Throwback Thursday – The 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor and Butler County’s Admiral who led the U.S. fleet

Exactly 80 years ago this month, Japanese aircraft attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor and finally pushed the United States into the second World War. A southern Kentucky native was commanding the naval fleet at Pearl Harbor during the attack. Admiral Claude Bloch was from Woodbury in Butler County, and this week’s Throwback Thursday is a tribute to his accomplishments.

Claude C. Bloch was born in July 1878 to a Jewish family in Butler County. He was given the opportunity to study in nearby Bowling Green at Ogden College, and then left Kentucky being appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1895. His first wartime experience was as a cadet in the Spanish-American war, serving aboard the USS Iowa, where he saved Spanish sailors from burning enemy ships and was awarded his first medal, for Specially Meritorious Service.

Bloch graduated from the Naval Academy at the top of his class in 1899 and worked his way up the ranks to command the USS Plattsburg during WWI. He was awarded the official Navy Cross for his efforts in transporting goods across German submarine-infested Atlantic waters during the Great War. 

They say the admiral was a tall, mild-mannered military servant who avoided publicity. But this changed in the 1930s. He became a major player in Navy leadership, arguing so forcibly for preparedness to “beat the enemy to the punch” while watching what was happening in Europe and Asia, that the U.S. media nicknamed him the “Jack Dempsey of the Navy.”

He served as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. fleet from 1938-40, and then moved to Hawaii to command the 14th Naval District at Pearl Harbor. Sources say he and Admiral Husband Kimmel butted heads when it came to strengthening Hawaii’s defenses when the U.S. fleet moved there from California to hold off the Japanese. Admiral Bloch was cleared of the blame for unpreparedness during the surprise attack. He served on the General Board of the Navy from 1942 until his retirement in 1946, receiving a Legion of Merit medal for his WWII service.

Admiral Bloch died in Washington, D.C., in October 1967, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.