Chester W. Nimitz
|Born||February 24, 1885|
Fredericksburg, Texas, US
|Died||February 20, 1966 (aged 80)|
San Francisco, California, US
|Service/||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1905–1966|
|Relations||Charles Henry Nimitz (grandfather)|
Chester Nimitz Jr. (son)
|Other work||Regent of the University of California|
Chester William Nimitz (//; February 24, 1885 – February 20, 1966) was a fleet admiral of the United States Navy. He played a major role in the naval history of World War II as Commander in Chief, US Pacific Fleet, and Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, commanding Allied air, land, and sea forces during World War II.
Nimitz was the leading US Navy authority on submarines. Qualified in submarines during his early years, he later oversaw the conversion of these vessels' propulsion from gasoline to diesel, and then later was key in acquiring approval to build the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus, whose propulsion system later completely superseded diesel-powered submarines in the US. He also, beginning in 1917, was the Navy's leading developer of underway replenishment techniques, the tool which during the Pacific war would allow the US fleet to operate away from port almost indefinitely. The chief of the Navy's Bureau of Navigation in 1939, Nimitz served as Chief of Naval Operations from 1945 until 1947. He was the United States' last surviving officer who served in the rank of fleet admiral. The USS Nimitz supercarrier, the lead ship of her class, is named after him.
Nimitz, a German Texan, was born the son of Anna Josephine (Henke) and Chester Bernhard Nimitz on February 24, 1885, in Fredericksburg, Texas, where his grandfather's hotel is now the Admiral Nimitz State Historic Site. His frail, rheumatic father had died six months earlier, on August 14, 1884. In 1890 Anna married William Nimitz (1864-1943), Chester B. Nimitz's brother. He was significantly influenced by his German-born paternal grandfather, Charles Henry Nimitz, a former seaman in the German Merchant Marine, who taught him, "the sea – like life itself – is a stern taskmaster. The best way to get along with either is to learn all you can, then do your best and don't worry – especially about things over which you have no control." His grandfather had become a Texas Ranger in the Texas Mounted Volunteers in 1851 and had then served as captain of the Gillespie Rifles Company in the Confederate States Army during the Civil War.
Originally, Nimitz applied to West Point in hopes of becoming an Army officer, but no appointments were available. His congressman, James L. Slayden, told him that he had one appointment available for the United States Naval Academy and that he would award it to the best-qualified candidate. Nimitz felt that this was his only opportunity for further education and spent extra time studying to earn the appointment. He was appointed to the Naval Academy from Texas's 12th congressional district in 1901, and he graduated with distinction on January 30, 1905, seventh in a class of 114.
Nimitz joined the battleship Ohio at San Francisco, and cruised on her to the Far East. In September 1906, he was transferred to the cruiser Baltimore; on January 31, 1907, after the two years at sea as a warrant officer then required by law, he was commissioned as an ensign. Remaining on Asiatic Station in 1907, he successively served on the gunboat Panay, destroyer Decatur, and cruiser Denver.
The destroyer Decatur ran aground on a mud bank in the Philippines on July 7, 1908, while under the command of Ensign Nimitz. Nimitz had failed to check the harbor's tide tables and tried Batangas' harbor when the water level was low, leaving Decatur stuck until the tide rose again the next morning, and she was pulled free by a small steamer. Nimitz was court-martialed and found guilty of neglect of duty, but due to his otherwise excellent record and willingness to admit his own fault, was only issued a letter of reprimand.
Nimitz returned to the United States on board USS Ranger when that vessel was converted to a school ship, and in January 1909, began instruction in the First Submarine Flotilla. In May of that year, he was given command of the flotilla, with additional duty in command of USS Plunger, later renamed A-1. He was promoted directly from ensign to lieutenant in January 1910. He commanded USS Snapper (later renamed C-5) when that submarine was commissioned on February 2, 1910, and on November 18, 1910, assumed command of USS Narwhal (later renamed D-1).
In the latter command, he had additional duty from October 10, 1911, as Commander 3rd Submarine Division Atlantic Torpedo Fleet. In November 1911, he was ordered to the Boston Navy Yard, to assist in fitting out USS Skipjack and assumed command of that submarine, which had been renamed E-1, at her commissioning on February 14, 1912. On the monitor Tonopah (then employed as a submarine tender) on March 20, 1912, he rescued Fireman Second Class W. J. Walsh from drowning, receiving a Silver Lifesaving Medal for his action.
