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Scott, Norman (1889-1942)


Photograph of Norman Scott

Naval Historical Center #102454

It has been said that hindsight is always 20/20, so perhaps there is danger of reading too much into the photograph of Admiral Norman Scott, taken shortly before his death. But one sees a sadness about his eyes, as if he anticipated his fate. Or perhaps it is simply exhaustion from the strain of fighting a seemingly unequal war for too many months.

Norman Scott attended the U.S. Naval Academy, where he became a championship fencer and "one of the best-liked men in the class" (Hornfischer 2011.) Graduating in 1911, he served in destroyers during the First World War. He was executive officer of a destroyer sunk by a U-boat in that war, and was decorated for his actions during the sinking. Postwar he became a gunnery expert and a talented staff officer.

The outbreak of war in the Pacific found Scott in command of the Pensacola, then passing through the Phoenix Islands en route to the Philippines with reinforcements for MacArthur. Shortly thereafter he reported for duty on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations. Here he "made things to miserable around him in Washington that he finally got what he wanted — sea duty" (Hornfischer 2011).  In June of 1942 he was sent to the South Pacific, with temporary rank of rear admiral, to command the bombardment units for the invasions of Tulagi and Guadalcanal.  His squadron was guarding the eastern channel into Ironbottom Sound during the Battle of Savo Island, but received no information or orders and was not engaged by the Japanese.

Scott continued commanding surface units for the next three months.  Having learned at Savo Island the fundamental principle of surface combat — the necessity of placing ordnance on target before the enemy does — he conducted extensive drills in night fighting. On the night of October 11-12, 1942, his force ambushed a Japanese reinforcement convoy at the Battle of Cape Esperance, winning the first U.S. surface victory in the Guadalcanal campaign. A close analysis of the battle shows that Scott still had much to learn, particularly about the use of radar, but he had shown a determination to fight that inspired the men of his command. One officer on his flagship, Atlanta, later described him as "kind of like a junior Halsey."

On November 12-13, 1942, Scott found himself under the command of Dan Callaghan, who was a newcomer to the South Pacific but slightly senior in rank.  Callaghan tried to ambush a large Japanese force that included a battleship, but the ambush went wrong and the American and Japanese formations were soon hopelessly mixed up in a short-range brawl.  The American force was shot to pieces, but not before crippling the Japanese battleship and preventing a bombardment of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal.  Neither Callaghan nor Scott survived the battle, Scott being killed very early in the action when a 14" (356mm) shell hit his flag bridge.  His death was a grievous loss to the Americans.

Norman Scott was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his performance in the Solomons battles.

Service record

1889-8-10     

Born at Indianapolis, Indiana
1911

Graduates from Naval Academy. Assigned to BB Idaho
1912-3
Ensign     
1917
Lieutenant     
Executive officer, Jacob Jones
1918

Naval aide to the President
1919
Lieutenant commander     
Commander, Eagle #2 and Eagle #3
1924

Staff, Battle Fleet
1937

Naval Mission to Brazil
1939-12
Captain
Commander, Pensacola
1942-1

Staff, Chief of Naval Operations
1942-5
Rear admiral
Commander, Cruiser Division 10
1942-11-13     

Killed in action off Guadalcanal


References

Coombe (1991)

Hornfischer (2011)

Naval Historical Center (accessed 2008-1-23)
Pettibone (2006)
Tuohy (2007)



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