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I would be very interested to hear people's thoughts as to why the following men were selected in their posts.
Chester Nimitz - CINCPAC US Pacific Fleet. I vaguely remember reading that Nimitz (highly capable and organised) was promoted over the heads of more senior men to the post of CINCAC.
John McCain - Commander Task Force 38. Had quite a varied career, but was hardly an overachiever in his early days. Couple that with an extremely abrasive nature and a prodigious drinker, I've always found him a oddball for such a senior post. But perhaps the ruthless side of him was what was needed.
Marc Mitscher - Commander Task Force 58. Also a varied career, but he hardly covered himself in glory whilst in command of Hornet at Midway. And not noted for his attention to detail.
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The seniority lists of the pre-WW2 era are misleading.
The highest rank in the USN was Rear Admiral. Any Rear Admiral could be appointed by the President to serve in a three or four -star position.
They were Admirals (or Vice Admirals) by virtue of the position held, not their actual permanent rank (of Rear Admiral). The officers serving as an admiral or vice admiral outranked any officer under their command irrespective of actual seniority on the Rear Admiral list.
Once an officer completed his term, he reverted to Rear Admiral wiprogressionth seniority based on his original DOR as a Rear Admiral
Nimitz selection as CINCPAC was the normal career progression for his position as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation. He was actually identified (based on appointment to the Bureau of Navigation) as qualified for higher command in one of the seven higher positions. This is based on the history of the incumbents in the office.
Nimitz had been serving as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation (ie Chief of Personnel) for about 30 months. Officers serving in this position rotated out after two to three years. Since 1919, every incumbent that left the position normally left for three or four -star command position.
There were 9 incumbents in the Bureau of Navigation prior to Nimitz from 1919 on. Of these,
a) 1 retired for disability (after 1 month in office);
b) 1 left office after 13 months (to General Board) (Removed?)
c) 1 mandatory retirement (replaced b)
d) 5 to a 4-star positions (CINCUS, CINCAF, CINC BATFOR)
e) 1 to a 3-star positions Scouting Force
In 1941, there were 4 Admiral positions:
ADM CNO Harold Stark #35
ADM CINCUS H E Kimmel #40
ADM CINCAF T C Hart # 2
ADM CINCLANT E J King #15
VADM Aircraft Battle Force W Halsey #41
VADM COMSCOUTFOR W C Brown #28
VADM COMBATFOR W S Pye #20
As such, Nimitz was already in line for the next opening.
Mitscher was a senior naval aviator (#33) who had held numerous aviation positions prior to the start of the war. His progression to CTF 58 appears to have been a normal progression.
For Hornet, see viewtopic.php?f=33&t=235048&hilit=mitscher&start=15
Following Hornet, he commanded in succession:
Patrol Wing Two in Hawaii: Jul-Dec 1942
ComFleetAir Fleet Air Noumea: Dec 1942-Apr 1943
ComAirSOLS Guadalcanal: Apr-Aug 1943
Fleet Air, West Coast: Aug 1943-Jan 1944
ComCarDiv Three: Jan-March 1944
TF 58 March 1944-
McCain became a naval aviator in 1936 in order to command US Ranger from 1937-39. He was promoted to Rear Admiral in Feb 1941 as Commander Aircraft Scouting Force Atlantic Fleet.
Commander, Aircraft, SoPAC May-Oct 1942;
Chief of Bureau of Aeronautics: Oct 1942-Aug 1943
Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air as VADM, Aug 1943-Aug 1944
Commander Carrier task group (TG 58.1) Aug-Oct 30, 1944;
Commander TF 38 Oct 1944-
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The only way to truly judge a leaders combat skills or talent is in actual combat. The Army had no opportunities for that interwar, so they went for proof of excellence in all the other things that counted. The officers who made the Generals list were drawn from the top % in demonstrated staff skills.
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Marshall reputedly kept a note book of people who had impressed him. There is also the influence of Major General Fox Connor as the mentor to many of what would be seen as Marshall's circle. - Patton and Eisenhower.
In the modern world recruitment and senior executive selection has instututionalised on the basis of "objective criteria" supported by a quasi academic industry of executive selection, human resources management with the underlying idea that appointments should be tested against a wider marketplace. Sports teams have a network of scouts to hunt talent. That way of thinking did not exist pre WW2. There is also the matter of personal chemistry and personality. For all the pseudoscience, predictions about personal performance can be best evaluated seeing them do the job they have been hired to do.
The men who rose to the top of the British and American armed forces had contact with a stream of fellow officers during their careers.Some of them they might have thought were good, and some were people they personally got along with. At staff college they will have spent months exposed to evidence of their intellect and military judgement. When they came to select people for high command is it any surprise that their first choice was from the people they knew well?
Brooke and Montgomery drew heavily on their former staff college students. One problem Auchinleck suffered as C in C middle east was that, as an Indian Officer he had not had the exposure to the British Staff College.