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First Name: Harold

Last Name: Stark

Birthplace: Wilkes-Barre, PA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Middle Name: Raynsford

Date of Birth: 12 November 1880

Date of Death: 20 August 1972

Rank or Rate: Admiral

Years Served: 1899-1946
Harold Raynsford Stark

Graduate, U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1903

•  World War I (1914 - 1918)
•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Harold Raynsford Stark

Admiral, U.S. Navy

Harold Raynsford Stark was born on 12 November 1880 in Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Stark enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy in 1899 and graduated with the class of 1903. As a plebe, there he received the nickname "Betty" after Elizabeth Page Stark, the wife of the Revolutionary War General John Stark, who was being commemorated at the time. From 1907 to 1909, Stark served on the battleship USS Minnesota before and during the U.S. Atlantic Fleet's cruise around the world.

World War I

Subsequently, Stark had extensive duty in torpedo boats and destroyers, including command of the Asiatic Fleet's torpedo flotilla in 1917, when these old and small destroyers steamed from the Philippines to the Mediterranean to join in World War I operations. Stark served on the staff of Commander, U.S. Naval Forces operating in Europe from November 1917 to January 1919.

Inter-War Years

Following the war, Stark was Executive Officer of the battleships USS North Dakota and West Virginia, attended the Naval War College, commanded the ammunition ship USS Nitro and served in naval ordnance positions.

During the later 1920s and into the mid-1930s, with the rank of Captain, he was successively Chief of Staff to the Commander, Destroyer Squadrons Battle Fleet; Aide to the Secretary of the Navy; and Commanding Officer of USS West Virginia. From 1934-37, Rear Admiral Stark was Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance. He then served at sea as Commander Cruiser Division Three and Commander of Cruisers in the Battle Fleet, with the rank of Vice Admiral.

CNO and the Beginning of World War II

On 1 August 1939, Stark was promoted to the four-star rank of Admiral and became Chief of Naval Operations. In that position, he oversaw the expansion of the Navy during 1940-41, and its involvement in an undeclared war against German submarines in the Atlantic during the latter part of 1941. It was at this time that he authored the Plan Dog memo, which laid the basis for America's Europe first policy. He also orchestrated the Navy's change to adopting unrestricted submarine warfare in case of war with Japan; Stark expressly ordered it at 17.52 Washington time on 7 December 1941, not quite four hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It appears the decision was taken without the knowledge or prior consent of the government. It violated the London Naval Treaty, to which the U.S. was signatory.

His most controversial service involved the growing menace of Japanese forces in the period before America was bombed into the war by the attack on Pearl Harbor. The controversy centers on whether he and his Director of War Plans, Admiral Richmond K. Turner, provided sufficient information to Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, Commander of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, about Japanese moves in the fall of 1941 to enable to Kimmel to anticipate an attack and to take steps to counter it. Captain (later Rear Admiral) Edwin T. Layton was Kimmel's Chief Intelligence Officer (later also Admiral Chester W. Nimitz's Intelligence Officer) at the time of the attack. In his book, And I Was There: Pearl Harbor and Midway-Breaking the Secrets (1985), Layton maintained Stark offered meaningless advice throughout this period, withheld vital information at the insistence of his Director of War Plans, Admiral Turner, showed timidity in dealing with the Japanese, and utterly failed to provide anything of use to Kimmel. John Costello (Layton's co-author), in Days of Infamy (Pocket, 1994), points out MacArthur had complete access to both PURPLE and JN-25, plus over eight hours warning, and was still caught by surprise. Moreover, as SCAP official historian Gordon Prange and his colleagues note in December 7, 1941 (McGraw-Hill, 1988), defense of the fleet was General Short's responsibility, not Stark's. Turner's insistence on having intelligence go through War Plans led Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) to a wrong belief ONI was only to collect intelligence; Turner did not correct this view, nor aid Stark in understanding the problem. Among others, Morison and Layton agree Turner was most responsible for the debacle, as does Ned Beach in Scapegoats (Annapolis, 1995).

In addition, there was considerable confusion over where Japan might strike, including against the Soviet Union or British colonies in Asia.

After Pearl Harbor

As CNO, Stark oversaw combat operations against Japan and the European Axis Powers that officially began in December 1941.

In March 1942, Stark was relieved as CNO by Admiral Ernest King. He went to England the next month to become Commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe.

From his London headquarters, Admiral Stark directed the naval part of the great buildup in England and U.S. naval operations and training activities on the European side of the Atlantic. He received the additional title of Commander of the Twelfth Fleet in October 1943, and he supervised USN participation in the landings at Normandy, France, in June 1944. Admiral Stark built and maintained close relations with British civilian and naval leaders, who "generally adored him" and also with the leaders of other Allied powers. Stark was particularly important in dealing with Charles de Gaulle; it was thanks to Stark the U.S.-British-Free French relationship continued to work. He earned high praise from King for his work.

After the Normandy landings, Stark faced a Court of Inquiry over his actions leading up to Pearl Harbor. The Court concluded Stark had not conveyed the danger, nor provided enough information, to Kimmel, but had not been derelict. King's endorsement of the report was scalding, leading to Stark being relieved. In 1948, King reconsidered and requested the endorsement be expunged: "It was the only time that King ever admitted he had been wrong."

From August 1945 until he left active duty in April 1946, Stark served in Washington, DC, and made his home there after retirement. He died in 1972. The controversy surrounding him has only become more fierce since his death.

In Retirement

Stark maintained a family summer residence on Lake Carey in Tunkhannock, PA, north of his native Wilkes-Barre for many years and flew in by naval seaplane for weekends during his career. The cottage still stands on the westerly shore of the lake.


The frigate USS Stark (FFG-31) was named in honor of Admiral Stark. On 17 May 1987, the USS Stark was hit by two Exocet missiles fired by an Iraqi aircraft. "Thirty- seven (37) U.S. sailors died as a result. It is the only successful anti-ship missile attack on a U.S. Navy warship."

Death and Burial

Admiral Harold Raynsford Stark died on 20 August 1972. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, in Section 30, Lot 433 LH.

Honoree ID: 655   Created by: MHOH




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