McMorris, Charles Horatio (1890-1954)

Photograph of Charles H. McMorris

Naval Historical Center #NH 104263.

Cropped by author

Known as “Socrates” or “Soc” to his colleagues, who were awed by his photographic memory and recognized him as a thinker, Charles H. McMorris graduated sixth in his class from Annapolis in 1912 and spent the first seven years of his career in destroyers. He was twice an instructor at the Naval Academy (where he was known as "The Phantom of the Opera") and graduated from the Navy War College in 1938.

McMorris was on Kimmel’s staff as head of the war plans section at the time of Pearl Harbor and was retained by Nimitz when he took over command of Pacific Fleet.  McMorris urged a strategy of daring carrier raids against Japanese outposts in the Mandates in an attempt to gain the initiative, but failed to see the value in massing, or at least pairing, carriers. He was a major proponent of the attempt to relieve Wake. In May 1942 McMorris was given command of the San Francisco, a necessary step on the road to flag rank. He led her through some tough fights at Guadalcanal before being promoted to rear admiral in November 1942 and taking command of a task force in Alaskan waters.

McMorris’ finest moment came on 26 March 1943, when he intercepted a Japanese convoy off the Komandorski Islands that was escorted by a superior cruiser force. McMorris' force was on the verge of destruction when the Japanese abruptly broke off and retreated, leaving him the victor.

McMorris became chief of staff to Nimitz in May 1943 and remained in this post for the rest of the war. He was one of the few senior officers who supported Nimitz's strategy of attacking Kwajalein directly, without first assaulting the outer atolls of the Marshalls. McMorris was promoted to vice admiral in September 1944.

Postwar, McMorris commanded 4 Fleet and served on the General Board, becoming its president. He commanded 14 Naval District prior to his retirement in September 1952.

McMorris was considered tactless and overly critical by some officers, which may have impeded his rise to higher command. Many considered him a brilliant planner, but some thought he sometimes got carried away in his enthusiasm. He clashed with Holland Smith, whom he had left off the orders for the Tarawa operation on the grounds that Navy officers were capable of running the operation without Marine Corps assistance. (Nimitz sided with Smith on that one.) McMorris described himself as the ugliest man in the Navy, but was up against some some stiff competition.

Service record


Born at Wetumpka, Alabama

Graduates from Naval Academy, standing 6th in a class of 156.

DD Shaw

Commander, DD Walke

Instructor,  Naval Academy

Instructor, Naval Academy

BB California

Graduates from Navy War College

Operations officer, U.S. Fleet
Captain War plans officer, Pacific Fleet
Commander, San Francisco
Rear admiral    
Commander, Cruiser Division 3

Chief of staff, Pacific Fleet
Vice admiral


Commander, 4 Fleet

General Board

Commandant, 14 Naval District

Dies at Valparaiso, Chile


Boatner (1996)

DANFS (accessed 2007-12-26)

Dupuy et al. (1992)

Garfield (1965)

Jones (1959)

Morison (1951)
Pettibone (2006)
Prange (1981)

Roscoe (1953)
Tuohy (2007)

Venzon (2003)

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