Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz is no doubt one of the top US Navy Admirals and is well-known for his role in World War II, though this was only a small portion of his career which spanned from 1905 to 1966. Born on February 24, 1885, Nimitz originally wanted to go into West Point in hopes to become an officer of the US Army. However, no appointments were available. He was given an opportunity to apply to the Naval Academy. With only one position available, he spent additional time studying to vie for the position. He received the appointment in 1901 and on January 30, 1905, he graduated 7th from a class of 114.
Nimitz was first appointed to the battleship Ohio but was later transferred to the cruiser USS Baltimore. Once he completed his required two years at sea as a warrant officer, Nimitz was commissioned as an Ensign. In 1908, the destroyer under his command – the Decatur – became stuck on a sandbar in the Philippines. Ensign Nimitz was later found guilty due to neglect, received a letter of reprimand and was court-martialed.
As a result, he returned to the US and began receiving instructions in the First Submarine Flotilla in January of 1909. Within five months, he would be given command of this fleet. Over the next few years, he would be given a number of duties and commands, eventually supervising the manufacturing of the diesel engines for the Maumee – a tanker under construction at that time.
World War I
After studying diesel engines abroad during the summer of 1913, Nimitz returned to the New York Navy Yard where he was assigned as the Executive & Engineer Officer of the Maumee upon her commission on October 23, 1916. When the US declared war on Germany in April of 1917, the Maumee became responsible for refueling the US Naval destroyers from the first squadron which would be crossing the Atlantic Ocean in order to participate in the war. She was the first ship to ever conduct an en-route fueling. Other highlights from this era for Nimitz include the following:
- August, 1917 – Nimitz is appointed aide to Rear Admiral Samuel Robinson, Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic (COMSUBLANT), which is the Submarine Force US Atlantic Fleet type commander under the United States Fleet Forces Command.
- February, 1918 – He is appointed the Chief of Staff and awarded a Letter of Commendation for his commendable service as Robinson’s aide.
- September of 1918 – Nimitz reports to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations
- October of 1918 – He is assigned additional duties as a Senior Member, Board of Submarine Design
Nimitz served a number of positions between World War I and World War II. From May of 1919 to June of 1920 he was the executive officer of the battleship South Carolina. He would later take command of the cruiser Chicago while also in command of Submarine Division 14. This particular division was based out of Pearl Harbor.
In the summer of 1922, Nimitz returned to the mainland and began studying at the Naval War College in Newport, RI. A year later – in June of 1923 – he became the Aide and Assistant Chief of Staff to Commander Battle Fleet. Within a short period of time, Nimitz became the Commander in Chief, US Fleet and was instrumental in establishing the Navy’s very first Naval Reserve Officer Training Unit at the University of California in Berkeley.
In June of 1929, as a captain, Nimitz was given command of Submarine Division 20. He held this post for roughly two years. The two years following this command, Nimitz was placed in charge of the reserve destroyers at San Diego, CA. After this post, Nimitz took Augusta (C-31), which was a heavy cruiser, over to the Orient. It was here and under his command that the Augusta served as the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet from 1933 to 1935. Next he served three years stateside in Washington, DC at the Bureau of Navigation. And towards the end, in 1938, he was promoted to Rear Admiral.
World War II
Next, Nimitz was in flag rank as Commander Cruiser Division Two and later as Commander Battle Division One. Ten days following Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz became Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas. Despite the significant damage and losses from the Pearl Harbor attack, he managed to still - even with the shortage of ships, aircraft and supplies - organize his forces and halt the advancement of the Japanese. Nimitz served in this Pacific capacity throughout WWII.
In December of 1944, he received an advancement to a newly created rank – Fleet Admiral. In what would be the final phases of the war, Nimitz launched an attack on the Mariana Islands, which inflicted a decisive defeat in what would become known as the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Soon after, in the Battle for Leyte Gulf, his ships would manage to turn back the powerful forces of the Japanese fleet. This was no doubt a historical victory.
Nimitz was not only present on the USS Missouri the day Japan signed the surrender papers on September 2, 1945, he signed for the United States. In November of that same year, he hauled down his flag at Pearl Harbor. A few weeks later, Nimitz became Chief of Naval Operations for a two year term, relieving Fleet Admiral E.J. King.
Nimitz went on to serve for a number of years in various capacities until his death in 1966. Shortly before his death, he had suffered a stroke which was further complicated by pneumonia. On the evening of February 20, 1966, just a few weeks after returning home, Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz died.