Aubrey Fitch : biography
Detached from Mahan in December 1922, Fitch served at Rio de Janeiro until March 1927 as a member of the United States mission to Brazil before reporting back to the Navy Department for a brief tour of duty in Washington, D.C. Going to sea as executive officer of in May 1927, Fitch assumed command of (a type of ship sometimes known uncomplimentarily as a "beef boat") in November of that year.
In 1981, the U.S. Navy guided-missile frigate was named in Admiral Fitchs honor.
World War II
Fitch’s flagship, Saratoga, figured prominently in the abortive attempt to reinforce Wake Island in December 1941 and was later torpedoed off Oahu in late January 1942, seriously cutting American carrier strength in the Pacific at a critical period.
Rear Admiral Fitch relieved Vice Admiral Wilson Brown on April 3, 1942, breaking his flag in Lexington, his former command. During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Fitch served as Commander Task Group 17.5, consisting of "Lady Lex" and , and was named Officer in Tactical Command (O.T.C.) by Task Force commander Admiral Frank J. Fletcher. That engagement, the first in history where neither side came within surface gun range of the other, effectively stopped the Japanese thrust at strategic Port Moresby, but resulted in the first loss of an American aircraft carrier in the war—Lexington, sunk on May 8, 1942.
The admiral then shifted his flag to , which was also flagship of Task Force 17 (TF 17). Fitch together with Captain Sherman and Lexington‘s executive officer Commander Morton T. Seligman, visited "Lady Lex"’s wounded in Minneapolis’ sickbay—an action that "contributed in no small measure to the patients’ well-being." For the leadership he exhibited during the Battle of the Coral Sea, Fitch was awarded his first Distinguished Service Medal.
He again broke his flag in his former flagship, Saratoga, but the task group formed around that ship arrived too late to take part in the pivotal Battle of Midway.
On September 20, 1942, six weeks after the first American amphibious operation of the war got underway at Guadalcanal, Fitch assumed command of Aircraft, South Pacific Force. Not a desk-bound admiral, he carried out numerous, hazardous flights into the combat zones, inspecting air activities incident to the selection of bases for projected operations. For these, he received a Distinguished Flying Cross.
Under Fitch’s command, AirSoPac—ultimately encompassing not only Navy but Army, Marine Corps, and Royal New Zealand air units—achieved great success in aiding the Allied campaign in the South Pacific. Fitch’s planes protected Allied shipping, providing vital air cover that strongly assisted the Allies in challenging, and ultimately defeating, the Japanese in the Solomons. In addition, his aircraft performed essential reconnaissance missions, spotting enemy warships prior to the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands in October 1942 and during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942.
Later, Fitch oversaw the early experiments in conducting night bombing utilizing radar (a concept which paid great dividends in interdicting Japanese shipping) and encouraged the use of specially modified aircraft to obtain photographic intelligence. In addition, for his skillful coordination of the Allied air effort in that area of the world Fitch received a gold star in lieu of a second Distinguished Service Medal.
Fitch returned to Washington in the summer of 1944 and became Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air). He skillfully and efficiently directed the aeronautical organization of the Navy, oversaw efforts to assure the readiness and deployment of air units, and planned all of the related logistics measures. For these efforts he received a Legion of Merit.
← previous next →