Jesse B. Oldendorf
Jesse B. Oldendorf
|Born||16 February 1887|
|Died||27 April 1974 (aged 87)|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1909–1948|
Jesse Barrett "Oley" Oldendorf (16 February 1887 – 27 April 1974) was an admiral in the United States Navy, famous for defeating a Japanese force in the Battle of Leyte Gulf during World War II. He also served as commander of the American naval forces during the early phase of the Battle of the Caribbean. In early 1942, a secret group of senior Navy officers empaneled by President Franklin D. Roosevelt assessed him as one of the 40 most competent of the 120 flag officers in the Navy.
Jesse Barrett Oldendorf was born in Riverside, California on 16 February 1887. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1909, standing 141st in a class of 174, and was commissioned in 1911. Oldendorf served aboard the armored cruiser USS California, the torpedo boat destroyer USS Preble, the cruiser USS Denver, the destroyer USS Whipple and the armored cruiser California again, although she had been renamed San Diego. He also served on the Panama Canal hydrographic survey ship USS Hannibal.
World War I
During World War I, Oldendorf spent a few months on recruiting duty in Philadelphia. From June to August 1917, he commanded the naval armed guard on USAT Saratoga. The ship sank as a result of a collision in New York. He then became a gunnery officer aboard the troop transport USS President Lincoln, which was sunk by three torpedoes from the German submarine U-90 off Ireland on 31 May 1918. From August 1918 to March 1919, he was engineering officer of USS Seattle. In July, he was briefly executive officer of USS Patricia.
Between the wars
Between the great wars, Oldendorf did a stint in charge of recruiting station Pittsburgh, acted as an engineering inspector in Baltimore, and served as officer in charge of a hydrographic office. In 1920, he was assigned to the patrol yacht USS Niagara. From 1921 to 1922, Oldendorf was stationed on USS Birmingham in the Caribbean, while acting as flag secretary to Special Service Squadron commanders Rear Admiral Casey B. Morgan, Captain Austin Kautz and Rear Admiral William C. Cole. From 1922 to 1924, Oldendorf served as aide to Rear Admiral Josiah S. McKean, commandant of the Mare Island Navy Yard. In 1925, Oldendorf, now a commander, assumed his first command, the destroyer USS Decatur, Afterwards, he was aide to successive commandants of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Rear Admiral Thomas P. Magruder and Julian Lane Latimer from 1927 to 1928.
Oldendorf attended the Naval War College from 1928 to 1929 and then the Army War College from 1929 to 1930. From 1930 to 1935, he was the navigator of the battleship USS New York. Following the normal pattern of alternating duty at sea with shore duty, Oldendorf taught navigation at the Naval Academy from 1932 to 1935. Then following this teaching assignment at the Academy, Oldendorf returned to sea duty serving as executive officer of the battleship USS West Virginia from 1935 to 1937. From 1937 to 1939, Oldendorf directed the recruiting section of the Bureau of Navigation.
World War II
From 1939 to 1941, Oldendorf commanded the cruiser USS Houston. In September 1941, he joined the staff of the Naval War College, where he taught navigation until February 1942. On 31 March 1942, Oldendorf was promoted to rear admiral, and assigned to the Aruba-Curaçao sector of the Caribbean Sea Frontier. In August 1942, he was transferred to the Trinidad sector where anti-submarine warfare was his primary duty. From May through December 1943, Oldendorf commanded Task Force 24 which was assigned all Western Atlantic escorts. His flagships during this period were destroyer tender USS Prairie and fleet tug USS Kiowa.
Oldendorf was reassigned to the United States Pacific Fleet in January 1944, where he commanded Cruiser Division 4 (CruDiv 4) from his flagship USS Louisville. Cruiser Division 4, consisting of cruisers and battleships, supported carrier operations and provided fire support for the landings in the Marshalls, Palaus, Marianas, and Leyte.
