Chester W. Nimitz

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Chester W. Nimitz as 5-star admiral, around 1945

Chester William Nimitz, Sr. (born February 24, 1885 in Fredericksburg , Texas , † February 20, 1966 on Yerba Buena Island , California ) was Fleet Admiral in the US Navy and Commander in Chief of the Allied naval units in the Pacific War during the Second World War .



Nimitz was born in Fredericksburg in Texas , founded by German settlers ( German Texans ) of the so-called Association for the Protection of German Emigrants (also Texas Association, Mainz Adelsverein) in 1846/47, a city with a strong German-Texan tradition today. His grandfather Karl Heinrich (later Charles Henry ) Nimitz, a native of Bremen and a former seaman, ran a small hotel there, the Nimitz Hotel - today part of the Nimitz State Historical Park . Chester's father, the cattle dealer Chester Bernard Nimitz, had died five months before Chester was born, and so his mother, Anna Henke, had to raise him with the help of the grandfather who replaced the child. Only Texas German was spoken at home and English at school.

Nimitz had a very close relationship with his grandfather and often referred to him as the "most important man in his life". In 1890 the mother married her late husband's brother, William, and had two other children with him, Otto and Dora. Since the Nimitz family was not doing well financially, Chester worked from the age of eight after school and on weekends as a delivery boy and later as a hotel servant at the reception of his parents' St. Charles Hotel in Kerrville .

Nimitz married Catherine Vance Freeman, daughter of Richard Rich Freeman, Jr. and Mary Turner Manson of Wollaston , in 1913 in Wollaston, Massachusetts . Both had four children, three daughters and one son: Catherine Vance "Kate" (1914-2015), Chester William "Chet" (1915-2002), Anna Elizabeth "Nancy" (1919-2003), Mary Manson (1931-2006) ), as Dominican Sister Mary Aquinas

Chester W. Nimitz Jr. became a naval officer and submarine officer. He became a Rear Admiral in 1957. From 1969 to 1980 he was Chairman of the Board of PerkinElmer .


Nimitz as a midshipman
(Photo: The Lucky Bag of 1905)

Since his parents could not finance him to attend a high school, Chester applied for admission to the military academy at West Point . When this was temporarily unavailable, he applied for the training position at the Naval Academy in Annapolis , which the congressional constituency No. 12 in Texas had to allocate for the 1901 cadet class, and was accepted. He then dropped out of high school without a degree. It wasn't until decades later, when he was already a Navy Admiral, that he received his high school diploma.

At the academy, Nimitz was one of the best students of his year, especially in mathematics and sports, and graduated as the seventh best of 114 graduates in the final year 1905. In the Academy yearbook Lucky Bag , a secure future for him (“A man he seems of cheerful yesterdays and confident tomorrow ”- William Wordsworth , The Excursion , 1814).

First years as a naval officer

Appointed midshipman , he boarded the USS Ohio , the flagship of the Asian fleet , in San Francisco and sailed for the next four years in Asian waters. In September 1906 he moved to the USS Baltimore and was promoted to Lieutenant at Sea ( Ensign ) on January 31, 1907, after the prescribed two years on the voyage had expired . He stayed in Asia and was given command of the formerly Spanish gunboat USS Panay and the naval station in Polloc , Mindanao . He then became captain of the 420-ton destroyer USS Decatur , unusually early at the age of just 22 . On the evening of July 7th, 1908, his career suffered a serious slump when his ship ran aground as it entered the port of Batangas City . The Decatur could be dragged free the next day, but Nimitz was brought before a military tribunal, found guilty and reprimanded; he also lost his command and was ordered back to the United States.

Change to the submarine fleet

Because of the Decatur incident, Nimitz was not given the coveted and career-enhancing employment on a battleship, but was instead assigned to the newly emerging submarine fleet in January 1909 - to the pigboats , which any self-respecting naval officer can only use looked down with contempt. Nimitz even the submarines described this time later as "a cross between a Jules Verne fantasy and a humpbacked whale," and Peter Maas quoted in his book The Fateful Night (New York, 1999) the captain of the battleship USS Oklahoma with the words: "Only the scraps of the Navy serve on submarines."

