In the 1970 movie TORA! TORA! TORA!
, which was about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the movie depicts (what starts out as) a peacetime U.S. Navy with Vice Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey
(portrayed by James Whitmore) in command of one battle group centered around the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise, and one of his colleagues being Rear Adm. John H. Newton (portrayed by Ken Lynch, who also portrayed Chief Vanderberg in "Devil in the Dark") commanded the battlegroup centered around the carrier U.S.S. Lexington, while Admiral Husband Kimmel
(Martin Balsam) served as CINC-Pac at Pearl.
That movie did have excellent research and got that right. At that time, operating task forces were organized as needed under an available admiral; Newton's normal "type" command was a cruiser division. Lexington
's carrier division commander was RAdm Aubrey Fitch, who was returning to Pearl in Saratoga
after a refit. As the war got going, the task force organization became the standard for operating forces, and the "type" chain of command became strictly administrative and shore-based.
I don't know how much you want to get into the esoterica of fleet organization, but below is how the "big ships" of the Pacific Fleet were organized in late 1941. Note only one of the four full admirals is there, the others were the CNO in Washington and the Atlantic and Asiatic Fleet CinCs. But all three vice admirals were in the Pacific Fleet:
Mr. Laser Beam wrote:
As for the rank of Commander itself, I always assumed this dated back to the old days when a ship's Captain was only the OWNER of the ship. They left the day-to-day running of ship operations to another officer. This was the actual 'commander' of the ship, thus the rank of Commander was born.
If this last bit is inaccurate, please feel free to correct me.
In the English-speaking world, the rank of commander came about to distinguish captains of big ships from captains of small ships. Originally it was "captain (not taking post)" which implied that the officer was captain of a small vessel and was not entitled to be posted to the list of officers who would be promoted, by seniority, to rear admiral. By the late 1700s the rank had become "captain and master" and finally "master and commander," and differentiated the captain of a sloop from those of larger vessels. The title implied that the vessel was too small to have an assigned master (navigating officer), and the captain was expected to cover that duty himself. In the 1790s it was shortened to "commander." The US Navy had a similar rank of "master commandant." It too became just "commander" in the 1830s, but in practice the shorter title had been in use for some time.
Naval captains were never owners of vessels, they were originally military (army) officers who commanded the soldiers who "militarized" a merchant vessel. The owner was represented by the vessel's master, which is still the official term for a merchant captain.