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Towers, John Henry (1885-1955)


Photograph of John H. Towers

Naval Historical Center #NH 62432

John Towers graduated from the Naval Academy in 1906 and was one of the pioneers of naval aviation, having been taught to fly by Glenn Curtis in 1916 as Naval Aviator #3. He participated in the Navy's transatlantic flight in 1919 and rose to command of the Saratoga by 1939. He was chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics from 1939 to 1942, when he became commander of naval air forces in the Pacific. He remained in this role (though the job title changed from time to time) throughout the war.

Towers was extremely intelligent and a very capable administrator. He was largely responsible for developing fleet carrier doctrine during the latter half of the war and was a major architect of the Allied victory in the Pacific. However, his administrative skills were so valuable that they prevented him from gaining a combat command, and he was almost ignored by postwar historians. It could not have helped Towers that he bore a grudge against Ernest King, a latecomer to naval aviation, for being selected to head Bureau of Aeronautics before him. Nor could it have helped that Towers had so irritated Navy Secretary Frank Knox that Knox had insisted that Towers be posted away from Washington.

Towers was a very strong air partisan, whose gentlemanly Southern manners disguised a boundless ambition. He was the acknowledged leader of a clique of pioneering aviators who resented the JCLs (Johnny Come Latelies), older officers who took flight training to qualify for aviation billets, and who were contemptuous of senior surface officers. At one point, Towers suggesting that all major commands in the Pacific Fleet should go to aviators, with the obvious implication that he should replace his own immediate boss, Chester Nimitz. This tactless and unrealistic proposal was modified by King to a more reasonable policy of requiring all non-aviator commanders to have an aviator chief of staff, and vice versa. So constant were Towers' criticisms of non-aviator fleet commanders that he managed to make an enemy of Ray Spruance, a man with a reputation for being able to keep cool and get along with difficult people.

Service record

1885-1-30    
  Born at Rome, Georgia
1906
Midshipman     
Graduates from Naval Academy
1908
Ensign
BB Kentucky
1909

BB Michigan
1911

Flight training
1914-1

Executive officer, Naval Air Station Pensacola
1914-8

Assistant naval attaché, London
1916

Assistant Director of Naval Aviation
1919

Executive officer, CM Aroostook
1921

Commander, DD Mugford
1922

Executive officer, Naval Air Station Pensacola
1923-3

Assistant naval attaché, London, Paris, Rome, the Hague, and Berlin
1925

Bureau of Aeronautics
1927-1
Captain
Commander, CV Langley
1929

Head, Plans Division, Bureau of Aeronautics
1931-6

Staff, Aircraft, Battle Force
1933

Naval War College
1936

Commander, Naval Air Station San Diego
1938

Staff, Aircraft, Battle Force
1939

Commander, CV Saratoga
1939-6-1     
Rear admiral     
Chief, Bureau of Aeronautics
1942-10-14      
Vice admiral
Commander, Naval Air Force, Pacific Fleet
1944-2-28

Deputy commander, Pacific Ocean Areas and Pacific Fleet
1945-8

Commander, 2 Fast Carrier Task Force
1945-11-7

Commander, 5 Fleet
1946-2-1

Commander, Pacific Fleet
1947-3

Chair, General Board
1947-12-1

Retires
1955-4-30

Dies at St. Alban's Hospital, Jamaica, New York


References

Naval Historical Center (accessed 2008-6-30)
Pettibone (2006)
Tuohy (2007)



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