Aubrey Wray Fitch—born in St. Ignace, Mich., on 11 June 1883—entered the Naval Academy in the summer of 1902 and graduated on 12 February 1906. After serving the two years of sea duty then required by law before commissioning (in the armored cruiser Pennsylvania and the torpedo boat Chauncey) Fitch became as ensign on 13 February 1908 and served afloat in Rainbow and Concord before receiving instruction in torpedoes at the Naval Torpedo Station, Newport, R.I., in the school conducted on board the old cruiser Montgomery.
Upon completion of the torpedo course, Fitch helped to fit out the battleship Delaware, which commissioned on 4 April 1910 before returning to Annapolis for consecutive tours of duty at the Naval Academy, first as assistant discipline officer between 1911 and 1912 and rater as an instructor of physical training from 1912 to 1913. Service in the destroyers Balch and Duncan followed before he received his first sea command, the destroyer Terry, with the 2d Division, Reserve Torpedo Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet.
After serving on the staff of the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, Fitch assumed command of the yacht Yankton in January 1915, with additional duty as aide to the Commander in Chief.
Relieved of command of Yankton shortly after the United States entered World War I in the spring of 1917, Fitch continued his staff duties for another five months before joining Wyoming (Battleship No. 32) to serve as her gunnery officer for the remainder of hostilities, as that dreadnought operated with the 6th Battle Squadron, Grand Fleet.
After the armistice, Fitch again served at the Naval Academy once more before becoming, concurrently, inspector of ordnance in charge of the Naval Ammunition Depot, Hingham, Mass., and naval inspector of ordnance in charge at the Naval Coaling Station, Frenchman's Bay, Maine. From August 1920, Fitch commanded a division of fast minelayers, while also commanding in turn Luce (DM-4) and Mahan (DM-7).
Detached from Mahan in December 1922, Fitch served at Rio de Janeiro until March 1927 as a member of the United States mission to Brazil before reporting back to the Navy Department for a brief tour of duty in Washington, D.C. Going to sea as executive of ficer of Nevada (BB-36) in May 1927, Fitch assumed command of Arctic (AF-7) (a type of ship sometimes known uncomplimentarily as a "beef boat") in November of that year.
He reported for aviation instruction at the Naval Air Station (NAS), Pensacola, Fla., in June 1929 and there won his wings as a naval aviator on 4 February 1930. Following brief duty at NAS, San Diego, Calif., Fitch assumed command of Wright (AV-1) in the spring of 1930. Relieved in that billet a little over a year later (July 1931), he then began a year as commanding officer of Langley (CV-1).
After commanding NAS, Hampton Roads, Va., until June 1935 Fitch reported as chief of staff to Commander, Aircraft, Battle Force, and remained in that billet until assuming command of Lexington (CV-2) in April 1936. Subsequently attending the Naval War College, Newport, R.I., from June 1937 to May 1938, Fitch completed the senior course there before assuming command of NAS, Pensacola, in June 1938. In the spring of 1940, he took over the reins of Patrol Wing 2, based at Pearl Harbor, and seven months later, broke his flag in Saratoga (CV-3) as Commander, Carrier Division 1. The outbreak of hostilities in the Pacific in December 1941 thus found Fitch one of the most experienced carrier commanders afloat.
Fitch's flagship, Saratoga figured prominently in the abortive attempt to reinforce Wake Island in December 1941 and was later torpedoed off Oahu in late January 1942, seriously cutting American carrier strength in the Pacific at a critical period.
Rear Admiral Fitch relieved Vice Admiral Wilson Brown on 3 April 1942, breakinz his flag in Lexington, his former command. During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Fitch served as Commander Task C;roup (TG) 17.5, consisting of "Lady Lex" and Yorktown (CV-5). That engagement, the first in history where neither side came within surface gun range of the other, effectively stopped the Japanese thrust at strategic Port Moresby, but resulted in the first loss of an American aircraft carrier in the war-- Lexington, sunk on 8 May 1942.
