Adm. Arleigh A. Burke, a battle-decorated Chief of Naval Operations whose combat exploits against Japanese naval forces in the South Pacific made him the Navy's most celebrated destroyer squadron commander of World War II, died yesterday at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 94 and lived in Fairfax, Va.
Admiral Burke, who retired in 1961 after 42 years in the Navy, including a record six-year tenure as the Chief of Naval Operations in the Administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, died of complications of pneumonia, said a Navy spokesman, Lieut. Comdr. Ed Austin.
In a career that took him from Annapolis to Washington via the high seas, Admiral Burke, a stocky pipe smoker with an easy smile, served in battleships and aircraft carriers, was a member of the United Nations truce negotiations team in the Korean War and in Washington became a strong advocate of a powerful nuclear fleet for the Navy, including its missile-launching Polaris submarines.
But he was best known as "31 Knot Burke," a nickname supplied by Admiral William F. Halsey, for his exploits as the commander of Squadron 23, a pack of eight destroyers that staged high-speed torpedo attacks that devastated enemy warships in the Solomon Islands in late 1943 and early 1944.
"Stand aside! Stand aside! I'm coming through at 31 knots," Mr. Burke, then a Captain, radioed darkened American troop transports as his squadron, named Little Beavers for a comic-strip character, steamed up the slot at boiler-bursting speed to attack a Japanese task force off Bougainville on the night of Nov. 1, 1943.
In a widely heralded action, the squadron covered the landing of thousands of American troops while attacking enemy vessels and aircraft. When the battle of Empress Augusta Bay ended the next day, the Japanese toll was horrendous. A cruiser and four destroyers lay on the bottom, and two cruisers and a pair of destroyers had limped away heavily damaged.
Later that month, the squadron engaged another Japanese task force off Cape St. George, New Ireland, and sank three destroyers without taking a hit. In 22 engagements from November 1943 to February 1944, the Navy said, Capt. Burke's squadron was credited with sinking one cruiser, nine destroyers, one submarine and nine smaller ships, as well as downing approximately 30 aircraft.
Later, Mr. Burke became a chief of staff to Vice Adm. Marc A. Mitscher, whose carrier task forces attacked the Japanese at Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Tokyo. Mr. Burke was aboard the flagship Bunker Hill and later the Enterprise when they were hit by Japanese suicide planes off Okinawa.
In 1949, during interservice disputes that followed the unification of the armed forces, Mr. Burke fell into disfavor with some officials of the Truman Administration by heading a group of high Navy officers that campaigned for supercarriers and against a strategic reliance on the Air Force's B-36 bombers.
His role in what was called the Admiral's revolt seemed to scuttle his chances for promotion. But his name went back on the lists a year later, when he became a rear admiral, and in 1951, he became a member of the allied cease-fire commission in Korea for six months.
In 1955, he was selected by Eisenhower over 92 more senior officers to be Chief of Naval Operations. In that post, he advocated a balanced and versatile fleet, new antisubmarine technology, the development of Polaris submarines and other nuclear systems, and new aircraft designs. He served three two-year terms, but insisted on retiring in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy offered him a fourth term.
Arleigh Albert Burke was born on a farm near Boulder, Colo., on Oct. 19, 1901. His parents were of Swedish and Pennsylvania Dutch stock, his paternal grandfather having changed the name from Bjorkegren. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1923, and after five years of sea duty, earned a degree in chemical engineering at the University of Michigan in 1931.
He was an inspector at a naval gun factory in Washington when World War II broke out. He immediately applied for sea duty, but his application was not granted until 1943, when he was sent to command destroyers in the Solomons. For his ensuing exploits, he was awarded 13 decorations, including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Cross, the Legion of Merit and the Silver Star.
In January 1977, he was awarded the nation's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, by President Gerald R. Ford. In 1984, the Navy named a class of missile-launching destroyers for him. And in 1991, it launched the U.S.S. Arleigh Burke, an $864 million destroyer, and for the first time in Navy history, the man for whom a ship was named was on hand to see her commissioned.
Mr. Burke is survived by his wife, the former Roberta (Bobbie) Gorsuch, to whom he was married for 72 years.