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American Hero Chester Nimitz

Commander in Chief of the U.S. Navy, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, approximately 1946.

Admiral Chester Nimitz, who planned US Navy operations from the central base in Hawaii during most of the Pacific war and who did not directly head military operations - save for the tragic, crucial, and highly mysterious Battle of Midway - is the principal official hero of the American victory over Japan. An excellent politician, accomplished diplomat, and outstanding strategist, he managed to put forward his plans and thereby gain many victories over his companions-in-arms and rivals. These bloodless victories subsequently resulted in bloody hard-fought victories over the Japanese Army and Navy in the vast seat of ocean warfare for predominance in the rich and ancient regions of South-Eastern Asia.

Ensign Chester W. Nimitz, 1907.

Chester William Nimitz was born on February 24, 1885 into a family of immigrants who moved to Texas from Germany. At the age of 14, he decided to enter the United States Military Academy. No appointment to West Point was available in that year, however, so he then applied and was accepted to the United States Naval Academy. After graduating from the latter institution, the young lieutenant was sent to serve in the U.S. Asian Navy, where nothing betokened a threat to his comparatively excellent career till July 7, 1908, when as the captain of the destroyer Decatur, he ran the ship aground. As a result, he was court-martialed and reprimanded.

Having returned to America, Nimitz served in the submarine fleet for some time, and then, in 1913, was sent to Europe to study German and Belgian diesel engines. Upon his return, Nimitz supervised the construction of the American diesel engine warship Maumee. After her launching, he served on board as Engineering Officer.

When the USA entered World War I in April, 1917, the Maumee was enlisted in the Atlantic Navy. In August Nimitz was given the rank of lieutenant commander, and began to serve as chief of staff to Admiral Samuel S. Robison, Commander of the Atlantic Submarine Force. The admiral became a teacher to the young and promising officer for the whole period of their 10-year service together. After the war, Nimitz worked in the Naval Department in Washington, and in 1920 he was sent to Pearl Harbor where he inspected the construction of a new submarine base. During the next twenty years, Nimitz served on various warships, both surface and submarine. He also spent some time in the capital and helped to develop the program of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps of the USA in American universities. In 1938 Nimitz was promoted to rear admiral and took command of a cruiser division in San Diego and a battleship division at Hawaii. Upon his return to Washington in July 1933, he headed the Bureau of Navigation. By the beginning of the Japanese operation in Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Nimitz was Naval Personnel Chief, responsible for manpower in any possible war.

Nimitz did not consider the Japanese attack of December 7, 1941 to be a tragedy. He is said to have remarked: "Thank God, our Navy was in Pearl Harbor on December 7." Such commentary on his part is usually related to the argument that an encounter between the American and Japanese forces in the open sea on that day would have resulted in many more American losses.

Whatever the case, the fact that such a strange statement of one of the closest companion-in-arms of Roosevelt was not lost to posterity suggests that it was not an accidental one. We will return to the admiral's remark in the article devoted to the beginnings of the war and its first battle.

Chester W. Nimitz presents awards on December 31, 1941 at Pearl Harbor.

On December 31, 1941, at the recommendation of Navy Secretary Nox and perhaps on his own initiative as well, Roosevelt designated Nimitz as Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Fleet, where he served throughout the war and thus went down in history as victor over Japan. At first, a single Commander-in-Chief was to be in the Pacific Ocean, but General MacArthur, commander of land forces in the theatre of military operations, could not accept a role which would subordinate him to a naval officer. As a result, responsibility for the course of military operations as a whole was divided between MacArthur and Nimitz.

The long winter and spring of 1942 was a difficult time for the American Pacific Fleet. Pearl Harbor, Guam, Wake, and the Philippines added up to a list of bitter defeats. In May the Japanese sent the aircraft carrier Lexington to the bottom of the Coral Sea. Another large aircraft-carrier, the Yorktown, was heavily damaged in this battle and barely reached Pearl Harbor.


But the year 1942 brought a turning point in the war after the astonishing defeat of Japan in the Battle of Midway, a victory which historians, at least American ones, ascribe to Nimitz entirely.

In April of that year naval reconnaissance reported to Nimitz that the Japanese command was preparing a large-scale operation in AF zone. Those letters could have referred to any American base on the Aleutian Islands or Oahu, in San-Francisco or at Midway. Roshfore, who headed the reconnaissance department at Pearl Harbor, was instinctively certain that the abbreviation indicated the Midway Islands. To prove his supposition, he ordered that a clear message concerning the shortage of drinking water be sent from that base to Hawaii. The Japanese fell for the bait and in two days an intercepted Japanese radiogram about the shortage of drinking water in AF zone lay on his table. Later the Americans learnt the exact day of the beginning of the Japanese offensive - 4 June.

