Harold Rainsford Stark

Last updated
Harold Rainsford Stark
Harold Rainsford Stark.jpg
Born(1880-11-12)November 12, 1880
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, United States
DiedAugust 20, 1972(1972-08-20) (aged 91)
Washington, D.C., United States
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service1899–1946
Rank Admiral
Commands held United States Twelfth Fleet
United States Naval Forces Europe
Chief of Naval Operations
Cruisers of Battle Fleet
Cruiser Division Three
USS West Virginia
USS Nitro
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Navy Distinguished Service Medal (3)
Army Distinguished Service Medal

Harold Rainsford Stark (November 12, 1880 – August 20, 1972) was an officer in the United States Navy during World War I and World War II, who served as the 8th Chief of Naval Operations from August 1, 1939 to March 26, 1942.


Early life and career

Stark enrolled in the United States Naval Academy in 1899 and graduated with the class of 1903. As a plebe there he received the nickname "Betty". From 1907 to 1909, Stark served on the battleship USS Minnesota before and during the United States Atlantic Fleet's cruise around the world.

World War I

Subsequently, Stark had extensive duty in torpedo boats and destroyers, including command of the Asiatic Fleet's torpedo flotilla in 1917, when these old and small destroyers steamed from the Philippines to the Mediterranean to join in World War I operations. Stark served on the staff of Commander, United States Naval Forces operating in Europe from November 1917 to January 1919.

Interwar years

Following World War I, Stark was executive officer of the battleships North Dakota and West Virginia, attended the Naval War College, commanded the ammunition ship USS Nitro and served in naval ordnance positions.

During the later 1920s and into the mid-1930s, with the rank of captain, Stark was successively Chief of Staff to the Commander, Destroyer Squadrons Battle Fleet, Aide to the Secretary of the Navy, and Commanding Officer of USS West Virginia. From 1934 to 1937, Rear Admiral Stark was Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance. Then from July 1938, he served at sea as Commander Cruiser Division Three and Commander of Cruisers in the Battle Fleet, with the rank of vice admiral.

Chief of Naval Operations and beginning of World War II

In August 1939, Stark became Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) with the rank of admiral. In that position, he oversaw the expansion of the navy during 1940 and 1941, and its involvement in the Neutrality Patrols against German submarines in the Atlantic during the latter part of 1941. [1] It was at this time that he authored the Plan Dog memo, which laid the basis for America's Europe first policy. He also orchestrated the navy's change to adopting unrestricted submarine warfare in case of war with Japan; [2] Stark expressly ordered it at 17:52 Washington time on 7 December 1941, [3] not quite four hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It appears the decision was taken without the knowledge or prior consent of the government. [4] It violated the London Naval Treaty, to which the United States was signatory. [5]

Stark (rear, 2nd from right) aboard HMS Prince of Wales at the conference that led to the Atlantic Charter Prince of Wales-5.jpg
Stark (rear, 2nd from right) aboard HMS Prince of Wales at the conference that led to the Atlantic Charter

Stark's most controversial service involved the growing menace of Japanese forces in the period before America was bombed into the war by the attack on Pearl Harbor. The controversy centers on whether he and his Director of War Plans, Admiral Richmond K. Turner, provided sufficient information to Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, Commander of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, about Japanese moves in the fall of 1941 to enable Kimmel to anticipate an attack and to take steps to counter it. Captain (later Rear Admiral) Edwin T. Layton was Kimmel's chief intelligence officer (later also Admiral Chester W. Nimitz's intelligence officer) at the time of the attack. In his book, And I Was There: Pearl Harbor and Midway Breaking the Secrets (1985), Layton maintained that Stark offered meaningless advice throughout the period, withheld vital information at the insistence of his Director of War Plans, Admiral Turner, showed timidity in dealing with the Japanese, and utterly failed to provide anything of use to Kimmel. [6] John Costello (Layton's co-author), in Days of Infamy (Pocket, 1994), points out that Douglas MacArthur had complete access to both PURPLE and JN-25, with over eight hours warning, and was still caught by surprise. Moreover, as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers official historian Gordon Prange and his colleagues note in December 7, 1941 (McGraw-Hill, 1988), the defense of the fleet was General Walter C. Short's responsibility, not Kimmel's. Turner's insistence on having intelligence go through War Plans led Office of Naval Intelligence to a wrong belief that it was only to collect intelligence; Turner did not correct his view or aid Stark in understanding the problem. [7] Among others, [8] Morison and Layton agree that Turner was most responsible for the debacle, as does Ned Beach in Scapegoats (Annapolis, 1995).

In addition, there was considerable confusion over where Japan might strike, whether against the United States, the Soviet Union, or British colonies in Asia and the Far East. [9]

After Pearl Harbor

As CNO, Stark oversaw combat operations against Japan and the European Axis Powers that officially began in December 1941.

In March 1942, Stark was relieved as CNO by Admiral Ernest King. He went to Britain the next month to become Commander of United States Naval Forces Europe.

