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The Worst Leaders in History: Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner

WWII

The Worst Leaders in History: Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner

Although not commonly considered one of the worst leaders in history, Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner's shortcomings were behind one of the hardest defeats of WWII.

Although not commonly considered one of the worst leaders in history, Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner's shortcomings were behind one of the hardest defeats of WWII.

by Brad Reynolds

Historical controversy has famously surrounded Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner. In his responsibility as Director of Naval Intelligence, he was to inform Admiral Kimmel, Commander of the Pacific Fleet, of Japanese diplomatic threats alluding to military retribution for souring political relations. Though information surrounding the subsequent Pearl Harbor attack would not come into question until after the war, allegations surrounding Admiral Turner’s negligence and disregard for communication within his chain of command would continue throughout World War II. Turner’s shortcomings would instigate what is seen as the U.S. Navy’s worst defeat in the South Pacific, and arguably in its history, at the Battle of Savo Island.

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Not commonly considered one of the worst leaders in history, Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner's shortcomings were behind one of the hardest U.S. defeats.Following the initial invasion of Guadalcanal in August of 1942, the main Allied carrier force left the area for refueling and rearmament. The remaining American Naval forces, under the command of Admiral Turner, were positioned in screening formations to protect Marine transport ships. Allied ships were positioned west of Savo Island as an advanced warning force, guarding the entrance of St. George Channel, where Allied beachheads had been created.

1,077 Lost in 32 Minutes

On the morning of August 9th, a Japanese naval attack would wreak havoc on Allied ships protecting their transports. Though Allied ships were equipped with newly acquired radar systems, ill-trained crews mistook advancing Japanese forces for existing land formations. Japanese ships would easily enter the channel, sinking four Allied heavy cruisers, and damaging four destroyers within thirty-two minutes. American forces were untrained for cooperation with other Allied ships, partially because Admiral Turner had failed to implement the tools necessary to quickly relay a cohesive battle plan throughout the fleet. Turner’s command of American naval forces at the Battle of Savo Island was defined by general confusion and friendly fire, costing the lives of 1,077 Allied sailors during those fateful thirty-two minutes.

Although not commonly considered one of the worst leaders in history, Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner's shortcomings were behind one of the hardest defeats of WWII.

Turner would later blame the embarrassment of the Battle of Savo Island on a lethargic state of mind bred from the feeling of “technical and mental superiority over the enemy.” A Naval investigation would look into the ineptitude of American command at Savo, which had been a dose of reality for supposed American Naval superiority. “Terrible” Turner would not be censored by the investigation, but he would allow Captain Bode, a lower commander present at Savo, to become the scapegoat. Bode would later commit suicide in 1943.

Originally Published February 17, 2015

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7 Comments

  1. Major G.P.S, USA, Re
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    With all that has been written, the remarks are overly kind to a very real incompetent “officer”, if that is what one would call Turner!

  2. Posted July 29, 2016 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    There should be an article written about innocent military scapegoats in history. The reputations of the scapegoats should be rehabilitated.

    • Thomas Nessman
      Posted October 12, 2016 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if Adm Husband Kimmel in charge of the Navy at Pearl Harbor and Gen Short, in charge of Army defenses would finally be vindicated, and their names cleared?

