|Born||11 Jun 1883|
|Died||22 May 1978|
Contributor: David Stubblebine
ww2dbaseAubrey Wray "Jake" Fitch was born in Saint Ignace, Michigan, on 11 Jun 1883. He entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland in the summer of 1902. Notable classmates included future World War II admirals Frank Jack Fletcher, Isaac Kidd, John Towers, Robert Ghormley, and John McCain. Notable names from other classes at the academy while Fitch attended include Chester Nimitz, Bill Halsey, and Raymond Spruance. He graduated in 1906, 92nd in a class of 125. After serving in several positions both ashore and afloat, Fitch, now a Lieutenant Commander, accepted his first command in 1914, as captain of destroyer USS Terry. After leaving Terry, Fitch joined the staff of the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, Frank Friday Fletcher (uncle of classmate Frank Jack Fletcher).
ww2dbaseShortly after the United States entered the First World War, Fitch was assigned as gunnery officer aboard the battleship USS Wyoming where he served for the remainder of the war as the ship operated in the North Atlantic.
ww2dbaseAfter the armistice, Fitch again served as an instructor at the Naval Academy before taking command of destroyers USS Luce in 1920 and then USS Mahan in 1922. Detached from Mahan, Fitch served in Rio de Janeiro for five years as a member of the United States mission to Brazil. In May 1927, he was appointed as the executive officer of USS Nevada and six months later took command of the stores ship USS Arctic.
ww2dbaseIn June 1929 Fitch reported for aviation instruction at the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida and on 4 Feb 1930 at the age of 46, he earned his aviator wings. Following brief duty at Naval Air Station San Diego, California, he assumed command of seaplane tender USS Wright in the spring of 1930. A year later he took command of aircraft carrier USS Langley (Langley-class). A year after that, he took command of NAS Hampton Roads in Virginia, United States, a post he held for three years. In Jun 1935 Fitch reported as chief of staff to Commander, Aircraft, Battle Force. He stayed in that assignment until 6 Apr 1936 when he took command of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (Lexington-class), a position he held for one year. Fitch spent the next year attending the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island and assumed command of NAS Pensacola in Jun 1938. In the spring of 1940, he took command of Patrol Air Wing 2 based at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. In Nov 1941, Fitch, now a Rear Admiral, broke his flag in USS Saratoga as Commander of Carrier Division 1. And so, as the United States entered World War II in Dec 1941, Fitch had become one of the most experienced carrier commanders afloat.
ww2dbaseIn the days after Pearl Harbor, Fitch's flagship USS Saratoga, figured prominently in the abortive attempt to reinforce Wake Island later in Dec 1941 but the ship was later torpedoed off Oahu, Hawaii in Jan 1942, seriously cutting American carrier strength in the Pacific at a critical period.
ww2dbaseOn 3 Apr 1942, Fitch took command of a task group consisting of carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown. During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Task Force commander Admiral Frank J. Fletcher placed Fitch in tactical command of the United States forces. The engagement effectively stopped the Japanese thrust against the strategic target of Port Moresby, Australian Papua on New Guinea island but also resulted in the loss of Fitch's flagship USS Lexington, America's first aircraft carrier lost in battle. As Lexington was being abandoned, Fitch insisted that his staff leave the ship before he did. For the leadership he exhibited during the Battle of the Coral Sea, Fitch was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.
ww2dbaseFollowing Coral Sea, Fitch again broke his flag in USS Saratoga as she was coming out of repairs from the earlier torpedo attack, but that task group arrived too late to take part in the pivotal Battle of Midway in Jun 1942.
ww2dbaseOn 20 Sep 1942, six weeks after the first American amphibious operation of the war got underway at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, Fitch relieved his academy classmate John McCain as commander of Aircraft South Pacific Force (AirSoPac). Accustomed to being involved in daily activities, Fitch made many hazardous flights into the combat zones inspecting activities related to air operations. For this, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
ww2dbaseUnder Fitch's command, AirSoPac encompassed not only Navy air units but also air units of the Army, Marine Corps, and the Royal New Zealand Air Force. These forces achieved great success in the Allied campaign in the South Pacific. Fitch's planes protected Allied shipping, providing vital air cover that strongly assisted the Allies in challenging, and ultimately defeating, the Japanese in the Solomons. In addition, his aircraft performed essential reconnaissance missions, spotting enemy warships prior to the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands in Oct 1942 and during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal of Nov 1942.
ww2dbaseUnder Fitch's command early experiments were conducted in radar-guided night bombing, a tactic that worked out well in interdicting Japanese shipping. His command also employed specially modified photographic aircraft for intelligence gathering. For his skillful coordination of the Allied air effort in that area of the world, Fitch was awarded his second Distinguished Service Medal.
ww2dbaseAfter almost three years commanding air operations in the South Pacific during most of the Navy's island-hoping operations, Fitch returned to Washington in the summer of 1944 and once again relieved his academy classmate John McCain but this time as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air. In that post, he skillfully and efficiently directed the aeronautical organization of the Navy, supervised efforts to ensure the readiness and deployment of naval air resources, and planned all of the related logistical measures. For these efforts he received the Legion of Merit. Fitch was serving in this capacity when World War II ended.
ww2dbaseThe day after the Japanese surrendered, Vice Admiral Fitch was appointed Superintendent of the Naval Academy and remained there until 15 Jan 1947. The first aviator to head the Naval Academy, Fitch was instrumental in establishing the Department of Aeronautics and incorporating naval aviation into the academy's tactical curriculum.
ww2dbaseAfter leaving the academy, Fitch served in a few short-term administrative roles for the Navy before retiring on 1 Jul 1947, following a tombstone promotion to Admiral.
ww2dbaseAubrey Fitch died of a heart ailment in Newcastle, Maine on 22 May 1978 shortly before his 95th birthday. In 1981, the guided-missile frigate USS Aubrey Fitch was named in his honor.
ww2dbaseAdmiral Jack Towers, Nimitz's senior aviation officer, summarized Fitch's qualifications in late 1943 as "All-around experience. Physically tough. Aggressive. Popular. Fine qualities of leadership. Personable and levelheaded ... combined sharp ability with strong professionalism."
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The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia
Last Major Revision: Apr 2020
Aubrey Fitch Timeline
|11 Jun 1883||Aubrey Fitch was born in Saint Ignace, Michigan, United States.|
|4 Feb 1930||Aubrey Fitch earned his aviator wings.|
|6 Apr 1936||Aubrey Fitch was made the commanding officer of USS Lexington.|
|20 Sep 1942||Aubrey Fitch was made the commanding officer of US Navy Aircraft South Pacific Force, replacing John McCain.|
|1 Aug 1944||Aubrey Fitch was made the US Navy Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air, replacing John McCain.|
|3 Sep 1945||Aubrey Fitch was made the Superintendent of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, United States.|
|15 Jan 1947||Aubrey Fitch stepped down as the Superintendent of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, United States.|
|1 Jul 1947||Aubrey Fitch retired from military service.|
|22 May 1978||Aubrey Fitch died of a heart ailment in Newcastle, Maine, United States.|
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Winston Churchill, 1935