This is a complete list of United States Navy vice admirals on active duty before 1960. The grade of vice admiral (or three-star admiral) is ordinarily the second-highest in the peacetime Navy, ranking above rear admiral and below admiral.
The grade of vice admiral was originally created to honor particularly successful Union Navy flag officers of the American Civil War. Between World War I and World War II, dozens of officers cycled through three designated vice admiral billets in the United States Fleet, holding the rank temporarily before reverting to their permanent grade of rear admiral upon relinquishing command. Dozens of temporary vice admirals were appointed during World War II alone, and by January 1, 1960, the Navy register listed 28 line officers as vice admirals on the active list in the peacetime Navy.
Many rear admirals received honorary tombstone promotions to vice admiral when they retired, having been specially commended for performance of duty in actual combat before the end of World War II, but only a handful were ever recalled to active duty in that grade. Tombstone promotions were abolished effective November 1, 1959.
An officer held the active-duty grade of vice admiral (Vice Adm.) in the U.S. Navy until his death; retirement; resignation; reversion to lower permanent grade upon vacating a position carrying the ex officio rank; or promotion to a higher grade such as admiral (Adm.) or fleet admiral (Fleet Adm.). An officer on the retired list could also be recalled to active duty in the grade of vice admiral (Vice Adm. (ret.)) or admiral (Adm. (ret.)).
Between World War I and World War II, there were three ex officio vice admiral positions. One commanded the battleships of the United States Fleet (BATSHIPS), and a second commanded the Scouting Force (SCOFOR). The third position was successively allocated to command the naval forces in Europe (NAVEUR), the cruisers of the Scouting Force (CRUSCOFOR), and the aircraft carriers of the Battle Force (AIRBATFOR).
The grade of vice admiral in the United States Navy was created by Congress in December 1864 to honor David G. Farragut for his victory at the Battle of Mobile Bay during the American Civil War. The promotion made Farragut the senior officer in the Navy but did not give him command of all naval forces, unlike the corresponding grade of lieutenant general that had been revived for Ulysses S. Grant earlier that year. After the war, Farragut was promoted to admiral and his vacated vice admiralcy was filled by David D. Porter. When Farragut died in 1870, Porter succeeded him as admiral and Stephen C. Rowan became vice admiral. Three years later, Congress stopped further promotions to admiral or vice admiral, and the vice admiral grade expired with Rowan in 1890.
After the Spanish-American War, Congress tried to revive the grade to reward William T. Sampson and Winfield S. Schley for winning the Battle of Santiago de Cuba, but the officers feuded bitterly over credit for the victory and their partisans in the Senate could not agree on who would be the senior vice admiral, so neither was promoted. Even after Sampson died in 1902, his admirers continued to prevent Schley from being promoted, while Schley's friends blocked all moves to elevate any other officer over him during his lifetime, such as an attempt to promote Robley D. Evans to vice admiral on the retired list in 1909. No new vice admirals were created until after Schley's death in 1911.
In 1915, Congress authorized the President to designate the commanders in chief of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Asiatic Fleets to hold the rank of admiral, and their seconds in command the rank of vice admiral. The chief of naval operations (CNO) received the rank of admiral the following year. Because Porter and Rowan had been promoted permanently to vice admiral and then never gone to sea again, Congress made these new ranks strictly ex officio. Upon relinquishing command, an officer lost his designation as admiral or vice admiral and reverted to his permanent grade of rear admiral. The three fleet commanders were immediately made admirals to match the rank of their foreign counterparts, but only the second in command of the Atlantic Fleet, Henry T. Mayo, was designated a vice admiral, since the Pacific and Asiatic Fleets were too small to employ their vice admirals.
When the United States entered World War I, Congress generalized the law to let the President designate up to six commanders of any fleet or subdivision of a fleet to hold ranks higher than rear admiral, of which up to three could be admirals and the rest vice admirals. This allowed William S. Sims to be designated vice admiral as commander of U.S. Naval Forces in European Waters. The other two vice admiral designations went to the Atlantic Fleet's two battleship force commanders. When the Asiatic Fleet's commander in chief retired in December 1918, his four-star designation was transferred to Sims, whose vacated vice admiralcy went to Albert Gleaves, commander of the Atlantic Fleet's cruiser and transport force. By the end of 1918, all three seagoing admirals and all three vice admirals were assigned to the Atlantic and European theaters, including the four-star commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, who had taken a force to patrol the South Atlantic Ocean.