In such a way, the Japanese command lost the element of surprise, which figured among its favorite tactics. As a result of the collision between the largest formations of the two rival fleets, Japan was defeated at sea for the first time in 350 years. Having lost four of its nine best aircraft carriers, Japan had to abandon its plans of further expansion to the south.

After that battle the Americans snatched the initiative in military operations. Resembling together, according to one historian, Saladin and Richard the Lionhearted, the famous heroes of the crusades epoch, MacArthur and Nimitz seized a number of islands, approaching closer and closer to the Japanese territory itself.

At that time, when the U.S. Navy was growing stronger and the forces of Japan, though still in possession of vast territory, were dwindling, Nimitz' headquarters developed an "island to island" strategy for the further conduct of war, proposing gradual displacement of the Japanese from the territories occupied by them in the Pacific. The American Marines who were to put the plans of their Commander-in-Chief into practice by overcoming violent and even suicidal resistance of the Japanese, called the strategy "from palm to palm." On the other hand, Nimitz aimed to avoid clashes of his fleet with Japan's still formidable fleet at any cost. Nimitz understood how much the naval headquarters of the Land of the Rising Sun longed to wring from the Americans a slipaway victory in the decisive contest. The morale of the Japanese sailors, pilots and infantrymen was high till the very end of the war; even after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atomic bombs, the Empire's soldiers believed in inevitable victory, and if fate had given them a battle such as that of Midway, the second time they had every chance to subject their enemies to heavy losses. The submarine formations also received strong support from the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet. According to Nimitz's order, they had to act as German "wolf packs" in the Atlantic - to infiltrate the areas of the enemy's transportations links and destroy merchant vessels. The transport losses of Japan, which suffered a permanent lack of all kinds of raw materials, immediately rose, and, correspondingly its industrial rates began to decrease with each passing year.

In November 1943 the Nimitz forces seized the Gilbert Islands, in February 1944 the Marshall Islands, and in August 1944 the Mariana Islands.

Chester W. Nimitz with (from left to right) General MacArthur, President Roosevelt and Admiral Leahi at a conference dedicated to the continuation of operations against Japan, July 26-August, 1944.

The final objective of those operations, according to Nimitz who proceeded from common sense reasoning, was Formosa (the island of Taiwan), a key to the main, vitally important, sea transport communications of Japan, whose industry depended directly on supplies of different types of raw materials - especially oil - from the islands of Borneo, Java and Sumatra. It was enough to seize Taiwan, and the Philippines, like a ripe fruit, would soon fall into the hands of the USA on their own, having lost all their importance for Japan which would thus cut off the islands. However, big politics meddled in the art of war. MacArthur, like Nimitz, was not only an important military leader, but also an ace in the pack of the US political elite. His pride was very much wounded when the USA was driven out from the Philippines in spring 1942 and he had to escape from the doomed islands, leaving his soldiers to the mercy of fate. At that time he made his historical statement, "I shall return." And now he insisted on the necessity of the immediate return of the American flag and his own power to those islands, even at the cost of heavy losses. Though favoring Nimitz plan, which obviously promised a victory at a smaller price, President Roosevelt had to agree reluctantly to the difficult battle for the Philippines, as the extent of support from MacArthur's allies in Congress in the upcoming presidential elections depended on that decision.

Thus, in October 1944, the ground troops and fleet of the USA together, having shared the joy of victory and bitter taste of quite painful losses and having barely avoided a catastrophe in Leyte Gulf, retook the Philippines. To acknowledge his services, and apparently wishing to reward the naval commander, who yielded to the "forceful" arguments of his land rival, the government of the USA conferred upon Nimitz the rank of Fleet Admiral of the United States Navy - the newly-established highest grade in the Navy.

Chester W. Nimitz in the name of the USA signs the act of unconditional surrender of Japan on board the battleship Missouri battleship in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.

What followed is well-known.

In the beginning of 1945 Nimitz went on the offensive at the islands of Guam, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. His headquarters were already working on a Japanese invasion plan when Japan surrendered following the defeat of the Kwantung Army by the Red Army and the atomic bombardments. On August 29 Nimitz sailed to Tokyo Bay on the American flagship South Dakota. On September 2 on board the battleship Missouri he signed the terms of surrender for the United States.

October 5, the day of the celebrated admiral's return to the USA, was officially designated as the "Nimitz Day." Soon after his triumph Nimitz became Chief of Naval Operations and during the next two years was in charge of demobilization, while also working on the development of atomic submarine construction.

On December 15, 1947, he retired from the Navy owing to political disagreements with the new American leadership. Later on Nimitz served as Special Assistant to the Naval Secretary, and then as a military representative of the USA in Kashmir.

Chester Nimitz died on February 20, 1966, after complications which followed a serious operation. He was buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California.

Source: Gordienko A.N., Military Art Encyclopedia, 1997., Michael Lee Lanning, The Military 100, 1996.