Jul 6

A ‘Rough-House’

Wednesday, July 6, 2016 4:27 PM


In the 1908 Lucky Bag, the college yearbook of U.S. Naval Academy graduates, one of the midshipmen was described by his classmates as “a black-eyed, rosy-cheeked, noisy Irishman who loves a rough-house.”

This “noisy Irishman” was Thomas Cassin Kinkaid, who in coming to Annapolis was following in his father’s footsteps. His seagoing career began with Theodore Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet” as it made the historic voyage around the world, showing the American flag and proclaiming U.S. naval power in the new century.

As befitting a genuine “rough-houser,” Kinkaid spent most of his subsequent career in naval gunnery, with sea tours in destroyers, cruisers, and battleships and, during one of his shore tours, studied naval ordnance at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Kinkaid arrived at Pearl Harbor just five days after the Japanese surprise attack that brought the United States into World War II. Although no record of his reaction exists, he must have been sickened by the sight of those wrecked battleships with their twisted steel carcasses still hemorrhaging fuel oil, and their once pristine wooden decks splintered and smoldering in the aftermath of sudden war. It is probably a safe assumption that, among the many thoughts Kinkaid had on that day, it did not occur to him that he would someday command five of those same ships after they were miraculously resurrected from the mud of the harbor and returned to the war in search of revenge.


Admiral Kinkaid on board the USS Enterprise (CV-6), 1942. U.S. Naval Institute

After Pearl Harbor, Kinkaid participated in a raid on Wake Island while commanding a cruiser division and then played a minor part in the Coral Sea and Midway battles. But it was in the Solomons where he stood out as a wartime commander, acquitting himself well in three major engagements, while commanding a task force centered on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6). He next commanded Task Force 8 in Alaskan waters, where he once again waged a successful campaign.

His reputation solidified, Kinkaid was sent to the Southwest Pacific Theatre in June 1943 to replace the 7th Fleet Commander, who was having trouble getting along with his immediate superior, General Douglas MacArthur. Kinkaid had no such trouble. He and MacArthur got along well, so it would be Kinkaid’s destiny to command the fleet that carried the general back to the Philippines from which he had been ignominiously evicted in the early days of the war.

Kinkaid’s 7th Fleet delivered MacArthur and his forces to Leyte Gulf in late October 1944, triggering a response from the Japanese that brought virtually all of their remaining naval combat forces into Philippine waters for one last desperate attempt at stopping the U.S. Navy’s sweep across the Pacific.

On the night of 24–25 October 1944, 7th Fleet units—including those resurrected dreadnoughts—engaged the Japanese in what would prove to be the last clash of battleships in history. In the confined waters of Surigao Strait, U.S. gunfire from battleships and cruisers, combined with torpedoes launched by American destroyers racing down the flanks of the strait, annihilated the oncoming Japanese force and helped deliver the knockout blow to the Imperial Japanese Navy. Some 36 years after his classmates had affectionately described him as a “noisy Irishman,” Thomas Kinkaid got his “rough-house” and helped win the greatest sea war in history.