Aubrey Wray Fitch
- born in St. Ignace, Michigan, on 11 June 1883 - entered the Naval Academy
in the summer of 1902 and graduated on 12 February 1906. After serving the
two years of sea duty then required by law before commissioning (in the
armored cruiser Pennsylvania and the torpedo boat Chauncey) Fitch became as
ensign on 13 February 1908 and served afloat in Rainbow and Concord before
receiving instruction in torpedoes at the Naval Torpedo Station, Newport,
R.I., in the school conducted on board the old cruiser Montgomery.
Upon completion of the torpedo course, Fitch helped to fit out the battleship
Delaware, which commissioned on 4 April 1910 before returning to Annapolis
for consecutive tours of duty at the Naval Academy, first as assistant
discipline officer between 1911 and 1912 and rater as an instructor of
physical training from 1912 to 1913. Service in the destroyers Balch and
Duncan followed before he received his first sea command, the destroyer
Terry, with the 2d Division, Reserve Torpedo Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet.
After serving on the staff of the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, Fitch
assumed command of the yacht Yankton in January 1915, with additional duty as
aide to the Commander in Chief.
Relieved of command of Yankton shortly after the United States entered World
War I in the spring of 1917, Fitch continued his staff duties for another
five months before joining Wyoming (Battleship No. 32) to serve as her
gunnery officer for the remainder of hostilities, as that dreadnought
operated with the 6th Battle Squadron, Grand Fleet.
After the armistice, Fitch again served at the Naval Academy once more before
becoming, concurrently, inspector of ordnance in charge of the Naval Ammunition
Depot, Hingham, Mass., and naval inspector of ordnance in charge at the Naval
Coaling Station, Frenchman's Bay, Maine. From August 1920, Fitch commanded a
division of fast minelayers, while also commanding in turn Luce (DM-4) and
Detached from Mahan in December 1922, Fitch served at Rio de Janeiro until
March 1927 as a member of the United States mission to Brazil before
reporting back to the Navy Department for a brief tour of duty in Washington,
D.C. Going to sea as executive of ficer of Nevada (BB-36) in May 1927, Fitch
assumed command of Arctic (AF-7) (a type of ship sometimes known
uncomplimentarily as a "beef boat") in November of that year.
He reported for aviation instruction at the Naval Air Station (NAS),
Pensacola, Fla., in June 1929 and there won his wings as a naval aviator on 4
February 1930. Following brief duty at NAS, San Diego, Calif., Fitch assumed
command of Wright (AV-1) in the spring of 1930. Relieved in that billet a
little over a year later (July 1931), he then began a year as commanding
officer of Langley (CV-1).
After commanding NAS, Hampton Roads, Va., until June 1935 Fitch reported as
chief of staff to Commander, Aircraft, Battle Force, and remained in that
billet until assuming command of Lexington (CV-2) in April 1936. Subsequently
attending the Naval War College, Newport, R.I., from June 1937 to May 1938,
Fitch completed the senior course there before assuming command of NAS,
Pensacola, in June 1938. In the spring of 1940, he took over the reins of Patrol
Wing 2, based at Pearl Harbor, and seven months later, broke his flag in
Saratoga (CV-3) as Commander, Carrier Division 1. The outbreak of hostilities
in the Pacific in December 1941 thus found Fitch one of the most experienced
carrier commanders afloat.
Fitch's flagship, Saratoga figured prominently in the abortive attempt to
reinforce Wake Island in December 1941 and was later torpedoed off Oahu in
late January 1942, seriously cutting American carrier strength in the Pacific
at a critical period.
Rear Admiral Fitch relieved Vice Admiral Wilson Brown on 3 April 1942,
breakinz his flag in Lexington, his former command. During the Battle of the
Coral Sea, Fitch served as Commander Task Group (TG) 17.5, consisting of
"Lady Lex" and Yorktown (CV-5). That engagement, the first in
history where neither side came within surface gun range of the other,
effectively stopped the Japanese thrust at strategic Port Moresby, but
resulted in the first loss of an American aircraft carrier in the war--
Lexington, sunk on 8 May 1942.
The admiral then shifted his flag to Minneapolis (CA-36). Fitch together with
Captain Sherman and Lexington's executive officer Comdr. Morton T. Seligman,
visited "Lady Lex" wounded in Minneapolis' sickbay - an action that
"contributed in no small measure to the Datients' well-being." For
the leadership he exhibited during the Battle of the Coral Sea, Fitch was
awarded his first Distinguished Service Medal.
He again broke his flag in his former flagship, Saratoga, but the task group
formed around that ship arrived too late to take part in the pivotal Battle
On 20 September 1942, six weeks after the first American amphibious operation
of the war got underway at Guadalcanal, Fitch assumed command of Aircraft,
South Pacific Force. Not a desk-bound admiral, he carried out numerous,
hazardous flights into the combat zones, inspecting air activities incident
to the selection of bases for projected operations. For these, he received a
Distinguished Flying Cross.
