William Pratt




The World


Maritime Nation To 1950 (1921-1950)








Admiral and chief of naval operations� Pratt entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1885, graduated in 1889, and earned a commission as ensign in 1891� Pratt's career progressed steadily, and by 1911, after twenty years of commissioned service and with a solid reputation in hand, he envisioned a ship command of his own. However, the department had other needs and assigned him as an instructor to the U.S. Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island.

By all accounts, duty at the War College was a major turning point for Pratt's career. He honed his writing and speaking skills and established several significant contacts among the faculty and the student body, who helped to propel him into the very heart of naval affairs. Among them, Captain William S. Sims, a student and rising star, befriended Pratt and made him his aide when he took command of the Atlantic Torpedo Flotilla in 1913. As one of Sims's "Band of Brothers," Pratt received his first command, the flotilla flagship, in 1914. His deserved promotion to captain followed in 1915. Pratt served with the army from November 1915 to May 1917, duty which included completion of the Army War College course, an important rung on the ladder to flag rank.

Pratt was assigned to the naval operations staff in May 1917� In August 1918 Pratt became assistant chief of naval operations, one of the most responsible positions in the navy. After his duty in operations, Pratt advanced rapidly through the navy's upper ranks. By 1929 he had achieved an admiral's four stars as commander in chief, U.S. Fleet, the top seagoing command.

While he was a junior officer, Pratt's superiors often overlooked his tendency toward iconoclasm� As a senior flag officer shouldering responsibilities of national import, however, it meant the adoption of opinions that sometimes stood opposed to the accepted wisdom of the department, no matter the personal repercussions� It would be the case� [in] 1929, when President Herbert Hoover asked the admiral to head the technical staff at the London Naval Conference in 1930, at which the major powers would attempt to set limits on warship types not covered by previous treaties�

In the end, Pratt helped arrange a compromise with Great Britain and Japan that set the number of heavy cruisers the United States could possess at a number lower than the General Board's absolute minimum�

Hoover appointed Pratt to succeed Hughes as chief of naval operations. When Pratt assumed his post on 17 September 1930, the navy already had entered a tumultuous era. The nation's economic woes and the low priority the administration accorded the navy overshadowed Pratt's term of office. The department did not even receive the appropriations required to build up to the number of ships permitted by the London Conference treaty. By the end of his term and retirement on 30 June 1933, Pratt had taken to publicly and privately protesting the neglect of the navy�

Pratt enjoyed a long and active retirement� In 1940 Pratt joined Newsweek to write a regular column on the war at sea, an assignment he held until 1946. He briefly returned to uniform in early 1941. Pratt lost his eyesight in 1949 but continued to promote Japanese-American relations and maintain an active correspondence until his death at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Chelsea, Massachusetts.

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