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Withers, Thomas Jr.


Photograph of Admiral Thomas Withers Jr.

U.S. Navy

Thomas Withers was commander of the Pacific Fleet submarines in the early days of the war. He was the first to propose that the submarines be directed against commerce rather than employed with the battle fleet. This was the correct military strategy and played a major role in bringing down Japan. On the other hand, Withers responded to reports of defective torpedoes by relieving commanders he thought not sufficiently aggressive; the torpedo crisis would not be resolved until Lockwood took command of the submarine force at Pearl Harbor.

His orders to submarine commanders reveal an unhealthy fear of air attack. Commanders were ordered to remain submerged during daylight hours when within 500 miles of a Japanese airbase, a wholly unrealistic requirement. They were also ordered not to use more than two torpedoes against merchant ships, also unrealistic.

Withers was reassigned as commandant of Portsmouth Naval Yard in May 1942 and served here for the remainder of the war. Following the surrender of Germany, he was reprimanded for failing to prevent captured U-boats from being looted and their crews robbed of decorations, watches, and other personal effects by base personnel. In one incident, a U-boat commander was slapped during an interrogation.

Service record

1906
Midshipman
Graduates from Naval Academy
1908
Ensign
ACR California
1914-4

Commander, SS E-1
1916-7
Lieutenant     
CL Memphis
1920
Lieutenant commander     
DD Belknap
1922-7

Commander, Submarine Division 95
1928-2     
Captain Commander, Submarine Division 4
1930

Navy War College
1936

New Groton Submarine Base
1938

Commander, BB California
1940

Naval Torpedo Station, Newport
1941-1     
Rear admiral     
Commander, Submarines, Scouting Force, Pacific Fleet
1942-1-1

Commander, Submarines, Pacific Fleet
1942-5-14     

Commander, Portsmouth Naval Yard


References

Alden (1979)

Blair (1975)

Naval Historical Center (accessed 2008-7-15)

Pettibone (2006)

TogetherWeServed.com (accessed 2012-4-21)

UboatArchives.net (accessed 2012-4-21)



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