The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia
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National Archives #80-G-216636
Kelly Turner was born in Oregon, the son of a
schoolteacher, and graduated from the
in 1908. After serving on cruisers
and destroyers, he attended the
Naval Ordnance School in 1915-1916 and became a gunnery expert. He
served on battleships
in the First World War and
took flight training in
1927. The latter was a good
career move, allowing Turner to serve with the General Board as air
adviser to the Geneva
Conference of 1932. Turner graduated from the
Naval War College in 1935 and was retained as head of the Strategic
Section. As an
instructor at the Navy War College, he emphasized aviation and
amphibious assault as
the predominant form of naval warfare in the
future. He chose to return to the line rather than pursue a career in
aviation, fearing that a career in aviation would not be "well rounded"
(Lundstrom 2006), and by
1940 he was Director of War Plans.
As Director of War Plans, Turner clashed with the Director of Naval Intelligence, Alan Kirk, over distribution of intelligence reports, including Magic decrypts. Stark concluded that Turner was too valuable to alienate and took his side. Turner's department controlled the evaluation and distribution of intelligence thereafter, reducing the Office of Naval Intelligence to a collection agency. This bureaucratic triumph nearly backfired on Turner following the attack on Pearl Harbor, when he was tangentially implicated in the debacle. His career may have been saved by a letter to War Secretary Stimson he prepared for Navy Secretary Knox's signature on 5 February 1941. One section seems remarkably prescient (Prange 1988):
The security of the U.S. Pacific Fleet while in Pearl Harbor, and of the Pearl Harbor Naval Base itself, has been under renewed study by the Navy Department and forces afloat for the past several weeks. This reexamination has been, in part, prompted by the increased gravity of the situation with respect to Japan, and by reports from abroad of successful bombing and torpedo plane attacks on ships while in bases. If war eventuates with Japan, it is believed easily possible that hostilities would be initiated by a surprise attack upon the Fleet or the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor.
In my opinion, the inherent possibilities of a major disaster to the fleet or naval base warrant taking every step, as rapidly as can be done, that will increase the joint readiness of the Army and Navy to withstand a raid of the character mentioned above.
On the other hand, Turner believed the Japanese would follow up the Pearl Harbor strike with an invasion, a fear that proved unwarranted.
Turner developed the plans for the first American
amphibious assault of
war, at Guadalcanal. However, Marshall persuaded Roosevelt that Turner was too difficult to work with to remain part of the joint Army-Navy planning staff. At King's
urging Nimitz accepted Turner as commander of the assault force, where he
closely with Alexander
dryly said of the assignment that Turner was "brilliant, caustic,
arrogant, and tactless — just the man for the job" (Tuohy 2007).
Fletcher recalls a
conversation with Turner during the preinvasion
"Kelly, you are making plans to take that island away from the Japs, and the Japs may turn on you and wallop the hell out of you. What are you going to do then?" Turner said, "I am just going to stay there and take my licking." Kelly was tough, a brain and a son of a bitch, and that's just what he did.
Turner turned out to be so superb an amphibious commander that King
began jokingly addressing Turner as "the Army's greatest single
contribution to the war in the Pacific" and Turner would reply,
"Greatest favor that anyone ever did me" (Larrabee 19872). Turner
made the gutsy decision to continue unloading the transports at Guadalcanal for
after his carrier
support had been withdrawn and his surface escorts largely destroyed in
Battle of Savo Island. Though
officially exonerated of responsibility for that debacle, he has been
criticized by historians for failing to establish clear command
responsibilities in the Allied
cruiser force. Turner continued running his transports to
Guadalcanal with reinforcements and supplies throughout the campaign.
He directed amphibious operations during the remainder of the
first serving as Spruance's
amphibious commander and then becoming commander, Amphibious
Forces, Pacific Fleet in April 1945.
Had the war
continued into September, he would have commanded the assault phase of
of Japan. He attended the surrender ceremony and represented
the United States to the United Nations Military
Committee until his retirement in 1961.
Turner was so short-tempered that he
became known as “Terrible
Turner,” and he got into some horrendous shouting matches
amphibious expert “Howling
who shared his temperament. A brilliant perfectionist who did not
suffer fools gladly, he
sometimes seemed to
think he knew everything about everything; a reporter commented that
couldn't take a launch to shore without lecturing the
coxswain on the handling
of his boat. He would brush off subordinates who brought him
recommendations, only to include them in his next draft plan. Like many
leaders who had difficulty delegating, he was an
indefatigable worker. Others have described him as possessed of
"corrosive ambition," which was manifest in a tendency to grab for
power outside his proper sphere. As the war progressed, he became an
drinking heavily after work hours, though he was usually sober by
When I came back home from the Marshalls, I was dead tired. I stayed dead tired for the rest of the war.
Spruance's take on Turner's nightly alcohol binges was tactful: "... the man had tremendous resilience" (Larrabee 1987).
Turner's tendency to micromanage was also manifest in the West Loch
fire of 21 May 1944, when an LST at
Pearl Harbor exploded while unloading mortar
shells. Turner took personal charge of the fire fighting, an act of
considerable courage (163 men were killed
and 396 injured in the incident) that was completely unnecessary.
Nathan Twining described Turner as (Lundstrom 2006):
A loud, strident, arrogant person who enjoyed settling all matters by simply raising his voice and roaring like a bull captain in the old navy.... [His] peers understood this and valued him for what he was, a good and determined leader with a fine mind — when he chose to use it.
Turner was bitter at Kimmel over the Pearl Harbor disaster and became literally drunk with joy when a 1945 review board upheld the determination that Kimmel was at fault. But he also he was also a forceful and brilliant commander who contributed much to the Allied victory.
||Born at Portland, Oregon
||Graduates from Naval Academy,
standing 5th in a class of 201
||Naval Ordnance School
||Ordnance officer, Naval Gun
||Bureau of Ordnance
||Commander, Aircraft Squadrons,
||Adviser, General Board
||Executive officer, Saratoga
||Naval War College
||Staff, Naval War College
||Director of War Plans
||Assistant chief of staff, U.S.
||Commander, Amphibious Forces, South
||Commander, Amphibious Forces, Pacific
||USN representative to UN Military Staff Committee
||Dies at Monterey, California
Historical Center (accessed 2007-12-8)
Dupuy et al. (1992)
The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia © 2007-2010, 2012 by Kent G. Budge. Index
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