Lee, Fitzhugh Burton, VADM

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Last Rank
Vice Admiral
Last Rating/NEC Group
Line Officer
Primary Unit
1964-1967, National War College
Service Years
1926 - 1967
Vice Admiral
Vice Admiral

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This Military Service Page was created/owned by Steven Loomis (SaigonShipyard), IC3 to remember Lee, Fitzhugh Burton, VADM.

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Contact Info
Home Town
Batangas, Philippines
Last Address
San Diego, CA

Date of Passing
Jan 20, 1992
Location of Interment
Hollywood Cemetery - Richmond, Virginia
Wall/Plot Coordinates
(memorial marker)

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Last Known Activity

VADM Fitzhugh died in San Diego, CA. His ashes were spread in the Pacific Ocean.
Other Comments:

Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Awarded for actions during the Viet-Nam War
Action Date: July 31, 1964 - June 1, 1967
Service: Navy
Rank: Vice Admiral
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Distinguished Service Medal to Vice Admiral Fitzhugh Lee (NSN: 0-60424), United States Navy, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service in a position of great responsibility to the Government of the United States as Commandant of The National War College, from 31 July 1964 to 1 June 1967. During this period, Admiral Lee's outstanding achievements and his dynamic leadership and initiative resulted in raising The National War College, already one of the nation's most prestigious senior military institutions, to a new level of academic excellence. Future graduates of The National War College, both military and civilian, will be better able to develop and execute national security policy as a result of Admiral Lee's contributions. These singularly distinctive accomplishments of Admiral Lee culminate a long and distinguished career in the service of his country, and reflect the highest credit upon himself and the United States Navy.

Navy Cross second award
Awarded for actions during World War II
General Orders: Commander 7th Fleet: Serial 03880 (June 14, 1945)
Action Date: 5-Jan-45
Service: Navy
Rank: Captain
Company: Commanding Officer
Division: U.S.S. Manila Bay (CVE-61)
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Navy Cross to Captain Fitzhugh Lee (NSN: 0-60424), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the Escort Carrier U.S.S. MANILA BAY (CVE-62), in action against enemy Japanese forces during the supporting landings in the Philippine Islands on 5 January 1945. When his ship was seriously damaged by an enemy aerial attack which disrupted virtually all internal and external communications and caused severe casualties, Captain Lee, by his personal courage and leadership, inspired a superbly indoctrinated ship's company to localize raging fires and bring them under control, thereby averting possible disaster and enabling his ship to resume station and deliver air support within twenty-four hours. His initiative and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

Navy Cross
Awarded for actions during World War II
General Orders: Commander 7th Fleet: Serial 02333 (March 1, 1945)
Action Date:
Service: Navy
Rank: Captain
Company: Commanding Officer
U.S.S. Manila Bay (CVE-61)
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Captain Fitzhugh Lee (NSN: 0-60424), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the Escort Carrier U.S.S. MANILA BAY (CVE-61), operating as a Unit of three Groups of Escort Aircraft Carriers in action against major ships of the Japanese Fleet during the Battle off Samar, on 25 October 1944. An aggressive and determined leader, Captain Lee courageously directed the activities of his ship and air department during the initial battle for Leyte Gulf and, by inspiring his officers and men to heroic efforts in the face of an attack by an overwhelming enemy Task Force of battleships, cruisers and destroyers, contributed materially to the infliction of severe damage on the Japanese Fleet. Through his gallant fighting spirit and expert seamanship, he was instrumental in turning potential defeat into a decisive victory, and his devotion to duty reflects the highest credit upon Captain Lee and the United States Naval Service.
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Leyte Campaign (1944)/Battle of Samar
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The Battle of Samar (25 October 1944) was the nearest the Japanese came to success during the battle of Leyte Gulf and saw a powerful Japanese battleship force come close to destroying a force of American escort carriers.

The Japanese realised that an American invasion of the Philippines or of Formosa would cut their Empire in half and prevent vital supplies reaching the Home Islands from the south part of the empire. They decided to try and fight the 'decisive battle' of the war wherever the Americans attacked next. If the Americans attacked the Philippines then the Japanese hoped to use the scattered elements of their fleet in a coordinated attack that might allow them to get at the vulnerable invasion fleet. In the final version of the plan Admiral Ozawa's carriers, coming from Japan, were to drag the US 3rd Fleet away from the invasion beaches in Leyte Gulf, allowing three other Japanese fleets to advance through the central Philippines to attack the invasion fleets.