After commanding the Atlantic Submarine Flotilla from May 1912 to March 1913, he supervised the building of diesel engines for the fleet oil tanker Maumee, under construction at the New London Ship and Engine Company, Groton, Connecticut.
In the summer of 1913, Nimitz (who spoke fluent German) studied engines at the Maschinenfabrik-Augsburg-Nürnberg (M.A.N.) diesel engine plants in Nuremberg, Germany, and Ghent, Belgium. Returning to the New York Navy Yard, he became executive and engineer officer of Maumee at her commissioning on October 23, 1916.
After the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, Nimitz was chief engineer of Maumee while the vessel served as a refueling ship for the first squadron of US Navy destroyers to cross the Atlantic, to take part in the war. Under his supervision, Maumee conducted the first-ever underway refuelings. On August 10, 1917, Nimitz became aide to Rear Admiral Samuel S. Robison, Commander, Submarine Force, US Atlantic Fleet (ComSubLant).
On February 6, 1918, Nimitz was appointed chief of staff and was awarded a Letter of Commendation for meritorious service as COMSUBLANT's chief of staff. On September 16, he reported to the office of the Chief of Naval Operations, and on October 25 was given additional duty as senior member, Board of Submarine Design.
From May 1919 to June 1920, Nimitz served as executive officer of the battleship South Carolina. He then commanded the cruiser Chicago with additional duty in command of Submarine Division 14, based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Returning to the mainland in the summer of 1922, he studied at the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island.
In June 1923, he became aide and assistant chief of staff to the Commander, Battle Fleet, and later to the Commander in Chief, United States Fleet. In August 1926, he went to the University of California, Berkeley, where he established one of the first Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps units and successfully advocated for the program's expansion.
In June 1929, he took command of Submarine Division 20. In June 1931, he assumed command of the destroyer tender Rigel and the destroyers out of commission at San Diego, California. In October 1933, he took command of the cruiser Augusta and deployed to the Far East, where in December, Augusta became the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet. While in command of the Augusta, his legal aide was Chesty Puller.
In April 1935, Nimitz returned home for three years as assistant chief of the Bureau of Navigation, before becoming commander, Cruiser Division 2, Battle Force. In September 1938 he took command of Battleship Division 1, Battle Force. On June 15, 1939, he was appointed chief of the Bureau of Navigation. During this time, Nimitz conducted experiments in the underway refueling of large ships which would prove a key element in the Navy's success in the war to come.
From 1940 to 1941, Nimitz served as president of the Army Navy Country Club, in Arlington, Virginia.
Ten days after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Rear Admiral Nimitz was selected by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to be the commander-in-chief of the United States Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT). Nimitz immediately departed Washington for Hawaii and took command in a ceremony on the top deck of the submarine Grayling. He was promoted to the rank of admiral, effective December 31, 1941, upon assuming command. The change of command ceremony would normally have taken place aboard a battleship, but every battleship in Pearl Harbor had been either sunk or damaged during the attack. Assuming command at the most critical period of the war in the Pacific, Admiral Nimitz organized his forces to halt the Japanese advance, despite the shortage of ships, planes, and supplies. He had a significant advantage in that the United States had cracked the Japanese diplomatic naval code and had made progress on the naval code JN-25. The Japanese had kept radio silence before the attack on Pearl Harbor, but now events were moving so rapidly that they had to rely on coded radio messages that they did not realize were being read in Hawaii.
On March 24, 1942, the newly formed US-British Combined Chiefs of Staff issued a directive designating the Pacific theater an area of American strategic responsibility. Six days later, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) divided the theater into three areas: the Pacific Ocean Areas, the Southwest Pacific Area (commanded by General Douglas MacArthur), and the Southeast Pacific Area. The JCS designated Nimitz as "Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas", with operational control over all Allied units (air, land, and sea) in that area.
Nimitz, in Hawaii, and his superior Admiral Ernest King, the Chief of Naval Operations, in Washington, rejected the plan of General Douglas MacArthur to advance on Japan through New Guinea and the Philippines and Formosa. Instead, they proposed an island-hopping plan that would allow them to bypass most of the Japanese strength in the Central Pacific until they reached Okinawa. President Roosevelt compromised, giving both MacArthur and Nimitz their own theaters. The two Pacific theaters were favored, to the dismay of generals George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower, who favored a Germany-first strategy. King and Nimitz provided MacArthur with some naval forces but kept most of the carriers. However, when the time came to plan an invasion of Japan, MacArthur was given overall command.
