Papers (ca. 1890-2008, undated) of Vice Admiral Robert Lee Ghormley, a member of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1906, including correspondence, orders, diaries, memoirs, photographic prints and negatives, certificates and commissions, legal papers, printed forms, ephemera, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, maps, museum objects, broadsides and posters and publications related to his education, family and personal life, in Tacoma, Washington, Moscow, Idaho, and Washington, D.C.; his naval career; his life in retirement, 1946-1958; and also including genealogical and historical essays compiled by his son, Commander Robert Lee Ghormley, Jr. (U.S. Navy ret.). Vice Admiral Ghormley served in China, Nicaragua, World War I, and in Haiti. Between the world wars he had several appointments and also served as commander of the destroyer USS Sands and the battleship USS Nevada. During World War II, he saw service as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Special Naval Observer in Europe, August 1940-April 1942; as Commander, South Pacific Area and South Pacific Force, and the battle for Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands, April-October 1942; as Commander of the Fourteenth Naval District and the Hawaiian Sea Frontier, 1943-1944; and as Commander of United States Naval Forces in Europe, 1944-1945.
The Robert L. Ghormley Papers document Vice Admiral Ghormley's life (1883-1958) from his childhood and education in Tacoma, Washington and Moscow, Idaho, through his 40-year naval career, to his retirement, in Washington, D.C. The collection contains very extensive documentation on both Ghormley's naval career and his personal life, including family correspondence, biographical and genealogical files, clippings and scrapbooks, writings, diaries and logs, dispatches, reports and orders, photographic prints and negatives, maps, printed forms, oversized materials including maps, posters and blueprints, and printed materials.
A member of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1906, Ghormley rose rapidly through naval ranks. As a lieutenant, he was in command of U.S. Naval Forces during the brief Nicaraguan Campaign of 1912. During World War I, he served as Flag Lieutenant to Vice Admiral A. W. Grant, Commander of Battle Force One based in England. After the war, he served as Assistant Director and later as Director, Naval Overseas Transportation Services, in the Navy Department. He served as Aide and Flag Lieutenant to Admiral Henry T. May and as Assistant Judge Advocate General, on the Court of Inquiry, to inquire into conditions in Haiti, in November - December 1920. In the 1920s, Ghormley commanded the destroyer Sands (DD-243/APD-13) during a two-year long cruise of European waters, 1920-1922; he was Officer in Charge of Enlisted Personnel in the Bureau of Navigation, of the Navy Department, 1922-1923; and he was Aide to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, 1923-1925. From June 1925 to September 1927, he was Executive Officer of the battleship Oklahoma (BB-37). Then, from September 1927 until May 1930, he served as Secretary to the General Board of the Navy. The Navy promoted Ghormley to Captain in 1929.
In May 1930, Ghormley was detached and ordered to duty as Assistant Chief of Staff and Fleet Operations Officer to Admiral F. H. Schofield, who was Commander, Battle Force, U.S. Fleet, and later Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet. In September 1932, he was detached from this service and assigned as Officer in Charge of the Tactical Section of the Division of Fleet Training in the Office of Chief of Naval Operations, Navy Department. In June of 1935, the Navy appointed Ghormley to be captain of the USS Nevada (BB-36). After one year as captain of the Nevada, in June 1936, the Navy assigned Ghormley to serve as Assistant Chief of Staff and Fleet Operations Officer of the U. S. Fleet serving under Admiral A. J. Hepburn, who was Commander in Chief of the U. S. Fleet. In June 1937, the Navy assigned Ghormley to the Naval War College, Providence, R.I. He graduated in the spring of 1938. Following this, in October 1938, the Navy promoted him to the rank of Rear Admiral.
In August 1939, the Navy named Ghormley to serve as Director of the War Plans Division in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. In 1939, he became Assistant Chief of Naval Operations. In August of 1940, even before American entry into the war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Ghormley to be his Special Naval Observer to the American Embassy in London. The following month, President Roosevelt promoted him to the rank of Vice Admiral. Vice Admirals, or three-star admirals, are senior to rear admirals, but junior to admirals in the U.S. Navy hierarchy. Ghormley's secret reports, included in the collection, helped convince the U.S. Government that Britain would maintain its independence and defeat the German "Blitz." He thus played a significant role in achieving the ultimate allied victory in World War II.
