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, U.S. 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 submarine
s. 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submarine, , whose propulsion system later completely superseded diesel-powered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 supercarrier
, the lead ship of her class
, is named after him.
Early life and education
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. 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 became a Texas Ranger
in the Texas Mounted Volunteers in 1851. He 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
at San Francisco
, and cruised on her to the Far East. In September 1906, he was transferred to the cruiser ; 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
, and cruiser .
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. Nimitz was court-martial
ed 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 , later renamed ''A-1''. He was promoted directly from ensign to lieutenant in January 1910. He commanded (later renamed ''C-5'') when that submarine was commissioned on February 2, 1910, and on November 18, 1910 assumed command of (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 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 engine
s for the fleet oil tanker
, under construction at the New London Ship and Engine Company
, Groton, Connecticut
World War I
In the summer of 1913, Nimitz (who spoke fluent German) studied engines at the Machinenfabrik-Augsburg-Nurnberg
(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 U.S. 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, U.S. 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.
Between the wars
From May 1919 to June 1920, Nimitz served as executive officer of the battleship . He then commanded the cruiser 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.
Nimitz lost part of one finger in an accident with a diesel engine, saving the rest of it only when the machine jammed against his Annapolis
In June 1929, he took command of Submarine Division 20. In June 1931, he assumed command of the destroyer tender
and the destroyers out of commission at San Diego, California
. In October 1933, he took command of the cruiser 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.
World War II
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 . 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 U.S. 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
, and Tinian
. His Fleet Forces isolated enemy-held bastions on the central and eastern Caroline Islands
and secured in quick succession Peleliu
, 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 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 Superfortress
es 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 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 U.S. 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.
the Avalon Project at the Yale Law School.
Nimitz endorsed an entirely new course
for the U.S. Navy's future by way of supporting then-Captain Hyman G. Rickover
's chain-of-command-circumventing proposal in 1947 to build , the world's first nuclear-powered vessel. As is noted at a display at thNimitz 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."
From 1949 to 1953, Nimitz served as UN-appointed Plebiscite Administrator for Jammu and Kashmir
. His proposed role as administrator was accepted by Pakistan but rejected by India.
Inactive duty as a fleet admiral
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 , Admiral Heihachiro Togo
's flagship at the Battle of Tsushima
Nimitz was also appointed as the United Nations
Plebiscite Administrator for Kashmir
on 31 December 1948. The terms of the plebiscite were that Pakistan would vacate regions of Kashmir under its control and that India would remove additional military from Kashmir. But due to disagreements between the two nations regarding demilitarisation, the plebiscite is still pending.
Nimitz became a member of the Bohemian Club
of San Francisco. In 1948, he sponsored a Bohemian dinner in honor of U.S. Army General Mark Clark
, known for his campaigns in North Africa and Italy.
Nimitz served as a regent of the University of California
during 1948–1956, 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.
Nimitz married Catherine Vance Freeman (March 22, 1892 – February 1, 1979) on April 9, 1913, in Wollaston, Massachusetts
Nimitz and his wife had four children:
# Catherine Vance "Kate" (22 February 1914, Brooklyn, NY – 14 January 2015)
[Potter. – p. 125.]
# Chester William "Chet", Jr.
# Anna Elizabeth "Nancy" (1919–2003)
# Mary Manson (1931–2006)
Catherine Vance graduated from the University of California, Berkeley
, in 1934,
[Potter. pp. 158–59.]
became a music librarian with the Washington D.C. Public Library
, and married U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
Anna Elizabeth ("Nancy") Nimitz was an expert on the Soviet economy
at the RAND Corporation
from 1952 until her retirement in the 1980s.
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 U.S. Naval Hospital (Oak Knoll)
to return home to his naval quarters. He died at home at age 80 on the evening of February 20 at Quarters One on Yerba Buena Island
in San Francisco Bay
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
[Potter. – p.472.]
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.
Dates of rank
: United States Naval Academy Midshipman
– January 1905
* Nimitz never held the rank of lieutenant junior grade
, as he was appointed a full lieutenant after three years of service as an ensign. For administrative reasons, Nimitz's naval record states that he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant junior grade and lieutenant on the same day.
* Nimitz was promoted directly from captain to rear admiral. During Nimitz's service, there was only one rank of rear admiral
, without the later distinction between upper and lower half, nor did the rank of commodore exist when Nimitz was at that stage of his career.
* By Congressional appointment, he skipped the rank of vice admiral
and became an admiral in December 1941.
* Nimitz's rank of Fleet admiral
was made permanent in the United States Navy
on May 13, 1946, a lifetime appointment.
