Fleet Admiral Ernest Joseph King (November 23, 1878 - June 25, 1956) was Commander in Chief, United States Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations (COMINCH-CNO) during World War II. As such, he was in charge of all the United States Navy's operations, planning, and administration and was a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was Chester Nimitz's immediate superior but was himself subordinate to Secretaries of the Navy Frank Knox and James Forrestal.
During the early years of the 20th century through to the end of World War I he held various positions which gave him an in-depth knowledge of the battleships and surface fleet strategies. Between 1919 and 1925 he held a number of posts which placed him in intimate contact with submarine operations.
In 1926 he took command of the aircraft tender USS Wright with additional duties as Senior Aide on the Staff of Commander Air Squadrons, Atlantic Fleet. In January of 1927 he began flying lessons and was designated Naval Aviator 3368 in May of that year, when he resumed command of the Wright. He remained in command of her, with a brief interlude to command the salvage operations of USS S-4, until 1929 when he was assigned command of the Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Virginia. In June 1930, he went to sea in command of the carrier USS Lexington which he commanded for the next two years. In 1932 he spent a year in the senior officers' course at the Naval War College. In 1933 he was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral, and as a great proponent of the aircraft carrier, he was assigned to the position of Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics. In 1936 until 1940 commanded various aircraft forces. During this time in 1938 he was promoted to Vice Admiral.
In 1940 he spent a year on the General Board and in February 1941, he was promoted to the rank of Admiral and assigned as Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet. This was the position he held when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war on the U.S. On 30 December 1941 he became Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet. On 18 March 1942 he took on the additional duties of Chief of Naval Operations when he relieved Admiral Stark of the position. He is the only person to hold this combined command. On 17 December 1944 he was advanced to the newly created rank of Fleet Admiral. He retired a year later, on December 15, 1945.
Dates of rank
- Naval Cadet: 1897
- Passed Midshipman: 1901
- Ensign: June 7, 1903
- Lieutenant Junior Grade: Not Held
- Lieutenant: June 7, 1906
- Lieutenant Commander: July 1, 1913
- Commander: July 1, 1917
- Captain: September 21, 1918
- Commodore: Not Held
- Rear Admiral: November 1, 1933
- Vice Admiral: January 29, 1938
- Admiral: February 1, 1941
- Fleet Admiral: December 17, 1944
At the time of Ernest King's promotion to Rear Admiral, the U.S. Navy did not maintain a one star rank. King was thus promoted directly from Captain to Two Star Admiral. Admiral King also never held the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade although, for administrative reasons, his service record annotates his promotion to Lieutenant, and Lieutenant J.G., on the same day.
Awards and decorations
- Navy Cross
- Navy Distinguished Service Medal (w/two gold stars)
- Spanish Campaign Medal
- Sampson Medal
- Mexican Service Medal
- World War I Victory Medal (w/Atlantic Fleet campaign clasp)
- American Defense Service Medal (w/Atlantic Device)
- American Campaign Medal
- World War II Victory Medal
- National Defense Service Medal
Fleet Admiral King was also the recipient of several foreign awards and decorations.
King was intelligent and extremely capable. He is considered by some to have been one of the greatest admirals of the 20th century. On the other hand, he was rude and incredibly abrasive; as a result, King was loathed by the officers with whom he served.
He was... perhaps the most disliked Allied leader of World War II. Only British Field Marshal Montgomery may have had more enemies... King also loved parties and often drank to excess. Apparently, he reserved his charm for the wives of fellow naval officers. On the job, he "seemed always to be angry or annoyed." (John Ray Skates, The Invasion of Japan, ISBN 0-87249-972-3).
There was a tongue-in-cheek remark carried about by Naval personnel at the time that "Admiral King was the most even-tempered person in the United States Navy: He was angry 100% of the time!"
Roosevelt once described King as "... a man who shaves with a blow torch".
At the start of US involvement in World War II King made the decision not to request blackouts on the eastern seaboard and not to convoy ships. Instead of convoys, King had the U.S Navy and Coast Guard go out on regular patrols; because these patrols occurred on a regular schedule, the U-boats learned the schedule, submerged when the patrols were out and came out when the patrols were in port. Leaving the lights on had the effect of illuminating merchant ships to the U-Boats. As a result of these policies the attacks by the German U-boats on U.S. coastal shipping during the Second Battle of the Atlantic became known by German crews as the "second happy time". It was not until convoys were introduced in May 1942 that the "second happy time" came to an end, with the loss of seven U-boats. This proved that King's initial decision in this matter was flawed. Many blame King's Anglophobia for these decisions as the convoys and turning off the city's lights were British ideas, and King was loath to have his much-beloved U.S Navy adopt any ideas from the Royal Navy.
Of all the Joint Chiefs of Staff, King was absolutely the most dedicated to immediate victory in the Pacific, and the greatest critic of the "Europe first" strategy. He constantly argued that resources should be diverted to the Pacific War, hence his reputation as an anglophobe.
Following Japan's defeat at the Battle of Midway, while the other Joint Chiefs urged that the Allies should fight a holding action to concentrate resources against Germany, King advocated the invasion of Guadalcanal. He won the argument, and the invasion went ahead. It was ultimately successful, and was the first time the Japanese lost ground during the War.
"tough as nails and carried himself as stiffly as a poker. He was blunt and stand-offish, almost to the point of rudeness. At the start, he was intolerant and suspicious of all things British, especially the Royal Navy; but he was almost equally intolerant and suspicious of the American Army. War against Japan was the problem to which he had devoted the study of a lifetime, and he resented the idea of American resources being used for any other purpose than to destroy Japanese. He mistrusted Churchill's powers of advocacy, and was apprehensive that he would wheedle President Roosevelt into neglecting the war in the Pacific."