On 12 September 1944, Oldendorf commanded from the bridge of his flagship, USS Pennsylvania, the Fire Support Group tasked with the bombardment of Peleliu in the Palaus island group. This Fire Support Group consisted of five battleships, Pennsylvania, USS Idaho, USS Maryland, USS Mississippi, and USS Tennessee, eight cruisers, twelve destroyers, seven minesweepers, fifteen landing craft converted to rocket launchers, and a half-dozen submarines. At this point in his career, Oldendorf was an experienced battle commander who had handled similar assignments in three previous Marine landings. The bombardment was scheduled to last 3 days. By the end of the first day, aerial reconnaissance photos indicated that close to 300 of the assigned targets had been destroyed or seriously damaged by the all-day bombardment and that virtually every aboveground structure and fortification had been wiped out. At the airport its few usable planes were reduced to wreckage.
By the evening of the second day, every target specified on the master list in Pennsylvania's combat center had been struck repeatedly. However, Oldendorf was concerned because no return fire had been detected from the concentrations of enemy heavy artillery shown in earlier aerial reconnaissance photos and because the latest photos contained no evidence that these weapons had been destroyed. It was surmised that the Japanese had moved their heavy artillery underground where they could have survived the bombardment. Despite these concerns, Oldendorf made the decision to call off the bombardment at the end of the second day of a pre-arranged schedule that called for a third full day of attacks.
This would have tragic results for the 1st Marines' beach assault on Peleliu because the white coral outcropping designated as "the Point" was left virtually untouched despite Lieutenant Colonel Lewis "Chesty" Puller, commander of the 1st Marines, specific request to Oldendorf's staff to target it in the Navy's bombardment. "The Point" commanded the heights 30 feet above the north end of White Beach 1 on which the 1st Marines landed and was considered by Puller to be a potential defensive strongpoint too obvious for the Japanese to overlook. The result of not sufficiently reducing "the Point" was a bloodbath. Over 500 men were lost, roughly one-sixth of its regimental strength, on the D-Day White Beach assault on Peleliu and the entire beachhead was in danger of collapsing. It was only by the heroism of the Marines that "the Point" was taken. After the war when asked about Pelilieu, Oldendorf commented that "If military leaders-and that includes Navy brass-were gifted with the same accuracy of foresight that they are with hindsight, then the assault of Peleliu should never have been attempted."
On 24 October 1944, Oldendorf was the commander of Task Group 77.2 at the Battle of Surigao Strait. Oldendorf who was aboard his flagship USS Louisville which led the defeat of the Japanese Southern Force. He deployed his powerful force of battleships and cruisers in a classic battle line formation across the Surigao Strait, crossing the T of his opponent. The Japanese battleships Fusō and Yamashiro were sunk, and Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura was killed. Oldendorf's action prevented the Japanese from bringing their battle fleet into Surigao Strait and attacking the beachheads on Leyte Island. He later explained his tactics to the New York Times: "My theory was that of the old-time gambler: Never give a sucker a chance." For this action, Oldendorf was awarded the Navy Cross. In 1959 Admiral Oldendorf provided commentary on his planning for the battle:
... Admiral Kinkaid's order to prepare for night action came as no surprise. ... It was obvious that the objective of the Japanese Forces was the destruction of our transports and that my mission was to protect them at all costs. In order to accomplish my mission, the force under my command must be interposed to between the enemy and the transports. I realized that I must not lose sight of my mission no matter how much I might be tempted to engage in a gunnery duel with him.
I selected the position of the battle line off Hingatungan Point because it gave me the maximum sea room available and restricted the enemy's movements. This position also permitted me to cover the eastern entrance to the Gulf should the Central Force under Admiral Kurita arrive ahead of the Southern Force. I selected the battle plan from the General Tactical Instructions and modified it to meet the conditions existing, i.e., lack of sea room to maneuver and possible enemy action. ... I thought that quite possibly he planned to slip some of his light forces into the Gulf by passing them to the eastward of Hibuson Island after the battle line was engaged. For that reason I stationed the preponderance of my light forces on the left flank. One duty which was never delegated to my staff was the drafting of battle plans.
