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Merrill, Aaron Stanton (1890-1961)


Photograph of A. Stanton Merrill

U.S. Navy. Via USS Indiana Page

“Tip” Merrill acquired his nickname from a great-grandfather who fought in the battle of Tippecanoe.  He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1912 and served on warships in the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea prior to the First World War.  He spent most of that war training new destroyer crews in San Francisco and Detroit.

After the war, he commanded destroyers, saw additional service in the eastern Mediterranean, and spent some time in Naval Intelligence.  By 1935 he commanded the Pensacola and in 1937-38 he was an observer with the Chilean Navy.  He was an ROTC professor at Tulane University when war broke out.

In April 1942 he became the first commanding officer of the battleship Indiana.  In January 1943 he was promoted to rear admiral and took command of Cruiser Division 12.  His ships were present at the battle of Rennell Island, and he became commander of Task Force 36.2 when the heavy cruisers and their commander were reassigned to the Aleutians

It was Merrill's way to meet with his ship captains to discuss tactics following exercises. Merrill was persuaded by his commander of destroyers, Arleigh Burke, to  let the destroyers operate independently as soon as they sighted the enemy, dashing in to fire their torpedoes then pulling clear to allow the cruisers to employ long-range gunnery. These tactics gave Merrill the victory at the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay in November 1943, in which his outnumbered force surprised the Japanese and sank a cruiser and destroyer at no cost to the Americans.

The possibility of viewing the sunrise from the sloping deck of a ship stranded on an uncharted shoal is a thought not pleasant to contemplate, especially if said shoal is under the guns of the enemy's coast-defense batteries.

Task Force 36.2 continued to operate in the upper Solomons through March 1944, when Merrill was reassigned to Washington to help negotiate a hemispherical defense agreement with Chile.  He served in Washington for the remainder of the war.

Morison (1950) described Ainsworth as "Short, dark ... with the poet's face and shy glance..." He was an excellent ship handler and determined and energetic in combat. Mick Carney, who had captained Denver recalled that (Tuohy 2006):

[Merrill was] one of the most magnetic personalities I've ever known ... a little fellow with an infectious laugh that started everybody in the vicinity laughing. He was a ruthless slave-driving SOB as far as training was concerned, but when you came into port, he used to say, if we could find a palm tree and a bottle, we'd set up an officers club.

Service record

1890-3-26    

Born near Natchez, Mississippi
1912-6-7
Ensign
Graduates from Naval Academy. Assigned to BB Louisiana
1913-1

PG Scorpion, Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean
1914-10-13     

DD Roe
1916-6-18

Instructor, Naval Training Camp, San Francisco
1917

Executive officer, Naval Training Camp, Detroit
1918

DD Aylwin
1919-3

Commander, Harvard
1919-6

Executive officer, Lafayette Radio Station, France
1919-11
Lieutenant commander     
Flag lieutenant, U.S. Naval Forces in the Eastern Mediterranean
1923

Receiving Ship, New York
1924-3

Nevada
1925

Commander, McCormick
1925-7

Commander, PG Elcano, Yangtze River
1926-8-7

Squadron engineer, Destroyer Squadron, Asiatic Fleet
1927

Office of Naval Intelligence
1929-6

Commander, DD Williamson
1932-6
Commander
Office of Naval Intelligence
1933-6

Aide to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy
1935-6-1

Pensacola
1936-6-8

Commander, Destroyer Division 8
1937-5

Naval observer, Chile
1938

Naval War College
1939
Captain
Commander, Destroyer Division of Leaders in the Pacific
1940

Commander, Destroyer Squadron 8
1941

Professor of naval science and tactics, Tulane University
1942-4-30    

Commander, BB Indiana
1943-2-11
Rear admiral     
Commander, Cruiser Division 12
1944-6-15

Director, Office of Public Relations, Navy Department
1946-1-3

Commandant, 8 Naval District, New Orleans
1947-11-1
Vice admiral
Retires from physical disability
1961-2-28

Dies at Natchez, Mississippi

References

Gregg (1984)

Morison (1950)
Pettibone (2006)
Tuohy (2007)

USS Indiana Page (accessed 2008-1-18)


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