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.
The Thach Weave
When the U.S. Navy entered the war in the Pacific, fighting squadron aircraft strength stood at 18 planes. Operational experience, showed that more fighters were needed, to (1) protect the carrier herself and (2) to protect the attack groups composed of dive/scout bombers and torpedo bombers. Even when temporarily augmented to 27 planes, there were too few fighters to adequately perform both missions. Since neither the Enterprise’s nor the Hornet’s fighters accompanied their respective attack groups only Yorktown’s experience proved instructive. First, only six Wildcat fighters accompanied the attack group and they were relatively ineffective against the Japanese combat air patrol onslaught. But even in numbers on defense, they did not do well as Japanese carrier [dive] bomber and torpedo plane crews fought their way through the U.S. combat air patrol (even though augmented by fighters from TF-16) to twice cripple Yorktown and, after the second attack, force her temporary abandonment.
The story of the fighter escort for the torpedo bombers and dive bombers from the carriers, with the exception of that concerning the Yorktown’s group, was altogether dismal. Indeed, the small number of fighters from VF-3 that attempted to cover VT-3’s attack on the morning of 4 June had found the Americans overwhelmed by the Zeroes. The only silver lining was the survival of most American fighters, a result owed in part to the successful implementation of the “beam defense” tactic of Lt. Commander John S. “Jimmy” Thach (of Yorktown’s VF-3), a tactic later named the “Thach Weave” in his honor.
“It is indeed surprising,” Jimmy Thach wrote on the evening of 4 June 1942, “that any of our pilots returned alive. Any success our fighter pilots may have against the Japanese Zero fighter is not [Thach’s italics] due to the performance of the airplane we fly [the Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat] but is the result of the comparatively poor marksmanship of the Japanese, stupid mistakes made by a few of their pilots and superior marksmanship and team work of some of our pilots. The only way we can ever bring our guns to bear on the Zero fighter is to trick them into recovering in front of an F4F or shoot them when they are preoccupied in firing at one of our own planes.” Thach warned that unless the Wildcat’s performance was improved, the F4F pilots could not carry out their mission, which would have a “definite and alarming effect on the morale of most of our carrier based VF [fighter] pilots. If we expect to keep our carriers afloat,” he concluded, “we must provide a VF airplane superior to the Japanese Zero in at least climb and speed, if not maneuverability.”
The problem was that on 4 June 1942, and for some time thereafter, there was no way to improve the performance of the F4F. The Vought F4U Corsair and the Grumman F6F Hellcat were under development, but a long time away from equipping first-line carriers. Admiral Nimitz, in reviewing Thach’s comments, noted an important distinction: in the Battle of Midway, the Japanese fighters outnumbered the American. Finding that 27 fighters (a temporary expedient) proved too few, the fighter strength was increased to 36. “If the F4Fs were not equal to Zeros on a one-to-one basis,” historian John B. Lundstrom has noted in his magnificent work The First Team, “Nimitz at least would see to it that there were more F4F-4s available to fight.”
Providentially, while Jimmy Thach enjoyed 30 days leave at his home in Coronado, he met with Lt. Commander. James Flatley, who had been exec of VF-42 in Yorktown in the Battle of the Coral Sea and who was commanding the new VF-10, training at North Island. The two men, good friends, “freely exchanged experiences and ideas.” Flatley had, almost simultaneous with Thach, pondered fighter tactics in the wake of his own combat experience at Coral Sea.
“Our planes and our pilots, if properly handled,” Flatley declared, “are more than a match for the enemy.” He praised the F4F-4 Wildcat’s “excellent armament [six .50-caliber machine guns], protected fuel system, and greater strength…Let’s not condemn our equipment. It shoots the enemy down in flames and gets most of us back to our base…Remember the mission of the fighter plane, the enemy’s VF mission is the same as our own. Work out tactics on that basis. We should be able to out smart him…”
Thach spent some of his leave revising the section on “fighter tactics” in Current Carrier Orders and Doctrine, U.S. Fleet Aircraft, Volume One, Carrier Aircraft USF-74 (Revised), and substituted two-plane sections and four-plane divisions in place of the old three-plane divisions. He also inserted sketches of the “beam defense formation” and explained how it had been proved successful at Midway. Thach’s work, Lundstrom notes, “offered the first steps in providing the Navy’s fighter pilots concrete tactics to counter fighters with superior speed and maneuverability.” For those significant efforts, setting forth and describing tactics proved in the crucible of combat at Midway, Jimmy Thach would receive the Distinguished Service Medal.
USS Thach (FFG 43) was laid down on 6 March 1981 by the Todd Pacific Shipyards Co., Los Angeles Division, San Pedro, CA, launched on 18 December 1982 and commissioned on 17 March 1984.
In April 1984 USS Thach arrived at her homeport, San Diego.
In October 1985 Thach was underway as an independent deployer in local SOCAL OPS AREA.
