Pye, William Satterlee (1880-1959)

Photograph of Admiral William Pye

Naval Historical Center #47253

William S. Pye graduated from Annapolis in 1901 and rose to command of a destroyer just before the First World War. He served on the staff of the Atlantic Fleet during the war, winning a Navy Cross for his performance. Between the wars he commanded a destroyer flotilla and the battleship Nevada in addition to other commands and staff assignments, culminating in a tour in the War Plans Division. Recognized by his peers as a brilliant strategist, he drafted the version of Plan Orange that was in effect until war broke out. He was appointed Commander, Battle Force, in 1941 as a temporary vice admiral. When Kimmel organized the Pacific Fleet operationally into three task forces, Pye became commander of Task Force 1 as well.

After being briefed on the Japanese move south on the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Pye concluded that "The Japanese will not go to war with the United States. We are too big, too powerful, and too strong." As commander of the Battle Force at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, and the second most senior officer in the Pacific Fleet after Kimmel, Pye might have expected to be relieved. Instead, he was appointed interim commander of the Pacific Fleet until Nimitz’ arrival in Hawaii. This totally unnecessary action – recommended by Kimmel himself to "clear the deck" for Nimitz (Lundstrom 2006) – likely resulted in the loss of Wake and of an opportunity for a significant American victory, for Pye’s only major decision as interim commander was to recall the Wake expedition. Roosevelt never forgave him for this.

Nimitz nominated Pye for command of South Pacific Area in 1942, but King chose Nimitz' second choice, Ghormley, instead. Pye alerted Task Force 1 (Pacific Fleet battleships) for a possible raid on California or Alaska based on intelligence on the Japanese operation against Midway, a security breach sufficiently serious to seal Pye's fate as an operational commander. Pye was assigned to command the Naval War College, where he was more in his element. Pye and the War College staff were responsible for some penetrating analyses of the early Solomons battles that were influential in improving Navy tactical doctrine.

Pye was described as "short in stature, bushy eyebrowed, thoughtful, quietly efficient" (quoted by Lundstrom 2006). He had never been bested in prewar fleet maneuvers. King was a friend but thought that Pye "operated in something of an ivory tower, and was always unable to condense his ideas into reasonable dimensions" (ibid.)

Service record



Graduates from Annapolis
Vice admiral    
Commander, Battleship Division 4

Commander, Battle Force

Interim commander, Pacific Fleet

Commander, Battle Force

Commandant, Naval War College



Frank (1990)

Lundstrom (2006)
Pettibone (2006)
Prange (1981)
Tuohy (2007)

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