In April 1942, after U.S. entry into the war, Roosevelt named Ghormley Commander of all U.S. Forces in the South Pacific Area (SOPAC) and instructed him to plan offensive operations against Japan. Despite critical shortages of men and supplies, Ghormley, as ComSoPac, quickly reorganized the Allied forces in the region, which had been in constant retreat since 7 December 1941. In early August 1942, this resulted in the U.S. invasion of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, the first major offensive action taken by the United States during World War II in the Pacific Theater. Japanese counterattacks severely mauled the Allied naval forces protecting the landings in the Battle of Savo Island and forced Ghormley to withdraw the bulk of his naval forces from the vicinity. In the months that followed, the U. S. Marines trying to take Guadalcanal and the U. S. Naval forces attempting to support them suffered a number of defeats and many casualties. Believing that Ghormley had become too "pessimistic," Admiral Chester Nimitz replaced him, in October 1942, with Admiral William Halsey. A letter in the collection reveals that Nimitz feared that Ghormley was nearing a nervous breakdown. The collection contains a vast trove of correspondence, dispatches, logs, reports, and interview transcripts relating to Ghormley's actions as Commander of SOPAC. Naval and Congressional investigations found Ghormley to be guiltless of any wrongdoing and he served throughout the war in positions of great responsibility.
He next served as Commander of the 14th Naval District and the Hawaiian Sea Frontier from February 1943 to October 1944. From November 1944 through December 1945, Ghormley served as Commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe where he supervised the destruction of German naval forces and participated in the early stages of the military government of Germany. He participated in the Tripartite Conference of 1945. When he left Germany, in December 1945, he had spent less than one month in the United States since August 1940.
Ghormley retired from the Navy in 1946 and returned to his home in Washington, D.C. He died in 1958 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
The Robert L. Ghormley Papers generally remains in its original order, except that this repository has related certain oversized manuscript volumes, printed volumes and other oversized materials into to oversized boxes and folders. The repository staff has subdivided these materials into 8 series, with subseries and sub-subseries according to original order and format. Ghormley files his papers in several overlapping series, including Family, Personal, and Navy files. However, official Navy items frequently appear in his Family and Personal files and vice versa. His Navy files also include logs and correspondence of his social and private life kept and organized by his official staff. Ghormley, himself, seems to have rearranged some of this material in the process of writing his history of "Operation Pestilence", the Solomon Islands campaign of 1942.
Series 1 consists of correspondence, mainly between Admiral Ghormley and his fiancée Lucile E. Lyon, of Kansas City, Mo., during the period 1905-1911. They married in 1912 and he continued the correspondence throughout their married life when they were apart. This correspondence also includes a number of letters from third parties addressed to Mrs. Ghormley. In addition to family and personal matters, the Ghormley correspondence includes legal, tax, and financial correspondence. During the early years of the Depression, for example, Mrs. Ghormley wrote frequently to her husband about their declining financial portfolio. Ghormley, for his part, was perpetually worried about his wife's health and well-being. She was frequently in ill health. During the crisis in the South Pacific, when the fate of World War II lay in the balance, Ghormley wrote frequently concerning her health and well-being and worrying when he did not know that she was well. This series also includes a handwritten anonymous manuscript entitled "Conscription in Europe" dating probably from the pre-World War I period, which describes the impact of the national armies on the peoples of Europe.
Series 1 also contains a subseries of Miscellaneous Correspondence that includes letters Ghormley received and copies of letters he sent to a wide variety of people throughout the world. Many of these are letters of thanks from army and navy officers, business people, government officials, friends and relatives. Many are letters from travelers who crossed Ghormley's path at his various posts.
