Nimitz, Admiral Chester, 1885-1966

Nimitz was Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Fleet from 17 December 1941 until the end of the war. An outstanding strategist, he was responsible for bringing the US Fleet from its weak and dejected situation after Pearl Harbor to a position of initiative and offense within the first year of the war in the Far East. Taking command shortly after Pearl Harbor, Nimitz’s first task was to protect the US Hawaiian bases and maintain communications with the mainland. To this purpose he gathered the large Midway Fleet. At the Battle of Midway Nimitz was considerably aided by the cracking of the Japanese Fleet code some months earlier and by the American victory at Coral Sea in May 1942. After Midway, Nimitz had a considerably freer hand.

Commands in the Pacific were now rationalized, in order to ease interservice tensions. MACARTHUR was given command of the Southwest Pacific up to 160° East longitude and Nimitz commanded the Central Pacific from 160° East including Guadalcanal, the site of his next offensive. Here the Japanese showed their superiority in night fighting and by October 1942 the US had only one carrier left. However Vice-Admiral HALSEY was able to rally US forces and regain the initiative as the US increased war production and superior resources were taking effect.

Nimitz was a great believer in amphibious operations and felt that these would be more successful if used not to attack central Japanese troop concentrations directly but to take less well-defended islands behind the Japanese main lines thereby cutting them off, a strategy known as leapfrogging to Navy men. This was to be organized as an approach to Japan by way of the Central Pacific Islands. The Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed to this in 1943 and the operations opened up with November 1943 assaults on Makin and Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands and in February 1944 on the Marshalls. Nimitz then divided his fleet into two teams which he employed alternately: SPRUANCE’s 5th Fleet and Halsey’s 3rd. After the taking of the Marianas it was agreed that Nimitz should aid MacArthur’s landings at Luzon and Okinawa, later adding Iwo Jima, which could be used immediately for direct attacks on Japan. One of the mainsprings of Nimitz’s strategy throughout the war was his rivalry with MacArthur: Nimitz and his superior, KING, were always arguing that the Navy should have priority in the Pacific campaign and the lion’s share of the resources available. The Joint Chiefs gave way to MacArthur’s campaign to recapture the Philippines; Nimitz had argued for the taking of Formosa. However Nimitz’s Central Pacific route to Japan was accepted for the final assault. In the last months of the war Nimitz’s staff were planning this operation. The two rivals joined together in the final ceremony of victory: MacArthur accepted the formal surrender of the Japanese on board Nimitz’s flagship the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945.

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