In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Chester Nimitz

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Background, Education, and Early Career
  • US Naval War College
  • Road to World War II
  • Selection for Admiral and Commander-In-Chief
  • 1942 (The Critical Year)
  • The Fight for Guadalcanal
  • Battle of the Eastern Solomons
  • The Upper Solomons Campaign
  • Two-Pronged Strategy
  • Battle of the Philippine Sea/Marianas Turkey Shoot
  • Leyte Gulf and the Road to the Japanese Home Islands
  • Full to Fleet Admiral
  • Chief of Naval Operations
  • Retirement

Military History Chester Nimitz
Douglas V. Smith
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 February 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 06 February 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0030


Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz, US Navy, is arguably the most important American naval officer of the 20th century. His leadership, acumen as a strategist, sense of the intricacies and requirements of logistics, organizational skill, military requirement foresight, ability to accept and act on ambiguous intelligence, and profound faculty for evaluating his subordinates with the willingness to make changes in his command structure where warranted combined to establish Nimitz as the prototype of a World War II military leader and effective wartime decision maker. Fleet Admiral Nimitz developed his expertise in each of these areas by setting and maintaining an extremely rigorous study regimen, interacting intellectually with his fellow naval cadets and midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy and later, as a commander, with the future leaders of the US Navy, by consciously striving to understand and emulate the characteristics and decision-making capabilities of successful more senior officers—and most importantly, developing their skills in dealing with people—that he identified while passing through the ranks of the Navy. Ultimately, Fleet Admiral Nimitz rose to become commander-in-chief, Pacific, during World War II. As such, he commanded the largest ocean area and most ships of any single commander in the history of the world. He served as the strategic commander for the entire Pacific Ocean Area for almost the entire war, and was the strategic decision maker for the important carrier actions including the battles of the Coral Sea, the battle of Midway, the battle of the Eastern Solomons, the battle of Santa Cruz, and the battle of the Philippine Sea. Near the end of the war, Nimitz transferred his command post from Pearl Harbor to Guam to be nearer to the action. While constantly able to issue commands from his land-based command post, as opposed to his counterpart Japanese strategic decision makers, who were invariably embarked at sea, Nimitz’s leadership in the war was characterized by his refraining from interfering with the strategic and operational direction of his embarked commanders during battle, who had a better operational perspective on the action in which they were engaged.

General Overviews

In his younger years, Chester Nimitz was characterized by his purposefulness and dedication to intense study. In his Navy career prior to World War II, he was known for his innovation, organizational prowess, and faculty for relating well to the people around him. As commander in chief of the Pacific Ocean Area, he was most respected for his leadership and decision-making ability. The most useful biographies of Nimitz stress these factors that shaped his career in the Navy. Elmer B. “Ned” Potter gives an excellent perspective of the entire career of Fleet Admiral (FADM) Nimitz, including important insights on his leadership during key battles, in Nimitz (Potter 1976). Nimitz is a complete and well-researched book that includes many insights on such things as intelligence and its relationship to strategy and operational details that do not exist in other secondary sources. Morison 1947–1962 provides excellent context for the battles of the Pacific war that help to explain Admiral Nimitz’s strategic analysis and decisions as the war progressed. Reynolds 1978 gives a concise and focused overview of the life and career of Nimitz. Pfannes and Salamone 1983 provides brief but useful biographical information on the life and career of FADM Nimitz. Hoyt 1970 places Nimitz within the context of the great naval leaders of World War II in the Pacific. Potter and Nimitz 1981 provides a complete survey of the important naval battles of history from the earliest battles recorded through the original 1960 publication date. Baer 1994 provides an overview of the political and strategic situation leading up to and during World War II that had to be considered in Nimitz’s decision processes in addition to a strictly military focus. Smith 2006 evaluates the key decisions made by Admiral Nimitz in fighting the Pacific war, rating his performance as a strategic and operational thinker in that war. Fleet Admiral Nimitz’s diary for World War II in the Pacific—his Gray Book—is available online as an authenticated chronicle of the war and his correspondence with and direction of senior subordinates.

  • Baer, George W. One Hundred Years of Sea Power: The U.S. Navy, 1890–1990. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994.

    Provides an excellent overview of the political and strategic situation faced by Admiral Nimitz on assuming his position as commander in chief, Pacific.

  • Hoyt, Edwin P. How They Won the War in the Pacific: Nimitz and His Admirals. New York: Weybright & Talley, 1970.

    Provides useful chronological overview of the Pacific War and how FADM Nimitz interacted with his principal commanders in conducting it.

  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. 15 vols. Boston: Little Brown, 1947–1962.

    Volumes 3–9 and 12–14 apply to the Pacific War. Considered by many the definitive source on Navy activities in World War II. This source was written close to the end of World War II, and while it is replete with excellent source material, errors do exist in it, since it is based on incomplete documentation. It remains a valuable resource, however, and it includes many considerations of the war not offered elsewhere. Reprinted in 2001 by Castle Books, Edison, NJ.

  • Nimitz, Chester W., Fleet Admiral. Gray Book. American Naval Records Society.

    The so-called Gray Book (because of the color of its cover) represents FADM Nimitz’s diary for the Pacific Command from 7 December 7 1941, until two days before the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay (31 August 1945). This compilation of Nimitz correspondence with major commanders is called “Admiral Nimitz command summary, running estimate and summary, 1941- 1945.” It is the most authoritative source on the Pacific war available anywhere.

  • Pfannes, Charles E., and Victor A. Salamone. The Great Admirals of World War II. Vol. 1, The Americans. New York: Kensington, 1983.

    Provides good and highly focused, but limited, information on Nimitz and his conduct during the Pacific War.

  • Potter, Elmer B. Nimitz. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1976.

    Well-researched and complete documentation of the life and Navy career of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz including personal anecdotes, detailed presentation of wartime decision process, and interaction with major commanders during key battles.

  • Potter, E. B., and Chester W. Nimitz, Fleet Admiral. Sea Power: A Naval History. 2d ed. Annapolis, MD: US Naval Institute Press, 1981.

    A classic and well-researched treatment of naval and maritime warfare throughout history. Sections on World War II in the Pacific are excellent and concise. This is a standard text for courses in maritime history. It also gives insights into the depth of historical knowledge on war at sea that Admiral Nimitz brought to his position as commander in chief, Pacific. Originally published in 1960.

  • Reynolds, Clark G. Famous American Admirals. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1978.

    Written by an expert on World War II in the Pacific Theater. Provides good and highly focused, but limited, information on Nimitz and his conduct of the Pacific War.

  • Smith, Douglas V. Carrier Battles: Command Decision in Harm’s Way. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2006.

    Considers Fleet Admiral Nimitz’s leadership and decision making in key World War II battles.

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