Painting by Bjorn Egeli, 1945 Harold R Stark painting.jpg
Painting by Bjorn Egeli, 1945

From his London headquarters, Stark directed the naval part of the great buildup in England and US naval operations and training activities on the European side of the Atlantic. He received the additional title of Commander of the Twelfth Fleet in October 1943, and he supervised USN participation in the landings in Normandy, France, in June 1944. Admiral Stark built and maintained close relations with British civilian and naval leaders, who "generally adored him," [10] and also with the leaders of other Allied powers. Stark was particularly important in dealing with Charles de Gaulle; it was thanks to Stark that the US-British-Free French relationship continued to work. [11] He earned high praise from Admiral King for his work. [12]

After the Normandy landings, Stark faced a Court of Inquiry over his actions leading up to Pearl Harbor. [13] The Court concluded that Stark had not conveyed the danger or provided enough information to Kimmel, but he had not been derelict. [14] King's endorsement of the report was scalding, [15] leading to Stark being relieved. [16] In 1948, King reconsidered and requested that the endorsement be expunged: "It was the only time that King ever admitted he had been wrong." [17] The controversy surrounding him persisted after his death. [18]


From August 1945 until he left active duty in April 1946, Stark served in Washington, D.C., and made his home there after retirement. He died in 1972 [19] and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. [20]

Stark maintained a family summer residence on Lake Carey in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, north of his native Wilkes-Barre, for many years and flew in by naval seaplane for weekends during his career. The cottage still stands on the western shore of the lake.



The frigate USS Stark (FFG-31) was named in honor of Stark. Stark Learning Center, a major instructional facility at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, PA, was also named in his honor, as was research and development laboratory and office building at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division.

Related Research Articles

Husband E. Kimmel US Navy admiral

Husband Edward Kimmel was a United States Navy four-star admiral who was the commander in chief of the United States Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT) during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was removed from that command after the attack, in December 1941, and was reverted to his permanent two-star rank of rear admiral due to no longer holding a four-star assignment. He retired from the Navy in early 1942.

Ernest King US Navy Admiral (FADM), Chief of Naval Operations

Ernest Joseph King was Commander in Chief, United States Fleet (COMINCH) and Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) during World War II. As COMINCH-CNO, he directed the United States Navy's operations, planning, and administration and was a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was the United States Navy's second most senior officer in World War II after Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, who served as Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief.

Joseph Rochefort

Joseph John Rochefort was an American naval officer and cryptanalyst. He was a major figure in the United States Navy's cryptographic and intelligence operations from 1925 to 1946, particularly in the Battle of Midway. His contributions and those of his team were pivotal to victory in the Pacific War.

Walter Short U.S. Army Major general

Walter Campbell Short was a former Lieutenant General and Major General of the United States Army and the U.S. military commander responsible for the defense of U.S. military installations in Hawaii at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Isaac C. Kidd United States Navy admiral

Isaac Campbell Kidd was an American Rear Admiral in the United States Navy. He was the father of Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, Jr. Kidd was killed on the bridge of USS Arizona during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The highest ranking casualty at Pearl Harbor, he became the first U.S. Navy flag officer killed in action in World War II as well as the first killed in action against any foreign enemy.

Frank Jack Fletcher United States Navy Medal of Honor recipient

Frank Jack Fletcher was an admiral in the United States Navy during World War II. Fletcher was the operational commander at the pivotal Battles of Coral Sea and of Midway. As a lieutenant, Fletcher was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the battle at Veracruz. He was the nephew of Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher, who was also awarded the Medal of Honor for actions at Veracruz.

The United States Fleet was an organization in the United States Navy from 1922 until after World War II. The acronym CINCUS, pronounced "sink us", was used for Commander in Chief, United States Fleet. This was replaced by COMINCH in December 1941, under Executive Order 8984, when it was redefined and given operational command over the Atlantic, Pacific, and Asiatic Fleets, as well as all naval coastal forces. Executive Order 9096 authorized the offices of the CNO and COMINCH to be held by a single officer; Admiral Ernest J. King was first to do so, and in 1944 was promoted to the five-star rank of fleet admiral.

Pearl Harbor advance-knowledge conspiracy theory

The Pearl Harbor advance-knowledge conspiracy theory is the argument that U.S. Government officials had advance knowledge of Japan's December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. Ever since the Japanese attack, there has been debate as to how and why the United States had been caught off guard, and how much and when American officials knew of Japanese plans for an attack. In September 1944, John T. Flynn, a co-founder of the non-interventionist America First Committee, launched a Pearl Harbor counter-narrative when he published a forty-six page booklet entitled The Truth about Pearl Harbor.

James O. Richardson

James Otto Richardson was an admiral in the United States Navy who served from 1902 to 1947. As Commander in Chief, United States Fleet (CinCUS), he protested the redeployment of the Pacific portion of the fleet forward to Pearl Harbor since he believed that a forward defense was neither practical nor useful and that the Pacific Fleet would be the logical first target in the event of war with Japan since it was vulnerable to air and torpedo attacks. He was relieved of command in February 1941. His concerns proved justified during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor only ten months later.

