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First Name: John

Last Name: Sides

Birthplace: Roslyn, WA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Middle Name: Harold

Date of Birth: 22 April 1904

Date of Death: 03 April 1978

Rank or Rate: Admiral

Years Served: 1925-1963
John Harold Sides

Graduate, U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1925

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


John Harold "Savvy" Sides
Admiral, U.S. Navy

John Harold Sides was born on 22 April 1904 in Roslyn, WA, to George Kelley and Estella May Bell Sides. He attended primary and secondary schools in Roslyn, then studied for one year at the University of Washington before being appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy, from which he graduated ninth in a class of 448 in 1925.

Commissioned Ensign, he served four years aboard the battleship USS Tennessee before being dispatched to the Asiatic Station with the destroyer USS John D. Edwards to participate in the Yangtze River Patrol. He returned to the U.S. in June 1931 to study Naval Ordnance at the Naval Postgraduate School in Annapolis, MD, beginning a long career in that field. He completed the Ordnance Course at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, MI, in 1934, and in May began two years as Assistant Fire Control Officer aboard the light cruiser USS Cincinnati. He served as Flag Lieutenant on the staff of a battleship division commander from 1936-37, then spent two years in the Ammunition Section of the Bureau of Ordnance. He also received a Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1934.

In July 1939, he assumed command of the destroyer USS Tracy, which was assigned to Mine Division 1 and operated out of Pearl Harbor with the Battle Force. He commanded Tracy until November 1940, then reported aboard the light cruiser USS Savannah as Gunnery Officer.

World War II

Following the U.S. entry into World War II, he returned to the Bureau of Ordnance in March 1942 to serve as Chief of the Ammunition and Explosives Section, where his work in research and development was instrumental in creating fuses and explosives and devising new formulae.

At the Bureau of Ordnance, Sides nurtured a number of early rocket projects, often against high-level institutional opposition. One notable success was the high velocity aircraft rocket (HVAR), a 5-inch air-to-ground rocket that was used in Europe against trucks and tanks and was being produced at the rate of 40,000 per day by the end of the war. "He was a real pioneer of the Navy rocket programs," recalled Thomas F. Dixon, HVAR project officer under Sides' supervision and later Chief designer of the engines for the Atlas, Thor, Jupiter, Redstone, and Saturn rockets. "All the way through it was a fight with the Admirals. Caltech's professor of physics, Dr. Charles Lauritsen, had developed a barrage rocket - ideal for landings to clean up the banks. When we brought this to the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, however, his general reaction was, 'Don't put rockets on my battleships, cruisers, or destroyers.'"

Sides returned to sea in October 1944 in command of Mine Division 8 for combat duty in the Pacific theater, where the Navy credited him with "contributing materially to the success of the Okinawa invasion." In April 1945, he became Commander of Destroyer Squadron 47, and remained in that command until the end of the war.

After the war, he was assigned as Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations and Training on the staff of the Commander of battleships and cruisers in the Atlantic Fleet. In September 1947, he reported for instruction at the National War College in Washington, DC.

Father of the Guided-Missile Navy

In June 1948, he began two years as Deputy to the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for guided missiles, Rear Admiral Daniel V. Gallery. Over the next decade, he would build a reputation for missile expertise and eventually become known as the father of the Navy's guided-missile program.

Revolt of the Admirals

As Deputy Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for guided missiles, Sides risked his career by participating in the Revolt of the Admirals, an episode of civil-military conflict in which high-ranking Navy officials publicly clashed with their Air Force counterparts and civilian superiors over the future of the U.S. military. Testifying as a guided-missile expert before the House Armed Services Committee on 11 October 1949, Sides warned that the Air Force's B-36 strategic bomber would not be able to penetrate Russian defenses to deliver its nuclear payload as claimed, since the U.S. already possessed supersonic guided missiles that would "seek out and destroy the really fast jet bombers now on the drawing boards" and the Russians had likely inherited a similar capability from the German Wasserfall missile development program and personnel they had captured at the end of World War II.

When Sides became eligible for early promotion to Rear Admiral a month later, the selection board was perceived to be stacked against Captains who had participated in the Revolt because it included none of the top Admirals involved in the controversy. Passed over, as expected, in 1950 he took command of the heavy cruiser USS Albany for a twelve-month tour in the Atlantic Fleet. Sides had hoped to captain the first guided-missile cruiser, which the Navy had expected to put in operation by that year, but its development schedule had slipped due to problems with the sound barrier. The first guided-missile cruiser would not become operational until 1955.

