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Jesse B. Oldendorf
Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf
Nickname Oley
Born (1887-02-16)16 February 1887
Died 27 April 1974(1974-04-27) (aged 87)
Place of birth Riverside, California
Place of death Portsmouth, Virginia
Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch US Naval Jack 48 stars.svg United States Navy
Years of service 1909–1948
Rank US-O10 insignia.svg Admiral
Commands held

Jesse Barrett "Oley" Oldendorf (16 February 1887 – 27 April 1974) was an admiral in the United States Navy, famous for defeating a Japanese force in the Battle of Leyte Gulf during World War II. He also served as commander of the American naval forces during the early phase of the Battle of the Caribbean. In early 1942, a secret group of senior Navy officers empaneled by President Franklin D Roosevelt assessed him as one the 40 most competent of the 120 flag officers in the Navy.[1]

Early life

Jesse Barrett Oldendorf was born in Riverside, California on 16 February 1887. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1909,[2] standing 141st in a class of 174,[3] and was commissioned in 1911.[2] 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 San Diego. He also served on the Panama Canal hydrographic survey ship USS Hannibal.[3]

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 became a gunnery officer aboard the troop transport USS President Lincoln,[3] which was sunk by three torpedoes from the German submarine U-90 off Ireland on 31 May 1918.[4] 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.[3]

Between the wars

Between the great wars, Oldendorf did a stint in charge of recruiting station Pittsburgh, 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 to 1922, 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 to 1924, 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 from 1927 to 1928.[3]

Oldendorf attended the Naval War College from 1928 to 1929 and then the Army War College from 1929 to 1930.[2] From 1930 to 1935, 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 to 1935. Then following this teaching assignment at the Academy, Oldendorf returned to sea duty serving as executive officer of the battleship USS West Virginia from 1935 to 1937. From 1937 to 1939 Oldendorf directed the recruiting section of the Bureau of Navigation.[3]

World War II

From 1939 to 1941, 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.[3]

Vice Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf dictates the terms of surrender to Vice Admiral Hoka and Rear Admiral Yofai on 22 September 1945 at Wakayama, Honshū, Japan.

Oldendorf was reassigned 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.[3]

On 12 September 1944, Oldendorf commanded from the bridge of his flagship, USS Pennsylvania, 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.[5] 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.[5]

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.[5]

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 Lieutenant Colonel Lewis "Chesty" Puller, commander of the 1st Marines, 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.[6] 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."[7]

Vice Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf (center) with his Flag Personnel on the Flag Bridge of USS Tennessee in August 1945 at Okinawa

On 24 October 1944, Oldendorf was the commander of Task Group 77.2 at the Battle of Surigao Strait.[8] Oldendorf led the defeat of the Japanese Southern Force.[9] He deployed his powerful force of battleships and cruisers in a classic battle line formation across the Surigao Strait, crossing the T of his opponent. The Japanese battleships Fuso and Yamashiro were sunk,[10] and Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura was killed.[11] Oldendorf's action prevented the Japanese from bringing their battle fleet into Surigao Strait and attacking the beachheads on Leyte Island. He later explained his tactics to the New York Times: "My theory was that of the old-time gambler: Never give a sucker a chance."[12] For this action, Oldendorf was awarded the Navy Cross.[13] In 1959 Admiral Oldendorf provided commentary on his planning for the battle:

...Admiral Kinkaid's order to prepare for night action came as no surprise. ...It was obvious that the objective of the Japanese Forces was the destruction of our transports and that my mission was to protect them at all costs. In order to accomplish my mission, the force under my command must be interposed to between the enemy and the transports. I realized that I must not lose sight of my mission no matter how much I might be tempted to engage in a gunnery duel with him.
I selected the position of the battle line off Hingatungan Point because it gave me the maximum sea room available and restricted the enemy's movements. This position also permitted me to cover the eastern entrance to the Gulf should the Central Force under Admiral Kurita arrive ahead of the Southern Force. I selected the battle plan from the General Tactical Instructions and modified it to meet the conditions existing, i.e., lack of sea room to maneuver and possible enemy action. ...I thought that quite possibly he planned to slip some of his light forces into the Gulf by passing them to the eastward of Hibuson Island after the battle line was engaged. For that reason I stationed the preponderance of my light forces on the left flank. One duty which was never delegated to my staff was the drafting of battle plans.

