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James H. Flatley

James Henry Flatley Jr.
Then Lt. Commander James H. "Jimmy" Flatley Jr. in 1942 in the cockpit of a Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter.
Nickname(s) Jimmy
Born (1906-06-17)June 17, 1906
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Died July 9, 1958(1958-07-09) (aged 52)
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1929-1958
Rank Vice Admiral
Commands held Fighter Squadron 10
Carrier Air Wing 5
USS Block Island
USS Lake Champlain

World War II

Awards Navy Cross
Distinguished Flying Cross
Bronze Star
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Presidential Unit Citation

Vice Admiral James Henry "Jimmy" Flatley Jr. (June 17, 1906 - July 9, 1958) was a World War II naval aviator and tactician for the United States Navy.


  • Early life 1
  • World War II 2
    • Combat Leader 2.1
    • Tactician 2.2
  • Post war 3
  • Legacy 4
  • Notes 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7

Early life

Flatley was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and graduated from St. Norbert College. He was a 1929 Naval Academy graduate who earned his wings in 1931. An early squadron assignment found him with VP-4F, flying Douglas PDs and Consolidated P2Ys. In December 1941 he was with VF-2 flying the Brewster F2A, the Navy’s first monoplane fighter.

World War II

Combat Leader

Flatley was an aerial-gunnery expert and World War II squadron and air group commander. As Executive Officer (XO) of Fighter Squadron VF-42, he was one of the key participants in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942—the first carrier-vs.-carrier duel. A few days before, Flatley had been ordered back to the States to form a new fighter squadron, but he managed to get permission to stay for the coming battle. Flatley was awarded the Navy Cross for "extraordinary heroism and conspicuous courage" during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

After Coral Sea, he returned to the states to form VF-10, flying F4F Wildcats. Named the Grim Reapers, as Commanding Officer (CO), Flatley became a "Reaper Leader." There were successes at Guadalcanal, but several losses which left him frustrated. Following his tour as Commander Air Group Five (CAG-5) on board USS Enterprise (CV 6), during which he helped introduce Grumman’s F6F Hellcat to combat in August 1943, Flatley at the age of 36 never flew combat again.[1]

Lt. Commander Flatley as Commander Air Group 5 (CAG-5) in his F6F-3 Hellcat on the flight deck off USS Yorktown before takeoff during the Marcus Island raid on 31 August 1943. This raid was featured in 1944 film The Fighting Lady.

He received a Navy Cross for Coral Sea; two Distinguished Flying Crosses for heroism, a Bronze Star for action with Japanese forces in the Philippine Islands, and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.


Flatley—with John S. Thach and Butch O'Hare—was instrumental in communicating tactical advice throughout naval aviation and changing the perception that the F4F Wildcat fighter was inferior to the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Flatley's belief was that it was superior to the Zero when properly utilized. Flatley said of the Wildcat: "Let us not be too critical of our equipment. It shoots the enemy down in flames and brings most of us home." He was not overly impressed by the Zero, but attributed the Japanese fighter's success to the high quality of Japanese pilots. His writeup on enemy capabilities received favorable notice at senior levels of the U.S. Navy.

The expression Thach Weave did not come into the lexicon until Flatley named it in his after action report for the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. He recounted how LCDR John S. Thach’s "Beam Defense tactic" had allowed him to escape almost certain destruction during the battle. Flatley wrote: ". . . the four plane division is the only thing that will work and, I am calling it the Thach Weave."

Flatley later received a commendation for his bravery in retrieving wounded personnel after the carrier USS Bunker Hill (CV 17) was hit by Kamikazes on May 11, 1945.

Post war

Flatley remained in the Navy after the war and became a key figure with Navy's postwar air-training program. After commanding the carrier USS Block Island (CVE-106) for a year, Flatley became deeply involved with assessing Naval Aviation's disastrous safety record and ultimately helped develop the Naval Aviation Safety Center, today's Naval Safety Center.

After the war he was training director of the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Corpus Christi, Texas Air Station; commander of the Naval Air Station Olathe in Olathe, Kansas (which was renamed "Flatley Field" from 1962–1969); and commander of the Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Virginia followed by the carrier USS Lake Champlain (CV-39). He also held various staff positions. He retired from the Navy on June 2, 1958 and was promoted to Vice Admiral concurrent with his retirement. He died barely a month after his retirement at the US Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland, on July 9, 1958.[2]


Statue of Flatley in Admiral Flatley Park in Green Bay
  • USS Flatley (FFG-21)
  • Admiral Flatley Park in Green Bay.
  • The Admiral Flatley Memorial Award for aviation safety is awarded each year to one aircraft carrier and amphibious ship, along with their embarked air wing and Marine expeditionary unit.[3]
  • United States Naval Sea Cadet Corps (USNSCC) VADM James H. Flatley Jr. Division, Green Bay, Wisconsin
  • His son, James H. Flatley III, became a naval aviator and test pilot, eventually achieving the rank of Rear Admiral
  • His grandsons, James H. Flatley IV and Joseph F. Flatley, became naval officers and aviators


  1. ^ "Naval Aviation News 2/2004"
  2. ^ "Vice Admiral James H. Flatley, Jr., U.S. Navy", Biographies in Navy History, Naval History and Heritage Command. Retrieved on September 27, 2012.
  3. ^

Further reading

  • Ewing, Steve. "Reaper Leader: The Life of Jimmy Flatley". Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2002.
  • Lundstrom, John B. "The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway". Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1984. ISBN 0-87021-189-7

External links

  • USNSCC VADM James H. Flaley Jr. Div., Green Bay Wisconsin
  • James H. Flatley biography by Naval History Command
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