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Naval Historical Center # NH 97275
"Jake" Fitch was a 1906 graduate of the Naval Academy and served as gunnery officer on the Wyoming during the First World War. He took flight training in 1930, at the age of 47, and served as captain of both the Langley and Lexington.
A rear admiral at the start of the war, commanding Carrier Division 1, Fitch was just steaming into San Diego with Saratoga, fresh from a refit at Bremerton, when the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor. As commander of one of the two carrier divisions of the Pacific Fleet, Fitch was effectively Halsey's deputy as Commander, Aircraft, Battle Force, and he spent most of his time ashore looking after the administrative side of naval air power in the Pacific. Because he excelled at these duties, his usefulness as a carrier task force commander was only slowly recognized by Kimmel and Nimitz. However, Fitch commanded the Saratoga task force in the abortive Wake expedition, where the talk on the bridge became so mutinous after the recall order was received that Fitch felt obligated to leave the bridge. Fitch also led the Lexington task force at Coral Sea, where he insisted that his staff should leave the sinking Lexington before him.
Following the Coral Sea battle, Fitch returned to the West Coast to organize the Saratoga's air group following the completion of her repairs for torpedo damage. Nimitz then had him take command of Task Force 17 (Hornet) after losing confidence in Mitscher based on Spruance's criticisms. However, Fitch's administrative ability was badly needed as acting Commander, Carriers, Pacific Fleet while Halsey recuperated from a severe dermatitis, and the semi-retirement of Bellinger for a heart condition forced Fitch to remain ashore as Commander, Patrol Wings, Pacific Fleet. However, this command came with a promotion to vice admiral.
During the general shakeup following the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, Fitch was given command of naval air forces in the South Pacific for the remainder of the decisive Guadalcanal campaign. He was appointed deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air in August 1944 and remained in that post for the remainder of the war.
After the war, Fitch became the first aviator
superintendent of the Naval Academy.
Jack Towers, Nimitz's senior aviation
officer, summarized Fitch's qualifications in late 1943 as "All-around
experience. Physically tough. Aggressive. Popular. Fine qualities of
leadership." He was "Personable and levelheaded ... combined sharp
ability with strong professionalism" (Lundstrom 2006.)
|Born at Saint Ignace, Michigan
|Graduates from Naval Academy
|Staff, Atlantic Fleet and
|Commander, Pensacola Naval Air
|Commander, Patrol Wing 2
|Commander, Carrier Division 1
|Commander, Patrol Wings, Pacific Fleet
|Commander, Naval Air Force, Pacific Fleet
|Deputy Chief of Naval Operations
|Superintendent, Naval Academy
The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia © 2006-2010 by Kent G. Budge. Index
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