The USS Plunger , Nimitz's first submarine
(contemporary postcard)

Nimitz quickly came to terms with his situation and over the next few years became a staunch submarine man in this rapidly developing branch of arms. After four years of voyage on various submarines, he was an expert in underwater operations, an experience that was to prove very valuable in the Pacific War, when the destruction of the Japanese merchant navy by submarines was a decisive factor in the Japanese surrender.

His first submarine was the USS Plunger , then the USS Snapper (February 2, 1910), the USS Narwhal (November 18, 1910) and the USS Skipjack (1912). In May 1909, Nimitz commanding officer of the 1st Submarine Flotilla and 1910 for Lieutenant ( Lieutenant Junior Grade ), and on the same day for Lieutenant Commander ( Lieutenant promoted), he had therefore skipped a grade. In October 1911 he became the commander of the 3rd submarine flotilla in the Atlantic and in 1912 gave a lecture at the Naval Academy on the possibilities of waging war with submarines. This lecture was published, but received no significant response ( Defensive and Offensive Tactics of Submarines , 1912). In the same year Nimitz was awarded the silver life-saving medal for saving the overboard Fireman second class WJ Walsh USN from drowning .

During his time with the submarine fleet, Nimitz also developed into a specialist in diesel engines, which have only just been introduced into the navy. After commissioning in February 1912, he had been given command of the USS Skipjack (E-1), the Navy's first diesel-powered submarine, whose equipment he himself had supervised in Boston, Massachusetts, and was with the in May 1913 Supervising the construction of the diesel engines for the tanker USS Maumee from the New London Ship and Engine Building Company in Groton , Connecticut , the Navy's first surface ship to be diesel-powered. Because of this experience and because he spoke German, he was posted to Europe in 1913 to deepen his knowledge of diesel engines.

Accompanied by his wife, Catherine Vance Freeman, whom he married in April, and a small group of other naval officers, Nimitz visited diesel engine manufacturers in Germany ( MAN in Nuremberg) and Ghent and studied engines. Upon his return, he was the leading authority in the US Navy in the field and therefore became 1st Officer and Chief Engineer on the Maumee , which entered service in October 1916.

In the following months, Nimitz and the captain of the Maumee , Henry C. Dinger, developed a way of refueling ships on the high seas. With this new technology, the Maumee made it possible to send oil-powered destroyers across the Atlantic.

First World War

After Nimitz entry of the United States in the First World War (1917 April 6) still aboard the Maumee had experienced, he returned in August 1917 to the submarine fleet back, became a Lieutenant Commander ( Lieutenant Commander promoted) and initially engineering Staff officer and then in February 1918 promoted to frigate captain ( Commander ) Chief of Staff at the U-Boat Commander of the Atlantic Fleet ( Commander, Submarine Force US Atlantic Fleet , COMSUBLANT), Sea Captain Samuel Robison , who was his lifelong friend and mentor should be. In this role he traveled with Robison through Europe after the war to study the German and British submarines.

Interwar period

On September 16, 1918, Nimitz was transferred to the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations , the highest military command in the Navy, and on October 25, he was also a member of the Board of Submarine Design . Here he was involved in planning the next generation of submarines.

In 1919 he was given command of a large battleship and became chief officer on the USS South Carolina , which was a troop transport that carried American soldiers from France back to the United States. The South Carolina was the oldest warship in the Navy and was decommissioned two years later, but in the post-war period the overhang of naval officers was so great that it was difficult to even take command of one, which is essential for promotion to captaincy to get bigger ship. The standing times were therefore correspondingly short. After a little less than a year, Nimitz returned to the submarine weapon and was commissioned as commander of submarine division 14 (COMSUBDIV 14) in Pearl Harbor , Hawaii , with the construction of the local submarine station.

After a year as a student at Naval War College in Newport , Rhode Island , (1922), during which he had dealt particularly with the tactical requirements of a naval war in the Pacific, Nimitz went back to his mentor Robison, now an admiral, as a department head and technical officer and Commander Battle Forces . When this 1925 Commander-in-Chief, US Fleet (CINCUS), the second highest operational naval command, he took Nimitz with him.

During this time, Nimitz lost part of his ring finger in an accident on a diesel engine. The rest of the finger - and with it its career - was only saved because the gearbox got stuck on its academy ring. He also suffered a severe ear infection that made him hard of hearing. He compensated for this by reading people's lips.