With the end of hostilities in Europe, the six designations for admirals and vice admirals were redistributed in 1919. The commanders in chief of the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets remained admirals. About half of the major ships in the Atlantic Fleet transferred to the Pacific Fleet, which was now large enough to employ a vice admiral to command its battleship force. A second vice admiral commanded the battleship force of the Atlantic Fleet, and a third vice admiral, Gleaves, commanded its cruiser and transport force. The sixth designation returned to the Asiatic Fleet when Sims left his European command, but its commander in chief, William L. Rodgers, was promoted only to vice admiral since Gleaves was already slated to be its admiral, so for a few months there were four vice admirals and only three admirals, including the CNO.
In September 1919, Gleaves was appointed commander in chief of the Asiatic Fleet with the rank of admiral. Rodgers remained vice admiral in command of Division 1 of the Asiatic Fleet until January 1920, so for the first and only time, the Pacific, Atlantic, and Asiatic Fleets each had an admiral and vice admiral, as originally envisioned in 1915.
In 1922 the three fleets were combined into a single United States Fleet with three admirals and three vice admirals. One admiral served as commander in chief of the United States Fleet (CINCUS), a second admiral as commander in chief of the Asiatic Fleet, and the third admiral as commander in chief of the former Pacific Fleet, now the Battle Fleet. A vice admiral commanded the former Atlantic Fleet, now the Scouting Fleet, and a second vice admiral commanded the battleship divisions of the Battle Fleet. The Battle Fleet and Scouting Fleet became the Battle Force and Scouting Force, respectively, when the United States Fleet was reorganized into type commands in 1931. When the Pacific and Atlantic Fleets were reconstituted in February 1941, CINCUS was dual-hatted as commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet (CINCPAC), and the commander in chief of the Atlantic Fleet was made an admiral by downgrading the Battle Force's commander to vice admiral and its battleship commander to rear admiral.
The third vice admiral designation moved from the Asiatic Fleet to the commander of U.S. Naval Forces in European Waters in 1920 and lapsed when the European force was disbanded in 1929. It was revived the next year for the commander of the Scouting Fleet's light cruiser divisions and subsequently the Scouting Force's cruisers, before migrating in 1935 to the commander of the Battle Force's aircraft.
A flag officer in the United States Fleet climbed a cursus honorum that nominally began with command of a battleship division as a rear admiral, followed by command of all battleship divisions in the Battle Force as a vice admiral, then command of the entire Battle Force as an admiral, and finally either CINCUS, the highest office afloat, or CNO, the highest office ashore—or both, in the case of William V. Pratt. Upon leaving the fleet, it was normal for a former three- or four-star commander to revert to his permanent grade of rear admiral and remain on active duty until statutory retirement as president of the Naval War College, commandant of a naval district, or member of the General Board.
Since there were four admirals and only three vice admirals, it was not uncommon to skip the rank of vice admiral entirely, especially for commanders in chief of the Asiatic Fleet, which was seen as a four-star consolation prize for flag officers who were out of the running for CINCUS or CNO. By the early 1940s, neither the CNO (Harold R. Stark), CINCUS (Claude C. Bloch, James O. Richardson), nor CINCPAC (Husband E. Kimmel, Chester W. Nimitz) had ever been a vice admiral.
In July 1941, Congress authorized the President to designate, at his own discretion, up to nine additional officers to carry the ex officio rank of vice admiral while performing special or unusual duty, for a total of 12 vice admirals in the permanent establishment. The first of the nine new vice admiral designations was assigned to Robert L. Ghormley, then serving as special observer in the U.S. Embassy in London. After the United States entry into World War II in December 1941, the new commander in chief of the Atlantic Fleet, Royal E. Ingersoll, was designated a vice admiral after his predecessor, Ernest J. King, was appointed commander in chief of the United States Fleet (COMINCH, formerly CINCUS) and took the Atlantic Fleet's four-star designation with him. The remaining seven vice admiral slots were quickly filled by the director of the Office of Procurement and Material and the commanders of U.S. Naval Forces, Southwest Pacific; ANZAC Force; the service forces in the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets; and two anti-submarine task forces in the Atlantic Fleet.
All 12 vice admiral designations were in use by March 1942, when a headquarters reorganization called for two more vice admirals to be vice chief of naval operations and chief of staff to COMINCH. Frederick J. Horne and Russell Willson were nominated to be temporary vice admirals, under a 1941 statute that authorized an unlimited number of appointments in all grades for temporary service during a national emergency, with temporary flag officers needing confirmation by the Senate. The statute technically created temporary grades only up to rear admiral, but the Senate confirmed Horne and Willson as vice admirals anyway, and continued to confirm temporary admirals and vice admirals when nominated. Dozens of temporary vice admirals were appointed during World War II, either to serve in a specified job or simply for the duration of the national emergency.