Under Fitch's command, AirSoPac - ultimately encompassing not only Navy but
Army, Marine Corps, and Royal New Zealand air units - achieved great success
in aiding the Allied campaign in the South Pacific. Fitch's planes protected
Allied shipping, providing vital air cover that strongly assisted the Allies
in challenging, and ultimately defeating, the Japanese in the Solomons. In
addition, his aircraft performed essential reconnaissanee missions, spotting
enemy warships prior to the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands in October 1942 and
during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942. Later, Fitch oversaw
the early experiments in conducting night bombing utilizing radar (a concept
which paid great dividends in interdicting Japanese shipping) and encouraged
the use of specially modified aircraft to obtain photographic intelligence.
In addition, for his skillful coordination of the Allied air effort in that
area of the world Fitch received a gold star in lieu of a second
Distinguished Service Medal.
Fitch returned to Washington in the summer of 1944 and became Deputy Chief of
Naval Operations (Air). He skillfully and efficiently directed the
aeronautical organization of the Navy, oversaw efforts to assure the
readiness and deployment of air units, and planned all of the related logistics
measures. For these efforts he received a Legion of Merit.
After V-J Day, Vice Admiral Fitch assumed duty as the Superintendant of the
Naval Academy on 16 August 1945 and held that post until 15 January 1947,
with collateral duty as Commandant, Severn River Command. The first airman to
head the Naval Academy, Fitch was instrumental in establishing the Department
of Aeronautics, authorized by the Navy on 28 November 1945.
Subsequent to heading the Academy, Fitch served briefly in the office of the
Undersecretary of the Navy before becoming the senior member of the Naval
Clemency and Prison Inspection Board in March 1947. He was so serving when he
was relieved of all active duty on 1 July 1947. Admiral Fitch died in his
adopted state, Maine, on 22 May 1978.
(FFG-34) was laid down on 10 April 1981 at Bath, Maine, by Bath Iron Works;
launched on 17 October 1981; sponsored by Mrs. Francesca Fitch Ferguson, the
granddaughter of the late Admiral Fitch; and was commissioned at Bath, Maine,
on 9 October 1982, Comdr. Floyd A. Weeks in command.
Aubrey Fitch remained at Bath for another five weeks completing her
outfitting, propulsion plant examination, and crew inspections. In
mid-November, she made the passage from Bath to her home port, Mayport in
Florida, where she spent the remainder of 1982. Early in January of 1983, the
guided-missile frigate embarked upon her shakedown cruise to the vicinity of
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The warship returned to Mayport during the middle of
February and then launched into a series of trials, qualifications, and
certifications preparatory to her final acceptance by the Navy. She completed
final acceptance trials late in May and entered the yard at Bath Iron Works
for a three-month, post-shakedown availability. Aubrey Fitch completed
repairs and returned to Mayport in September. In October, she commenced
refresher training out of Guantanamo Bay.
The guided missile frigate was so engaged when United States military forces
invaded the small Caribbean island nation of Grenada on 25 October 1983 in
response to a power struggle between leftist factions that endangered the
stability of the region as well as the lives of American citizens attending
the medical college there. Aubrey Fitch interrupted refresher training to
conduct patrols in defense of the base at Guantanamo Bay against possible
hostile action by Cuba as a result of the conflict in Grenada where Americans
found themselves fighting Cuban "advisors" and "construction
workers." Early in November, however, the warship completed refresher
training and assumed tactical control of guided missile hydrofoil gunboats
Aquila (PHM-4) and Taurus (PHM-3) for the purpose of testing the feasibility
of operating those types of ships in the same task organization. Demands
incident to the continuing American presence in Grenada, however, overtook
the experiment and sent Aubrey Fitch and her two consorts south to the tiny
republic. Duty in the waters adjacent to Grenada lasted until mid-December
when the warship returned to Mayport.
Aubrey Fitch began 1984 in her home port. Later in January, she embarked upon
a normal schedule of training operations in the West Indies. That employment
occupied her through the month of May and into June. On 22 June, the guided
missile frigate put to sea to become a unit of NATO's Standing Naval Force,
Atlantic, based at Plymouth, England. That deployment included visits to a
number of ports in northern Europe as well as training evolutions in the
Baltic Sea. Early in the fall of 1984, the NATO force visited American waters
and made calls at Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans. Late in November,
the warships visited Aubrey Fitch's home port in Florida. Early in December,
the NATO force headed back to Europe, leaving Aubrey Fitch at Mayport.