Nimitz faced superior Japanese forces at the crucial defensive actions of the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway. The Battle of the Coral Sea, while a loss in terms of total damage suffered, resulted in the strategic success of turning back a Japanese invasion of Port Moresby on the island of New Guinea. Two Japanese carriers were temporarily taken out of action in the battle, which would deprive the Japanese of their use in the Midway operation that shortly followed. The Navy's intelligence team figured that the Japanese would be attacking Midway, so Nimitz moved all his available forces to the defense. The severe losses in Japanese carriers at Midway affected the balance of naval air power during the remainder of 1942 and were crucial in neutralizing Japanese offensive threats in the South Pacific. Naval engagements during the Battle of Guadalcanal left both forces severely depleted. However, with the allied advantage in land-based air-power, the results were sufficient to secure Guadalcanal. The US and allied forces then undertook to neutralize remaining Japanese offensive threats with the Solomon Islands campaign and the New Guinea campaign, while building capabilities for major fleet actions. In 1943, Midway became a forward submarine base, greatly enhancing US capabilities against Japanese shipping.
In terms of combat, 1943 was a relatively quiet year, but it proved decisive inasmuch as Nimitz gained the materiel and manpower needed to launch major fleet offensives to destroy Japanese power in the central Pacific region. This drive opened with the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign from November 1943 to February 1944, followed by the destruction of the strategic Japanese base at Truk Lagoon, and the Marianas campaign that brought the Japanese homeland within range of new strategic bombers. Nimitz's forces inflicted a decisive defeat on the Japanese fleet in the Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19–20, 1944), which allowed the capture of Saipan, Guam, and Tinian. His Fleet Forces isolated enemy-held bastions on the central and eastern Caroline Islands and secured in quick succession Peleliu, Angaur, and Ulithi. In the Philippines, his ships destroyed much of the remaining Japanese naval power at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, October 24 to 26, 1944. With the loss of the Philippines, Japan's energy supply routes from Indonesia came under direct threat, crippling their war effort.
By act of Congress, passed on December 14, 1944, the rank of fleet admiral – the highest rank in the Navy – was established. The next day President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Nimitz to that rank. Nimitz took the oath of that office on December 19, 1944.
In January 1945, Nimitz moved the headquarters of the Pacific Fleet forward from Pearl Harbor to Guam for the remainder of the war. Nimitz's wife remained in the continental United States for the duration of the war and did not join her husband in Hawaii or Guam. In 1945, Nimitz's forces launched successful amphibious assaults on Iwo Jima and Okinawa and his carriers raided the home waters of Japan. In addition, Nimitz also arranged for the Army Air Corps to mine the Japanese ports and waterways by air with B-29 Superfortresses in a successful mission called Operation Starvation, which severely interrupted the Japanese logistics.
On September 2, 1945, Nimitz signed as representative of the United States when Japan formally surrendered on board USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. On October 5, 1945, which had been officially designated as "Nimitz Day" in Washington, D.C., Nimitz was personally presented a second Gold Star for the third award of the Navy Distinguished Service Medal by President Harry S. Truman "for exceptionally meritorious service as Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, from June 1944 to August 1945."
On November 26, 1945, Nimitz's nomination as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) was confirmed by the US Senate, and on December 15, 1945, he relieved Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King. He had assured the President that he was willing to serve as the CNO for one two-year term, but no longer. He tackled the difficult task of reducing the most powerful navy in the world to a fraction of its war-time strength while establishing and overseeing active and reserve fleets with the strength and readiness required to support national policy.
For the postwar trial of German Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946, Nimitz furnished an affidavit in support of the practice of unrestricted submarine warfare, a practice that he himself had employed throughout the war in the Pacific. This evidence is widely credited as a reason why Dönitz was sentenced to only 10 years of imprisonment.
Nimitz endorsed an entirely new course for the US Navy's future by way of supporting then-Captain Hyman G. Rickover's chain-of-command-circumventing proposal in 1947 to build USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear-powered vessel. As is noted at a display at the Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas: "Nimitz's greatest legacy as CNO is arguably his support of Admiral Hyman Rickover's effort to convert the submarine fleet from diesel to nuclear propulsion."
