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Chester Nimitz
24 February 1885(1885-02-24) – 20 February 1966 (aged 80)
Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz portrait.jpg
Chester Nimitz as Fleet Admiral
Place of birth Fredericksburg, Texas
Place of death Yerba Buena Island
Resting place Golden Gate National Cemetery San Bruno, California
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy Seal United States Navy
Years of service 1905-1947
Rank US-O11 insignia.svg Fleet Admiral
Service number 5572
Commands held USS Chicago (CA-14)
USS Rigel (AR-11)
USS Augusta (CA-31)
Bureau of Navigation
United States Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas
Chief of Naval Operations
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Navy Distinguished Service Medal (4)
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Order of the Bath
Legion of Honor
Other work Regent of the University of California

Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz, USN (24 February 1885 – 20 February 1966) was a five-star admiral in the United States Navy. He held the dual command of Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet ("CinCPac" pronounced "sink-pack"), for U.S. naval forces and Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas (CinCPOA), for U.S. and Allied air, land, and sea forces during World War II.[1] He was the leading U.S. Navy authority on submarines, as well as Chief of the Navy's Bureau of Navigation in 1939. He served as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) from 1945 until 1947. He was the United States' last surviving Fleet Admiral.


Early life

Chester W. Nimitz, a German Texan, was the son of Chester Bernhard and Anna (Henke) Nimitz. He was born in Fredericksburg, Texas, where his house is now the Admiral Nimitz State Historic Site. His father died before he was born. He was significantly influenced by his grandfather, Charles H. 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."[2]

Originally, young Nimitz applied to West Point in hopes of becoming an Army officer, but there were no appointments available. His congressman, James L. Slayden, told him that he had one appointment available for the Navy 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 United States Naval Academy from Texas's 12th congressional district in 1901, and he graduated with distinction on 30 January 1905, seventh in a class of 114.[3]

Military career


Early career

Ensign Nimitz, c. 1907

He joined the battleship Ohio (BB-12) at San Francisco, and cruised on her to the Far East. In September 1906, he was transferred to Baltimore (C-3); and, on 31 January 1907, after the two years at sea then required by law, he was commissioned as an Ensign. Remaining on Asiatic Station in 1907, he successively served on USS Panay, USS Decatur, and USS Denver.

While Nimitz was a 22-year-old ensign in the Philippines and conning the destroyer USS Decatur (DD-5), his ship ran aground on a mudbank. However, he successfully rescued a man overboard when the ship ran into the mudbank. Nimitz was court-martialed and convicted of hazarding a Navy ship and received a letter of reprimand.[4]

Nimitz returned to the United States on 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 USS Plunger, later renamed A-1. He commanded USS Snapper (later renamed C-5) when that submarine was commissioned on 2 February 1910, and on 18 November 1910 assumed command of USS Narwhal (later renamed D-1). In the latter command he had additional duty from 10 October 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 USS Skipjack and assumed command of that submarine, which had been renamed E-1, at her commissioning on 14 February 1912. On 20 March 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 engines for the tanker USS Maumee, under construction at the New London Ship and Engine Building Company, Groton, Connecticut.

Nimitz married Catherine Vance Freeman (March 1892 - 1 February 1979) on 9 April 1913, in Wollaston, Massachusetts.[4]

Nimitz had a son, Chester Nimitz Jr who also served in the United States Navy.

World War I

In the summer of 1913, Nimitz studied engines at the diesel engine plants in Nuremberg, Germany, and Ghent, Belgium. Returning to the New York Navy Yard, he became Executive and Engineer Officer of the fleet oiler Maumee on her commissioning, 23 October 1916. On 10 August 1917, Nimitz became aide to Rear Admiral Samuel S. Robinson, Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet (COMSUBLANT). On 6 February 1918, Nimitz was appointed Chief of Staff and was awarded a Letter of Commendation for meritorious service as COMSUBLANT's Chief of Staff. On 16 September, he reported to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, and on 25 October was given additional duty as Senior Member, Board of Submarine Design.

Between the wars

From May 1919 to June 1920 he served as executive officer of South Carolina. He then commanded Chicago with additional duty in command of Submarine Division 14, based at Pearl Harbor. Returning to the United States in the summer of 1922, he studied at the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, and in June 1923, became Aide and Assistant Chief of Staff to Commander Battle Fleet, and later to the Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet. In August 1926 he went to the University of California, Berkeley to establish the Navy's first Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps unit.

