The navy had allowed the senior officer ranks to become bloated and stagnant, thus denying worthy young officers promotion because the senior ranks were overstaffed. Administrators, not warriors, lead the US Navy. Admiral Turner assessed our defeat at Pearl Harbor this way:
The navy was still obsessed with a strong feeling of technical and mental superiority over the enemy. In spite of ample evidence as to enemy capabilities, most of our officers and men despised the enemy and felt themselves sure victors in all encounters under any circumstances. The net result of all this was a fatal lethargy of mind, which induced a confidence without readiness, and a routine acceptance of outworn peacetime standards of conduct. I believe that this psychological factor, as a cause of our defeat, was even more important than the element of surprise.
The navy continued to operate under sloppy peacetime standards until August 9, 1942, when the psychological factors brought on the disastrous defeat at Salvo Island. Admiral Nimitz recognized the problem, fired admirals, and began a relentless campaign to find warriors to lead the navy.
Still, the admirals viewed aircraft carriers as a defensive weapon to protect the battleships and cruisers. With the protection of eight- to sixteen-inch armor plate, these capital ships were viewed as too valuable to stand in harm’s way, so the destroyers became the tip of the naval spear. Destroyers represented eighty-one percent of the US Navy’s ship losses in World War II. After the Pearl Harbor attack, not a single battleship was lost.
Historians refer to the Battle of Leyte Gulf as “The Navy’s Finest Hour” and “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailor.” In that battle, the largest sea battle in history, a handful of destroyers took a stand to protect MacArthur’s Philippine invasion fleet against overwhelming odds. Many destroyers were lost, but they turned back the massive three-pronged Japanese attack. Carrier and land-based aircraft finished the battle by attacking the retreating Japanese fleets. Without the courage, audacity, and sacrifice of those destroyer men, the Japanese would have cut off, killed, or captured thousands of US soldiers and marines on Leyte Island.
I reformatted naval messages from the historical record to improve readability and added explanations of code words parenthetically for the reader’s convenience.
USS Green; 45 nautical miles northwest of Red Beach, Guadalcanal