Chester W. Nimitz

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Our armament must be adequate to the needs, but our faith is not primarily in these machines of defense but in ourselves.

Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz (24 February 188520 February 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, United States Pacific Fleet (CinCPac), 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.

Quotes[edit]

I wish to be in a position of sufficient prominence so that I will then be considered as one to be sent to sea...
Through the skill and devotion to duty of their armed forces of all branches in the Midway area our citizens can now rejoice that a momentous victory is in the making.
Among the Americans serving on Iwo island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.
They fought together as brothers in arms; they died together and now they sleep side by side…
We have a solemn obligation — the obligation to ensure that their sacrifice will help make this a better and safer world in which to live.
The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military standpoint, in the defeat of Japan.
  • I do believe we are going to have a major war, with Japan and Germany, and that the war is going to start by a very serious surprise attack and defeat of U.S. armed forces, and that there is going to be a major revulsion on the part of the political power in Washington against all those in command at sea, and they are going to be thrown out, though it won't be their fault necessarily. And I wish to be in a position of sufficient prominence so that I will then be considered as one to be sent to sea, because that appears to be the route.
    • On his expectations of war, and that he would someday become the Chief of Naval Operations, in a conversation during the mid 1930s with his son, Chester W. Nimitz, Jr.; as quoted in Nimitz (1976) by E. B. Potter. ISBN 0870214926
  • A ship is always referred to as "she" because it costs so much to keep her in paint and powder.
    • Remarks to the Society of Sponsors, U.S. Navy, 13 February 1940
  • Through the skill and devotion to duty of their armed forces of all branches in the Midway area our citizens can now rejoice that a momentous victory is in the making.
    It was on a Sunday just six months ago that the Japanese made their peace‑time attack on our fleet and army activities on Oahu. At that time they created heavy damage, it is true, but their act aroused the grim determination of our citizenry to avenge such treachery, and it raised, not lowered, the morale of our fighting men.
    Pearl Harbor has now been partially avenged. Vengeance will not be complete until Japanese sea power has been reduced to impotence. We have made substantial progress in that direction. Perhaps we will be forgiven if we claim we are about midway to our objective!
  • Is the proposed operation likely to succeed?
    What might be the consequences of failure?
    Is it in the realm of practicability in terms of matériel and supplies?
    • "Three favorite rules of thumb" Nimitz had printed on a card he kept on his desk, as quoted in LIFE magazine (10 July 1944)
  • By their victory, the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions and other units of the Fifth Amphibious Corps have made an accounting to their country which only history will be able to value fully. Among the Americans serving on Iwo island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.
  • On board all vessels at sea and in port, and at our many island bases in the Pacific, there is rejoicing and thanksgiving. The long and bitter struggle, which Japan started so treacherously on the 7th of December 1941, is at an end.
    I take great pride in the American forces which have helped to win this victory. America can be proud of them. The officers and men of the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and merchant marine who fought in the Pacific have written heroic new chapters in this Nation's military history. I have infinite respect for their courage, resourcefulness, and devotion to duty. We also acknowledge the great contribution to this victory made by our valiant Allies. United we fought and united we prevail.
    The port of Tokyo, which was first opened by Commodore Perry in 1853, is now crowded with United States men-of-war. The process of bringing Japan into the family of civilized nations, which was interrupted when Japan launched her program of conquest, will soon begin again.
    • Statement broadcast to the United States and the Pacific Fleet, after ceremonies in Tokyo Bay accepting the official surrender of Japan (2 September 1945)
  • Today all freedom-loving peoples of the world rejoice in the victory and feel pride in the accomplishments of our combined forces. We also pay tribute to those who defended our freedom at the cost of their lives.
    On Guam is a military cemetery in a green valley not far from my headquarters. The ordered rows of white crosses stand as reminders of the heavy cost we have paid for victory. On these crosses are the names of American soldiers, sailors and marines — Culpepper, Tomaino, Sweeney, Bromberg, Depew, Melloy, Ponziani — names that are a cross-section of democracy. They fought together as brothers in arms; they died together and now they sleep side by side. To them we have a solemn obligation — the obligation to insure that their sacrifice will help to make this a better and safer world in which to live. … Now we turn to the great tasks of reconstruction and restoration. I am confident that we will be able to apply the same skill, resourcefulness, and keen thinking to these problems as were applied to the problems of winning the victory.
    • Statement broadcast to the United States and the Pacific Fleet, after ceremonies in Tokyo Bay accepting the official surrender of Japan (2 September 1945); a portion of this is engraved on the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
  • The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace before the atomic age was announced to the world with the destruction of Hiroshima and before the Russian entry into war. ... The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military standpoint, in the defeat of Japan.
    • Public statement quoted in The New York Times (6 October 1945) and in The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb (1996) by Gar Alperovitz
  • When I assumed command of the Pacific Fleet in 31 December, 1941; our submarines were already operating against the enemy, the only units of the Fleet that could come to grips with the Japanese for months to come.
    It was to the Submarine Force that I looked to carry the load until our great industrial activity could produce the weapons we so sorely needed to carry the war to the enemy. It is to the everlasting honor and glory of our submarine personnel that they never failed us in our days of peril.
    • Foreword, in United States Submarine Operations in World War II. (1949) by Theodore Roscoe, p. v
  • That is not to say that we can relax our readiness to defend ourselves. Our armament must be adequate to the needs, but our faith is not primarily in these machines of defense but in ourselves.
    • Speech at the University of California, Berkeley (22 March 1950)
  • God grant me the courage not to give up what I think is right even though I think it is hopeless.
    • Appended to a variant of the Serenity Prayer in The Armed Forces Prayer Book (1951)
  • We shall never forget that it was our submarines that held the lines against the enemy while our fleets replaced losses and repaired wounds.
    • As quoted in Historic Ship Exhibits in the United States (1969), by United States Naval History Division, United States Navy, p. 24
  • I felt that it was an unnecessary loss of civilian life... We had them beaten. They hadn't enough food, they couldn't do anything.
    • On the use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as quoted by his widow, who also stated that he had "always felt badly over the dropping of that bomb because he said we had Japan beaten already" in The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (1995) by Gar Alperovitz
  • The enemy of our games was always Japan, and the courses were so thorough that after the start of World War II, nothing that happened in the Pacific was strange or unexpected.
  • The war with Japan had been enacted in the game rooms at the War College by so many people and in so many different ways that nothing that happened during the war was a surprise—absolutely nothing except the kamikaze tactics toward the end of the war. We had not visualized these.
  • Hindsight is notably cleverer than foresight.
    • Quoted in The Magnificent Mitscher by Theodore Taylor, p. 266

