Naval History and Heritage Command

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Thach, John S.

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Admiral, USN (1905-1981)

Admiral John Smith Thach, USN, (1905-1981)


John S. Thach was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, on 19 April 1905. After graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1927, he spent two years serving in battleships before entering flight training in 1929. Designated a Naval Aviator early in 1930, he received several flight assignments over the next decade and gained a reputation as an expert in aerial gunnery, test pilot and instructor. During the early 1940s, while commanding Fighting Squadron Three, Thach developed the fighter combat technique that came to be known as the "Thach Weave", a tactic that enabled the generally mediocre performing U.S. fighters of the day to hold their own against the Japanese "Zero".


Lieutenant Commander Thach led "Fighting Three" from USS Lexington (CV-2) in early Pacific actions, and from USS Yorktown (CV-5) during the June 1942 Battle of Midway. After a period of instructing other pilots in combat tactics, Commander Thach became Operations Officer to Vice Admiral John S. McCain's fast carrier task forces, and was present at the Formal Japanese Surrender on 2 September 1945.


Thach served in several air training staff assignments during the later 1940s. He commanded USS Sicily (CVE-118) in action during the Korean War and USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42) in 1953-54. Attaining flag rank in 1955, he held a number of important assignments, including command of the antisubmarine development unit Task Group Alpha in 1958-59, with USS Valley Forge (CVS-45) as his flagship. Rising to full Admiral over the next decade, Admiral Thach was Commander in Chief, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe, from March 1965 until shortly before his retirement in May 1967. He died on 15 April 1981.


USS Thach (FFG-43) was named in honor of Admiral John S. Thach.


This page features a selection of photographic portraits of John S. Thach.