Series 1 also includes a subseries of Personal Correspondence that includes letters from many of the same sort of persons in the Miscellaneous Correspondence subseries. One letter is this subseries is from D. O. Ghormley, Admiral Ghormley's father, who was a Presbyterian Missionary in Tacoma, Washington in 1916. It includes much information about economic and political conditions in the Pacific Northwest. However, it also includes a mass of congratulatory messages he received upon earning his promotion to Rear Admiral in December 1938. It also includes correspondence with other naval officers regarding appointments and promotions. This subseries includes letters received and sent from all his posts during World War II.
Series 2 consists of Ghormley's official Navy files, including subseries such as correspondence, miscellaneous, Naval War College, Orders, Southern Pacific Area and South Pacific Force Command [SOPAC] and other files related to his various assignments throughout his career. The SOPAC files also contain sub-subseries relating to Ghormley's actions between April and October 1942 in Operation Pestilence and focusing on the naval battles of Savo Island and Guadalcanal during August, September and October 1942, and on the several navy and congressional investigations that followed the Solomon Islands campaign, 1942-1946. The SOPAC subseries include his secret dispatches, fitness reports on his officers, clipping scrapbooks, and his daily logs. Also included are a manuscript history of SOPAC that Ghormley wrote and several preliminary drafts. Separate subseries document Ghormley's subsequent service as commander of the 14th Naval District and the Hawaiian Sea Frontier, from February 1943 to October 1944 and as Commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe where he served from November 1944 through December 1945. Both these were significant assignments. In Hawaii Ghormley was responsible for administering the main rear base for the Navy during the Pacific War. He was responsible for assuring the smooth flow of men and material to the men and ships at the battlefront. In this position, he hosted a critical conference in 1944 between President Roosevelt, General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz that determined the future course of the war in the Pacific. As Commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe during the last days of World War II, Ghormley was chiefly responsible for maintaining the flow of men and material from England and the U.S. to the armies on the continent. Based in London until June 1945, he travelled frequently to the continent and was snowbound in Germany when the Battle of the Bulge broke out in December 1944. In July 1945, Ghormley moved his headquarters to Bremen and later to Berlin, where he was the highest-ranking U.S. naval officer in Germany. He participated in the early military government of the defeated Axis Powers and helped divide up the German Navy among the victors. Papers in this series include several examples of Adolph Hitler's personal letterhead stationery and official letterhead stationery of the German Navy General Staff. He even attempted to secure a captured yacht for use of the midshipmen at Annapolis. He also attended the Tripartite Conference of U.S., British, and Russian officers that attempted to create a working solution for postwar government of Germany. In addition, he conducted an investigation into the German reorganization of the Navy during World War II in which they placed the German Navy under the overall control of the Army High Command. In his final months in Germany, he began making plans to retire early in 1946. Ghormley's health had deteriorated during the War and his medical records from this period show that while he showed no continuing ill effects from the removal of one kidney before the war, he had increasingly severe arthritis, especially in his knees. As a result, he was able to obtain a retirement based on physical disability.
Series 3 includes materials relating to Ghormley's years of retirement. It includes his Distinguished Service Medal citation, his honorary doctorate from the University of Idaho, requests for his autograph or photographs from collectors and history buffs, job reference letters he sent on behalf of his former staff officers, and his social security files.
Series 4 consists of materials compiled and written by Admiral Ghormley's son Commander Robert Lee Ghormley Jr. This series includes biographical information on his father, including obituaries and funeral information. It also includes Commander Ghormley's correspondence with Admiral of the Fleet Chester W. Nimitz concerning the reasons Nimitz relieved Vice Admiral Ghormley of his command of SOPAC in October 1942. Nimitz's handwritten letter explains that he felt that Ghormley was on the verge of a "nervous breakdown" at the time. It also includes two volumes Commander Ghormley compiled concerning his father's career. The first is a chronology of Admiral Ghormley's service as Naval Observer in London, 1940-1942. Commander Ghormley compiled this document out of the correspondence and other files in the collection. The second is a Ghormley family genealogy entitled "Vice Admiral Robert Lee Ghormley and Family O'Gormley, Or, Three Martlets Gules, Two and One" which is a reference to the Ghormley family's coat of arms. Commander Ghormley compiled the genealogical document mostly from materials not in the collection. In addition to these materials, this series also includes a long memorandum that Commander Ghormley wrote "for the record" in 1961 entitled "Antarctic Supply Conditions as of February 1961." The memorandum documents the poor supply conditions then prevailing at the Navy's McMurdo Sound station in Antarctica.