Nimitz lost part of one finger in an accident with a diesel engine, only saving the rest of it—and his career—when the machine jammed against his Annapolis ring.[5]. Nimitz barked orders even through the unbearable pain.

In June 1929 he took command of Submarine Division 20. In June 1931 he assumed command of Rigel and the destroyers out of commission at San Diego, California. In October 1933 he took command of Augusta and deployed to the Far East, where in December the Augusta became flagship of the Asiatic Fleet. In April 1935, he 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 15 June 1939 he was appointed Chief of the Bureau of Navigation.

World War II

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz pins the Navy Cross on Dorie Miller, at ceremony on board warship in Pearl Harbor, 27 May 1942

Ten days after the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 he was selected Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CinCPAC), with the rank of Admiral, effective from 31 December. Assuming command at the most critical period of the war in the Pacific, Admiral Nimitz, despite the losses from the attack on Pearl Harbor and the shortage of ships, planes and supplies, successfully organized his forces to halt the Japanese advance.

On 24 March 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 US Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) divided the theater into three areas: the Pacific Ocean Areas (POA), the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA, commanded by General Douglas MacArthur), and the South East Pacific Area. The JCS designated Nimitz as Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas CinCPOA, with operational control over all Allied units (air, land, and sea) in that area.

As rapidly as ships, men, and material became available, Nimitz shifted to the offensive and defeated the Japanese navy in the Battle of the Coral Sea, the pivotal Battle of Midway, and in the Solomon Islands Campaign.

By Act of Congress, approved 14 December 1944, the grade of Fleet Admiral of the United States Navy — the highest grade in the Navy — was established and the next day President of the United States Franklin Roosevelt appointed Admiral Nimitz to that rank. Nimitz took the oath of that office on 19 December 1944.

Tokyo Bay -- Surrender of Japanese aboard USS Missouri. Admiral Chester Nimitz, representing the United States, signs the instrument of surrender.

In the final phases in the war in the Pacific, he attacked the Mariana Islands, inflicting a decisive defeat on the Japanese Fleet in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and capturing Saipan, Guam, and Tinian. His Fleet Forces isolated enemy-held bastions of the Central and Eastern Caroline Islands and secured in quick succession Peleliu, Angaur, and Ulithi. In the Philippines, his ships turned back powerful task forces of the Japanese Fleet, a historic victory in the multi-phased Battle for Leyte Gulf 24 to 26 October 1944. Fleet Admiral Nimitz culminated his long-range strategy by successful amphibious assaults on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. In addition, Nimitz also ordered the United States Army Air Forces to mine the Japanese ports and waterways by air with B-29 Superfortresses in a successful mission called Operation Starvation, which severely interrupted the Japanese logistics.

In January 1945, Nimitz moved the headquarters of the Pacific Fleet forward from Pearl Harbor to Guam for the remainder of the war. Mrs. Nimitz remained in the continental United States for the duration of the war, and she did not join her husband in Hawaii or Guam.

On 2 September 1945 Nimitz signed for the United States when Japan formally surrendered on board the Missouri in Tokyo Bay. On 5 October 1945, which had been officially designated as "Nimitz Day" in Washington, D.C., Admiral Nimitz was personally presented a Gold Star in lieu of the third Distinguished Service Medal by the President of the United States "for exceptionally meritorious service as Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, from June 1944 to August 1945...."

Post war

On 26 November 1945 his nomination as Chief of Naval Operations was confirmed by the US Senate, and on 15 December 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 post-war trial of German Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946, Admiral 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 only sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment. After Dönitz was released, Admiral Nimitz went to visit Dönitz.

On 14 March 1950, in United Nations Security Council Resolution 80 the governments of India and Pakistan both agreed that he should administer the plebiscite that would determine the fate of Jammu and Kashmir.

Inactive Duty as a Fleet Admiral

On 15 December 1947, Nimitz retired from office of Chief of Naval Operations 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, he served in the mostly ceremonial post as a Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy in the Western Sea Frontier. After World War II, he worked to help restore goodwill with Japan by helping to raise funds for the restoration of the Japanese Imperial Navy battleship Mikasa, Admiral Heihachiro Togo's flagship at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905. He was also suggested as a United Nations envoy to help mediate the Kashmir dispute, but due to the deterioration of relations between India and Pakistan, the mission did not take place.

