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Noyes, Leigh H.


Photograph of Leigh Noyes

National Archives #80-G-16864.

Cropped by author.

Leigh Noyes was the director of naval communications in Washington at the time war broke out. Caught between Wilkinson and Turner in a bureaucratic power struggle for control of signals intelligence, he failed to pass along the "Bomb Plot" intercept of 9 October 1941 indicating that the Japanese Consulate in Honolulu was under instructions to report ship locations in Pearl Harbor, which in retrospect was a strong indication that the Japanese were planning on raiding the harbor. When CMDR Lawrence Safford, the head of Noyes'intelligence unit, prepared a message ordering the Marines at Wake to destroy their codes because war appeared to be imminent, Noyes snorted that the Japanese were bluffing and ordered the message watered down.

Noyes was sent to Pearl Harbor in March 1942 without any particular assignment, perhaps because his superiors wanted to be rid of an officer who had been tainted by the intelligence failures surrounding the Pearl Harbor disaster. He took over Fitch's place as Halsey's shore administrator and was briefly considered to replace Halsey for the Midway operation when Halsey came down with a severe dermatitis. At Halsey's insistence, the assignment went to Spruance instead.

Noyes was given command of Task Force 18 (Wasp) in the Pacific from its activation on 15 June 1942.

During the two weeks my flag has been in Wasp I have been very favorably impressed by the fine spirit of her ship's company and the way that all hands have handled their many problems. Since we have been at sea, every day has shown marked improvement in operations. I am sure that when our opportunity comes to strike the enemy in this ocean, Wasp and her squadrons will add more glory to the name she bears.

Noyes passively accepted Fletcher's order to withdraw the carriers immediately following the Guadalcanal landings. After Wasp was torpedoed on 14 September 1942, Noyes was criticized for crossing his course track several times, leaving his task force vulnerable to submarines. He was reassigned as commander, Naval Air Force, Pacific Fleet, a position he held until October 1942. He never received another sea command.

Though a capable pilot, he was not highly regarded by his fellow officers. "Mild and meticulous", he was said by King to be "physically unable to talk without using his hands." King added that "Everyone knew he had trouble making decisions", and "Poco" Smith bluntly described him as "a washout." Others questioned his tenacity and judgement. One aviator recalled that when Noyes commanded Richmond and Lexington, "The whole tenor and tone of those ships changed for the worse." (All quotes from Lundstrom 2006.) On the other hand, Forrest Sherman felt Noyes was not responsible for the loss of Wasp and that Noyes had been shabbily treated, and he saw to it that Noyes was advanced to vice admiral on the retired list in 1950.

Service record

1934
Captain Commander, CL Richmond
1937

Completes flight training
1937

Commander, CV Lexington
1938

Chief of staff, Aircraft, Battle Force
1940-9-24
Rear admiral    
Director, Naval Communications
1942-6-15     

Commander, Carrier Division 3
1942-9-15

Commander, Naval Air Force, Pacific Fleet
1945-3

President, Board of Inspection and Survey

References

Costello (1981)

Lundstrom (2006)

Morison (1949)

Naval Historical Center (accessed 2009-7-14)
Pettibone (2006)

Prange (1981)
Tuohy (2007)



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