On 15 December 1944, Oldendorf was promoted to vice admiral and made commander of Battleship Squadron 1. He commanded battleships in the landings at Lingayen. On 6 January 1945, Oldendorf, together with his guest British admiral Bruce Fraser, survived a destructive kamikaze strike on the bridge of USS New Mexico. He was wounded breaking his collar bone at Ulithi on 11 March 1945, when his barge hit a buoy. Oldendorf assumed command of Task Force 95 in July, and led this force on two sweeps of the East China Sea. He was wounded, breaking several ribs, when his flagship Pennsylvania was torpedoed by a Japanese aircraft on 12 August 1945. On 22 September 1945, Oldendorf commanded the occupation of Wakayama and dictated terms of surrender to Vice Admiral Hoka and Rear Admiral Yofai.
Post World War II
From November 1945, Oldendorf commanded the 11th Naval District. In 1946 he assumed command of the San Diego Naval Base. From 1947 until his retirement in 1948 he commanded the Western Sea Frontier and the United States Navy reserve fleets at San Francisco. He retired in September 1948 at which time he was promoted to Admiral.
Oldendorf resided in Mount Vernon, Virginia, where he owned a large plot of land. Oldendorf died on 27 April 1974 in Portsmouth, Virginia. He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. The destroyer USS Oldendorf was named in his honor.
|1st Row||Navy Cross with one gold star||Navy Distinguished Service Medal with two gold stars|
|2nd Row||Army Distinguished Service Medal||Legion of Merit with two gold stars||Purple Heart||Victory Medal|
|3rd Row||American Defense Service Medal with "FLEET" clasp||American Campaign Medal||European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal||Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with ten battle stars|
|4th Row||World War II Victory Medal||Navy Occupation Medal||Philippine Liberation Medal||Philippine Independence Medal|
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- Tully 2009, p. 82
- Ireland & Gerrard 2006, p. 69
- Tully 2009, pp. 206,229
- Ireland & Gerrard 2006, p. 86
- Thomas 2006, p. 239
- Oldendorf, Jesse (April 1959). "Admiral Oldendorf Comments on the Battle of Surigao Strait". Proceedings. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. 105 (4): 104–107.
- Iredale, W. (2015). The Kamikaze Hunters. pp. 227–8. ISBN 9780230768192.
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- Melvin Carr Oral History, MS-2607. University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Special Collections Library. Interview by G. KURT PIEHLER and NASHWA VAN HOUTS
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- Jesse Bartlett Oldendorf at Find a Grave
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|volume=has extra text (help)
- Reynolds, Clark B. (1978). Famous American Admirals. Annapolis, Maryland: US Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-55750-006-9. OCLC 3912797.
- Reynolds, Clark B. (2005). On the Warpath in the Pacific: Admiral Jocko Clark and the Fast Carriers. Annapolis, Maryland: US Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-59114-716-9. OCLC 58454430.
- Sloan, Bill (2005). Brotherhood of heroes : the Marines at Peleliu, 1944 : the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-6009-0. OCLC 57236282.
- Thomas, Evan (2006). Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-5221-8. OCLC 69672072.
- Tully, Anthony P. (2009). Battle of Surigao Strait. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-35242-2. OCLC 234257241.
- USS Tennessee (1946). USS Tennessee, December 7, 1941-December 7, 1945 (Cruise Book). Clark Printing House.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jesse B. Oldendorf.|
- Jesse Bartlett Oldendorf Valor Awards and Citations
- Secret Panel on Jesse B Oldendorf
- Commander Task Force 24: Admiral Oldendorf
- USNA Class Yearbook, Lucky Bag Class of 1906 which lists Admiral Oldendorf's Class of 1908
- Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps, 1945 (NAVPERS 15,018)
- Presentation of a Gold Star in Lieu of Second Award of Legion of Merit to Jesse B Oldendorf, December 21, 1944
- Jesse B. Oldendorf Memoirs, 1945 MS 469 held by Special Collections & Archives, Nimitz Library at the United States Naval Academy