Between the wars, Ghormley held a variety of staff positions. In 1935 and 1936, Captain Ghormley commanded the battleship Nevada. He then directed the War Plans Office and, in 1939, became assistant to the chief of naval operations. In August 1940, now a rear admiral, Ghormley was sent to London as a naval observer and to recommend possible U.S. naval aid to Britain.
In June 1942, newly promoted to vice admiral, Ghormley was named commander to the South Pacific Area and Force. He assumed his new command as plans for the invasion of the U.S. Guadalcanal were in progress. Believing his forces to be unready, he requested a postponement in the operation, which was denied. He then seems to have distanced himself from the operation, while tensions between his subordinate commanders were left unresolved. After the Allied defeat in the Battle of Savo Island, Ghormley feared that the entire Guadalcanal operation would fail. As a result, he continued to maintain strong garrisons on other islands in the event of future Japanese advances, rather than using those forces to assist in winning the protracted struggle on Guadalcanal. Ghormley suffered from a severely abscessed tooth at the time, which may have interfered with his decision making. In October 1942, following the Battle of Cape Esperance, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the Pacific Fleet, replaced Ghormley with Vice Admiral William F. Halsey Jr., who infused an offensive spirit into the campaign that Ghormley seemed incapable of maintaining.
In 1943, Ghormley commanded the Hawaiian Sea Frontier, and in 1944 he took charge of the 14th Naval District, Hawaii. At the end of the war, Ghormley assumed command of U.S. Naval Forces in Germany (Task Force 124), which was charged among other things with demobilizing the German navy. Ghormley retired from the navy as a vice admiral in August 1946, and he died at Bethesda, Maryland, on 21 June 1958.
Edward F. Finch
Frank, Richard B. Guadalcanal. New York: Random House, 1990.; Miller, Eric. Guadalcanal: The Carrier Battles. New York: Crown, 1987.; Miller, Eric. Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea. New York: Crown, 1988.; Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of the United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vol. 5, The Struggle for Guadalcanal. Boston: Little, Brown, 1949.