The warship opened 1985 much the same way as she did 1984. After concluding
holiday leave and upkeep at Mayport during the first half of January, she
returned to sea for the usual training exercises, equipment operation
certifications, and ASW helicopter landing qualifications. These and similar
evolutions alternated with periods in port for routine upkeep and
availability occupied her time during the first five months of the year. In
June, Aubrey Fitch began providing escort and plane guard services for
aircraft carriers America (CV-66) and Saratoga (CV-60) when they put to sea
to conduct landing qualifications. Near the end of June, she put to sea for
"special operations" off the west coast of the Isthmus of Panama.
She transited the Panama Canal and then operated from the base at Rodman
during July, August, and part of September. After passing back through the
canal in mid-September, Aubrey Fitch arrived back at Mayport on the 21st.
Repairs took up the remainder of September as well as October and November.
She concluded her restricted availability with sea trials on 5 and 6 December
and, after a brief round trip to Charleston and back, settled into the usual
year-end holiday routine.
The relative inactivity of holiday standdown carried over into the first
three weeks of 1986. On 21 January 1986, Aubrey Fitch put to sea for a week
of ASW training in the Bahama Islands. On 28 January, she interrupted her
return voyage when the space shuttle Challenger exploded soon after launch.
From her position just 50 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral Aubrey Fitch
rushed to the scene of the tragedy and began recovering debris. She collected
several tons of material which she later delivered to Cape Canaveral to be
inspected as a part of the investigation into the cause of the disaster. From
Cape Canaveral the guided missile frigate returned to Mayport and remained
there until the second week in February. On 10 February, Aubrey Fitch resumed
training operations out of Mayport, and she continued so employed until the
beginning of April at which time the warship began preparations to deploy to
the Persian Gulf.
On 4 June 1986, Aubrey Fitch stood out of Mayport in company with guided
missile frigate Talbot (FFG- 4) to rendezvous with destroyer Nicholson
(DD-982) and guided missile destroyer Semmes (DDG-18). She and her traveling
companions then laid in a course that took them across the Atlantic Ocean and
the Mediterranean Sea, through the Suez Canal, and around the Arabian
Peninsula to the Strait of Hormuz. Aubrey Fitch and her consorts arrived at
Bahrain in the Persian Gulf on 8 July. The guided-missile frigate spent the
next four months conducting patrols and escorting merchant ships in the
strategic and troubled waters of the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman, and the
northern portion of the Arabian Sea. No untoward events marred her sojourn in
the region, and she concluded her assignment on 30 October by turning her
responsibilities over to guided missile destroyer Sampson (DDG-10). Retracing
her outward-bound voyage via the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean
Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean, Aubrey Fitch steamed into Mayport on 4 December.
Post-deployment standdown took up the remainder of 1986 and as of the
beginning of 1987, the warship was at Mayport
Over the next ten years, Aubrey Fitch continued to the Middle East and the
West Indies. During a 1988 deployment to the Persian Gulf, the frigate
participated in Operation Earnest Will, during which she conducted escort
missions to protect Kuwaiti merchant tankers from attack during the Iran-Iraq
War. In December 1990 the warship conducted counter-narcotics patrols in the
Caribbean and eastern Pacific, and received a Joint Meritorious Unit Award
for her efforts. In July 1991, Aubrey Fitch hosted the Soviet guided missile
destroyer Simferopol during a visit to Mayport.
In August 1991, following the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein's Iraqi
Army, the frigate surged to the Middle East to participate in Maritime
Interception Operations (MIO) in the northern Red Sea. Designed to cut the
flow of supplies and equipment to Iraq in support of United Nations' economic
sanctions, Aubrey Fitch conducted 243 merchant ship boardings and inspected
over 3 million tons of cargo. The ship received a Navy Meritorious Unit
Commendation for this performance.
In February 1993 the frigate participated in Operation Able Manner, in
support of migration interdiction efforts off Haiti, receiving the Coast
Guard Special Operations Service Ribbon for developing baseline procedures
for conducting mass lifesaving operations.
In 1994, Aubrey Fitch carried out two deployments to Haiti in support of
Operation Uphold Democracy, where the crew boarded over 50 ships to enforce
economic sanctions against the government and provided security and
search-and-rescue support for operations within Port-au-Prince Harbor.
In the summer of 1995, the frigate sailed to Europe both to conduct NATO
training exercises and to participate in the 50th anniversary commemoration
of the Battle of the Atlantic and the end of the war in Europe.
From September 1996 to March 1997, Aubrey Fitch conducted her last
operational deployment as part of Standing Naval Force Atlantic, during which
she visited fourteen ports ranging between Gydnia, Poland west to Faslane,
Scotland and south to Lisbon, Portugal.
Aubrey Fitch decommissioned at Mayport on 12 December 1997 and was later
towed to the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Philadelphia. The
hulk was struck from the navy list on 03 May 1999 and disposed of through
scrapping on 19 May 2005.