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Burke, Arleigh

Burke, Arleigh (1901–1996), legendary World War II destroyer skipper and Cold War naval strategist.Born on a farm near Boulder, Colorado, Arleigh Burke never completed high school but won appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. Graduating 7 June 1923, he married Roberta “Bobbie” Gorsuch the same day. After five years in battleship Arizona, Burke chose an ordnance specialty. He earned a master's degree in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1931. A skilled pre–World War II and wartime commander and tactical innovator, Burke received national attention and the nickname “31 Knot Burke” in November 1943 when his Destroyer Squadron 23 decisively defeated a Japanese force in the Battle of Cape St. George in the Solomon Islands. Burke subsequently served as Vice Adm. Marc A. Mitscher's chief of staff in Fast Carrier Task Force 58/38 during the Marianas, Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa operations.

After the war, Burke prepared the navy's first postwar long‐range plan, helped coordinate the service's testimony before Congress during the 1949 “Admirals' Revolt” hearings on defense unification and strategy, and served on the first United Nations Truce Negotiation Team during the Korean War. Eisenhower appointed Rear Admiral Burke in 1955 over ninety‐two more senior admirals to become chief of naval operations (CNO). He served an unprecedented three terms through August 1961.

As CNO, Burke fought against increased unification and restriction of command authority in the armed forces, and for maintenance of a balanced, flexible fleet capable of responding quickly and effectively to crises and limited wars. He also accelerated the development of innovative weapons systems, championing development of the Polaris submarine‐based ballistic missile, deployed in 1960, as a national nuclear deterrent system. Burke overruled advisers concerned about Polaris's cost and feasibility because he believed that a small, relatively invulnerable force of missile submarines could deter war and ensure a controlled response to Soviet attack. Burke linked the navy's strategy of “finite deterrence, controlled retaliation” to the need to prepare for limited as well as general war. He led one of the few serious challenges to massive retaliation and nuclear buildup during the first decades of the Cold War.
[See also Cold War.]


David Alan Rosenberg , Arleigh Albert Burke, in The Chiefs of Naval Operations, ed. Robert William Love, Jr., 1980.
David Alan Rosenberg , Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, in Men‐of‐War, Great Naval Leaders of World War II, ed. Stephen Howarth, 1993.

David Alan Rosenberg

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