The most important of these three fleets was Admiral Kurita's I Striking Force. Admiral Kurita began the battle of Leyte Gulf with a powerful fleet, containing five battleships, twelve cruisers and fifteen destroyers. Amongst the battleships were the Musashi and the Yamato, the biggest and most powerful battleships in the world. He also had the older battleships Kongo, Haruna and Nagato, twelve cruisers and fifteen destroyers. This force suffered grievous losses before reaching Samar. In the two day battle of the Sibuyan Sea (23-24 October 1944) the Musashi was sunk by American aircraft, two cruisers were sunk by two American subs and a third crippled. Kurita started the battle of Samar with four battleships, six cruisers and ten destroyers.

On the American side the bulk of the battle was fought by Admiral Sprague's Taffy Three, with six escort carriers, three destroyers and four destroyer escorts. The escort carriers carried modern aircraft, but these were armed for ground attack and so didn't have many of the armour piercing bombs needed against battleships. Twelve more escort carriers in two groups were in the area, but the 7th Fleet's six old battleships were away to the south defending the Surigao Strait. The powerful modern carriers and fast battleships of the 3rd Fleet had been lured away to the north to try and intercept Ozawa's carriers (Battle of Cape Engano). Admiral Kinkaid, commander of the 7th Fleet, believed that Halsey had left a powerful task force (Task Force 34, Admiral Lee) to watch Kurita, but in fact this force had accompanied the 3rd Fleet north.

On the night of 24-25 October Kurita passed through the San Bernardino Straits, turned south and headed for Leyte Gulf. Soon after this, at about 5.30, he learnt that Admiral Nishimura's force had been destroyed and Admiral Shima was retreating (battle of the Surigao Strait). He probably never received the messages Ozawa sent out announcing that the 3rd Fleet was chasing him. Kurita could justifiably believe that the main parts of both the US 3rd and 7th Fleets were somewhere in or close to Leyte Gulf.

At about dawn (6.30) Kurita found Admiral Sprague's Taffy 3, a task force made up of six escort carriers and seven escorts. Kurita believed that he had found a 'gigantic enemy task force' containing large carriers, cruisers, destroyers and possibly battleships. He decided to abandon the charge into Leyte Gulf and turned to attack Sprague's force. At 6.58 the Yamato's main guns opened fire on a surface target for the first time.

Sprague realised that he was in trouble. At 7.01 he issued a call for help in the clear, ordered his aircraft into the air and headed for a nearby rain squall. Under cover of the rain he decided to try and reach the support of Taffy 2, thirty miles to the south. His destroyers were ordered to attack the Japanese fleet while the carriers made their best speed south.

Sprague's aircraft had a limited potential to do serious damage to the Japanese battleships. The escort carriers didn't have enough storage space to carry both fragmentation bombs for ground support and a significant number of armour piercing bombs. The Japanese had no way to know that, and the American aircraft were able to force the Japanese heavy ships into frantic manoeuvres, slowing their pursuit of the carriers.  The torpedo firing destroyers were equally effective. 

Just after 7.20am the cruiser Kumano was hit by a torpedo from the US destroyer Johnston DD-557. Her speed was reduced, and at 9.45 she was detached from the main fleet and ordered back through the San Bernardino Strait. This brought her into range of aircraft from the US 3rd Fleet and at around 9.45 she was attacked by SB2C dive-bombers and TBM torpedo bombers from TF 38. They only managed to score one near miss. A second attack early on 26 October managed three bomb hits, but the cruiser could still make 10kts. The Kumano managed to reach safety at Manila where she underwent repairs before leaving for Japan on 5 November. Her luck now turned - her convoy was attacked by four American submarines and the cruiser was hit twice. She remained afloat and reached Dasol Bay on the Luzon coast, but on 25 November she was sunk by American aircraft.

This first destroyer attack cost the Americans dearly. The Johnston was hit by three 14in and three 6in shells and the Hoel by shells that disabled her main engine. The Hoel remained in the fight until she was unable to move and at about 8.30 her crew abandoned ship.

