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Adm. Harold R. Stark
Adm. Harold R. Stark
Photograph courtesy U.S. National Archives, photo no. NLT-AVC-PHT-63


Upon his 1939 appointment as U.S. chief of naval operations (CNO), Stark brought to the post his reputation as a highly respected and well-liked officer. It was said of him that he had the demeanor of a kindly bishop.

Stark’s tenure contributed to U.S. success in World War II in two ways. First, after a survey of U.S. naval ships, aircraft, and personnel, he recommended a dramatic expansion of the Navy and presided over the two-ocean Navy buildup that began in early 1940. Second, he soon determined that efforts to save Britain from defeat should be paramount in U.S. strategy.

After President Roosevelt was reelected in November 1940, Stark drafted a memorandum that considered four alternative courses of grand strategy. After analyzing each, Stark recommended Plan D: Hold the line in the Pacific, put most of the effort into defeating Germany. This “Plan Dog Memorandum” is considered one of the most important single documents drafted during the U.S. prewar period because the strategy it outlined was within U.S. capabilities and was acceptable to both the U.S. Army and the British chiefs of staff.

Throughout 1941 Stark and Gen. George C. Marshall, the U.S. Army chief of staff, worked with their British counterparts to refine Plan Dog. Stark was less successful in forestalling war in the Pacific. He advocated less confrontation, being reluctant, for example, to impose an embargo on oil shipments to Japan--a move that Roosevelt nevertheless made.

On November 27, 1941, Stark had the Navy Department send Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, at Pearl Harbor, a message beginning, “This dispatch is to be considered a war warning”--very ominous words. The dispatch said that “an aggressive move by Japan is expected within the next few days.” (Marshall sent a similar message to the Army commander at Pearl Harbor, Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short.)

But like the others in the U.S. high command, Stark was surprised by the attack on Pearl Harbor. His extensive correspondence with Kimmel contained prudent warnings about the worsening situation in the Pacific. Stark, however, was no more prescient than Kimmel about the timing or the weight of the blow.

In March 1942 Stark was succeeded as CNO by the commander in chief of the Atlantic Fleet, Adm. Ernest J. King. Stark was appointed commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Europe. For the rest of the war he was the senior U.S. naval representative in Britain, but he was not part of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s campaign-planning or command staff.

Stark is credited with tact and diplomacy in supporting U.S. naval operations in Europe and in dealing with such prickly allies as France’s Gen. Charles de Gaulle. Stark served as commander of the 12th Fleet from October 1943 to the end of the war, in August 1945. After a brief stint in the office of the CNO, Stark retired in 1946.


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