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First Name: Jesse

Last Name: Oldendorf

Birthplace: Riverside, CA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)

Rating:

Middle Name: Barrett



Date of Birth: 16 February 1887

Date of Death: 27 April 1974

Rank or Rate: Admiral

Years Served: 1909-1948
Jesse Barrett Oldendorf

   
Graduate, U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1909

Engagements:
•  World War I (1914 - 1918)
•  Mexican Expedition (1916 - 1917)
•  World War II (1941 - 1945)

Biography:

Jesse Barrett Oldendorf

Admiral, U.S. Navy

Jesse Barrett Oldendorf was born on 16 February 1887 in Riverside, CA. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1909, standing 141st in a class of 174, and was commissioned in 1911. Oldendorf served aboard the armored cruiser USS California, the torpedo boat destroyer USS Preble, the cruiser USS Denver, the destroyer USS Whipple and the armored cruiser California again, although it had been renamed USS San Diego. He also served on the Panama Canal hydrographic survey ship USS Hannibal.

World War I

During World War I, Oldendorf spent a few months on recruiting duty in Philadelphia. From June to August 1917, he commanded the naval armed guard on the USAT Saratoga. The ship sank as a result of a collision in New York. He then was a Gunnery Officer aboard the troop transport USS President Lincoln, which was sunk by three torpedoes from the German submarine U-90 off Ireland on 31 May 1918. From August 1918 to March 1919, he was Engineering Officer of the USS Seattle. In July he was briefly Executive Officer of the USS Patricia.

The Inter-War Years

Between the wars, Oldendorf did a stint in charge of recruiting station Pittsburg, acted as an Engineering Inspector in Baltimore, and served as Officer in Charge of a hydrographic office. In 1920 he was assigned to the patrol yacht USS Niagara. From 1921-22, Oldendorf was stationed on the USS Birmingham in the Caribbean, while acting as Flag Secretary to Special Service Squadron commanders Rear Admiral Casey B. Morgan, Captain Austin Kautz and Rear Admiral William C. Cole. From 1922-24, Oldendorf served as Aide to Rear Admiral Josiah S. McKean, Commandant of the Mare Island Navy Yard. In 1925, Oldendorf, now a Commander, assumed his first command, the destroyer USS Decatur. Afterwards, he was Aide to successive Commandants of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Rear Admiral Thomas P. Magruder and Julian L. Latimer in 1927-28.

Oldendorf attended the Naval War College in 1928-29 and then the Army War College from 1929 to 1930. From 1930-35, he was the navigator of the battleship USS New York. Following the normal pattern of alternating duty at sea with shore duty, Oldendorf taught navigation at the Naval Academy from 1932-35. Following this teaching assignment, Oldendorf returned to sea duty serving as Executive Officer of the battleship USS West Virginia from 1935-37. From 1937-39, Oldendorf directed the recruiting section of the Bureau of Navigation.

World War II

During 1939-41, Oldendorf commanded the cruiser USS Houston. In September 1941, he joined the staff of the Naval War College, where he taught navigation until February 1942. On 31 March 1942, Oldendorf was promoted to Rear Admiral, and assigned to the Aruba-Curaçao sector of the Caribbean Sea Frontier.

In August 1942, he was transferred to the Trinidad sector where anti-submarine warfare was his primary duty. From May through December 1943, Oldendorf commanded Task Force 24 which was assigned all Western Atlantic escorts. His flagships during this period were destroyer tender USS Prairie and fleet tug USS Kiowa.

Oldendorf was re-assigned to the Pacific theater in January 1944, where he commanded Cruiser Division 4 (CruDiv 4) from his flagship USS Louisville. Cruiser Division 4, consisting of cruisers and battleships, supported carrier operations and provided fire support for the landings in the Marshalls, Palaus, Marianas, and Leyte.

On 12 September 1944, Oldendorf commanded from the bridge of his flagship, USS Pennsylvania BB-38, the Fire Support Group tasked with the bombardment of Peleliu in the Palaus island group. This Fire Support Group consisted of five dreadnought-class battleships, USS Pennsylvania, USS Idaho, USS Maryland, USS Mississippi, and USS Tennessee, eight cruisers, twelve destroyers, seven minesweepers, fifteen landing craft converted to rocket launchers, and a half-dozen submarines. At this point in his career, Oldendorf was an experienced battle commander who had handled similar assignments in three previous Marine landings. The bombardment was scheduled to last 3 days. By the end of the first day, aerial reconnaissance photos indicated that close to 300 of the assigned targets had been destroyed or seriously damaged by the all-day bombardment and that virtually every aboveground structure and fortification had been wiped out. At the airport its few usable planes were reduced to wreckage.

