Clark Howell Woodward
Vice Admiral, United States Navy
Howell Woodward (1877-1968) served the United States Navy in five wars:
the Spanish-American War, Philippine-American War, the Chinese Boxer Rebellion,
and both World Wars. A staunch promoter of an advanced Navy, he influenced
priorities and policies concerning the upgrading and construction of modern
naval warships. Upon his retirement after fifty years and six months of
active duty, he assured an audience at Annapolis that "the first fifty
years were the hardest."
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 4, 1877, Woodward was an active naval officer early on. While still a midshipman attending the United States Naval Academy, he was activated early for duty in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Graduated in January 1899, he was immediately dispatched to help quell the Nicaraguan revolution of February 2 through March 5, 1899. In November of that same year, he joined the China Relief Expedition representing the United States in the Eight-Nation Alliance opposing the Boxer Rebellion uprising.
Although an experienced naval officer trained to lead sailors, Woodward earned a Navy Expert Rifle Medal in 1910, and served in U.S. Navy combat missions in Nicaragua in 1912, the Gulf of Mexico in 1914, and the Caribbean in 1915. He fought through the entirety of United Sates involvement in World War I, emerging a decorated veteran with a Commodore's star.
Between the two World Wars, with a second star on each shoulder, Rear Admiral Woodward served as Commandant of the Panama Canal District, and later as Commandant of the U.S. Third Naval District, which covered Connecticut, New Jersey, and southern New York, and had its headquarters in lower Manhattan. He was also given simultaneous command of the U.S. Navy Yard, New York, popularly referred to as the Brooklyn Navy Yard. (Its official name at that time was U.S. Navy Yard, New York, and was referred to in correspondence as the New York Navy Yard. The yard's unofficial "Brooklyn" nickname was never used by the Navy Department.)
Clark Howell Woodward married Charlotte Margaret Linné, widow of Captain Edward G. Parker and daughter of Captain John C. Linné (keeper of the lighthouse at Goat Island in San Francisco Bay). They lived in Washington, D.C. until Woodward's assignment to his New York City posting. There, they officially resided at the Commandant’s House in the Navy Yard, but stayed more often in their Upper West Side apartment on Riverside Drive.
As Commandant of the New York Navy Yard from 1 October, 1937 to 1 March 1941, Woodward was not only charged with the construction of warships, but also had oversight of the Brooklyn Naval Hospital, located on the eastern side of Wallabout Bay; the Material and Chemical Laboratories at the Navy Yard; and numerous supply depots around the borough of Brooklyn. As the last commandant to simultaneously command the U.S. Navy Yard and the Third Naval District, Woodward held a complex dual-position, having to answer to both the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO).
Contention surrounded the construction of war materiel in the years leading up to the Second World War. Woodward was convinced that only battleships, not aircraft carriers and their warplane squadrons, could project sufficient naval power abroad. In this he had long contended, agreeing with Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1922 when the future Commander-in-Chief stated his belief that “the day of the battleship has not passed, and it is highly unlikely that an airplane, or fleet of them, could ever successfully sink a fleet of Navy vessels under battle conditions.” Woodward himself is noted as saying, as late as 1939, that “as far as sinking a ship with a bomb is concerned, you just can’t do it.” (Ironically, just three years later, his son-in-law Miles Browning would prove that opinion wrong by devastating the Japanese Navy with aggressive carrier-launched aerial attacks at the Battle of Midway.) Under Woodward’s command during the late-1930s, the Navy Yard began to concentrate less on cruiser and other smaller warship production, shifting its priority to the building of new battleships. Capable of constructing three cruisers and two cutters simultaneously, the Navy Yard now put all of its resources into the building of gigantic battleships.
Under Clark Woodward’s watch as commandant, the U.S. Navy also undertook an accelerated upgrading and expansion of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The entire physical plant was overhauled, all of its older factories (many dating as far back as the Civil War) remodeled and repaired. A huge new turret shop was built, and a mammoth Hammerhead crane, capable of lifting 350 tons, was constructed to capacitate battleship fabrication. Forcing rights of condemnation under eminent domain, the yard took over the old Wallabout Market abutting it to the east, using the expanded space to build two additional 1100-foot dry docks, a new foundry, several subassembly shops, and a materials laboratory. Under Woodward’s oversight, additional docks and berths were constructed on the East River, and miles of roads and railroad tracks were added to interconnect the upgraded facility.
While commanding the Third Naval District and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Woodward was an outspoken supporter of an expanded U.S. Navy, constantly warning that it was inferior to those of both Great Britain and the troublesome Japanese. Arguing that the pace of new construction was far too slow, he despaired that the U.S. Navy was "woefully weak" in destroyers and submarines. In 1940, the Brooklyn Eagle carried numerous speeches of his in which Woodward warned not only of America's "third-place" status, but also that the U.S. Army lacked the strength to repel a potential attack on the Navy Yard if an enemy managed to break through the nation’s naval defenses. Later, he would use the sinking of the SS Normandie, which he believed was sabotage and took as something of a personal affront, to underline his concerns.
Promoted to Vice Admiral, Clark Howell Woodward left his positions in New York in March of 1941. Rear Admiral Edward J. Marquart succeeded Woodward as commandant of the New York Navy Yard. However, command of the Third Naval District went to another admiral, Adolphus Andrews. With Woodward facing forced retirement due to age, the Navy Department felt that the two positions would be too much for a single lesser individual to handle. While Woodward had served the longest term of any Commandant, U.S. Navy Yard, New York, or Commander, Third Naval District, in the 1930s and 40s, those responsibilities have been separated between two naval officers ever since his command.
In a speech delivered on what proved to be the eve of war, 6 December 1941, Woodward predicted that the United States Navy would soon be able to defeat any and all naval forces in the world, in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans simultaneously. He was called back to active duty the very next day, and his words were proven prescient by his beloved Navy’s successful prosecution of both the Pacific War and the Battle of the Atlantic.
Finally retiring in 1948, after fifty years of service, Woodward continued to work for the Navy with retired status during the Korean War. Upon the armistice in 1953, he withdrew from duty altogether. However, he remained a staunchly vocal advocate of decisive military might.
Clark Howell Woodward died a widower in Arlington, Virginia in 1968, a decade after the tragic death of his wife in a fire. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. His collection of papers spanning the years 1915 through 1968, which include correspondence, news clippings, publications, photographs, personal writing, and souvenirs which document his exceptionally long Navy career, are housed in the U.S. National Archives. (This collection should be cited as Papers of Clark H. Woodward, Operational Archives Branch, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.)
Spanish Campaign Medal (Navy), 1898
Woodward, Clark Howell
Captain, U.S. Navy
Executive Officer, U.S.S. New York
Date Of Action: World War I
The Navy Cross is awarded to Captain Clark
H. Woodward, U.S. Navy, for distinguished services in the line of his profession
as executive officer of the U.S.S. New York of the Sixth Division, Battleship
Fleet operating in the war zone.