The Art of Command in the Civil War

By Steven E. Woodworth | Go to book overview

5 / T.J. Jackson and the Value of "The Right Sort of Man"

WILLIAM J. MILLER

By March 1944, Commander Arleigh A. Burke had earned a reputation as an aggressive and inspired commander of warships. Six months earlier, with his Destroyer Squadron 23, he had successfully interdicted Japanese supply operations near Bougainville and New Ireland in the southwest Pacific, marking himself as a naval officer with a bright future. In that third month of 1944 Burke was ordered to join the staff of Vice Adm. Marc A. Mitscher, commander of Fast Carrier Task Force 58, and the appointment pleased neither man.

Immersed in the largest naval conflict in history, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest King struggled to coordinate the more traditional aspects of his war machine--surface and amphibious operations--with the new and dominant factor of naval air power. King decreed that every aviator admiral must have a nonaviator chief of staff and every admiral with a nonaviation surface warfare background must have an aviator as chief of staff. Mitscher, who wore wings but had significant experience in surface command, objected in vain and reluctantly added the destroyerman to his staff. "AdmiralMitscher certainly did not want me," recalled Burke. "He didn't want anything to do with me. He had made up his mind, I think, that he was going to bypass me [and] the chief of staff job he was going to do himself."

Burke, of course, was an extraordinary officer--a mere eleven years after reporting to Mitscher, Burke became chief of naval operations--and he soon made himself invaluable to Mitscher. The two served well together, and Burke developed an intense admiration for his boss: "If I ever loved any man," he wrote years later, "it was Admiral Mitscher."1

Such "arranged marriages" of commander and staff do not always end

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