Chester Nimitz

Chester Nimitz

(1885-1966)

Chester Nimitz was born in Fredericksburg, Texas. Nimitz worked from the age of eight and wanted to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Failing to realize that goal, he went to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and graduated seventh in his class in 1905.

After two years of routine duty, Nimitz went to the Philippines and commanded the destroyer USS Decatur. His ship ran aground, and Nimitz was court-martialed and found guilty. Remarkably, he was let off with a repri¬ mand, thereby saving the career of the future leader of the U.S. Navy.

After 1908, Nimitz specialized in the development and use of diesel engines. He was chief of staff to the Command Submarine Force of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet throughout World War I. During the long period between the two world wars, he became a rear admiral, commanded a battleship division, and became chief of the Naval Bureau of Navigation.

When World War II began, Nimitz was called to the office of the secretary of the navy. After consulting Nimitz on navigation matters, Secretary Knox was so impressed that he sent Nimitz to the Pacific as admiral of the Pacific Fleet. In 1942, Nimitz rose to the rank of commander-in-chief of the Pacific Ocean Areas. As such, he was the equal of two other high commanders in the war — Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur (see no. 87).

Nimitz positioned his carrier fleet to take advantage of the Japanese attack at Midway in 1942. He won that desperate battle, sink¬ ing or disabling four Japanese carriers. In November 1943, he directed a new, shorter line of attack across the Pacific that caught the Japanese defenders flat-footed. He sup¬ ported General MacArthur’s invasion of the Philippines (1944) and was in overall com¬mand during the battles of Pacific Sea (June 1944) and Leyte Gulf (October 1944).

His naval forces went on to capture Iwo Jima and Okinawa in 1945. Nimitz chose his subordi¬ nates with great care, and then gave them as much latitude as he could. He chose to allow his fleet commanders, William Halsey and Raymond Spruance, to conduct the battles. He did not want his presence to hinder their choices or initiative during the battles. Keeping watch over the fray, he stayed at his command stations, first at Pearl Harbor, and later on Guam.

Nimitz served as chief of naval operations from 1945 to 1947. He was later a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations (1949—1952), but never formally retired from the navy. He died at the naval station on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco Bay.