Smith, William Ward

Photograph of Admiral William W. "Poco" Smith
Naval Historical Center #NH 57100
Cropped by author

"Poco" Smith was chief of staff of Pacific Fleet when war broke out. Promoted to rear admiral shortly afterwards, he commanded the cruiser escort for Task Force 17 (Yorktown) at Coral Sea and Midway, and got on well with Fletcher. He was given command of the main surface elements of North Pacific Force on 3 August 1942, freeing Theobald to remain ashore and in communication with his command. He was ordered to bombard Kiska, and arrived off the island on 7 August. His seaplanes were promptly shot down or driven off by the defending Japanese Rufe seaplane fighters, which then directed Japanese coastal artillery against Smith's force. In frustration, Smith unloaded his ships' magazines in the general direction of the harbor, then withdrew. The bombardment missed the Japanese facilities by half a mile. Smith was relieved by McMorris in late 1942.

Smith combined a razor intellect with a warm sense of humor, but also suffered from alcoholism. His nickname was an abbreviation of "Pocahontas" and was given to him by an Academy upperclassman, who suggested that his dark complexion and prominent nose showed he was an illegitimate descendant of the famous Native American woman. He had been one of the Navy's early code breakers, and when Nimitz sarcastically mentioned in a pre-Midway conference that the Japanese had already selected the officer to take command of the island, Smith quicky deduced where the intelligence had come from.

Service record

Graduates from Naval Academy
Commander, CL Brooklyn

Chief of staff, Pacific Fleet
Rear admiral    


Chief of staff, Pacific Ocean Areas

Commander, Cruiser Division 9

Director, Naval Transportation Service
Vice admiral     
Commander, Service Force, Pacific Fleet


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