Fletcher attended both the U.S. Naval War College (1929–1930) and U.S. Army War College (1930–1931). From 1933 to 1936, he served as aide to the secretary of the navy. From 1936 to 1938, Fletcher commanded the battleship New Mexico and then served in the navy's Bureau of Personnel. Following his promotion to rear admiral, Fletcher commanded Cruiser Division 3 in the Atlantic Fleet.
On 15 December 1941, Fletcher took command of the Wake Island relief force centered on the carrier Saratoga, but he moved cautiously, and the island fell on 23 December before he could arrive. In January 1942, Fletcher received command of Task Force 17, which was centered on the carrier Yorktown. He participated in carrier raids on the Marshall and Gilbert Islands and joined Task Force 11 in attacks on Japanese shipping in the Solomon Islands. Fletcher commanded U.S. forces in the May 1942 Battle of the Coral Sea. Following his return to Pearl Harbor for hasty repairs to the Yorktown, Fletcher raced back with her to join the U.S. force near Midway, where he helped orchestrate the dramatic U.S. victory on 3–6 June 1942, in which four Japanese carriers were lost in exchange for the Yorktown.
Fletcher then commanded the three-carrier task force supporting 1st Marine Division assaults on Tulagi and Guadalcanal (Operation watchtower). Unwilling to risk his carriers, Fletcher took the controversial decision to withdraw them before the transports had completed unloading supplies to the Marines, forcing the transports to depart as well. He then committed his forces against the Japanese counterattack toward Guadalcanal, resulting in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. Fletcher was wounded when his flagship, the carrier Saratoga, was torpedoed, and he returned to the United States.
After his recovery, Fletcher commanded the 13th Naval District and the Northwestern Sea Frontier. Fletcher's reputation for caution led Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest J. King in 1943 to assign him to command the North Pacific area. Following Japan's surrender in August 1945, Fletcher oversaw the occupation of northern Honshu and Hokkaido.
In 1945, Fletcher joined the navy's General Board, which advised the secretary of the navy; he served as its chairman from May 1946 until May 1947, when he was promoted to full admiral and retired. Fletcher died at Bethesda, Maryland, on 25 April 1973.
Stephen Patrick Ward
Hammel, Erich. Carrier Clash: The Invasion of Guadalcanal and the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, August 1942. Pacifica, CA: Pacifica Press, 1997.; Morison, Samuel E. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vols. 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, and 11. Boston: Little, Brown, 1947–1952.; Regan, Stephen. In Bitter Tempest: The Biography of Frank Jack Fletcher. Ames: Iowa State Press, 1994.