Kinkaid of the Seventh Fleet: A Biography of Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, U.S. Navy
Uhlig, Frank, Jr., Naval War College Review
Wheeler, Gerald E. Kinkaid of the Seventh Fleet: A Biography of Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, U. S. Navy. Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, 1996. 531pp. $37.95
Thomas C. Kinkaid graduated from Annapolis in the lower half of his class in 1908. During the next thirty-three years of his career, he spent only as much time at sea as was required to make him eligible for promotion to the next higher grade. He preferred duty in Washington, D.C. (his family home), or in Philadelphia (home of Helen, his vivacious, intelligent, and perceptive wife), though he was, and they were, happy in London, Rome, Constantinople, and Newport, Rhode Island. In Washington he toiled obscurely but usefully, always in the palaces, never in the dungeons, of the naval bureaucracy. He served in the bureaus of Ordnance and Navigation, and as secretary of the General Board; all three were powerhouses in the Navy of Kinkaid's time. Ashore or afloat, he helped others, high and low, and they helped him. He also helped himself, though clearly with the approval of others. As director of the officer personnel division, Bureau of Navigation, he arranged to have himself ordered early to a deep-draft command. The ship he picked was the famous heavy cruiser Indianapolis. His immediate predecessor in command had been the excellent Henry Kent Hewitt, and under Hewitt the Indianapolis had been chosen to carry President Franklin D. Roosevelt on a long cruise to South America. So Kinkaid had arranged for himself to inherit a well run, well cared for ship. As Wheeler notes, Tom was, in Ernest J. King's scornful phrase, a "fixer."
Thus it was that late in 1941, after thirty-three years of service, this unimaginative and unadventurous but decent, efficient, and well liked officer became one of the U.S. Navy's seventy-odd flag officers. He was the last member of his Annapolis class to reach that rank.
Kinkaid arrived at Pearl Harbor a few days after the Japanese carrier planes had paid their visit. Just as did the slightly senior Raymond A. Spruance, Kinkaid spent the first few months of the war commanding the screen around one or another of the carriers. Though much of that time was a bore for Kinkaid, Wheeler pays considerable attention to it, for it was during those months that he learned as much as he was going to about carrier warfare before he himself was placed in command of a carrier task force, relieving Spruance of the Enterprise task force shortly after the latter's victory at Midway.
Wheeler's longest chapter focuses on the next five months, July through November 1942. They are filled not only with fierce battles but also with flaming controversies, and some of the embers of these controversies have not yet burned out. Though many have argued forcefully that Vice Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, in tactical command of the Guadalcanal invasion early in August, exposed the amphibious and landing forces to destruction through poor handling of his carriers, Kinkaid, commanding one-third of that carrier force, was not among them. Under Fletcher, Kinkaid's ships took part in the successful battle of the Eastern Solomons late in August.
By late October Fletcher was among those who had departed the South Pacific for good. Vice Admiral William F. Halsey replaced Robert L. Ghormley as the local theater commander, but he had hardly arrived when the Japanese began a powerful offensive against the Marines on Guadalcanal, by land, air, and sea. Halsey sent his remaining carriers, now only two in number, to halt the advance of a Japanese fleet that included four carriers. In what came to be called the battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, Kinkaid, in tactical command of the American force, rebuffed the enemy's advance, at the cost of the Hornet (sunk) and the Enterprise, which was severely damaged.
As often happens after a naval battle, highly emotional claims arose that if the officer in tactical command had fought his battle differently, the results would have been better. …