Ernest McNeill Eller was born in Marion, Virginia, on 23 January 1903, son of Edward E. and Elizabeth McNeill Eller. He attended North Wilkesboro High School, North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, and North Carolina State College at Raleigh before entering the US Naval Academy in 1921. As a midshipman he was Managing Editor of the LOG, President of the Trident Society, and editor of the Trident. Graduated and commissioned Ensign on 4 June 1925, he subsequently advanced to the rank of Captain in 1944, to date from 20 July 1943, and served in the temporary rank of Commodore from 30 September 1946 until 1 December 1947. On 1 April 1954 he was transferred to the Retired List of the US Navy and was advanced to the rank of Rear Admiral.
After graduation from the Naval Academy in 1925, he served on USS Utah until 14 June 1926, when he reported to the Naval Torpedo Station, Newport, Rhode Island, for instruction. On 3 January 1927 he joined USS Texas and served aboard that battleship until 28 May 1927. Following instruction in submarines at the Submarine Base, New London, Connecticut, he served successively from February 1928 to April 1932 on USS S-33 and USS Utah. For the next three years he had duty at the Naval Academy in the Department of English and History and the Executive Department.
During his next period of sea duty, he organized and conducted the Fleet Machine Gun School on USS Utah, in which he served until May 1938. He then returned to the Naval Academy for duty in the Departments of English and History, and Ordnance and Gunnery. From September 1940 until May 1941 he served as Assistant Naval Attaché in London, England, and as Observer in the British Fleet for radar, anti-aircraft, and other war developments.
After brief duty in the Fleet Training Division and Bureau of Ordnance, developing AA (anti-aircraft) training and weapons, he was ordered to USS Saratoga, and served as her gunnery officer until May 1942. He was aboard that aircraft carrier when she made her high-speed run from San Diego, California, to Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, with urgently needed plane and pilot replacements immediately after the Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor. He was also aboard when Saratoga was torpedoed in January 1942 while on her third operational foray into the Marshall and Midway Island areas.
He served for the next three years on the staff of the Commander in Chief, US Pacific Fleet (CINCPAC), as Assistant Gunnery and Anti-submarine Training Officer. In addition, he analyzed actions and wrote CINCPAC’s war reports during the first part of this tour of duty. He was awarded the Legion of Merit with Combat “V.” The citation follows in part:
“For exceptionally meritorious conduct…while attached to the staff of the Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, during operations against enemy Japanese forces in the Pacific War Area from May 1942 to April 1945. Analyzing war reports and developing, expanding and supervising all types of training, particularly anti-aircraft, anti-submarine, amphibious and shore bombardment, (he) participated in landings on Makin and Okinawa and in other combat operations which led to improved methods and development of new weapons. In his constant attention to improvements in weapons and armament of his ships and in his supervision of Fleet ammunition supply, he rendered vital service in developing and maintaining the combat readiness of the Fleet…”
During the summer and fall of 1945, he commanded the attack transport Clay, participating in three occupation moves into Japan and China. From late in December 1945 until March 1946, he served as District Public Information Officer, Twelfth Naval District, San Francisco, California. He reported in April 1946 to the Office of Public Information, Navy Department, Washington, DC, to serve as Deputy Director and on 31 July 1946 assumed the duties of Director of Public Information. He was promoted to the temporary rank of Commodore on 30 September 1946.
Selected to attend the course at the National War College, Washington, DC, which convened on 30 August 1948, he completed the course and reported in June 1949 for duty in the Staff Planning Section of the Joint Staff, Joint Chiefs on Staff. In this duty he accompanied the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the member countries of NATO establishing plans for the military structure of that organization. A year later, at the outbreak of the Korean War, he became Commander, Middle East Force, in the Persian Gulf - Indian Ocean area. He assumed command of USS Albany (CA-123) on 14 May 1951, and in April 1952 he was assigned to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, International Affairs Division. Late in 1953 he was hospitalized and on 1 April 1954 was transferred to the Retired List of the Navy.
On 15 September 1956 he was recalled to active duty as Director of Naval History and Curator of the Navy Department, Washington, DC, and served as such until relieved of active duty on 23 January 1970.
Admiral Eller died of a heart ailment on 30 July 1992 at his home in Annapolis, Maryland. He was 89.
In addition to the Legion of Merit with Combat “V,” Rear Admiral Eller was awarded the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; the American Campaign Medal; the World War II Victory Medal; the Navy Occupation Service Medal, Asia and Europe Clasps; the China Service Medal; and the National Defense Service Medal with bronze star.
He received a Master of Arts degree in Psychology at George Washington University, Washington, DC, in 1934. In addition to gunnery technical manuals and various articles in non-professional magazines, he wrote extensively for the US Naval Institute Proceedings (USNIP): among these articles are the following:
1930, “Will to Win.” USNIP 56, no. 5 (May): 371-378. [First Honorable Mention.].
1932, “Time is Life.” USNIP 58, no. 4 (April): 493-505. [Prize.].
1936, “Sea Power in the American Revolution.” USNIP 62, no. 6 (June): 777-789. [Honorable Mention.].
1936, “Courage is Not Enough.” USNIP 62, no. 7 (July): 943-955. [Honorable Mention.].
1938, “Japan’s Rising Sun.” USNIP 64, no. 7 (July): 949-962. [Special Award.].
1938, “The Philippines and the Pacific.” USNIP 64, no. 10 (October): 1467-1488. [Special Award. Plates, pp. 1481-1488.].
1942, “How Shall We Win?” USNIP 68, no. 4 (April): 465-476. [Prize.].
1946, “Against All Enemies.” USNIP 72, no. 7 (July): 891-907.
1950, “Will We Need a Navy to Win?” USNIP 76, no. 3 (March): 237-247. [Prize.].
1955, “Soviet Bid for the Sea.” USNIP 81, no. 6 (June): 619-635.
1956, “U.S. Destiny in the Middle East.” USNIP 82, no. 11 (November): 1160-1169.
The Naval History and Heritage Command, in cooperation with the Naval Historical Foundation, offers the Ernest M. Eller Prize in Naval History to encourage excellence in research and writing on the history of the U.S. Navy. The Center presents the annual prize, which carries a cash award of $1000 and a certificate, to the author of the best article on United States naval history published in a scholarly journal. Entry deadline June 1 of the year following publication.