Nimitz retired from office as CNO on December 15, 1947, and received a third Gold Star in lieu of a fourth Navy Distinguished Service Medal. However, since the rank of fleet admiral is a lifetime appointment, he remained on active duty for the rest of his life, with full pay and benefits. He and his wife, Catherine, moved to Berkeley, California. After he suffered a serious fall in 1964, he and Catherine moved to US Naval quarters on Yerba Buena Island in the San Francisco Bay.
In San Francisco, Nimitz served in the mostly ceremonial post as a special assistant to the Secretary of the Navy in the Western Sea Frontier. He worked to help restore goodwill with Japan after World War II by helping to raise funds for the restoration of the Japanese Imperial Navy battleship Mikasa, Admiral Heihachiro Togo's flagship at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905.
Nimitz served as a regent of the University of California from 1948 to 1956, where he had formerly been a faculty member as a professor of naval science for the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps program. Nimitz was honored on October 17, 1964, by the University of California on Nimitz Day.
Catherine Vance graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1934, became a music librarian with the Washington D.C. Public Library, and married US Navy Commander James Thomas Lay (1909–2001), from St. Clair, Missouri, in Chester and Catherine's suite at the Fairfax Hotel in Washington, D.C., on March 9, 1945. She had met Lay in the summer of 1934 while visiting her parents in Southeast Asia.
Chester Nimitz Jr. graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1936 and served as a submariner in the Navy until his retirement in 1957, reaching the (post-retirement) rank of rear admiral; he served as chairman of PerkinElmer from 1969 to 1980.
Sister Mary Aquinas (Nimitz) became a sister in the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), working at the Dominican University of California. She taught biology for 16 years and was academic dean for 11 years, acting president for one year, and vice president for institutional research for 13 years before becoming the university's emergency preparedness coordinator. She held this job until her death, due to cancer, on February 27, 2006.
In late 1965, Nimitz suffered a stroke, complicated by pneumonia. In January 1966, he left the US Naval Hospital (Oak Knoll) in Oakland to return home to his naval quarters. He died at home on the evening of February 20 at Quarters One on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco Bay, four days before his 81st birthday. His funeral on February 24—what would have been his 81st birthday—was at the chapel of adjacent Naval Station Treasure Island, and Nimitz was buried with full military honors at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno. He lies alongside his wife and his long-term friends Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, Admiral Richmond K. Turner, and Admiral Charles A. Lockwood and their wives, an arrangement made by all of them while living.
|Ensign||Lieutenant junior grade||Lieutenant||Lieutenant commander||Commander||Captain|
|January 7, 1907||Never held||January 31, 1910||August 29, 1916||February 1, 1918||June 2, 1927|
|Commodore||Rear admiral||Vice admiral||Admiral||Fleet admiral|
|Never held||June 23, 1938||Never held||December 31, 1941||December 19, 1944|
|Submarine Warfare insignia|
|Navy Distinguished Service Medal with three gold stars|
|Army Distinguished Service Medal|
|Silver Lifesaving Medal|
|World War I Victory Medal with Secretary of the Navy Commendation Star|
|American Defense Service Medal|
|Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal|
|World War II Victory Medal|
|National Defense Service Medal with service star|
|United Kingdom – Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath|
|France – Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour (French: Grand-Officier de la Légion d'honneur)|
|Netherlands – Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Orange-Nassau with Swords (Dutch: Ridder Grootkruis in de Orde van Oranje Nassau)|
|Greece – Grand Cross of the Order of George I|
|China – Grand Cordon of Pao Ting (Tripod) Special Class|
|Guatemala – Cross of Military Merit First Class (Spanish: La Cruz del Merito Militar de Primera Clase)|
|Cuba – Grand Cross of the Order of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes|
|Argentina – Order of the Liberator General San Martín (Spanish: Orden del Libertador San Martin)|
|Ecuador – Order of Abdon Calderon (1st Class)|
|Belgium – Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown with Palm (French: Grand Croix de l'ordre de la Couronne avec palme)|
|Italy – Knight of the Grand Cross of the Military Order of Italy (Italian: Cavaliere di Gran Croce)|
|Brazil – Order of Naval Merit (Portuguese: Ordem do Mérito Naval)|
|Philippines – Philippine Medal of Valor|
|Belgium – War Cross with Palm (French: Croix de Guerre Avec Palme)|
|United Kingdom – Pacific Star|
|Philippines – Liberation Medal with one bronze service star|
Besides the honor of a United States Great Americans series 50¢ postage stamp, the following institutions and locations have been named in honor of Nimitz:
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