By the evening of the second day, every target specified on the master list in the Pennsylvania's combat center had been struck repeatedly. However, Oldendorf was concerned because no return fire had been detected from the concentrations of enemy heavy artillery shown in earlier aerial reconnaissance photos and because the latest photos contained no evidence that these weapons had been destroyed. It was surmised that the Japanese had moved their heavy artillery underground where they could have survived the bombardment. Despite these concerns, Oldendorf made the decision to call off the bombardment at the end of the second day of a pre-arranged schedule that called for a third full day of attacks.

This would have tragic results for the 1st Marines' beach assault on Peleliu because the white coral outcropping designated as "the Point" was left virtually untouched despite Commander of the 1st Marines, Lieutenant Colonel Lewis "Chesty" Puller's, specific request to Oldendorf's staff to target it in the Navy's bombardment. "The Point" commanded the heights 30 feet above the north end of White Beach 1 on which the 1st Marines landed and was considered by Puller to be a potential defensive strongpoint too obvious for the Japanese to overlook. The result of not sufficiently reducing "the Point" was a bloodbath. Over 500 men were lost, roughly one-sixth of its regimental strength, on the D-Day White Beach assault on Pelilieu and the entire beachhead was in danger of collapsing. It was only by the heroism of the Marines that "the Point" was taken. After the war when asked about Pelilieu, Oldendorf commented that "If military leaders-and that includes Navy brass - were gifted with the same accuracy of foresight that they are with hindsight, then the assault of Peleliu should never have been attempted."

On 24 October 1944, Oldendorf was the Commander of Task Group 77.2 at the Battle of Surigao Strait. Oldendorf led the defeat of the Japanese Southern Force. He deployed his force of battleships and cruisers in a classic battle line formation across the Surigao Strait, crossing the Task Force of his opponent centered around the super-battleship "Musashi." Oldendorf engaged the Japanese super-dreadnought with the older 14" and 15" guns from his World War I-era ships, causing severe damage to the "Musashi" before a lack of ammunition forced him to withdraw. The Japanese battleships Fuso and Yamashiro were sunk, and Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura was killed. His action helped prevent the Japanese from bringing their main battle fleet into Surigao Strait and attacking the Allied Beacheads on Leyte Island. This job was originally to fall on Admiral William H. Halsey, but Halsey and his fast carrier Task Force were drawn away in a decoy action to the north to attack plane-less Aircraft Carriers of the Northern Force. Prompting the famous radio transmission "Where the Hell is Bull Halsey?"

Oldendorf later explained his tactics to the New York Times: "My theory was that of the old-time gambler: Never give a sucker a chance." For this action, Oldendorf was awarded the Navy Cross.

On 15 December 1944, Oldendorf was promoted to Vice Admiral and made Commander of Battleship Squadron 1. He commanded battleships in the landings at Lingayen. He broke his collar bone at Ulithi on 11 March 1945 when his barge hit a buoy. He was wounded, breaking several ribs, during the Battle of Okinawa while aboard the USS Pennsylvania on 12 August 1945. On 23 September 1945, Oldendorf commanded the occupation of Wakayama and dictated terms of surrender to Vice Admiral Hoka and Rear Admiral Yofai.

Post World War II

From November 1945, Oldendorf commanded the 11th Naval District. In 1946 he assumed command of the San Diego Naval Base. From 1947 until his retirement, he commanded the Western Sea Frontier and the "mothball" fleet at San Francisco.

Upon his retirement in September 1948, he was advanced in rank to four-star Admiral. *

* The Act of Congress of 4 March 1925, allowed Navy officers to be promoted one grade upon retirement if they had been specially commended for performance of duty in actual combat. These promotions were colloquially known as "tombstone promotions" because they conferred the prestige of the higher rank but not the additional retirement pay, so their only practical benefit was to allow recipients to engrave a loftier title on their business cards and tombstones. An Act of Congress on 23 February 1942, enabled tombstone promotions to three- and four-star grades.

Medals and Awards

Navy Cross (2 Awards)
Navy Distinguished Service Medal (3 Awards)
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit (2 Awards)
Purple Heart (2 Awards)

Honors

The destroyer USS Oldendorf was named in his honor.

Death and Burial

Jesse Barrett Oldendorf died on 27 April 1974 in Portsmouth, VA. He is interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.



Honoree ID: 615   Created by: MHOH

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