Admiral Ernest Joseph King (November 23, 1878 - June 25, 1956) was the Commander in Chief of the United States Navy during World War II. As such, he was Chester Nimitz's immediate superior but himself was subordinate to Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal.
King was born in Lorain, Ohio. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy from 1897 until 1901. During that period, he also served a stint aboard the USS San Francisco during the Spanish American War.
During the early years of the 20th century through to the end of World War I he held various position which gave him an in-depth knowledge of the battleships and surface fleet stratagies. Between 1919 and 1925 he held a number of posts which placed him in intimate contact with submarine operations.
In 1926 he took command of the aircraft tender USS Wright with additional duties as Senior Aide on the Staff of Commander Air Squadrons, Atlantic Fleet. In January of 1927 he started to learn to fly and was designated naval aviator 3368 in May of that year and resumed command of USS Wright and remained in command of her, with a brief interlude to command the salvage operations of USS S-4, until 1929 when he was assigned command of the Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Virginia. In June of the next year to sea in command of USS Lexington which he commanded for the next two years. In 1932 he spent a year in the senior officers' course at the Naval War College. In 1933 he was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral, and as a great proponent of the aircraft carrier, he was assigned to the position of Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics. In 1936 until 1940 commanded various Aircraft forces. During this time in 1938 he was promoted to Vice Admiral.
In 1940 he spent a year on the General Board and in February 1941, he was promoted to the rank of Admiral and assigned as Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet. This was the position he held when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war on the U.S. On 30 December 1941 he became Commander-in-Chief, U. S. Fleet. In March 1942. On 18 March 1942 he took on the additional duties of Chief of Naval Operations when he relieved Admiral Stark of the postion. He is the only person tho hold this combined command. On 17 December 1944 he was advanced to the newly created rank of Fleet Admiral. He retired in a year later, on December 15, 1945.
King was handsome, intelligent, and extremely capable. He is considered by some to have been one of the greatest admirals of the 20th century. On the other hand, he was rude and incredibly abrasive. He was loathed by the officers with whom he served. This was his primary shortcoming.
"He was... perhaps the most disliked Allied leader of World War II. Only British general Bernard Montgomery may have had more enemies... King also loved parties and often drank to excess. Apparently, he reserved his charm for the wives of fellow naval officers. On the job, he 'seemed always to be angry or annoyed.'" (John Ray Skates, The Invasion of Japan, ISBN 0-87249-972-3).
At the outbreak of World War II King made the decision not request blackouts on the eastern seaboard and not to convoy ships. As a result of this the attack by the German U-boats on U.S. costal shipping during the Second Battle of the Atlantic became known by the crews as the "second happy time". It was not until convoys were introduced in May 1942 that the "second happy time" came to an end, with the loss of seven U-boats. This proved that Kings initial decision in this matter was flawed.
Of all the Joint Chiefs of Staff, King was absolutely the most dedicated to immediate victory in the Pacific, and the greatest critic of the "Europe first" strategy. He constantly argued that resources should be diverted to the Pacific War.
Following Japan's defeat at the Battle of Midway, while the other Joint Chiefs urged that the Allies should fight a holding action to concentrate resources against the Germany, King advocated the invasion of Guadalcanal. He won the argument, and the invasion went ahead. It was ultimately successful, and was the first time the Japanese lost ground during the War.
General Hastings Ismay, chief of staff to Winston Churchill, described King as: "tough as nails and carried himself as stiffly as a poker. He was blunt and stand-offish, almost to the point of rudeness. At the start, he was intolerant and suspicious of all things British, especially the Royal Navy; but he was almost equally intolerant and suspicious of the American Army. War against Japan was the problem to which he had devoted the study of a lifetime, and he resented the idea of American resources being used for any other purpose than to destroy Japanese. He mistrusted Churchill's powers of advocacy, and was apprehensive that he would wheedle President Roosevelt into neglecting the war in the Pacific."
The USS KING was named in his honor. Also, a major high school in his hometown of Lorain, Ohio bears his name -- Admiral King High School.
- Ernest King biography on Official US Navy website (http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/pers-us/uspers-k/ej-kng.htm)