Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner’s career in the American Navy had been quite rewarding. No one reached lofty flag rank without senior naval commanders knowing what kind of man he was. If one reads what his commanding officers and other said about him in writing, two prominent aspects of his personality become clear. First, no one doubted his brilliant intellect capable of grasping complex problems. Second, Turner had little tolerance for what he saw as incompetence or stupidity and never hesitated strongly expressing his opinions. It was no wonder that many in the Navy called him “Terrible” Turner.
He held the strategically important post of Director of the Navy’s War Plans Division before December 7, 1941. That assignment kept him in the center of American naval strategic discussions and development. Nonetheless, when Lieutenant Commander Alwin D. Kramer, who shared the responsibility of distributing the MAGIC intercepts with Colonel Rufus S. Bratton, tried to contact to give him the latest fourteen-part message sent by the Japanese the evening of December 6, Turner’s telephone rang unanswered. However, that apparent lack of attention was just a happenstance. Kelly Turner’s involvement in the Pacific War intensified immediately.
In his job as the Director of the War Plans Division, his work immersed him into the details of planning for fighting a massive two-front war. Turner realized Guadalcanal’s strategic importance. The island lay on a straight path between the continental United States, Hawaii, and Australia. Therefore, he knew the Americans had to do everything they could to protect this critical supply line. With the demands for landing craft for invading Guadalcanal and North Africa, the Navy sorely needed careful planning to allocate enough boats to satisfy both requirements. The Guadalcanal invasion also required a huge fleet of cargo ships, fuel tankers, and troop transports to carry the 1st Marine Division to Guadalcanal. It would a take special man to command such a fleet.
Admiral King had already begun the planning for Operation WATCHTOWER (the code word for the American invasion of the Solomon Islands). The Americans needed to assemble the largest amphibious landing force tried in history to invade Guadalcanal. And Kelly Turner was just the man for the job. He was the admiral who understood the problems and intricacies of amphibious warfare. King ordered Turner to report to Nimitz on May 20, 1942. Turner became the commander of the South Pacific Amphibious Force less than two months later on July 18, 1942.
In his customary aggressive style, Turner began gathering forces scattered all over the South Pacific and the west coast of the United States and ordered them prepare the greatest amphibious invasion in American history. He needed to use every part of intellect and energy he had to get the job done.
When he reached Pearl Harbor, he met with Admiral Jack Fletcher, the commander of the carriers that would be part of the invasion, to plan the invasion’s details. With ships scattered all over the Pacific Ocean, the two men decided they should meet in the Koro Sea at the Fiji Islands to rehearse the invasion. The orders arrived from Nimitz through King to launch the capture of Guadalcanal and Tulagi islands. The Americans were going on the offensive at last.