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Benedict J. Semmes papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSC-063

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of five boxes; it is divided into six series. Biographical data forms Series I. His official Navy biography as well as his transcript of naval service can be found here. Series II contains official naval papers spanning the admiral's naval career from 1934 to 1972. Included in this series are fitness reports, naval orders, change of duty, retirement papers and recommendations for awards and citations. Series III contains correspondence, including both letters sent and received. Most of it consists of letters sent and received while president of the Naval War College, 1971-1972, although there is some personal correspondence. Speeches given at commissioning ceremonies and change of commands make up Series IV. Series V, Writings, contains article by Kit Semmes, the admiral's wife, on the Washington Navy Yard, their year in Bahrain in 1962 and reflections on her life as a Navy wife. Semmes' National War College thesis, 1958, is located here. Miscellany, Series VI, consists of certificates, newspaper clippings, programs, invitations, menus, imprints, books, naval and personal photographs and a genealogy entitled Semmes America. The manuscripts cover the years 1934-1985.

The Semmes papers are the only collection in existence pertaining to the admiral's career. They are an important addition to the College's collection of presidential papers. While the correspondence portion of the collection documents his Naval War College presidency, the naval papers portion encompasses his entire career.

Dates

  • 1931 - 1987

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

Access is open to all researchers, unless otherwise specified.

Conditions Governing Use

Material in this collection is in the public domain, unless otherwise noted.

Biographical Note

Vice Admiral Benedict J. Semmes was born on April 8, 1913, in Memphis, Tennessee, to a family whose roots go back to the early history of this country. He was educated in Memphis and graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1934.

After receiving his commission as an ensign, he served in the USS MISSISSIPPI for three years, then was assigned to the Battle Force, and later the USS CLAXTON and the USS BADGER. When World War II began, he was in the USS WASP which saw action in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters. He was with the ship when she was sunk in the Solomon Islands by a Japanese submarine in September 1942. Assigned next to the USS SIGSBEE, he participated in the assault on Tarawa. Later in the war, he commanded the USS PICKING which saw action at the Battles of Leyte Gulf, Lingayen, Corregidor and Okinawa.

Semmes considered himself a destroyer sailor and he saw extensive service in these ships. He commanded a destroyer division in the Korean War, he was chief of staff to the Atlantic Fleet Destroyer Force Commander, commanded the USS SHENANDOAH in the Lebanon Crisis of 1958 and was Commander of the Middle East Force from 1962 to 1963. He rose to become Commander of Destroyers and cruisers, Atlantic Fleet in 1963 and 1964 and became Commander of the U.S. Second Fleet and NATO Atlantic Striking Fleet.

Admiral Semmes was a graduate of the National War College in 1958 and held important shore billets, including Chief of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations and President of the Naval War College, 1971-72, his last active duty post before retirement.

In retirement, Admiral Semmes divided his time between his residences in Washington, D.C. and Wonalancet, New Hampshire. He died on June 11, 1994, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He is survived by his wife, Katharine Ainsworth Semmes; two daughters, Walden s. Morton and Amy Semmes; and a son, Dr. Benedict J. Semmes III. He was predeceased by a daughter, Raphaelle J. Semmes.

Admiral Semmes was a recipient of the Navy Cross, Bronze Star, Distinguished Service Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, The Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Navy Occupation Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and the United Nations Service Medal. He was a member of the New York Yacht Club, the Army-Navy country Club, the Bald Peak Colony Club and the Chevy Chase Country Club.

Chronology of Naval Service

1913
Born, Memphis, Tennessee, April 8
1934
Graduated from U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD
1934-1937
USS MISSISSIPPI (BB-41); Promoted to Lieutenant (jg.)
1937-1938
Commander, Battle Force, Staff
1938
USS OMAHA (CL-4) and USS CLAXTON (DD-571)
1938-1940
USS BADGER {DD-126)
1940-1942
USS WASP {CV-7)
1941
Promoted to Lieutenant
1942-1943
USS SIGSBEE (DD-502), Executive Officer; Promoted to Lieutenant Commander
1943-1944
Officer in Charge, Fleet Gunnery and Torpedo School, Pearl Harbor and West coast Sound School, San Diego, CA; Promoted to Commander
1944-1945
USS PICKING (DD 685), CO
1945-1946
Bureau of Personnel, Plans and Operations Division
1946
Headquarters, Eighth Naval District, Aide to Commandant
1946-1948
Headquarters, Eighth Naval District, Acting General Inspector, Gulf Sea Frontier and Eighth Naval District
1948-1949
USS AULT (DD-698), CO
1949-1951
Commander, US Naval Forces, Germany, Staff
1951-1953
Bureau of Naval Personnel, Washington, D.C., Commander Detail Officer; Promoted to Captain
1953-1954
Destroyer Division 302, Commander
1953-1954
Commander Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet, Readiness and Training Officer
1955-1957
Commander Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet, Aide and Chief of Staff
1957-1958
National War College, Student
1958
USS SHENANDOAH (AD-26), CO
1958-1959
Destroyer Flotilla Three, Commander; Promoted to Rear Admiral
1959-1962
Bureau of Naval Personnel, Assistant Chief for Plans
1962-1963
Middle East Force, Commander
1963-1964
Cruiser-Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet, Commander; Promoted to Vice-Admiral
1964-1968
Chief of Naval Personnel (Manpower and Reserve)
1968-1970
Second Fleet, Commander
1970-1971
Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Fleet Operations and Readiness
1971-1972
Naval War College, President; Retired from U.S. Navy
1994
Died, June 11, Virginia Beach, VA

Extent

5 boxes

Language of Materials

English

Overview

Correspondence, including personal and official Naval War College letters and naval orders, 1931–1987; Speeches, undated–1972; Writings, including articles of Mrs. Semmes, 1958–1973; Semmes Family genealogy; Miscellany, including career and family photographs, newspaper clippings, certificates, programs, booklets, and invitations, 1944–1987.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Bernard J. Semmes papers were deposited in the Naval Historical Collection in two lots: the first lot, which contained the admiral's Naval War College correspondence, was located at the College and transferred to the archives in 1971; the second lot was presented to the Naval War College Foundation by Admiral Semmes in 1988. The latter deposit contains the greater part of the collection.
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Repository Details

Part of the Naval Historical Collection Repository

Contact:
US Naval War College
686 Cushing Rd
Newport RI 02841 US