William Moffett




NA/South & Gulf region


Maritime Nation To 1950 (1921-1950)








U.S. Navy rear admiral� The young Moffett graduated from the High School of Charleston and entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1886. Plagued by health problems, he graduated near the bottom of his class in 1890 and two years later received his commission as ensign. From 1893 to 1895 he toured European waters and the Mediterranean in the cruiserChicago, commanded by Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan. During the Spanish-American War, Moffett served in the armored cruiser Charleston, which participated in the capture of Guam and formed part of the American blockading fleet following the battle of Manila Bay�

Having advanced to lieutenant commander in 1905 and commander in 1911, Moffett saw duty as navigation officer in the armored cruiser Maryland (1908-1910), as inspector of the Eighteenth Lighthouse District in San Francisco (1910-1912), and as executive officer of the battleship Arkansas (1912-1913). He won the Congressional Medal of Honor while in command of the cruiser Chester during the American invasion of the Mexican city of Veracruz in 1914. Moffett's service as commandant of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station from 1914 to 1918 gained him administrative experience and exposed him to the potential of aviation. During World War I, he encouraged the formation of aviation instruction programs at the base and, equally important, forged links with members of Chicago's North Shore business elite, who became valuable political allies in the congressional and interservice battles over aviation appropriations. In 1917 he attained the rank of captain.

From December 1918 to December 1920 Moffett commanded the battleship Mississippi. On his initiative, the ship was fitted with flying-off platforms, used for the operation of aircraft for gunfire spotting and scouting. The experience with Mississippi's ship plane unit gave Moffett an increased understanding of aircraft operations at sea and brought him into direct contact with officers who were committed to naval aviation� Moffett became director of naval aviation in March 1921 and in July assumed the position of chief of the new Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) with the rank of rear admiral�

In the summer of 1921, the navy arranged a series of bombing experiments with captured German warships in order to determine their vulnerability to aerial attack. The tests culminated in the sinking of the German dreadnought Ostfriesland, convincing Moffett that ships could be sunk by airplanes and that it was imperative to make aviation an integral part of the U.S. fleet. Throughout his first term as chief of BuAer he worked to achieve that end by forcefully advocating the development of the aircraft carrier and a program to equip nearly all battleships and cruisers with catapults and aircraft. Moffett's service as a technical assistant at the Washington Naval Conference in 1921-1922 helped sharpen his focus on the future role of the carrier and fleet aviation� Moffett was one of the navy's most persistent advocates of the rigid airship, the range and payload capabilities of which made it an attractive complement to cruisers in scouting and reconnaissance operations in the Pacific. He viewed the navy as playing a major part in the development of an airship industry in the United States, convincing Congress to fund the construction of two large fleet airships. Akron, the first of these large craft, was completed in 1931, followed two years later by her sister ship, Macon. The large airships never realized their full potential in limited operations with the fleet. Ironically, Moffett and seventy-two others died whenAkron went down in a storm off the New Jersey coast on 4 April 1933�

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Record ID: 407