Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book Review: Admiral Nimitz

I will admit that I am not as familiar with naval history and the Pacific Theater during WWII as I would like to be.  I’m working on improving that condition.  I’m researching an army unit that deployed to the Pacific Theater (the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment) for the next book.  Also, I recently wrote an article on the history of the aircraft carrier and another on the history of the submarine for Military Vet Shop.  So when I was asked to review Admiral Nimitz: The Commander of the Pacific Ocean Theater by Brayton Harris, I readily accepted the task.

I enjoyed this biography of one of our "under sung" heroes of World War II. We tend to study history as a series of events, but often it is beneficial to look at a period of time through the biography of someone who had a great influence upon it. This is a well written history of Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz, who was commander of the Pacific Fleet during WWII and the Chief of Naval Operations during the early days of the Cold War. It is also a history of our Navy during the first half of the twentieth century.

Nimitz graduated from Annapolis in January 1905, just a little over a year after the Wright brothers made their flight at Kitty Hawk and more than five years before an airplane would take off and land from an aircraft carrier.  Submarines were also new technology.  In 1909 Nimitz took command of the United States Navy’s second commissioned submarine, the USS Plunger (SS-2).   Nimitz would continue to have a variety of command and staff assignments throughout his career until the dawn of WWII found him in charge of the Naval Bureau (precursor of today’s Bureau of Naval Personnel).  In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Nimitz replaced Admiral Kimmel as Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet (CINCPAC) as the personal choice of President Roosevelt.

Nimitz was responsible for a Pacific Fleet that was not only rebuilding and rapidly expanding, but also embracing a completely new way of conducting warfare.   Pearl Harbor signified the end of the “battleship navy.”   The war would be won by the submarine and the aircraft carrier. Additionally, after the fall of the Philippines, there was more than one supreme commander in the Pacific.   General Douglas MacArthur was named allied commander of the Southwest Pacific Area which included Australia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and the Philippines.   Nimitz was designated Commander-in Chief of the Pacific Ocean Areas (CINCPOA) that covered everything else.   As such, Nimitz presided over famous battles like Guadalcanal, Midway, and Iwo Jima.   After reading Brayton Harris' book you might come to believe that the bigger obstacle to our success was not the Japanese, but rather the ego of General Douglas MacArthur and the bureaucracy in the Navy Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Admiral Nimitz was a natural choice to take over as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO).   He defended the Navy in a time when, due to the belief that the Air Force’s ability to drop an atomic bomb convinced a lot of people that we no longer needed a navy for anything other than transportation.   This turned out to be a most interesting part of the book.   The Air Force wanted to do away with the Navy, the Army wanted to do away with the Marine Corps.   It is amazing how close we came to having a single uniformed service that was built around the long-range bomber.   Luckily men like Chester Nimitz could see the future and realize that each service has its place in defending the country.

In this book you will learn, in an entertaining, brief, and casual read, how Nimitz was instrumental in not only winning the Pacific war, but also helped to guide the structure of our modern navy that would be instrumental in winning the Cold War.   By an act of congress, the five-star rank was created in 1944.   Nimitz joined Generals of the Army MacArthur, Marshal, Eisenhower, and Arnold, along with Fleet Admirals Leahy and King in this new rank.   For some time after WWII, Nimitz was a national hero.   Today Nimitz has a tendency to be overshadowed by MacArthur and Eisenhower as a household name, although Chester Nimitz’ contributions to winning WWII and the Cold War security of the United States deserve to be recognized and remembered equally.   Brayton Harris’ book, Admiral Nimitz, helped me realize that.  

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