A little further south the escort carriers came under fire from the Japanese battleships. Kalinin Bay and Gambier Bay were both hit but managed to main their position until the Gambier Bay was hit in the forward engine room. The destroyer Johnston attempted to distract attention from the stricken carrier but without success and the Gambier Bay sank at around 8.45am. The Johnston then managed to break up a light cruiser attack on the carriers, but in the process she became their main target and was sunk. Only 141 of her 327 crewmen survived.

The cruiser Chikuma was hit by a torpedo at around 8.54. It was a sign that Sprague's men were getting closer to help that this torpedo was probably launched by an aircraft from Admiral Felix B. Stump's Task Group 77.4.2. The engine rooms flooded, and the ship came to a halt. She was unable to respond when Kurita decided to withdraw from battle, and was left alone. She sank during the day with the loss of most of her crew. Another 100 were rescued by the destroyer Nowaki, but that ship was lost on the night of 25-26 October with the loss of all hands.

The cruiser Chokai was hit by 500lb bombs at around 9.05am. The bombs caused heavy fires and damaged the forward engine room. The cruiser came to a halt, and couldn't be rescued. At around 10.30 the crippled cruiser was sunk by a spread of torpedoes from the destroyer Fujinami. 

By this time Kurita was rather losing his grip on the battle. The Yamato was some way behind his cruisers and visibility was poor. He wasn't aware of the damage to three of his cruisers, and had lost sight of the carriers. At 9.11, believing that he had won a major victory over a squadron of fleet carriers, Kurita ordered his surviving ships to withdraw from the battle.

At about 10.50 the cruiser Suzuya suffered a near miss that detonated the torpedoes in the starboard forward torpedo tubes. This set off a fire made worse when more of her torpedoes exploded at around 11.00. Damage control measures failed and at about 12 noon a series of ammunition explosions began. The ship was abandoned at 1pm and sank twenty minutes later.

Taffy 3's ordeal wasn't yet over. At 10.50, just as the Suzuya was being attacked, nine kamikaze aircraft attacked the task group, in one of the first organised suicide attacks of the war. Most were destroyed or missed, but one hit the escort carrier St Lô, triggering explosions that sank her. A second kamikaze attack twenty minutes later did more damage but failed to sink anything.

It took Kurita about two hours to regroup. He then turned south with his remaining fifteen ships in an attempt to reach Leyte Gulf, the original target of his operation. At 11.40 one of his lookouts reported sighting a battleship and destroyers. The fleet turned aside to chase this phantom before turning south again. At around 12.30, when only forty five miles from Leyte Gulf, Kurita decided that it wasn't worth risking the destruction of his fleet just to sink empty transport ships. He had also received reports that an American carrier task force had been sighted 113 miles north of the gulf, and he now decided to turn north to deal with this

In fact Halsey's carriers were still far to the north. All morning he had been receiving urgent calls for help, but had refused to turn back. In the resulting battle of Cape Engano Halsey sank all four of Ozawa's carriers. At around 11 he ordered one of his carrier groups to turn south, and his fourth carrier group, which was some way to the east, was also directed towards Kurita. This fourth task group was first to come into range and during the afternoon it launched two attacks on Kurita's fleet. After spending all afternoon looking for the American carriers Kurita retired to the eastern end of the San Bernardino Strait at 6pm. He was under orders to wait for dark and try and fight a night battle, but at 9.25, with fuel short, he decided to retreat west through the straits. He would suffer further air attack on 26 October, but the main fighting in Leyte Gulf was over. 

Kurita has since been blamed for his decisions to withdraw from combat at 9.11 and to turn back from Leyte Gulf at 12.30. Both can be defended using the information available to Kurita at the time, but he later believed the second decision to have been a mistake. If Kurita had advanced into Leyte Gulf then his fleet would almost certainly have been destroyed - if not by Kinkaid's escort carriers and old battleships then by the 3rd Fleet. All he could have achieved was the destruction of empty transport ships, and perhaps a damaging bombardment of the US troops on Leyte, but neither would have altered the eventual course of the fighting in the Philippines.

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  77 Also There at This Battle:
  • Clonts, Alpheus Eugene, PO1, (1942-1948)
  • Rice, Dicky, S2c, (1943-1946)
  • Rohde, Richard K., PO3, (1943-1945)
  • Rush, James Houston, PO1, (1941-1945)
  • Smehyl, Charles, PO2, (1941-1945)
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