Nimitz became a member of the Bohemian Club of San Francisco. In 1948, Nimitz sponsored a Bohemian dinner in honor of Army General Mark Clark, known for his campaigns in North Africa and Italy.[6]

Nimitz served as a regent of the University of California from 1948-1956, where he had formerly been a faculty member as a professor of Naval Science for the NROTC program. Nimitz was honored on 17 October 1964, by the University of California on Nimitz Day.

Nimitz and his wife had four children: Catherine Vance (b. 1914), Chester, Jr., (1915-2002), Anna (1919-2003), and Mary (1931-2006). Chester W. Nimitz, Jr., graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1936, and he 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 1969-1980. 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 Dominican University of California teaching biology for 16 years, academic dean for 11 years, acting president for 1 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 27 February 2006 when she lost her battle with cancer.

Nimitz suffered a stroke, complicated by pneumonia, in late 1965. In January 1966 he left the U.S. Naval Hospital (Oak Knoll) in Oakland to return home to his naval quarters. He died the evening of 20 February 1966. The place of death is Quarters One on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco Bay. He was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California on 24 February 1966.

Dates of rank

Ensign Lieutenant Junior Grade Lieutenant Lieutenant Commander Commander Captain
O-1 O-2 O-3 O-4 O-5 O-6
US Navy O1 insignia.svg US Navy O2 insignia.svg US Navy O3 insignia.svg US Navy O4 insignia.svg US Navy O5 insignia.svg US Navy O6 insignia.svg
7 January 1907 never held 31 January 1910 29 August 1916 1 February 1918 2 June 1927
Rear Admiral (lower half) Rear Admiral (upper half) Vice Admiral Admiral Fleet Admiral
O-7 O-8 O-9 O-10 O-11
US Navy O7 insignia.svg US Navy O8 insignia.svg US Navy O9 insignia.svg US Navy O10 insignia.svg US Navy O11 insignia.svg
never held 23 June 1938 never held 31 December 1941 19 December 1944
  • Fleet Admiral - rank made permanent in the United States Navy on 13 May 1946, a lifetime appointment.

At the time of Nimitz's promotion to Rear Admiral, the United States Navy did not maintain a one-star rank. Nimitz was thus promoted directly from a Captain to a two-star Rear Admiral. By Congressional Appointment, he skipped the rank of Vice Admiral and became a four-star Admiral in December 1941.

Nimitz also 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.

Decorations and awards

United States awards

Submarine Warfare insignia

Gold award star
Gold award star
Gold award star
Navy Distinguished Service ribbon.svg
Navy Distinguished Service Medal with three gold stars
Distinguished Service Medal ribbon.svg Army Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Lifesaving Medal ribbon.svg Silver Lifesaving Medal
Silver service star
Bronze service star
World War I Victory Medal ribbon.svg
World War I Victory Medal with Escort Clasp and Navy Commendation Star
American Defense Service ribbon.svg American Defense Service Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign ribbon.svg Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal ribbon.svg World War II Victory Medal
National Defense Service Medal ribbon.svg National Defense Service Medal

Foreign awards


Nimitz' headstone at Golden Gate National Cemetery

Besides the honor of being on a United States postage stamp, the following institutions and locations have been named in honor of Nimitz:

Military offices
Preceded by
Ernest J. King
United States Chief of Naval Operations
Succeeded by
Louis E. Denfeld

See also


This article includes text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.
  1. ^ Potter, E. B. (1976). Nimitz. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. pp. 45. ISBN 0870214926.  
  2. ^ John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. "Gerald R. Ford: Remarks at the U.S.S. Nimitz Commissioning Ceremony in Norfolk, Virginia". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved 10 May 2007.  
  3. ^ "Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz Biographical Sketch". The National Museum of the Pacific War. Retrieved 10 May 2007.  
  4. ^ a b "USS Nimitz (CVA(N)-68)". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy. Retrieved 10 May 2007.  
  5. ^ Potter, p. 126.
  6. ^ Navy Department Library. "Documents relating to Admiral Nimitz's naval career." Retrieved on July 10, 2009.

Further reading

  • Potter, E. B. Nimitz. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1976. ISBN 978-0870214929.
  • Potter, E. B., and Chester W. Nimitz. Sea Power. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1960. ISBN 0137968701.

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
William S. Pye
Commander in Chief of the United States Pacific Fleet
Succeeded by
Raymond A. Spruance
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
William Hood Simpson
Cover of Time Magazine
26 February 1945
Succeeded by
Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia


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