Employment of Naval Forces (1948)[edit]

Employment of Naval Forces : "Who Commands Sea — Commands Trade", printed in monthly NEWSLETTER (March 1948)
Sir Walter Raleigh declared in the early 17th century that "whoever commands the sea, commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself." This principle is as true today as when uttered, and its effect will continue as long as ships traverse the seas.
Our present undisputed control of the sea was achieved primarily through the employment of naval air-sea forces in the destruction of Japanese and German sea power.
  • Sir Walter Raleigh declared in the early 17th century that "whoever commands the sea, commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself." This principle is as true today as when uttered, and its effect will continue as long as ships traverse the seas.
  • The United States possesses today control of the sea more absolute than was possessed by the British. Our interest in this control is not riches and power as such. It is first the assurance of our national security, and, second, the creation and perpetuation of that balance and stability among nations which will insure to each the right of self-determination under the framework of the United Nations Organization.
  • Our present control of the sea is so absolute that it is sometimes taken for granted.
  • Our present undisputed control of the sea was achieved primarily through the employment of naval air-sea forces in the destruction of Japanese and German sea power. It was consolidated by the subsequent reduction of these nations to their present impotence, in which the employment of naval air-sea forces against land objectives played a vital role. It can be perpetuated only through the maintenance of balanced naval forces of all categories adequate to our strategic needs (which include those of the non-totalitarian world), and which can flexibly adjust to new modes of air-sea warfare and which are alert to develop and employ new weapons and techniques as needed.
  • The basic objectives and principles of war do not change.
    The final objective in war is the destruction of the enemy's capacity and will to fight, and thereby force him to accept the imposition of the victor's will.
    This submission has been accomplished in the past by pressure in and from each of the elements of land and sea, and during World War I and II, in and from the air as well. The optimum of pressure is exerted through that absolute control obtained by actual physical occupation. This optimum is obtainable only on land where physical occupation can be consolidated and maintained.
  • If we are to project our power against the vital areas of any enemy across the ocean before beachheads on enemy territory are captured, it must be by air-sea power; by aircraft launched from carriers; and by heavy surface ships and submarines projecting guided missiles and rockets. If present promise is developed by research, test and production, these three types of air-sea power operating in concert will be able within the next ten years critically to damage enemy vital areas many hundreds of miles inland.
    Naval task forces including these types are capable of remaining at sea for months. This capability has raised to a high point the art of concentrating air power within effective range of enemy objectives.
  • Naval forces are able, without resorting to diplomatic channels, to establish offshore anywhere in the world, air fields completely equipped with machine shops, ammunition dumps, tank farms, warehouses, together with quarters and all types of accommodations for personnel. Such task forces are virtually as complete as any air base ever established. They constitute the only air bases that can be made available near enemy territory without assault and conquest; and furthermore, they are mobile offensive bases, that can be employed with the unique attributes of secrecy and surprise — which attributes contribute equally to their defensive as well as offensive effectiveness.