Series 5 consists of Photographic Prints and Negatives that document Ghormley's life, family, and career from 1890 to 1958. All of the prints are black and white. The repository staff has filed them in chronological order. Especially significant are the photographic prints that date from Ghormley's service as Commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, November 1944 - December 1945. They include many photographs that document the conditions in many regions of early postwar Germany but especially in Berlin, Bremen and Bremerhaven.
Series 6 consists of Manuscript Volumes including his bound daily logs from World War I through World War II. It also includes a number of scrapbooks that include photographs, manuscripts, printed materials, and ephemera. The first documents Ghormley's visit to Cuba in the early 1920s; another documents his service as Special Naval Observer in London and as Commander of SOPAC and the Fourteenth Naval District in Hawaii. It also includes a large scrapbook documenting Ghormley's two-year cruise in command of the USS Sands in 1921-1922 and after. The cruise took him from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. He was a witness to the Greek bombardment of the Anatolian city of Smyrna [now Izmir, Turkey] in 1922. The scrapbook contains materials in Arabic, Danish, French, Greek, Russian, Swedish, and Turkish as well as English.
Series 7 includes Printed Materials that were not associated with manuscript materials. The repository staff has divided this series into subseries of Books, Pamphlets and Reprints, and Periodicals. The books subseries include a copy of the 1906 Lucky Bag, Ghormley's Annapolis yearbook. The books also include several volumes of Navy Recognition Manuals used to identify military aircraft and naval vessels from the various combatant countries during World War II. It also includes the USS Nevada's 20th anniversary publication dating from the time when Ghormley was in command of the battleship in 1936.
Series 8 consists of Oversized Materials. The repository staff has arranged it according to format. Subseries 1 consists of oversized Newspaper and Clippings. Subseries 2 consists of Museum Objects and Photographic Prints. The museum item in this series is VADM Ghormley's three-star flag; the photographs consist mainly of portraits of officers and ships with whom Ghormley served. Subseries 3 consists of Maps, Charts and Blueprints. Most notably, it includes a map of the principal combat areas during the Solomon's Campaign showing landing areas and fire support assignments. It also includes an architectural drawing of an officer's residence on Johnston Island. It also includes a chart showing sugar production in Hawaii and a map showing the principal sugar producing regions in Hawaii. Subseries 4 consists of Commissions and Diplomas and includes all of Ghormley's naval commissions and his Naval Academic diploma. Subseries 5 consists of British World War II Broadsides and Posters that Ghormley acquired when he was serving as Special Naval Observer in London during 1940-1942. The repository staff have arranged these materials in subseries according to the theme. The British published the posters and broadsides to raise awareness of national security issues and warned British citizens to "Keep Mum" and not to engage in "Careless Talk" that might reveal secrets to the enemy. The posters are in fragile condition and many are torn and show signs of public display, including thumbtack holes.
Note to Researchers: Parts of the collection, especially the oversized materials, are fragile, brittle, damaged, or in need of conservation and may not be available for research at all times.
Gift of Robert Lee Ghormley Jr. (U.S. Navy ret.)
Gift of Louise Ghormley Lamb
Gift of Nancy Ghormley Hunkeler
Gift of Anne Ghormley Kramer
Encoded by Jonathan Dembo, 18 November 2009.
Preliminary Inventory by Jonathan Dembo, Krystal Cook and Saundra Pinkham, 18 November 2009, and Allison Miller, 2014.
Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.
English; Arabic; Danish; French; German; Greek; Swedish; Turkish