The admiral then shifted his flag to Minneapolis (CA-36). Fitch together with Captain Sherman and Lexington's executive officer Comdr. Morton T. Seligman, visited "Lady Lex" wounded in Minneapolis' sickbay—an action that "contributed in no small measure to the Datients' well-being." For the leadership he exhibited during the Battle of the Coral Sea, Fitch was awarded his first Distinguished Service Medal.
He again broke his flag in his former flagship, Saratoga, but the task group formed around that ship arrived too late to take part in the pivotal Battle of Midway.
On 20 September 1942, six weeks after the first American amphibious operation of the war got underway at Guadalcanal, Fitch assumed command of Aircraft, South Pacific Force. Not a desk-bound admiral, he carried out numerous, hazardous flights into the combat zones, inspecting air activities incident to the selection of bases for projected operations. For these, he received a Distinguished Flying Cross.
Under Fitch's command, AirSoPac—ultimately encompassing not only Navy but Army, Marine Corps, and Royal New Zealand air units—achieved great success in aiding the Allied campaign in the South Pacific. Fitch's planes protected Allied shipping, providing vital air cover that strongly assisted the Allies in challenging, and ultimately defeating, the Japanese in the Solomons. In addition, his aircraft performed essential reconnaissanee missions, spotting enemy warships prior to the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands in October 1942 and during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942. Later, Fitch oversaw the early experiments in conducting night bombing utilizing radar (a concept which paid great dividends in interdicting Japanese shipping) and encouraged the use of specially modified aircraft to obtain photographic intelligence. In addition, for his skillful coordination of the Allied air effort in that area of the world Fitch received a gold star in lieu of a second Distinguished Service Medal.
Fitch returned to Washington in the summer of 1944 and became Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air). He skillfully and efficiently directed the aeronautical organization of the Navy, oversaw efforts to assure the readiness and deployment of air units, and planned all of the related logistics measures. For these efforts he received a Legion of Merit.
After V-J Day, Vice Admiral Fitch assumed duty as the Superintendant of the Naval Academy on 16 August 1945 and held that post until 15 January 1947, with collateral duty as Commandant, Severn River Command. The first airman to head the Naval Academy, Fitch was instrumental in establishing the Department of Aeronautics, authorized by the Navy on 28 November 1945.
Subsequent to heading the Academy, Fitch served briefly in the office of the Undersecretary of the Navy before becoming the senior member of the Naval Clemency and Prison Inspection Board in March 1947. He was so serving when he was relieved of all active duty on 1 July 1947. Admiral Fitch died in his adopted state, Maine, on 22 May 1978.
(FFG-34: dp. 3,600, 1. 445'0", b. 45'0", dr. 24'6", s. 29 k. cpl. 164, a. 1 mis. in., Standard mis., Harpoon mis., 1 76mm., 6 15.5" tt., LAMPS; cl. Oliver Hazard Perry)
Aubrey Fitch (FFG-34) was laid down on 10 April 1981 at Bath, Maine, by the Bath Iron Works; launched on 17 October 1981 sponsored by Mrs. Francesca Fitch Ferguson, the granddaughter of the late Admiral Fitch, and was commissioned at Bath, Maine, on 9 October 1982, Comdr. Floyd A. Weeks in command.
Aubrey Fitch remained at Bath for another five weeks completing her outfitting, propulsion plant examination, and crew inspections. In mid-November, she made the passage from Bath to her home port, Mayport in Florida, where she spent the remainder of 1982. Early in January of 1983, the guided-missile frigate embarked upon her shakedown cruise to the vicinity of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The warship returned to Mayport during the middle of February and then launched into a series of trials, qualifications, and certifications preparatory to her final acceptance by the Navy. She completed final acceptance trials late in May and entered the yard at Bath Iron Works for a three-month, post-shakedown availability. Aubrey Fitch completed repalrs and returned to Mayport in September. In October, she commenced refresher training out of Guantanamo Bay.