Quotes about Nimitz[edit]

Nimitz was a leader who conquered any personal urge to drive, and achieved his ends more by persuasion and inspiration to men under his command. ~ Edwin Palmer Hoyt
Alphabetized by author
In World War II, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz commanded thousands of aircraft and millions of men, amounting to more military power than had been wielded by all the commanders in all previous wars. ~ E. B. Potter
  • FLEET ADMIRAL CHESTER WILLIAM NIMITZ, USN. Born Texas 1885. Annapolis Class of 1905. First Command, USS Panay, 1907. Commanded Atlantic Submarine Flotilla, 1912-1913; USS Chicago, 1920-3. Promoted to Capt., 1927. Commanded USS's Rigel, 1931; Augusta, 1933. Attained flag rank, 1938. As Admiral, commanded Pacific Fleet, 1941; awarded DSM, and DSM by Congress, for services. In 1943, designated Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas. On Dec. 19, 1944, achieved highest rank, Fleet Admiral. Signed for U.S. when Japan formally surrendered aboard USS Missouri, Sept. 2, 1945. Awarded third DSM on Nimitz Day in Wash'n, Oct. 5, 1945. Designated Chief of Naval Operations, Nov. 1945.
    • Biographical Notes on Nimitz in Battle Stations! Your Navy in Action (1946), p. 397
  • On October 15 he read a message from Ghormley containing a cry of resignation: "My forces [are] totally inadequate to meet [the] situation. Nimitz had already exhausted the material assistance he could give Ghormley's command, but there was one other way he could influence events, and he discussed this subject with his staff on the night of October 15. Some of them noted Nimitz's normally sunny blue eyes now flashed an icy gray as he prepared to talk about what Hanson Baldwin identified as the single greatest obstacle to American success: leadership. Ghormley, said Nimitz, was an intelligent and capable officer, but he was he tough enough to face the coming crisis, and more important, could he inspire men to feats beyond their known capabilities? The staff answered unanimously: no.
    • Richard B. Frank, Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle (1990), p. 333
  • This solved but half the problem, for who could replace Ghormley? Turner's name immediately resurfaced, but although he was a strong leader, the Marines were restive under Turner's government and there was the cloud of Savo Island over his head. Providentially just off the sick list was Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, a sailor known and admired throughout the Navy as a fighter, especially by the enlisted men. But the criteria for the job of COMSOPAC did not include personal popularity, and some senior officers suspected that Halsey's talents as a fighter and leader in close contact with the enemy would be mismatched to the role of theater commander. After some thought, Nimitz decided it must be Halsey and the next day requested King's approval. COMINCH's reply was a brutally short one word message: "Affirmative."
    • Richard B. Frank, Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle (1990), p. 333-334
  • The qualities of the Nimitz character were apparent in his face, in his career, and in his heritage; combined these factors made him precisely the man he was and placed him in this particular situation at this moment in history. ... He was not a cold man, or a bad tempered man — quite the contrary — to the world he presented a figure of almost total complacency; he seldom lost his temper or raised his voice. ... It could be said that King was a driver who knew how to lead; it could also be said that Nimitz was a leader who conquered any personal urge to drive, and achieved his ends more by persuasion and inspiration to men under his command.
    • Edwin Palmer Hoyt in How They Won the War in the Pacific : Nimitz and His Admirals (2000), p. 28 - 29
  • World War II gave King the opportunity of putting in practice another conviction. His earliest studies of the Napoleonic campaigns had indicated to him that the great weakness of the French military system of the period was that it required the detailed supervision of Napoleon. His belief that one must do the opposite, and train subordinates for independent action, had been confirmed and strengthened through his years of association with Admiral Mayo. During World War II King would jokingly maintain that he managed to keep well by "doing nothing that I can get anybody to do for me," but in all seriousness he could not have survived the four years of war without having made full use of the decentralization of authority into the hands of subordinate commanders, who were considered competent unless they proved themselves otherwise, and who were expected to think, decide, and act for themselves. Upon Nimitz in the Pacific, Edwards, Cooke and Horne in Washington, Ingersoll in the Atlantic, Stark in London, Halsey, Spruance, Kinkaid, Hewitt, Ingram and many other flag officers at sea, King relied with confidence and was not disappointed.
    • Ernest J. King and Walter M. Whitehill, Fleet Admiral King: A Naval Record (1952), p. 645