The Officer Personnel Act of 1947 consolidated the various laws governing vice admiral appointments. Previously, the President had controlled a pool of 12 vice admiral designations that he could assign at his own discretion. In addition, the Senate could confirm an unlimited number of officers nominated by the President to hold the temporary personal grade of vice admiral, either while serving in a particular job or for the duration of a national emergency. Under the new law, all vice admirals had to be confirmed by the Senate, and held that temporary grade only while serving in a particular job. The maximum number of vice admirals was proportional to the total number of flag officers.
The new law also made any former admiral or vice admiral eligible to retire with that rank, simplifying the hodgepodge of rules that had promoted various classes of retirees piecemeal. Originally every designated admiral and vice admiral retired in his permanent grade of rear admiral. In 1930 Congress promoted officers on the retired list to their highest rank held during World War I, which was defined as having ended on July 2, 1921, so John D. McDonald, who became vice admiral on July 1, 1921, was promoted, but William R. Shoemaker, who became vice admiral only a week later, was not. In 1942 former fleet commanders were allowed to retire as admiral or vice admiral if they had served in that grade for at least a year, a cutoff that John H. Dayton and Walton R. Sexton both missed by about two weeks. Dayton lived long enough to be advanced back to vice admiral by the Officer Personnel Act of 1947, but Sexton did not.
Postwar vice admirals typically headed directorates in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, numbered fleets, type commands, sea frontiers, senior educational institutions like the National War College and the Naval War College, or other interservice or international positions. Upon completing their capstone assignments, many senior flag officers resumed the prewar pattern of remaining on active duty in a lower grade until statutory retirement, in contrast to Army and Air Force general officers who usually preferred to retire immediately to avoid demotion. For example, Lynde D. McCormick reverted from vice admiral to rear admiral but rose again to vice admiral and admiral before dropping to vice admiral for his final assignment.
Further information: List of United States Navy tombstone vice admirals
In 1925 Congress authorized Navy and Marine Corps officers who had been specially commended for performance of duty in actual combat during World War I to retire with the rank of the next higher grade but not its pay. Such honorary increases in rank at retirement were dubbed tombstone promotions, since their only tangible benefit was the right to carve the higher rank on the officer's tombstone. Later laws expanded eligibility beyond World War I and to officers already on the retired list. Tombstone promotions were limited in 1947 to duty performed before the end of World War II, meaning before January 1, 1947, and halted entirely in 1959. By May 29, 1959, there were 154 vice admirals on the retired list who had never served on active duty in that rank, not counting those already deceased.
Dozens of vice admirals received tombstone promotions to admiral. Even if a vice admiral reverted to rear admiral, he could still retire as a vice admiral and then claim a tombstone promotion to admiral, but only if he had satisfactory service in the temporary grade of vice admiral during World War II. For example, Gerald F. Bogan, David W. Bagley, Robert C. Giffen, and Alexander Sharp Jr. all reverted to rear admiral after serving as a vice admiral, and all qualified for a tombstone promotion, but only Bagley was advanced to admiral when he retired.
The following list of Congressional legislation includes all acts of Congress pertaining to appointments to the grade of vice admiral in the United States Navy before 1960.
Each entry lists an act of Congress, its citation in the United States Statutes at Large, and a summary of the act's relevance.
|Act of December 21, 1864||13 Stat. 420||
|Act of July 25, 1866||14 Stat. 222|
|Act of January 24, 1873||17 Stat. 418||
|Act of December 20, 1886||24 Stat. 351||
|Act of March 3, 1915||38 Stat. 941||
|Act of May 22, 1917||40 Stat. 89||
|Act of March 4, 1925||43 Stat. 1278||
|Act of June 21, 1930||45 Stat. 793|
|Act of June 22, 1938||52 Stat. 839|
|Act of June 23, 1938||52 Stat. 951|
|Act of July 17, 1941||55 Stat. 598||
|Act of July 24, 1941||55 Stat. 603||
|Act of February 23, 1942||56 Stat. 120|
|Act of June 16, 1942||56 Stat. 370||
|Act of July 1, 1944
[Private Law 348]
|58 Stat. 1011||
|Act of February 21, 1946||60 Stat. 28||
|Act of August 7, 1947
[Officer Personnel Act of 1947]
|61 Stat. 886||
|Act of October 12, 1949
[Career Compensation Act of 1949]
|63 Stat. 806||
|Act of May 5, 1954
[Officer Grade Limitation Act of 1954]
|68 Stat. 65||
|Act of May 20, 1958||72 Stat. 124||
|Act of August 11, 1959||73 Stat. 337||