Chester William Nimitz was born in the United Statesin 1885. He chose the US Navy as a career and rose rapidly. He was chosen personally by President F.D. Roosevelt to command the fleet after the disaster of the surprise Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor In December, 1941. As readers will remember, it was this bombing attack, launched from aircraft carriers, without giving warning and without a declaration of war that directly caused America’s entry into World War II. It is reasonable to suppose that had there been no Pearl Harbor, there would been no American intervention.
Nimitz knew that aircraft carriers were indeed the best naval, airborne and military weapon in the world, and would certainly be the key to success in the Pacific. His masterly use of this highly mobile destructive weapon in the Battle of Midway (June 1942) gave him victory. He directed the conflict by radio from his still-damaged headquarters at Pearl Harbor,Hawaii.
Despite the undoubted success of his tactics, the Pacific Oceanwas then divided into two commands: Nimitz was to be in charge of Allied forces in the Pacific, and Central Pacific commands, while General MacArthur (q.v.) controlled Southwest Pacific Command. The system became shaky because Nimitz thought the best and quickest way to defeatJapanwas to mount amphibious attacks on Japanese-held islands, moving closer and closer to Japan itself. His reasoning was that air attacks could then be made on Japan, and an army invasion could be executed. MacArthur disagreed; he stated that the Philippines should be suppressed first.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, however, thought Nimitz was right and MacArthur wrong. Successful attacks were made on Guadalcanal (the first really big US amphibious operation of the War), the Gilbert Islands, Saipan and Guam. But MacArthur kept grimly to his plan, managing to persuade the JCS to approve an attack on the Philippines in late 1944. Nimitz joined him and won a great victory at Leyte Gulf in October, 1944. The Japanese navy was effectively eliminated.
Nimitz was now responsible for the successful invasion of the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, which took the US fleet within striking distance ofJapan. The cost in lives was supportable but horrific. The expected invasion never took place because the new President, Truman (q.v.) ordered the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (q.v.).
Chester Nimitz was a hugely popular figure with all Americans. He had great fighting ships named after him, and became Fleet Admiral in December, 1944. Full of honours, he died in 1966 at eighty-one.
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