Chester Nimitz

Chester Nimitz

Chester Nimitz was born in Fredericksburg, Texas, on 24th February, 1885. He attended the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis and graduated in 1905 (7/144) and joined the United States Navy.

He served in the Philippines and in 1909 was assigned to underwater service. Although he initially disliked this move he eventually became the navy's leading authority on submarines.

In 1912 he was given command of the Atlantic Submarine Flotilla and the following year spent time with the German Navy studying diesel engines. When he returned to the United States he recommended their use by the United States Navy.

During the First World War Nimitz was chief of staff in the Atlantic Submarine Force. He also set up the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at the University of California (1926-29). Afterwards he headed the San Diego destroyer base, was captain of the cruiser Augusta and was assistant chief of the Bureau of Navigation in Washington.

Promoted to rear admiral in 1938 Nimitz commanded Cruiser Division and Battleship Division before becoming chief of the Bureau of Navigation.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor Nimitz was was placed in charge of the Pacific Fleet. Urged on by Admiral Ernest King, Commander in Chief of the US Fleet, Nimitz sent William Halsey to attack the Marshall Islands and Frank Fletcher to raid the Gilbert Islands.

Nimitz, King and General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Southwest Pacific, decided that their first objective should be to establish and protect a line of communications across the South Pacific to Australia. This resulted in the battles of Coral Sea and Midway, where the Japanese Navy lost all four of her carriers.

Throughout the war Nimitz met regularly with Admiral Ernest King and General Douglas MacArthur. King and MacArthur constantly clashed over strategy. Whereas MacArthur favoured an early return to the Philippines King wanted the islands bypassed so that all available resources could be employed to take Formosa. King believed that the island could then be used as a base for invading mainland China. Unable to gain agreement the matter was eventually passed to Franklin D. Roosevelt to make the decision.

In December 1944 Nimitz, William Leahyand Ernest King were all given the five star rank of Fleet Admiral. At the end of the Second World War Nimitz was succeeded by Raymond Spruance as commander of the Pacific Fleet. In November 1945 Nimitz replaced King as Commander in Chief of the US Fleet.

Nimitz retired from the United States Navy in 1947 and two years later accepted the post as a good will ambassador for the United Nations. Chester Nimitz, who declined to write his memoirs, died at his home in San Francisco Bay on 20th February 1966.

Primary Sources

(1) William Leahy, I Was There (1950)

MacArthur was convinced that an occupation of the Philippines was essential before any major attack in force should be made on Japanese-held territory north of Luzon. The retaking of the Philippines seemed to be a matter of great interest to him. He said that he had sufficient ground and air forces for the operation and that his only additional needs were landing-craft and naval support.

Nimitz developed the Navy's plan of by-passing the Philippines and attacking Formosa. He did not see that Luzon, including Manila Bay, had advantages that were not possessed by other areas in the Philippines that could be taken for a base at less cost in lives and material. As the discussions progressed, however, the Navy Commander in the Pacific admitted that developments might indicate a necessity for occupation of the Manila area. Nimitz said that he had sufficient forces to carry out either operation. It was highly pleasing and unusual to find two commanders who were not demanding reinforcements.

Roosevelt was at his best as he tactfully steered the discussion from one point to another and narrowed down the area of disagreement between MacArthur and Nimitz. The discussion remained on a friendly basis the entire time, and in the end only a relatively minor difference remained - that of an operation to retake the Philippine capital, Manila. This was solved later, when the idea of beginning our Philippine invasion at Leyte was suggested, studied and adopted.

(2) Leaflet signed by Admiral Chester Nimitz dropped over Japan in 1944.

The high leaders of the Japanese Army and Navy have bragged that the homeland of Japan would never be violated. This pamphlet which has been dropped from an American heavy bomber... is proof to you that they have lied... Your Emperor's great heart has always wished for peace; yet the high leaders of the armed forces have plunged you into the middle of a great war. Why? Under the pretty name of the establishment of the Greater East Asia sphere they have betrayed all Japanese from the lowest to the highest in the realm and they have thought only of making names for themselves and their own personal desires.