In 1986 Thach, with Destroyer Squadron 21, deployed to the Western Pacific as part of a battleship battle group led by USS New Jersey (BB-62).
In January 1987 Thach was underway performing SOCAL Operations for Rampant Lionex 87-2. In June FFG 43 was underway in the SOCAL OPAREA for MIDEASTFORCE Exercise. In August USS Thach deployed t o Persian Gulf. In October Thach participated in Operation Nimble Archer.
In February 1988 the Thach returned from deployment to homeport San Diego. I March USS Thach was awarded the Battle “E” for DESRON 21. In May she was underway in the SOCAL OP AREA. In June FFG 43 was in Portland, Oregon to participate in the annual Portland Rose Festival.
In December 1989 FFG 43 left San Diego on a six month Middle East Force Deployment. In January 1990 USS Thach was underway on her second deployment. ON 26 January Thach entered the Mideast force AOR and commenced a three month MEF operation. In July, Thach got underway to participate in Seattle Sea Fair. She also participated in Exercise Behavior Criteria and MARDEZEX-PACNW 90.
In February 1991 USS Thach arrived at her new home port at Yokosuka, Japan. In April Thach participated in the joint ASW exercise ASWEX 91-2JA and then in June ASWEX 91-3JA. In October she participated in Exercise Valiant Blitz 92 in the Korean Straits and also ANNUALX 03G.
In April 1992 USS Thach deployed to the USNAVCENT AOR. In June Thach conducted bi-lateral operations with the Bahrain Navy during Operation Neon Spark, with the French and Royal Navies during Operation GULFEX XII, and with the Qatar Navy during Operation Eastern Sailor. In August Thach commenced duties with Operation Southern Watch. In November USS Thach participated in ANNUALEX 04G.
In May 1993 USS Thach accompanied USS INDEPENDENCE (CV 62) to Australia to participate in Spring Training 93. In November Thach was underway for MERCUB 94-1.
In January 1994 THACH served as Maritime Action Group Commander during ASWEX 94-1JA. In April THACH was underway for a COMUSNAVCENT deployment that began in May. In August, Thach embarked CDS-23 for exercise Inspired Siren. In October FFG 43 returned to homeport.
In August 1995 Thach was Underway in support of KANGAROO-95 exercise with the Australian Navy. In October the Thach participated in Foal Eagle 95, in November in ANNUALEX 95-7.
In February 1996 Thach was underway for a five-month deployment to the Arabian Gulf. Thach returned to homeport in July.
In May 1999 Thach participated in Counter Special Operational Force Exercise (CSOFEX) 99-2 with the Republic of Korea Navy. In August Thach and Gary did a crew swap and in October Thach went to her new homeport in San Diego, CA. In November THACH got underway to act as Opposing Forces for the STENNIS Battlegroup's pre-deployment preparations.
In March 2001 THACH got underway with the CONSTELLATION Battle Group for WESTPAC 2001. In late April Thach headed through the Straits of Hormuz enroute to the Arabian Gulf to perform Maritime Interception Operations. In September DDG 43 returned to homeport.
November 2, 2002 USS Thach departed San Diego for a scheduled deployment, with the USS Constellation (CV 64) Battle Group, in support of the Operation Enduring Freedom. The battle group's preparations for deployment included a Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX) off the coast of southern California Oct. 17-29.
In March 2003 USS Thach was in the Arabian Gulf conducting missions with the Constellation Battle Group in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In June USS Thach returned to Naval Station San Diego following a successful seven-month deployment in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. In October FFG 43 pulled to San Francisco to participate in Fleet Week festivities.
In December 2004 USS Thach departed homeport for a six-month deployment with the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) Expeditionary Strike Group Five (ESG-5) in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
In March 2005 the guided-missile frigate participated in the Exercise Arabian Gauntlet in the Persian Gulf. In June USS Thach returned to homeport after a six-month underway period in support of operations Unified Assistance and Iraqi Freedom.
In December 2006 FFG 43 returned to San Diego from a six-month counter narcotics deployment in the eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
In December 2007 USS Thach conducted routine trainings as part of USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Carrier Strike Group, off the coast of southern California.
In May 2008 USS Thach departed San Diego for a six-month western Pacific deployment. In September USS Thach was in the North Arabian Sea conducting Maritime Security Operations (MSO). In October the frigate arrived in Goa, India, to participate in Malabar exercise. In November USS Thach returned home after a scheduled underway period with the Reagan CSG.
In May 2009 FFG 43 departed San Diego for a scheduled deployment with USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group. In November USS Thach returned to homeport after a five-month underway period.
In April 2011 Thach participated in 52nd UNITAS LANT exercise. In June USS Thach participated in the Pacific phase of UNITAS 2011 exercise. In August the Thach participated in exercise PANAMAX 2011. In September USS Thach returned to San Diego after a six-month deployment.
January 8, 2013 USS Thach departed homeport for a scheduled deployment in support of Counter Transnational Organized Crime (C-TOC) operations in the U.S. 4th Fleet AoR.