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Hart, Thomas Charles (1877-1971)

United States Congress

At the outbreak of war, Thomas C. Hart was nearing retirement after a long and distinguished naval career. Born in Michigan, Hart had graduated from the Naval Academy in 1897 and served aboard battleship Massachusetts off Cuba during the Spanish-American War. He had been commander of submarines in the Atlantic during World War I, and of the Mississippi and of various submarine commands between the wars. He graduated from both the Navy War College (1923) and the Army War College (1929) and was promoted to rear admiral the same year. He served as superintendent of the Naval Academy from 1931 to 1934, then commanded a cruiser division before serving on the General Board.

As head of the Office of Naval Operations, Submarine Section, Hart had opposed the British proposal to abolish submarines as part of the naval disarmament treaty system, in spite of support for the proposal from the Chief of Naval Operations, William S. Benson, and an increasingly pacifist public. Eventually the Americans and French rejected the British proposal on the grounds that submarines were particularly suitable for coastal defense.

Hart commanded the Newport Torpedo Station in 1925, when its efforts to obtain a suitable hulk for live-fire testing of the experimenal magnetic detonator were repeatedly frustrated. In the end, the station was given an obsolete submarine, which was far from the ideal target. This was the only time the magnetic detonator was live-fired prior to the Pacific War.

Hart was a strong proponent of the small coastal defense submarine instead of the large fleet submarines desired by many younger submariners. In 1938, as head of the General Board, Hart clashed with Charles Lockwood over this issue. A compromise was worked out in which just six Tambors would be constructed more or less in keeping with the fleet submarine concept. Later, during the defense of the Philippines, Hart felt that the fleet submarines had performed poorly (they had) and that the smaller, simpler submarines he preferred would have done better (which is probably untrue.) The deployment of large number of S-boats to the Southwest Pacific may have been influenced by Hart's attitude. Hart was also a strong advocate of the Atlanta class light cruisers during his tenure as chair of the General Board.

Hart was shocked at the condition of Navy shore facilities in the Philippines when he arrived in Manila in October 1940 to take command of Asiatic Fleet. He blamed this on the tendency of the Navy to post elderly officers on their last tours to Manila as a sinecure. Hart pulled the scattered units of his fleet back to the Philippines for exercises and send most of the Navy dependents home, an immensely unpopular move. He also called for reinforcements, and received a number of fleet submarines along with tender Canopus. When Stark issued a war warning on 27 November 1941, Hart put his fleet on a war footing, sending most of the surface units to the southern Philippines where they would be out of range of Japanese aircraft. Antiaircraft guns were put on five-minute notice and munitions were placed in bunkers. He planned to deploy a third of his submarines against Japanese communications and bases, another third around Luzon for coastal defense, and keep the remaining submarines in reserve against the main invasion when it developed. He expected to receive reconnaissance from MacArthur's air forces, which would be relayed to submarines using conventional radio by night and Cavite's special low-frequency transmitter by day. Unfortunately, the destruction of American air power in the Philippines meant that Hart's submarines would be working blind. Furthermore, the Navy shore facilities were naked to Japanese air attack. Hart sent most of his support forces south, but some 300 torpedoes were lost when the Japanese pulverized Cavite from the air on 10 December. Hart concluded that Manila Bay was finished as a base, and departed for Surabaya on 26 December 1941 on Shark.

Hart's efforts to work with MacArthur were stymied by the latter's arrogance. On one occasion MacArthur told Hart to "Get yourself a real fleet, Tommy, then you will belong." Hart wrote his wife that "The truth of the matter is ... that Douglas is, I think, no longer altogether sane.... [H]e may not have been for a long time."

On 15 January 1942, the Allied leadership activated the ABDA (American-British-Dutch-Australian) command under Wavell. Hart was appointed ABDAFLOAT, commander of naval forces in the theater. He continued to command Asiatic Fleet until 30 January. During this time, U.S. destroyers won a rare victory at Balikpapan. Historian Samuel Eliot Morison concluded that Hart served well in the early days of the war, but he was relieved on 15 February, ostensibly for health reasons. The real reason was probably political: The Dutch were unhappy with anyone but a Dutch commander as ABDAFLOAT, and applied considerable pressure on Roosevelt, with the support of Churchill, to relieve Hart. Perhaps the Dutch attitude was understandable, given the importance to the Dutch government of Java. Hart continued to serve in advisory capacities, including service in one of the Pearl Harbor investigations. He had been vocal in his criticism of American preparedness in Oahu.

In February 1945, Hart accepted retirement in order to fill a vacancy left by the death of a Connecticut senator, but did not run for re-election to the Senate.

John McCrea, who served as naval aide to Roosevelt during the war, said of Hart that "In my judgement Thos. C. Hart was one of the Navy's best," regarding him as a top-notch intellect and man of character (Kehn 2008).

Service record

1877-6-12     

Born in Davison, Michigan
1897
Midshipman     
Graduates from Naval Academy, standing 13th in a class of 47. Assigned to BB Massachusetts
1917
Captain
Commander, Chicago / Commander, New London Submarine Base
1918

Commander, Submarine Division 2 / Commander, Submarine Division 5
1918

Director of submarines, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations
1923

Naval War College
1925

Commander, Newport Torpedo Station
1929
Rear admiral     
Army War College
1931

Superintendent, Naval Academy
1934-6

Commander, Cruiser Division 6
1936

Chairman, General Board
1939-7-25
Admiral     
Commander, Asiatic Fleet
1942-3

General Board
1942-6-30

Retires but is recalled to continue sitting on the General Board
1944-2

Chairman, General Board
1945-2-8

Retires from  Navy. Appointed as Senator for Connecticut
1947-1-3

Retires from Senate
1971-7-4

Dies at Sharon, Connecticut

References

Blair (1975)

Boatner (1996)

DANFS (accessed 2008-1-14)

Dupuy et.al. (1992)

Friedman (1984)

Kehn (2008)

Morison (1948)
Pettibone (2006)
Tuohy (2007)


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