Regulus Cruise Missile

In 1951, Sides became Head of the Technical Section in the Office of the Director of Guided Missiles in the Department of Defense, K.T. Keller, the former president and chairman of the board of the Chrysler Corporation who had been appointed "missile czar" in October 1950 with a mandate to unify the independent service missile programs. Keller ordered the services to shift from experimentation to production on five missile projects: the Army's Nike; the Air Force's Matador; and the Navy's Terrier, Sparrow, and Regulus. As Keller's Navy Deputy, Sides was responsible for producing all three Navy missiles, and was credited with being, "as much as any man, the father of the Regulus cruise missile." "He was the real 'thinking' admiral in the guided missile field, and an outstanding man," recalled Regulus project manager Robert F. Freitag.

Fleet Ballistic Missile

Sides was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1952 as Director of the Guided-Missile Division in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. In that role, he directed the Navy's entire guided-missile program for almost four years, and played an influential and initially adversarial role in the development of the Polaris fleet ballistic missile (FBM).

As top missile advisor to the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Robert B. Carney, Sides convinced Carney to veto several early FBM proposals, including a 1952 bid by Freitag and other Navy officers for a weaponized version of the Viking rocket, whose launch from the rolling deck of a ship had already been demonstrated. Since the FBM would have to be funded internally by siphoning funds from existing Navy programs, Carney and Sides both judged that the research costs associated with the FBM were too open-ended to justify sacrificing present combat capability for an unproven future capability.

In 1954, Freitag and his colleagues at the Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) again tried to engage the Navy in FBM development by funneling their research to a secret study committee chaired by Massachusetts Institute of Technology president James R. Killian. The Killian Committee had a charter to unify the ballistic missile programs scattered among the services, and enthusiastically recommended that the Navy develop a fleet-based intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). This external endorsement by a distinguished independent evaluator persuaded the Chief of BuAir, Rear Admiral James S. Russell, to fully commit the bureau to FBM development.

However, there was no guarantee that any amount of manpower or money could create the components required for a viable FBM system, which still lacked accurate systems for guidance, fire control, and navigation; adequate metals and materials for fabrication; a compact nuclear warhead with sufficient yield; and a solid rocket propellant to replace liquid fuels that were too dangerous to be used at sea. "There wasn't even a concept as to a launching system," recalled Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, Carney's successor as Chief of Naval Operations.

On Sides' advice, Carney again concluded that a full-fledged FBM program remained premature, and in July directed BuAer to discontinue all efforts to expand FBM development. However, Russell exercised his statutory prerogative as Bureau Chief to appeal directly to James H. Smith, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air, who kept the project alive until Carney was succeeded by Burke on 17 August 1955. Within 24 hours of being sworn in, Burke summoned Sides, Freitag, and other Navy missile experts to his office for a briefing on the FBM research studies. By the end of the meeting, Burke had reversed Carney's veto and committed the Navy to an all-out FBM development program, directing Sides and Freitag to work out the operational details.

Sides handled the Navy's side of negotiations over how exactly to implement the Killian Committee's recommendations, which called for the Navy to develop a ship-launched FBM similar to the Army's Jupiter IRBM. On 13 September 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower accepted the Killian Committee recommendations and directed the Navy to design a sea-based support system for Jupiter. Sides and the Navy protested that liquid-fuel rockets like Jupiter were too dangerous for shipboard use and pushed instead for submarine-launched solid-fuel rockets for tactical use against enemy submarine bases. However, on 17 November 1955, Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson ordered the Navy to join the Army on Jupiter development, and specified that all such missile development would not be externally funded but would have to be carved out of the existing Navy budget.

In response, Burke created the Special Projects Office, a new organization with a mandate to develop a submarine-launched solid-fuel fleet ballistic missile. The Special Projects Office reported directly to Burke and the Secretary of the Navy, an unprecedented bypass of the Navy bureaus that signaled the Navy's commitment to the FBM concept. To direct the Special Projects Office, at Sides' persistent suggestion, Burke selected Sides' former deputy, Rear Admiral William F. Raborn, Jr., whose phenomenal success in that role would earn him renown as the father of Polaris.

Guided-Missile Cruiser

Sides returned to sea in January 1956 as the first seagoing Flag Officer to command a guided-missile cruiser group, Cruiser Division 6, which included the guided-missile cruisers USS Boston and Canberra. At the long-delayed commissioning of the Navy's first guided-missile cruiser, Boston, in November 1955, Sides declared that the new ship marked a fundamental change in sea warfare because it was now possible to defend the fleet against bombers without losing several fighter planes in the process. "It is my personal opinion that within five years, the Navy will have dozens of guided missile ships. They should include not only vessels carrying antiaircraft missiles but also larger ships with surface to surface missile capability."

In March 1956, the Navy displayed its first combat-ready antiaircraft missile, Terrier, aboard Boston. Sides said at the time that he foresaw within five years "a family of surface-to-air guided missile ships...dozens of ships of the cruiser, frigate, destroyer and battleship classes." Sides commanded the cruiser division for only four months before being recalled to Washington in April 1956 to become Deputy to the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for guided missiles, Eger V. Murphree.

