Admiral Raymond Spruance was a senior naval commander in the Pacific campaign. Raymond Spruance commanded the 5th Fleet at the Battle of the Philippines Sea in 1944 when the Japanese Navy was weakened beyond repair.
Raymond Spruance was born in Baltimore on July 3rd, 1886. He graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1906 and became a career naval officer. By the time of the attack on Pearl Harbour on December 6th, 1941, Spruance had served on battleships, cruisers and destroyers. At the end of 1941, he was in command of a cruiser division that supported Admiral Halsey’s carrier, the ‘Enterprise’, at Wake Island. He later supported the carriers that were used for the Doolittle Raid on Japan.
After the success of the Doolittle Raid – if only a psychological success – Halsey fell ill and recommended that Spruance succeed him as commander of Task Force 16 which included the carriers ‘Enterprise’ and ‘Hornet’. Spruance quickly developed a reputation as a skilful carrier commander. He was quickly promoted to Chief-of-Staff of the US Pacific Fleet, which meant that he played an integral role in planning future naval operations in the Pacific.
In November 1943, Spruance became Commander of the 5th Fleet which gave him command of the Central Pacific Forces. He led the 5th Fleet into the Battle of the Philippines Sea which resulted in the so-called ‘Great Marianas Turkey Shoot’ when 365 Japanese planes were lost – a military disaster that the Japanese Navy never recovered from. Ironically, Spruance was criticised in some quarters for his tactics at the Philippine Seas. Whereas the Japanese Navy’s aerial power at sea had been devastated, Spruance did not fully attack the carriers of Ozama’s force. Some believed that he was being overcautious and that Spruance should have used the chaos inflicted on the Japanese to destroy all their carriers. However, his fleet had another function and that was to guard the amphibious landings that were taking place at Saipan and Tinian. Spruance believed that if he chased Jisaburo Ozama’s retreating fleet, he would leave the troops on the islands of the Marianas unguarded and this was a risk he was unwilling to take. He was also aware that carriers exist merely as transport for planes at sea. The battle in the Philippine Sea had eradicated this problem and with just 35 serviceable planes left, the Japanese carriers were all but useless. Production problems within Japan would also make it highly unlikely that these planes could be replaced.
After the Battle of the Philippine Sea, Spruance went back to Pearl Harbour to assist in the planning of future landings. He participated in the planning for the invasion of Iwo Jima and Okinawa and returned to sea to lead the 5th Fleet in these two decisive battles.
After America’s victory in these two battles, Spruance once more returned to Pearl Harbour to help plan for the invasion of Japan – a event that was not to happen. He was involved in the planning for Operation Olympic (the invasion of Kyushu) and Operation Coronet (the invasion of Honshu). Had Operation Coronet gone ahead, Spruance would have led it. However, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ensured that no invasion of Japan was needed.
After the war ended, Spruance became Commander-in-Chief Pacific for a short while, President of the Naval College and the American ambassador to Philippines.
Raymond Spruance died in Monterey, California, on December 13th, 1969.