      • Posted January 3, 2017 at 2:16 am | Permalink

        Dear Mr.Nerurt: Just read your comment from 26 September 2016 regarding Admiral R.K. Turner. Your reply was posted after several highly negative comments on the admiral, and an article suggesting that Admiral Turner was among the worst leaders in history. I’ve spent quite a few years researching the causes of Pearl Harbor. I’ve read all 39-volumes of the Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings. I’ve read the two volume The Amphibians Came to Conquer: The Story of Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner. And I have interviewed or written two of Admiral Turner’s aides from WWII. (Both Harry B. Stark and William C. Mott had great respect for Turner. And, as I suspect you know, so, too, did the Japanese.) I’m working on a book. I hope to eventually have it published under the title Decoding Pearl Harbor. What I’m writing goes well beyond with R.B. Stinnett wrote back in 1999. The Edward L. Beach book, Scapegoats….is one of the books that, in my opinion, should never have been published. There is much misinformation on Pearl Harbor and Admiral Turner. But just as surely, there is also a great deal of disinformation on these two subjects, such as Ned Beach’s book, Admiral Kimmel’s Story, Fuzzy Theobald’s The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor, and the alleged E.T. Layton book, “And I Was There”: Pearl Harbor and Midway – Breaking the Secrets. I’m writing this from the Island of Molokai. I’ve been in the Hawaiian Islands since October and won’t return to my home in Springville, Utah until 19 January. You can contact me should you so wish. Thanks for sticking up for my favorite officer in the history of the United States Navy! Sincerely, Andy McKane, Molokai, Hawaii

        • John Frizon
          Posted May 17, 2017 at 9:32 am | Permalink

          Dear Mr Mckane, I would like to congratulate you for defending Admiral Turner, a most respected name in our family history. My Grandfather served with Admiral Turner during the conflict as a member of the then called ‘Foreign Legion’ assisting in the navigation and intelligence gathering from Tarawa and island hopping to Okinawa. My Grandfather did not speak about the war experience with the family afterwards but began to write a biography before he passed. Unfortunately he never completed the draft and only reached the point where the war was about to begin. Captain G.H.Heyen ( The Mad Aussie) as he was apparently referred to jokingly by his American friends , including Admiral Turner, was called from Australia to assist in the push to remove the Japanese forces from the Islands . This was due to the fact that he had drawn many of the Naval Charts for the area during his career as a Sailing Master during the 1920’s and early 1930’s. He stayed with the American Fleet throughout the campaign and apparently was responsible for leading the landing craft through the reefs and shoals during initial attacks during the campaign. He was awarded the Honour of Officer of The Legion of Merit by the U.S . Government and was extremely proud to have served with the American Naval Force and the “Fine Sailors and Soldiers” of your country. I am currently looking for publications and information about the Naval Fleet and campaign led by Admiral Turner, as this aspect of the war and its importance to my own nations escaping relatively unscathed is not known in our history. Congratulations again, Yours Sincerely John Frizon.

  3. Kin Nerurt
    Posted September 26, 2016 at 1:53 am | Permalink

    You sill post blaming Turner for the attacks no one could fend off, is pure armchair blab blab. You were not there, your cowards, go back to your armchair and finish smoking you crack.

  4. Posted January 3, 2017 at 2:28 am | Permalink

    Dear Major G.P.S. Your comments about Admiral Turner are typical for someone who has not done any primary research into this naval officer. I respectfully suggest that the very least you should do is to take the time to read the two volume The Amphibians Came to Conquer: The Story of Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, by Vice Admiral George C. Dyer. I’m working on a book that, if published, will be titled Decoding Pearl Harbor. I have spent many years working on this topic. Much of what I’ve read, such as the Edward L. Beach book, Scapegoats: A Defense of Kimmel and Short at Pearl Harbor, the alleged E.T. Layton Book, “And I Was There”: Pearl Harbor and Midway – Breaking the Secrets, Admiral Kimmel’s Story, and Fuzzy Theobald’s The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor is disinformation, not merely misinformation. I’ve spent many years making my study into Pearl Harbor and its causes. I am not a critic of how a unified American people were delivered into the Second World War. If you, Major, truly think Admiral Turner was incompetent, you should know that while I was in the Navy, 1970-1971, I never advance above the level of HM (E-3). I was a hospital corpsman. If my book does nothing else, I would like people like yourself – and you are in excellent company with millions of others – to accurately understand why we had Pearl Harbor. I mean no disrespect to anyone who serves in our Armed Forces. And this very much includes Admiral Kimmel and Lieutenant General Short. As I write this, on 2 January 2017, I’m on the Island of Molokai. I’ll return to my home in Springville, Utah on or about 19 January. You may contact me, or better, come and talk with me if you wish. I have many original documents that have never yet been published. Sincerely yours, Andy McKane, from Molokai, Hawaii.

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