John Henry Towers
Infobox Military Person
name=John Henry Towers
born= birth date|1885|1|30
died= death date and age|1955|4|30|1885|1|30
caption=John Henry Towers
Jamaica, New York
allegiance= United States of America
United States Navy
commands=Pacific Fleet 5th Fleet 2d Carrier Task Force and Task Force 38 USS|Langley|CV-1 USS|Mugford|DD-105 USS|Saratoga|CV-3
World War II
Legion of Merit
laterwork=President, Pacific War Memorial President, Flight Safety Council
John Henry Towers (
January 30, 1885- April 30, 1955) was a United States Navy admiraland pioneer Naval Aviator. He made important contributions to the technical and organizational development of Naval Aviation from its very beginnings, eventually serving as Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics(1939-1942). He commanded carrier task forces during World War II, and retired in December 1947. Towers spent his last years supporting aeronautical research and advising the aviation industry.
Early life and career
Towers was born on 30 January 1885 at
Rome, Georgia. He graduated from the United States Naval Academyin the Class of 1906, and was commissioned ensign in 1908 while serving aboard the battleship USS|Kentucky|BB-6. He was later assigned to the battleship USS|Michigan|BB-27 before being sent to Hammondsport, New York, in 1911 for aviation duty.
Pioneer Naval Aviator
Under the tutelage of aviation pioneer
Glenn Curtiss, Towers qualified as a pilot in August 1911. That fall, he went on to supervise the establishment of the Navy's first aviation unit, based at Annapolis, Maryland. Towers next traveled to California. There, in conjunction with the Curtiss Flying School at North Islandin San Diego, he took part in developing and improving naval aircraft types.
In the summer of 1912, after his return east, Towers was nearly killed in an aviation mishap over the
Chesapeake Bay. While he was flying as a passenger on June 20, his plane was caught in a sudden downdraft and plummeted earthward. The pilot, Ensign W.D. Billingsley, was thrown from the aircraft and killed. Towers, too, was wrenched from his seat but managed to catch a wing strut and stayed with the plane until it crashed into the Chesapeake. Interviewed by Glenn Curtisssoon thereafter, Towers recounted the circumstances of the tragedy; his report and resultant recommendations eventually led to the design and adoption of safety belts and harnesses for pilots and their passengers.
5 March 1913, the Navy designated Towers as Naval Aviator No. 3; and, in January 1914, he became the executive officer of the Naval Air Station at Pensacola, Florida. When Vera Cruz was occupied by the Navy and Marines that spring, in connection with the Tampico Affair, Towers commanded the aviation unit carried to that port on the battleshipUSS|Mississippi|BB-23|2 and the cruiserUSS|Birmingham|CL-2|2.
World War I
In August 1914, one month into
World War I, Towers was ordered to Londonas assistant naval attache—- a billet he filled until he returned to the United States in the autumn of 1916.
Once back home, he supervised the establishment of the
Naval Flying Corps-- then in its infancy. When the Navy established the Division of Aviation, at Navy Department headquarters, Towers was appointed Assistant Director of Naval Aviation.
The Interwar Years, 1919-1939
Towers was involved in a number of pioneering developments in Naval Aviation in the years between the World Wars. These included participation in the 1919 transatlantic crossing of the aircraft NC-4; serving as commander of the first U.S.
aircraft carrier, USS|Langley|CV-1; and holding important positions (including bureau chief) within the Bureau of Aeronautics(BuAer), the organizational structure established for Naval Aviation in 1921.
Transatlantic Crossing: The Flight of NC-4, 1919
In February 1919, Towers was placed in charge of the proposed
transatlantic flightof the NC-flying boats. While commanding NC-3, he led the division from Trepassy Bay, Newfoundland. Though their ultimate destination was Lisbon, Portugal, NC-1 and NC-3 encountered dense fog off the Azoresand had to land to take bearings. Due to the heavy seas, neither could take off again; and the latter soon began shipping water. Towers and his crew managed to keep the flying boat afloat for 52 hours and eventually made Punta Delgada on Sao Miguel Island. NC-4went on to complete the transatlantic crossing, arriving at Lisbon on 27 May. For his part in the operation, Towers received the Navy Cross.
ea and Shore Assignments, 1920s and 1930s
Between the autumn of 1919 and the late winter of 1922 and 1923, Towers served at sea—as the executive officer of USS|Aroostook|CM-3|2 and as the commanding officer of the old
destroyerUSS|Mugford|DD-105|2, which had been redesignated an aircraft tender. Then, after a tour as executive officer at NAS Pensacola, he spent two and one-half years—from March 1923 to September 1925—as an assistant naval attache, serving at the American embassies at London, Paris, Rome, the Hague, and Berlin.