The guided-missile frigate was so engaged when United States military forces invaded the small Caribbean island nation of Grenada on 25 October in response to a power struggle between leftist factions that endangered the stability of the region as well as the lives of United States citizens attending the medical college there. Aubrey Fitch interrupted refresher training to conduct patrols in defense of the base at Guantanamo Bay against possible hostile action by Cuba as a result of the conflict in Grenada where Americans found themselves fighting Cuban "advisors" and "construction workers." Early in November, however the warship completed refresher training and assumed tactical control of Aquila (PHM-4) and Taurus (PHM-5) for the purpose of testing the feasibility of operating guided-missile frigates and guided-missile hydrofoil gunboats together in the same task organization. Demands attendant to the continuing American presence in Grenada, however, overtook the experiment and sent Aubrey Fitch and her two consorts south to the tiny republic. Duty in the waters adjacent to Grenada lasted until mid-December when the warship returned to Mayport.
Aubrey Fitch began 1984 in her home port. Later in January, she embarked upon a normal schedule of training operations in the West Indies. That employment occupied her through the month of May and into June. On 22 June, the guided missile frigate put to sea to become a unit of NATO's Standing Naval Force, Atlantic, based at Plymouth, England. That deployment included visits to a number of ports in northern Europe as well as training evolutions in the Baltic Sea. Early in the fall of 1984, the NATO force visited American waters and made calls at Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans. Late in November, the warships visited Aubrey Fitch's home port in Florida. Early in December, the NATO force headed back to Europe, leaving Aubrey Fitch at Mayport.
The warship opened 1985 much the same way as she did 1984. After concluding holiday leave and upkeep at Mayport during the first half of January, she returned to sea for the usual training exercises, equipment operation certifications, and ASW helicopter landing qualifications. These and similar evolutions alternated with periods in port for routine upkeep and availability occupied her time during the first five months of the year. In June, Aubrey Fitch began providing escort and plane guard services for America (CV-66) and Saratoga (CV-60) when the carriers put to sea to conduct landing qualifications. Near the end of June, she put to sea for special operations off the west coast of the Isthmus of Panama. She transited the Panama Canal and then operated from the base at Rodman during July, August, and nart of September. After passing back through the canal in mid-September, Aubrey Fitch arrived back at Mayport on the 21st. Repairs took up the remainder of September as well as October and November. She concluded her restricted availability with sea trials on 5 and 6 December and, after a brief round trip to Charleston and back, settled into the usual year-end holiday routine.
The relative inactivity of holiday standdown carried over into the first three weeks of 1986. On 21 January, Aubrey Fitch put to sea for a week of ASW training in the Bahama Islands. On 28 January, she interrupted her return voyage when the space shuttle Challenger exploded soon after launch. From her position just 50 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral Aubrey Fitch rushed to the scene of the tragedy and began recovering debris. She collected several tons of material which she later delivered to Cape Canaveral to be inspected as a part of the investigation into the cause of the disaster. From Cape Canaveral the guided-missile frigate returned to Mayport and remained there until the second week in February. On 10 February, Aubrey Fitch resumed training operations out of Mayport, and she continued so employed until the beginning of April at which time the warship began preparations to deploy to the Persian Gulf.
On 4 June, Aubrey Fitch stood out of Mayport in company with Talbot (FFG-4) to rendezvous with Nicholson (DD-982) and Semmes (DDG-18). She and her traveling companions then laid in a course that took them across the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, through the Suez Canal, and around the Arabian Peninsula to the Strait of Hormuz. Aubrey Fitch and her consorts arrived at Bahrain in the Persian Gulf on 8 July. The guided-missile frigate spent the next four months conducting patrols and escorting merchant ships in the strategic—and troubled—waters of the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman, and the northern portion of the Arabian Sea. No untoward events marred her sojourn in the region, and she concluded her assignment on 30 October by turning her responsibilities over to Sampson
(DDG-10). Retracing her outward-bound voyage via the Red Sea the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean Asbbrey Fitch steamed into Mayport on 4 December. Post-deployment standdown took up the remainder of 1986 and, as of the beginning of 1987, the warship was at Mayport.