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First Name: William

Last Name: Benson

Birthplace: Bibb County, GA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Middle Name: Shepherd

Date of Birth: 25 September 1855

Date of Death: 20 May 1932

Rank or Rate: Admiral

Years Served: 1877-1919
William Shepherd Benson

Graduate, U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1877

•  World War I (1914 - 1918)


William Shepherd Benson

Admiral, U.S. Navy

William Shepherd Benson was born on 25 September 1855 in Bibb County, GA. Benson graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1877. His early years of sea duty included a cruise around the World in USS Dolphin (PG-24) during the 1880s. He was also active in coast survey and hydrographic duties, was an Instructor at the Naval Academy, commanded the cruiser USS Albany (CL-23) and served as a Flag Aide and Fleet Chief of Staff, in addition to other assignments.

In 1911, Captain Benson became the first Commanding Officer of the battleship USS Utah (BB-31). He was Commandant of the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1913-15.

First Chief of Naval Operations (CNO)

In 1915 he was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral and became the Navy's first Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), functionally replacing Rear Admiral Bradley A. Fiske, the last Aide for Naval Operations.

Benson was heavily involved in defining the functions of the new CNO position and strengthening the Navy during a period marked by internal Navy Department tensions, U.S. interventions in the Caribbean and Central America, and the world war.

Promoted to the four-star rank of Admiral on 29 August 1916, his responsibilities greatly expanded when the U.S. entered the First World War in April 1917. Over the next year and a half, he oversaw a huge expansion of the Navy, the extension of its operations to European waters and the transportation of the U.S. Army's American Expeditionary Forces to France. After the November 1918 Armistice, he was an active participant in the lengthy peace negotiations held in France.


In World War I the Navy explored aviation, both land-based and carrier based. However, the Navy nearly abolished aviation in 1919 when Benson could not "conceive of any use the fleet will ever have for aviation" and he secretly tried to abolish the Navy's Aviation Division. However, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt reversed the decision because he believed aviation might someday be "the principal factor" at sea with missions to bomb enemy warships, scout enemy fleets, map mine fields, and escort convoys. Grudgingly allowing it a minor mission, the Navy slowly built up its aviation.

Admiral Benson retired from the U.S. Navy in September 1919.

In Retirement

Over the next decade, he was active in the leadership of the U.S. Shipping Board. His mother, Catherine Brewer Benson, was the first woman to receive a degree from a chartered college, Georgia Female College (now Wesleyan College).


The USS Benson (DD-421) and USS Admiral W. S. Benson (AP-120) were named in his honor.

Death and Burial

Admiral William Shepherd Benson died on 20 May 1932 in Washington, DC. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, in Section 3, Lot 1873-B.

Honoree ID: 460   Created by: MHOH




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