Weapons Systems Evaluation Group

Sides was promoted to Vice Admiral in 1957 to serve as Director of the Pentagon's Weapons Systems Evaluation Group (WSEG) from 1957-60. As the chief weapons expert for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he assured the public that despite apparent setbacks in the space race with the Soviet Union, the American missile program was developing well.

On 21 August, the Soviet Union successfully tested the first ICBM, a feat reported by TASS on 27 August. In October, following the unexpected Russian launch of the first satellite, Sputnik 1, Sides spoke before the American Rocket Society and Institute of Aeronautical Sciences and disputed the Russian report of a successful ICBM test, claiming the reported August flight might actually have been an "errant sputnik" that failed to make its orbit. He was "certain that the enormous effort which went into the development and launching of Sputnik was at the expense" of the Soviet ICBM program, and asserted that "winning the race for development of long-range weapons systems is more important than getting up the first satellite." His speech was regarded as a vigorous defense of the Eisenhower administration's decision to separate the satellite program from ballistic missile development.

After the dramatic failure of the first U.S. attempt to launch a satellite on 6 December 1957, Sides spoke at a conference of the American Management Association on 15 January 1958, where he reiterated that the nation's development of long-range missiles was "progressing very well" and complained that a false impression had been created by missiles that failed in early tests. "It just so happened that about the time of the sputnik launchings, our intermediate and intercontinental ballistic missile flight-test programs were getting into high gear; and not being blessed with a Siberian proving ground, where we might do our testing in private, every malfunctioning test vehicle was given a play in all the media of public information. The impression was unwittingly created that we were really on our uppers, when, as a matter of fact, each one of these so-called unsuccessful missiles yielded a great deal of the very information it was fired to obtain."

Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet

On 1 June 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower nominated Sides for promotion to Admiral as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT). Because of Sides' background, his appointment was interpreted as heralding a new emphasis on missile warfare. Sides relieved Admiral Herbert G. Hopwood on 30 August. His command was responsible for guarding the Far East and the U.S. West Coast, and included the First Fleet, the Seventh Fleet, 400 ships, 3,000 aircraft, and half a million men.

Sides was CINCPACFLT during the early stages of American involvement in the Vietnam War. In November 1961, enroute to Bangkok to repay a visit to Pearl Harbor by the Commander-in-Chief of Thailand's Navy, Sides stopped overnight in Saigon with his wife. Asked about rumors of Seventh Fleet units operating in Vietnamese waters, Sides replied, "The center of gravity of the Seventh Fleet is always near a troubled area," but declared there was "no intention" of using the Seventh Fleet "in the immediate future" in any role having to do with the Vietnamese crisis. "But I am not saying it could not happen."

As one of the few active four-star Admirals, Sides was occasionally considered for other four-star jobs. In 1961, Newsweek handicapped his odds of succeeding Burke as Chief of Naval Operations at 15-1. He was a candidate to replace Admiral Robert L. Dennison as the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic in 1963, but was passed over in favor of Admiral Harold P. Smith.

He retired from the Navy on 1 October 1963.

Medals and Awards

Legion of Merit with Gold Star and Valor Device
Navy Unit Commendation with Bronze Star
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal
National Defense Service Medal

He was also awarded the Yangtze Service Medal and received the rank of comendador in the Order of Naval Merit from Brazil. The Legion of Merit was awarded for his service as Chief of the Ammunition and Explosives Section of the Bureau of Ordnance during World War II.


• He is the namesake of the guided-missile frigate USS Sides, whose coat of arms contains a scaled horse's head that represents a knight on a chessboard, evoking Sides' personal reputation as a man of knightly character and integrity and as a naval officer experienced in the strategies of sea warfare.

• The National Defense Industrial Association confers the annual Admiral John H. Sides Award on select members of its Strike, Land Attack and Air Defense Division "in recognition of meritorious service and noteworthy contribution to effective government-industry advancement in the fields of strike, land attack, and air defense warfare."

In Retirement

After retirement from the Navy, he became a consultant to the Lockheed Aircraft Company in California. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board on 10 August 1965.

He was a member of the chemical society Phi Lambda Upsilon, the research society Sigma Xi, and the graduate engineering society Iota Alpha. He was a Fellow of the American Rocket Society.


He married the former Virginia Eloise Roach of Inez, KY, on 12 June 1929, and they had one daughter, Joanne Savina Sides.

Death and Burial

Admiral John Harold Sides died on 3 April 1978 of a heart seizure while on the Coronado Golf Course near San Diego, CA. He was 73. Sides is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, CA. He was survived by his wife, Virginia, and their daughter, Joanne Savina Sides Watson. Virginia died on 17 December 1990 and is buried next to her husband.

Honoree ID: 645   Created by: MHOH




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