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This webpage reproduces part of
Admiral William Veazie Pratt

by
Gerald E. Wheeler

U. S. Government Printing Office
Washington, D. C.
1974

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 1
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p. xiii  Preface

On 4 November 1961, U. S. S. William V. Pratt (DLG‑13) entered active service in the Destroyer Force, Atlantic. It was appropriate that this new guided missile frigate should commence its duties bearing the name of Admiral William Veazie Pratt, U. S. Navy (1869‑1957). As a commander, he had served as chief of staff to Captain William S. Sims during the early years (1913‑1915) when the latter's "band of brothers" was creating doctrine for the Torpedo Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet. Later (1920‑1921), as a captain, Pratt commanded the Destroyer Force, Pacific Fleet, and operated his flotillas with a verve long remembered in the fleet. He strove mightily to establish realistic destroyer tactical doctrines for defensive and offensive missions associated with the battle line and antisubmarine warfare. When he left the "Destroyer Command," there remained behind a legacy of leadership and a reputation for first‑class seamanship. These were to be the hallmarks of his naval career.

Admiral Pratt's service years, 1885 to 1933, coincided with that fascinating period of naval history when the Navy moved from sail to steam, from wooden walls to steel hulls, and from a surface fleet to a "three-plane Navy" capable of operating on, below, or above the water. Though trained as a general-service line officer, with no special postgraduate education in engineering, he moved with relative ease from the sailing frigate Constellation to the battleship New York and on to the great aircraft carrier Saratoga. He was not particularly interested in machinery or the hull about him; his preferred duty station was the bridge. There as watch officer, navigator, commanding officer, or commanding admiral he could exercise that great gift he possessed — leadership of men. Because he was a leader, William Veazie Pratt moved steadily through the officer ranks until he stood at the head of the signal-number list. He reached the top by climbing the command ladder of the United States Fleet. No officer before or after him, until World War II, matched his record of fleet commands: Captain, Commanding Officer New York, Pacific Fleet (1919‑1920); Captain, Commander Destroyer Force, Pacific Fleet (1920‑1921); Rear Admiral, Commander Battleship Division Four, Battle (Pacific)  p. xiv Fleet (1923‑1925); Vice Admiral, Commander Battleship Divisions, Battle Fleet (1927‑1928); Admiral, Commander in Chief, Battle Fleet (1928‑1929); Admiral, Commander in Chief, United States Fleet (1929‑1930); Admiral, Chief of Naval Operations (1930‑1933).

For the naval historian, Admiral Pratt's career presents an area of study somewhat neglected in contemporary research and writing. He represents that group of officers moving into the flag ranks after World War I and retiring before Pearl Harbor. He was unusual in that he did not serve at sea or in a combat area during the World War. Despite his desire for service in Europe, he was held in Washington as Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, a billet he filled with great distinction while wearing the four stripes of a captain. As a flag officer he helped to prepare the Navy, officers and material, for the war with Japan that they knew must come. At the time he retired, on 1 July 1933, those who would lead the Navy in World War II, Admirals Leahy, Stark, King, Nimitz, Ingersoll, and Halsey, were just beginning to wear the broad gold stripe of flag rank. They would build on the doctrines Pratt formalized and operate within the administrative organization he established. Changes would come of course, within the crucible of war, but the policies of Admiral Pratt and his contemporaries provided the starting point.

A study of this type builds up an enormous debt for the author toward those who assisted him. My research began during a professionally rewarding year spent at the Naval War College as the Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King Professor of Maritime History. There I was given the most cordial assistance an historian could desire by the library staff, particularly by Professor Earl Schwass, Miss Frances Carey, Dr. Anthony Nicolosi, and Mr. John DiNapoli. From my colleagues and administrative superiors at the War College in the academic year 1968‑1969, I received a good education plus sound advice and steady encouragement. Vice Admiral Richard Colbert, President, Rear Admiral Joseph Wylie, Chief of Staff, and Dr. Fred Hartmann, Supervising Professor, opened my research doors for me. Rear Admirals (Ret.) H. E. Eccles, R. W. Bates, and H. H. McIlhenny, and Captain E. L. Beach (Ret.) assisted me with solid information concerning operational practices in the Navy of the 1920s and 1930s. Commander Robert Laske, editor of the Naval War College Review, provided encouragement for completion of the work by publishing my first article about Admiral Pratt in 1969. Colonel Dale Ward,  p. xv USMC and Colonel greg Glick, USAF not only advised me on strategic thought but also helped to keep me in physical condition during my year in Newport.

Like most naval historians, I could not have completed this work without the incomparable assistance of the Naval History Division and its Operational Archives Branch. Rear Admiral Ernest M. Eller, USN (Ret.) and Vice Admiral Edwin B. Hooper, USN (Ret.) provided the advice and official encouragement at the key moment. As my work progressed, Captain Paul Ryan, USN (Ret.) and Dr. Dean C. Allard supplied the hand of friendship, the office assistance, and the intellectual prod when the spirit flagged. Mr. Edward J. Marolda and Mrs. Sharyn R. Walker assisted in editing the manuscript and steering the work through the publication process. The volume's index was prepared by Mrs. Walker.

During the two years of writing I was aided enormously by many outside the official circles of the Newport and Washington areas. Admiral Russell S. Berkey, USN (Ret.) and Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll, USN (Ret.) each read chapters four through ten (1919‑1933) and provided me with information, correction, and advice. Because of their service on Admiral Pratt's staffs, their assistance was invaluable. The admiral's son, William V. Pratt, Jr., most generously lent me pictures, clippings, and other documents not then available in the Pratt collections. Admiral Pratt's sister-in‑law, Mrs. Marguerite (Harold B.) Pratt, permitted me to interview her in the summer of 1969 and helped fill many lacunae in my knowledge of the Pratt family.

There are also some longstanding debts that need to be acknowledged for both intellectual encouragement and substantial advice given. Rear Admiral John D. Hayes, USN (Ret.) has written several articles about Admiral Pratt and his contemporaries, has shared his information, and remains one of the most knowledgeable writers of this period. Dr. Raymond G. O'Connor, of the University of Miami, has pioneered in the study of the naval history of the inter‑war years and introduced me both to the Pratt manuscripts and the Naval War College. Dr. Paolo E. Coletta of the U. S. Naval Academy helped this study in innumerable ways through the loan of notes, manuscripts, research assistance, criticism, and friendship. My colleague in history at California State University, San Jose, Dr. Charles B. Burdick, a fine naval historian, generously shared his ideas, criticism, and advice  p. xvi when I became intellectually becalmed in the Sargasso Sea of academic administration.

Finally my wife, Jean French Wheeler and daughter, Laurel French Wheeler, rendered no end of assistance with research in libraries at Independence, Hyde Park, Newport, and Washington. With a cheerfulness characteristic of the subject of this biography, they "carried on" while the husband and father deserted them for the rarified atmosphere of the archives and library.

Gerald E. Wheeler

San Jose State University


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