  • He brought to his new job a number of advantages, including experience, a detailed knowledge of his brother officers, and a sense of inner balance and calm that steadied those around him. He had the ability to pick able subordinates and the courage to let them do their jobs without interference. He molded such disparate personalities as the quiet, introspective Raymond A. Spruance and the ebullient, aggressive William F. Halsey, Jr. into an effective team.
    • Robert William Love, on the rise of Nimitz to CINCPAC in The Chiefs of Naval Operations (1980), p. 184
  • After King, Nimitz was our greatest naval strategist and leader, and, as Cincpac-CincPoa, he had, after King, the biggest responsibility. Nimitz engineered, as it were, the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway; patiently but stubbornly he held out for the dual approach to Japan. He proposed the bold plan to go right into Kwajalein after securing the Gilberts, and he put it across, contrary to the advice of others. He made only two possible mistakes in the war- detaching Admiral Kinkaid prematurely from his South Pacific task force, and rejecting Halsey's proposal that Peleliu be bypassed. Nimitz probably inspired a greater personal loyalty than did any other admiral in the war. Every commanding officer, when his ship, no matter how small, put in at Pearl Harbor, was encouraged to call on Nimitz at the Cincpac-Cincpoa headquarters in Makalapa and express his views. Knowing that the finest test of a commanding officer is (in Churchill's words) "the quality of his effort," and that mistakes in battle are inevitable, Nimitz was slow to relieve any commanding officer who failed; he believed in the adage that every dog should be allowed two bites. It may be conceded that he allowed one bite too many to certain task force commanders before he relieved them; but it was fortunate for the cause that he allowed two bites to Kelly Turner, who turned out to be a practitioner of amphibious warfare second to none.
    • Samuel Eliot Morison, The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War (1963), p. 580-581
  • "Tumb-bells take!" Assistant to "Matchew". Possesses that calm and steady going Dutch way that gets at the bottom of things. "Now see here." Delights in a rough house. One of the cave-dwellers but determined to be a fusser. Spent two hours at his first hop picking up beads. Conducted a Plebe kindergarten Second Class year. Mixer of famous punches. Still survives after two years of Stewart's rhino and comic opera.
    • Description of Nimitz in Lucky Bag (1905), yearbook of the United States Naval Academy, p. 76
  • On April 13, 1943, Allied radio intelligence intercepted a message carrying the travel itinerary of Admiral Yamamoto. The detail in the message listed flight and ground schedules and included what type of fighter escort would be provided. Major Red Lasswell of FRUPAC broke the coded message. The decision of what to do with the information was left to Admiral Nimitz. Nimitz consulted Layton as to what the ramifications would be if Yamamoto were removed. They considered that he might be replaced with a better commander, and Nimitz felt familiar with Yamamoto as his opponent. Layton felt nobody could adequately replace Yamamoto, and based on this opinion Nimitz gave Admiral Halsey the authority to carry out the intercept of Yamamoto’s aircraft. On 18 April, a flight of P-38 fighters with specially selected pilots and equipped with long-range fuel tanks shot down Yamamoto’s aircraft, killing one of Japan’s top naval leaders.
    • Ricky J. Nussio, in Sherman and Nimitz: Executing Modern Information Operations (2001)
  • He surrounded himself with the ablest men he could find and sought their advice, but he made his own decisions. He was a keen strategist who never forgot that he was dealing with human beings, on both sides of the conflict. He was aggressive in war without hate, audacious while never failing to weigh the risks.
    • E. B. Potter, Naval historian at the US Naval Academy, quoted on the cover jacket of his book Nimitz (1976), ISBN 0870214926
  • In World War II, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz commanded thousands of aircraft and millions of men, amounting to more military power than had been wielded by all the commanders in all previous wars. The operations he directed and, to a large extent, devised involved projecting across the Pacific Ocean forces that blasted Japan and defeated an enormously expanded Japanese empire.
    • E. B. Potter, in Nimitz (1976), p. 1
  • Nimitz considered the atomic bomb somehow indecent, certainly not a legitimate form of warfare.
    • E. B. Potter, in Nimitz (1976), p. 386