Decorations and awards
United States awards
Memorials and legacy
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:
* , the first of her class
of ten nuclear-powered supercarrier
s, which was commissioned in 1975 and remains in service
* Nimitz Foundation, established in 1970, which funds the National Museum of the Pacific War
and the Admiral Nimitz Museum, Fredericksburg, Texas
* The Nimitz Freeway (Interstate 880
) – from Oakland
to San Jose, California
, in the San Francisco Bay Area
* Nimitz Glacier
in Antarctica for his service during Operation Highjump
as the CNO
* Nimitz Boulevard – a major thoroughfare in the Point Loma
Neighborhood of San Diego
* Camp Nimitz, a recruit camp constructed in 1955 at the Naval Training Center, San Diego
* Nimitz Highway – Hawaii Route 92
located in Honolulu, Hawaii
near the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport
* The Nimitz Library, the main library at the U.S. Naval Academy
* Nimitz Drive, in the Admiral Heights neighborhood of Annapolis
* Nimitz Lane, Willingboro, New Jersey
* Callaghan Hall (the Naval and Air Force ROTC building at UC Berkeley) containing the Nimitz Library (was gutted by arson in 1985)
* The town of Nimitz
in Summers County
, West Virginia
* The summit on Guam
where Chester Nimitz relocated his Pacific Fleet headquarters, and where the current Commander U.S. Naval Forces Marianas (ComNavMar) resides, is called Nimitz Hill
* Nimitz Park, a recreational area located at United States Fleet Activities Sasebo
* The Nimitz Trail in Tilden Park
in Berkeley, California
* The Main Gate at Pearl Harbor
is called Nimitz Gate
* Admiral Nimitz Circle – located in Fair Park
, Dallas, Texas
* Chester Nimitz Oriental Garden Waltz performed by Austin Lounge Lizards
* Admiral Nimitz Fanfare composed by John Steven Lasher (2014)
* Admiral Nimitz March composed by John Steven Lasher (2014)
* The Nimitz Building, Raytheon
Company site headquarters, Portsmouth, Rhode Island
* Nimitz Road in Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory is named in his honor.
* Nimitz Place part of Havemeyer Park located in Old Greenwich, Connecticut
was named in his honor along with many other World War II military personnel.
* Nimitz Hall is the Officer Candidate School barracks
of Naval Station Newport
, Newport, Rhode Island
. The barracks was dedicated March 15, 2013.
* Nimitz-McArthur Building, Headquarters U.S. Pacific Command
* Nimitz Statue, designed by Armando Hinojosa
, is located at the entrance to SeaWorld
in San Antonio, Texas
Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz Statue
commissioned by the Naval Order of the United States
, is situated near the bow of the memorial
on Ford Island
, facing the memorial
. The statue was dedicated September 2, 2013.
* Nimitz Beach Park, Agat, Guam
* Nimitz Drive, Purdue University
, West Lafayette, Indiana
* Nimitz Avenue, Mare Island
, Vallejo California
* Chester W. Nimitz St., Bakersfield, California
* Nimitz High School, (Harris County, Texas)
* Nimitz High School, Irving, Texas.
* Chester W. Nimitz Middle School, Odessa
* Chester W. Nimitz Middle School, Huntington Park, California
* Nimitz Middle School, San Antonio
* Chester Nimitz Middle School, Tulsa Oklahoma (Now Closed)
* Nimitz Elementary School
, Sunnyvale, California
* Chester W. Nimitz Elementary School, Honolulu, Hawaii
* Nimitz Elementary School, Kerrville, TexasNimitz Elementary School, Kerrville, Texas
In popular culture
* Henry Fonda portrayed Nimitz in the 1965 film ''In Harm's Way'' and the 1976 film ''Midway''.
* Addison Powell portrayed Nimitz in the 1977 film ''MacArthur''.
*Woody Harrelson portrayed Nimitz in Roland Emmerich's 2019 film ''Midway''.
* Henry Arnold Karo—see hand-written inscription on photo given to Adm. Karo
* Admiral of the Navy
* "Some Thoughts to Live By," Chester W. Nimitz with Andrew Hamilton, , reprinted from Boys' Life Magazine, 1966.
* Potter, E. B. ''Nimitz''. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1976. .
* Potter, E. B., and Chester W. Nimitz. ''Sea Power''. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1960. .
* Lilly, Michael A., Capt., USN (Ret), "Nimitz at Ease", Stairway Press, 2019. ISBN 1949267261.
* Knortz, James A. "The Strategic Leadership of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz." (Army war College Carlisle Barracks, 2012)
* Stone, Christopher B. "Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz: Leadership Forged Through Adversity" (PhD dissertation, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2018)
* Wildenberg, Thomas. "Chester Nimitz and the development of fueling at sea." ''Naval War College Review'' 46.4 (1993): 52–62
The Admiral Nimitz interview from ''Yank Magazine'' (1944)
National Museum of the Pacific War
Nimitz State Historic Site
in Fredericksburg, Texas
"The Navy's Part in the World War," (26 Nov 1945)
A speech by Nimitz from th
Commonwealth Club of California Records
Hoover Institution Archives
Guide to the Chester W. Nimitz Papers, 1941–1966 MS 236
held by Special Collections & Archives, Nimitz Library at the United States Naval Academy
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