Returning to the United States in the autumn of 1925, he was assigned to the
Bureau of Aeronauticsand served as a member of the court of inquiry which investigated the loss of dirigible USS|Shenandoah|ZR-1|6.
Towers next commanded USS|Langley|CV-1|2, the Navy's first
aircraft carrier, from January 1927 to August 1928. He received a commendation for "coolness and courage in the face of danger" when a gasoline line caught fire and burned on board the carrier in December 1927. Towers personally led the vigorous and successful attempt to suppress the flames kindled by the explosion and thus averted a catastrophe.
After shore duty in the Bureau of Aeronautics—successively serving as head of the plans division and later, as assistant bureau chief—Towers joined the staff of the Commander, Aircraft, Battle Force, Rear Admiral
Harry E. Yarnell, in June 1931. He was among the staff which planned a successful "attack" on Pearl Harbor during the Joint Army-Navy Exercise No. 4 in the Hawaiian Islands in February 1932—an operation which was to be duplicated on a larger scale by the Japanese in December 1941.
Between June 1933 and June 1939, Towers filled a variety of billets ashore and afloat: he completed the senior course at the
Naval War Collegein 1934; commanded the Naval Air Station at San Diego; again served on the staff of ComAirBatFor; commanded USS|Saratoga|CV-3|3; and became Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics. On 1 June1939, he was named Chief of the Bureau of Aeronauticswith the accompanying rank of rear admiral.
Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, 1939-1942
As bureau chief, Towers organized the Navy's aircraft procurement plans while war clouds gathered over the Far East and in the Atlantic. Under his leadership, the air arm of the Navy grew from 2,000 planes in 1939 to 39,000 in 1942. He also instituted a rigorous pilot-training program and established a trained group of reserve officers for ground support duties. During Towers' tenure, the number of men assigned to
naval aviationactivities reached a high point of some three quarters of a million.
World War II Operational Commands
Promoted to vice admiral on 6 October 1942, Towers became Commander, Air Force, Pacific Fleet. From this billet, he supervised the development, organization, training, and supply of the Fleet's growing aviation capability.
For his "sound judgment and keen resourcefulness", Towers received, successively, the
Legion of Meritand the Distinguished Service Medal.
Towers was subsequently promoted to the dual position of Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Ocean Area (DCINCPAO) and Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet (DCINCPAC). In this capacity, he served as Admiral
Chester Nimitz's chief advisor on naval aviation policy, fleet logistics, and administration matters.
In August 1945, Towers was given command of the 2d Carrier Task Force and Task Force 38, Pacific Fleet. On 7 November 1945, he broke his flag in the battleship USS|New Jersey|BB-62|3 as Commander,
5th Fleet. On 1 February 1946, he hoisted his flag in the carrier USS|Bennington|CV-20|3 as Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, a post he held until March 1947.
Post-War Service and Retirement
After chairing the Navy's General Board from March to December 1947, Towers retired on 1 December 1947. After retirement, Towers served as President of the
Pacific War Memorial, a New York-based scientific foundation; as assistant to the President of Pan American World Airways; and as President of the Flight Safety Council. Admiral Towers died in St. Albans' hospital, Jamaica, New York, on 30 April 1955.
In 1961, Towers was posthumously designated the second recipient of the
Gray Eagle Award, as the most senior active naval aviator from 1928 until his retirement.
USS|Towers|DDG-9 was named in his honor.
*Reynolds, Clark G. "Admiral John H. Towers: The Struggle for Naval Air Supremacy." Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991.
* [http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/t7/towers.htm Biographical information on Admiral Towers and ship history for USS Towers (DDG-9)] from the Naval Historical Center
* [http://www.loc.gov/rr/mss/text/towers.html John H. Towers Papers (Library of Congress)]
* [http://www.legis.state.ga.us/legis/2003_04/fulltext/sr942.htm Text of Georgia Senate Resolution SR-942, honoring Admiral Towers] The text includes a brief recital of Towers' Georgia roots and naval accommplishments. The resolution was to approve the placing of a portrait of Towers in the Georgia State Capitol.
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