Richmond K. Turner Admiral in the United States Navy

Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, commonly known as Admiral Kelly Turner, served in the United States Navy during World War II, and is best known for commanding the Amphibious Force during the campaign across the Pacific.

Robert L. Ghormley United States Navy admiral

Vice Admiral Robert Lee Ghormley was an admiral in the United States Navy who served as Commander, South Pacific Area during World War II.

<i>Day of Deceit</i>

Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor is a book by Robert Stinnett. It alleges that Franklin Roosevelt and his administration deliberately provoked and allowed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to bring the United States into World War II. Stinnett argues that the attacking fleet was detected by radio and intelligence intercepts, but the information was deliberately withheld from Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, the commander of the Pacific Fleet at that time.

Theodore Stark Wilkinson

Theodore Stark "Ping" Wilkinson was a Vice-Admiral of the United States Navy during World War II. He also received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Veracruz, Mexico.

Station HYPO, also known as Fleet Radio Unit Pacific was the United States Navy signals monitoring and cryptographic intelligence unit in Hawaii during World War II. It was one of two major Allied signals intelligence units, called Fleet Radio Units in the Pacific theaters, along with FRUMEL in Melbourne, Australia. The station took its initial name from the phonetic code at the time for "H" for Heʻeia, Hawaii radio tower. The precise importance and role of HYPO in penetrating the Japanese naval codes has been the subject of considerable controversy, reflecting internal tensions amongst US Navy cryptographic stations.

The Pacific War is a series of alternate history novels written by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen with Albert S. Hanser. The series deals with the Pacific War between the United States of America and the Empire of Japan. The point of divergence is the decision of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander-in-chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet, to take personal command of the 1st Air Fleet for the attack on Pearl Harbor, rather than delegate it to Adm. Chūichi Nagumo.

Edwin T. Layton U.S. Navy Rear Admiral, noted for intelligence work during the Second World War

Edwin Thomas Layton was a rear admiral in the United States Navy. Layton is most noted for his work as an intelligence officer before and during World War II.

Edward C. Kalbfus

Admiral Edward Clifford Kalbfus, nicknamed "Old Dutch", was a four-star admiral in the United States Navy who was commander of the Battle Force of the United States Fleet from 1938 to 1939 and President of the Naval War College from 1934 to 1936 and 1939 to 1942.

Frederick J. Horne

Admiral Frederick Joseph Horne was a four-star admiral in the United States Navy. As the first Vice Chief of Naval Operations, he directed all Navy logistics during World War II.

Attack on Pearl Harbor in popular culture

The attack on Pearl Harbor has received substantial attention in popular culture in multiple media and cultural formats including film, architecture, memorial statues, non-fiction writing, historical writing, and historical fiction. Today, the USS Arizona Memorial on the island of Oahu honors the dead. Visitors to the memorial reach it via boats from the naval base at Pearl Harbor. The memorial was designed by Alfred Preis, and has a sagging center but strong and vigorous ends, expressing "initial defeat and ultimate victory". It commemorates all lives lost on December 7, 1941.

Willard A. Kitts United States Navy admiral

Willard Augustus Kitts III was a highly decorated officer in the United States Navy with the rank of Vice Admiral. An ordnance expert and veteran of several campaigns in the Pacific Theater during World War II, he distinguished himself as Commanding officer of heavy cruiser USS Northampton, which was sunk during the Battle of Tassafaronga in November 1942.


This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships .
  1. In general, see B. Mitchell Simpson, III, Admiral Harold R. Stark: Architect of Victory, 1939–1945. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989)
  2. Holwitt, Joel I. "Execute Against Japan", Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 2005, pp. 212–217 passim.
  3. Holwitt, p. 220.
  4. Holwitt, Joel I. "Execute Against Japan", Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 2005, pp. 212–217, 232–249 passim.
  5. Holwitt, passim.
  6. Layton, passim.
  7. Holwitt, p. 230 & fn 20; Dyer, The Amphibians Came to Conquer, pp. 176–196.
  8. Holwitt, pp. 230–231fn.
  9. Tripod.com (retrieved 22:43, 6 March 2011 (UTC).
  10. Holwitt, p. 225.
  11. Holwitt, p. 225.
  12. Holwitt, p. 225.
  13. Holwitt, p. 225.
  14. Holwitt, p. 226.
  15. Holwitt, p. 226.
  16. Holwitt, p. 226.
  17. Holwitt, p. 225, quoting King biographer Thomas Buell's Master of Sea Power, p. 353.
  18. Holwitt, p. 227.
  19. Holwitt, p. 227.
  20. Burial Detail: Stark, Harold R – ANC Explorer
Military offices
Preceded by
William D. Leahy
Chief of Naval Operations
Succeeded by
Ernest J. King