US Naval Institute Proceedings
April 1959[14]

On 15 December 1944, Oldendorf was promoted to vice admiral and made commander of Battleship Squadron 1.[3] He commanded battleships in the landings at Lingayen. He was wounded breaking his collar bone at Ulithi on 11 March 1945, when his barge hit a buoy.[15] He was wounded, breaking several ribs, during the Battle of Okinawa[16] while aboard the USS Pennsylvania on 12 August 1945.[17] On 22 September 1945 Oldendorf commanded the occupation of Wakayama and dictated terms of surrender to Vice Admiral Hoka and Rear Admiral Yofai.[18]

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 in 1948 he commanded the Western Sea Frontier and the United States Navy reserve fleets at San Francisco.[19] He retired in September 1948 at which time he was promoted to Admiral.[2]

Oldendorf died on 27 April 1974 in Portsmouth, Virginia.[20] He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.[21] The destroyer USS Oldendorf was subsequently named in his honor.[22]


  1. Frank, Richard B., Picking Winners?, Naval History Magazine - June 2011 Volume 25, Number 3
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Ancell & Miller 1996, p. 589
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Reynolds 1978, pp. 243–245
  4. Feuer 1999, pp. 55–57
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Sloan 2005, pp. 59–61
  6. Sloan 2005, pp. 62, 100–103, 106–107
  7. Sloan 2005, p. 62
  8. Tully 2009, p. 82
  9. Ireland & Gerrard 2006, p. 69
  10. Tully 2009, pp. 206,229
  11. Ireland & Gerrard 2006, p. 86
  12. Thomas 2006, p. 239
  13. US Navy 1945, p. 417
  14. Oldendorf, Jesse (April 1959). "Admiral Oldendorf Comments on the Battle of Surigao Strait". Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. pp. 104–107. 
  15. Reynolds 2005, p. 417
  16. USS Tennessee 1946, pp. 84–90
  17. Melvin Carr Oral History, MS-2607. University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Special Collections Library. Interview by G. KURT PIEHLER and NASHWA VAN HOUTS
  18. USS Tennessee 1946, pp. 62–65
  19. Morison 1958, p. 118
  20. "Jesse Barrett Oldendorf, USN". Retrieved 29 January 2011. 
  21. Jesse Bartlett Oldendorf at Find a Grave
  22. "USS Oldendorf". Retrieved 29 January 2011. 


  • Ancell, R. Manning; Miller, Christine (1996). The Biographical Dictionary of World War II Generals and Flag Officers: The US Armed Forces. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-29546-8. OCLC 33862161. 
  • Department of the Navy - Office of Public Information (1945). Navy Cross: Officers and Enlisted Men of the United States Navy Awarded the Navy Cross. December 7, 1941–July 1, 1945. Washington, D.C.: US Navy Office of Public Information. 
  • Feuer, A.B. (1999). The U.S. Navy in World War I: Combat at Sea and in the Air. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger. ISBN 978-0-275-96212-8. OCLC 464561284. 
  • Frank, Richard B. (2011). Picking Winners?, Naval History Magazine - June 2011 Volume 25, Number 3. US Naval Institute. 
  • Ireland, Bernard; Gerrard, Howard (2006). Leyte Gulf 1944 The World's Greatest Sea Battle. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-978-3. OCLC 475193960. 
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot (1958). Leyte June 1994-January 1945. United States Naval Operations in World War II. Volume XII. Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0-7858-1313-2. OCLC 7309630. 
  • Reynolds, Clark B. (1978). Famous American Admirals. Annapolis, Maryland: US Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-55750-006-9. OCLC 3912797. 
  • Reynolds, Clark B. (2005). On the Warpath in the Pacific: Admiral Jocko Clark and the Fast Carriers. Annapolis, Maryland: US Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-59114-716-9. OCLC 58454430. 
  • Sloan, Bill (2005). Brotherhood of heroes : the Marines at Peleliu, 1944 : the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-6009-0. OCLC 57236282. 
  • Thomas, Evan (2006). Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-5221-8. OCLC 69672072. 
  • Tully, Anthony P. (2009). Battle of Surigao Strait. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-35242-2. OCLC 234257241. 
  • USS Tennessee (1946). USS Tennessee, December 7, 1941-December 7, 1945 (Cruise Book). Clark Printing House. 

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