In 1933 Nimitz was appointed captain of the heavy cruiser USS Augusta , which soon after became the flagship of the Asian fleet. From 1935 to 1938 he served as Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Navigation in Washington, DC and was subsequently to Rear Admiral promoted (Rear Admiral). After he had temporarily commanded a cruiser and a battleship division of the Battle Fleet , he became head of the Bureau of Navigation in June 1939 .

Second World War

Douglas MacArthur (left) and Nimitz

At the suggestion of Navy Minister Frank Knox , he was appointed Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet (CinCPAC) with the rank of admiral on December 31, 1941 . As a result, he skipped a rank with the Vice Admiral for the second time. In a short speech, Nimitz promised not to avoid any effort in order to be able to decide the war for the USA after the defeats of Pearl Harbor and Wake .

In fact, Nimitz tried various measures to restore the troops' morale. This was shown, for example, by not blaming Admiral Kimmel for the disaster in Pearl Harbor and not firing him.

Admirals Nimitz and Halsey (1943)

When the Pacific Ocean Areas headquarters were formed in May 1942, Nimitz was appointed Commander in Chief (CinCPOA). All sea, air and land forces of the Allies deployed in this area were subordinate to him.

From 1942 Nimitz led various surprise attacks against Japanese- occupied territories from his headquarters in Hawaii and was able to slowly push back the imperial troops with the battles in the Coral Sea and on Midway . The heavy losses suffered by the Japanese aircraft carriers at Midway weakened them permanently.

Although he was not directly there, he was also able to influence the course of the Battle of Guadalcanal (1942/43) by replacing Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley in October 1942 by Vice Admiral William F. Halsey .

In the final phases of the war, Nimitz forces attacked the Marianas and achieved another decisive defeat for the Japanese fleet on 19/20. June 1944 in the Battle of the Philippine Sea ; Saipan , Guam and Tinian were conquered. His naval forces isolated the enemy bases of the central and eastern Carolines .

In the sea ​​and air battle in the Leyte Gulf in October 1944 under Admiral Halsey, the Japanese lost 26 warships; an overwhelming victory.

Fleet Admiral

In December 1944, Nimitz was promoted to Fleet Admiral ( Grand Admiral ), having already led one of the largest fleets that had ever been put together.

On September 2, 1945, Nimitz was one of the Allied commanders alongside General MacArthur, who countersigned the Japanese surrender document on board the USS Missouri .

post war period

After the war he became Chief of Naval Operations and began a large-scale restructuring, dismantling and conversion campaign for the US Navy. He held the office from 1945 to 1947, when he was replaced by Louis E. Denfeld .

In 1946, during the Nuremberg Trials , Nimitz made an affidavit on the practice of unrestricted submarine warfare, a warfare he himself had used during the war in the Pacific. This was one reason why Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz was only sentenced to ten years in prison.


Nimitz left the Navy in 1947 and retired in Berkeley , California. In 1966, after his death on Yerba Buena Island, he was buried in the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, near San Francisco, with Admiral Raymond A. Spruance , Admiral Richmond K. Turner and Vice-Admiral Charles A. Lockwood .

honors and awards

Chester Nimitz at National Portrait Gallery IMG 4591.JPG



Selection of decorations, sorted based on the Order of Precedence of the Military Awards:


(as co-editor, together with Elmer Belmont Potter)

  • Defensive and Offensive Tactics of Submarines. U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, December 1912.
  • Sea Power: a Naval History. Prentice Hall, New York 1960.
  • The Great Sea War: The Story of Naval Action in World War II. Bramhall House, New York 1960.
  • Triumph in the Pacific: The Navy's Struggle Against Japan. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1963.



  • Elmer Belmont Potter: Nimitz. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD 1976, ISBN 0-87021-492-6 .
  • Frank A. Driskill, Dede W. Casad: Chester W. Nimitz, Admiral of the Hills. Eakin Press, Austin, TX 1983, ISBN 0-89015-364-7 .


Magazine articles

  • RADM Jerry Holland, USN (Ret.): Nimitz, The Submariner. In: Undersea Warfare. The Official Magazine of the US Submarine Force. - Issue 18, spring 2003 online

Web links

Commons : Chester W. Nimitz  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Yearbook of the United States Naval Academy, The Lucky Bag of 1905. p. 76. Annapolis, MD, 1905.
  2. For comparison: Spruance was 26 when he received his first destroyer command, Halsey 30 and King even 36.