Archive for May 20, 2011

Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King- Lake Erie’s son

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

1901 Academy photo Black River Historical Society

Fleet Admiral King apparently had as many moods as Lake Erie. Was he defined from his early years by the lake the sound of her waves lulling him to sleep as a wee child in that little house on Hamilton St. ( Ave)? There were times apparently his demeanor could well match the fiercest November storms or the calm and warmth of a July evening.
Houghton Mifflin Companion to US History:
King, Ernest

Most naval historians agree that King was the greatest naval commander of the twentieth century. His powers of reason were first-rate, and his professionalism and understanding of the complexities of modern warfare were without parallel. Although he was too unrestrained a personality to succeed as a military diplomat, he was intelligent, dynamic, and merciless, widely respected for exacting outstanding results from his ships and his men. He was also feared and hated, but his grasp of strategy and his ability to impose his will on the enemy were major factors in the defeat of the Axis navies in World War II.

It has been said of one of his not so brilliant decisions , giving the Germans a 2nd “happy time”Operation Drumbeat it was due to his “anglophobia”.

by Guðmundur Helgason

War against America

With the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbour on Dec 7, 1941 Hitler was bound by a promise to Japan to also declare war on the US. He did so promptly on Dec 11 and after that all restrictions on German U-boats (which had been attacked and hunted by US convoy escorts in the North Atlantic for the last 5-6 months of 1941 anyway without permission to attack the US escorts) not to attack American shipping were removed. This opened up a whole new field for Dönitz which immediately drew up plans for a devastatingly swift blow on the US eastern seaboard……..

Convoy system startedIn middle of May the US finally started running convoys on the east coast, over 4 months too late. They proved to be effective right from the start like the British had known for more than 2 years at that time and had told the US Navy command again and again.

On 19 July Dönitz withdrew the last two boats operating of Cape Hatteras, U-754 and U-458, and 8 days later he shifted the effort back into the North Atlantic where it had all began and would eventually end.

The statisticsDuring the first 6 months of the German U-boat offensive out of the US east coast some 397 ships totalling over 2 million tons were sunk, costing roughly 5000 lives. In the process only 7 U-boats (U-85, U-352, U-157, U-158, U-701, U-153 and U-576) were lost. There were only survivors from U-352 (33) and U-701 (7), the rest went down with all hands. 302 Germans were lost on these 7 boats

I have spent the last few days going through comments and articles from naval historians , from the German (Axis) and the allies perspectives.

My conclusion being there were other “logical” reasonings for King’s decisions during that time – mitigating circumstances and as one pundit put it –

” would King’s anglophobia override his love of country – would he have put American lives at risk just because he didn’t like the British?”

And I haven’t been able to find one anglophobic quote ( not saying they aren’t any I just haven’t been able to find them on the net) therefore I believe there was much more involved in King’s decision-making during this time than “anglophobia”.

Navy leaders, especially Admiral King, were unwilling to risk troop shipping to provide escorts for coastal merchant shipping. Unscheduled, emergency deployments of Army units also created disruptions to navy plans, as did other occasional unexpected tasks. Contrary to the traditional historiography, neither Admiral King’s unproven yet widely alleged Anglophobia, an equally undocumented navy reluctance to accept British advice, nor a preference for another strategy caused the delay in the inauguration of coastal escort-of-convoy operations. The delay was due to a shortage of escorts, and that resulted from understandably conflicting priorities, a state of affairs that dictated all Allied strategy until 1944.”Source: Timothy J. Ryan and Jan M. Copes To Die Gallantly – The Battle of the Atlantic, 1994 Westview Press, Chapter 7.

I wondered why he would have such a supposed hatred for the British after all his ancestry on both sides was “British”.

Granted his stint with the Royal Navy during World War 1 may have tweeked his penchant for “not suffering fools and drunkards” understandable with some of the stuffed shirts of my countrymen of the day 🙂

During World War I he served on the staff of Vice Admiral Henry T. Mayo, the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet. As such, he was a frequent visitor to the Royal Navy and occasionally saw action as an observer on board British ships. It appears that his Anglophobia developed during this period,] although the reasons are unclear. He was awarded the Navy Cross “for distinguished service in the line of his profession as assistant chief of staff of the Atlantic Fleet”.

but I can’t see this man basing military strategy upon his dislike for the British.
Plymouth Dockyard mid 1800’s

Ernest King’s parents met and married in Ohio but they were not long from the British Isles. King’s paternal grandparents – Mr. and Mrs. William King left Londonderry , Ireland to live in Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire Scotland where his father James Clydesdale King was born.

James King married Elizabeth Keam she was the daughter of Mary Ann and Joseph Hicks Keam who came from Devonshire England and St Austell’s Cornwall where King’s grandfather was a top sawyer in the Royal Navy Dockyard, Plymouth England. They came to the United States in 1870 as the advent of steam had literally done away with Keam’s job in the shipyards. Source Fleet Admiral King ( A naval Record) by Fleet Admiral Ernest J King.
Launching from American Ship of the USS Lorain in attendance at the launch party of the USS Lorain March 1944 remembered the Admiral as :friendly and witty and proved to have considerable skill as raconteur” ( The Lorain Journal May 8th 1945)

This “1st son” of Lorain and 1st generation American I believe was too logical, intelligent and complex to put a dislike for the British ( his own ancestry) ahead of his duty to the United States of America.

It has taken decades to recognize King’s birthplace – that little cottage on Lake Erie- but this “Brit” and many others are working on it – he may or may not have liked the Brits but this is one Brit who has come to like him for the character he was, this man who walked the same streets and looked out to the same lake as I.

To be continued……………….


May 20, 2011 at 12:05 am 1 comment

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