  • Among the assets the United States could count was one which Nimitz would never dream of listing- the man himself. Neither President Franklin D. Roosevelt nor Secretary Knox ever served his country better than when they passed over an impressive seniority list to select this gentle, courtly and highly respected Texan to command the U.S. Pacific Fleet in a desperate hour. Nimitz became a rear admiral in 1938, and had served as chief of the Bureau of Navigation in Navy Headquarters since June 15, 1939. There he gained a reputation for hard work, zealous attention to detail, efficient organization, strict conformity to official form, as well as mature and ethical judgments. He had hoped for a sea command, but perforce accepted another desk job with no complaint.
    • Gordon W. Prange, Miracle at Midway (1982), p. 10
  • He graduated seventh- that mystic, lucky number- in the Annapolis Class of 1905. Already his classmates had him fairly well pegged. "Possesses that calm and steady-going Dutch way that gets to the bottom of things," read the Naval Academy's class book, Lucky Bag. He brought to his new command in Hawaii a solid if unspectacular background in submarines, battleships, cruisers, and Navy headquarters positions. Infinitely more important, he brought a mind, heart and spirit equal to the task. The thundering challenges, the crushing responsibilities of the Pacific command were to prove over the years that here was one of America's great men in the tradition of Robert E. Lee, whom he resembled in temperament, character, and ability.
    • Gordon W. Prange, Miracle at Midway (1982), p. 10-11
  • Superficially, Nimitz promised little in the way of picturesque "copy," for he was no exhibitionist and never raised his voice. If he had an eccentricity, it was a mild addiction to the homely pastime of pitching horseshoes. Nor did he look in the least like the popular conception of a gruff old sea dog. In fact, he appeared startlingly youthful, although his once incredibly blond hair had turned so white that some, behind his back, nicknamed him "Cottontail." He had a fresh, fine-textured complexion, and only the lines which experience and humor had etched at his nostrils and candid, steel-blue eyes, gave any hint of his fifty-seven years.
    • Gordon W. Prange, Miracle at Midway (1982), p. 11
  • The Admiral was frequently the despair of his public relations men; it simply was not in him to make sweeping statements or to give out colorful interviews.
    • Robert Sherrod, TIME journalist, in On to Westward : War in the Central Pacific‎ (1945), p. 234; also quoted in profile of Nimitz at PBS
  • While MacArthur was a forceful and colorful personality, a man of dramatic gestures and rhetoric, Nimitz was soft-spoken and relaxed, a team player, a leader by example rather than exhortation. "The Admiral was frequently the despair of his public relations men," wrote correspondent Robert Sherrod; "it simply was not in him to make sweeping statements or give out colorful interviews." An officer recalled that during tense moments, while awaiting word of the outcome of important operations or battles, Nimitz would joke with his staff "while he calmly practised on his pistol range or tossed ringers with horseshoes just outside his office." By contrast, at such moments MacArthur "would as a rule sit stonily in his chair, chewing on the stem of a corncob pipe."
    • Ronald H. Spector, Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan (1985), p. 145-146
  • There were contrasts as well in the two men's relations with Washington. According to one of King's biographers, Thomas Buell, the Chief of Naval Operations "never entirely trusted Nimitz's judgment," believing him to be too susceptible to bad advice and too ready to compromise with the Army. Throughout the war, King held frequent personal meetings with Nimitz, usually in San Francisco or Hawaii. By contrast, Marshall saw Army theater commanders in Europe infrequently, and MacArthur only once. King's numerous conferences with Nimitz may indeed "indicate the extent of King's anxiety to keep Nimitz under his thumb; they may also have reflected King's special interest in directing Pacific strategy.
    • Ronald H. Spector, Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan (1985), p. 146
  • Nimitz and MacArthur differed radically in style of command. Whereas Nimitz came to Pearl Harbor virtually alone, retaining many of the members of Kimmel's staff, MacArthur brought with him from the Philippines a group of loyal and deferential- critics said sycophantic- subordinates who served as his key staff officers and assistants throughout the war. In the course of his campaigns MacArthur later developed other close personal relationships, with General Robert Eichelberger, Admiral Thomas Kinkaid, General George C. Kenney- even to some extent with Admiral Halsey- but the ascendancy of "the Bataan gang" was never challenged.
    • Ronald H. Spector, Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan (1985), p. 146
  • Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, was a mild-mannered Texan promoted past 28 officers to take over after Pearl Harbor.
    • C.L. Sulzberger, The American Heritage Picture History of World War II (1966), p. 335

External links[edit]

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