoing and much more unfold in Admiral Dyer's thorough study as he tells the story of the growth of the Amphibious Navy's ships and craft, the development of the amphibious art, and the awesome effect of Terrible Turner's amphibious typhoon "slightly controlled and irresistible." Not least among the study's merits is the fact that in it for the first time we find individually named the smaller ships and craft of the amphibious task forces, and their commanders, who fought under Turner through the rugged campaigns of the South and Central Pacific.

Admiral Turner fearlessly rode the crest of danger. Where the greatest risks and toil awaited, there he was found leading the attack. Americans owe him a large debt for his achievements that so remarkably shaped history. And we owe gratitude to Admiral Dyer who has so carefully and well


portrayed Admiral Turner's methods, his growth in experience, and the accomplishments of the amphibians of the Pacific Fleet which Turner so well developed and led.

How much these meant to the United States and freedom then. How much the complex overall Navy in which the amphibious force merges as a key element means today. Yet, we find most Americans complacently accepting the phenomenal rise in Soviet sea power in the last decade, while we cut back our own Navy, as a matter of no importance. Hopefully, Admiral Dyer's able work will help to bring better understanding.

E.M. Eller
Director of Naval History


Compiled and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation