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J. ARNOLD, S. SINTON, illustrated by DARKO PAVLOVIC
Marines struggle ashore on Tarawa in November 1943. Among many difficult, bloody island invasions, Tarawa was the hardest. (National Archives)
On the other hand, King was instrumental in forcing the navy to develop the fleet train concept: the ability to supply and repair ships without returning to a home base. The fleet train, in turn, allowed wide- ranging carrier raids and amphibious landings that bypassed numerous Japanese strongholds. King was convinced that the destruction of Japan's fleets alone would not bring victory. He believed that the Chinese coast would have to be secured to provide a base for the aerial bombardment and subsequent invasion of Japan. He clung to this view until the end of the war and, thus, opposed General Douglas MacArthur's strategy regarding a return to the Philippines.
However, King viewed with skepticism the notion that strategic bombing operations alone could win the war. The B-29s would have to fly from islands captured by the navy and the marines. One of King's staff officers observed, "The interests of the AAF [Army Air Force] and the Navy clash seriously in the Central Pacific campaign." The navy worried that it would be relegated to a secondary role, namely capturing bases from which the air force would win the war.
Tough and outspoken throughout his career, King retired in December 1945 and died in 1956. King shares responsibility with Marshall for failing to unify command in the Pacific. Pacific operations remained unwisely divided between the navy under Nimitz and the army under MacArthur. The two-prong advance against Japan gave the Japanese the opportunity to concentrate forces to defeat the widely separated American efforts. Fortunately, the Japanese failed to seize the chance. King was one of the most influential strategic planners on the Allied side. He commanded a force through difficult times and oversaw its expansion into the world's largest navy with over 8,000 ships, 24,000 aircraft, and 3,000,000 people. The prevailing historical judgment is, "No other officer has had such complete authority over so large a navy institution and few could have wielded it so well."
Chester William Nimitz was born in Fredericksburg, Texas, in 1885. After first applying to West Point, Nimitz instead entered the US Naval Academy at the age of 15. He graduated in 1905. Nimitz began his career in unpromising fashion by being seasick during his first voyage. He ran his second command, a destroyer, aground and received an official reprimand. Nonetheless, by the time of World War One, Nimitz had risen to chief of staff to the commander of the Atlantic Fleet's submarine division. Between the wars, Nimitz graduated from the Naval War College, served on a variety of capital ships, and taught naval science at the University of California. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor found him as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation.
Nimitz had received serious consideration in 1940 for the command of the Pacific Fleet. Thus, when the Roosevelt administration decided to make Admiral Husband Kimmel a scapegoat for Pearl Harbor, the choice to replace him naturally fell on Nimitz. Nimitz arrived at Pearl Harbor on Christmas Day 1941. As he motored across the harbor, he saw naval craft collecting bodies as they floated to the surface from the doomed ships on the harbor bottom.
The Commander-in-Chief Pacific Fleet was responsible for an immense area. In violation of the principle of unity of command, the Pacific was divided into two theaters. MacArthur was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Southwest Pacific Area. This area embraced Australia, the Philippines, the Solomons, New Guinea, the Bismark Archipelago, Borneo, and all of the Dutch East Indies except Sumatra. Nimitz commanded everything else in the Pacific except the coastal waters of Central and South America. This vast area received the designation, the Pacific Ocean Areas. Holding the rank of full admiral, Nimitz also retained command of the Pacific Fleet.
Nimitz confronted the challenge of rebuilding his demoralized fleet and protecting American interests in the Pacific with great skill. The fleet s air arm and its submarine force remained intact after Pearl Harbor. To restore morale and keep the Japanese off balance, Nimitz, a former submarine expert, ordered unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan. Nimitz reorganized the surface fleet into task forces centered on fast aircraft carriers. With the support of Admiral King, he began planning offensive action involving carrier raids. At this time, most senior naval officers believed that it was too risky for carriers to attack heavily defended land bases. The senior earner admiral, William Halsey, supported Nimitz and ottered to lead the first attacks. The subsequent raids accomplished little in strategic terms but they were important in raising morale, providing experience, and developing tactics.
Admiral Chester Nimitz utilized his resources aggressively. Still, he soberly recognized the gravity of the situation around Guadalcanal during the late summer and fall of 1942. Following the devastating Japanese battleship bombardment of Guadalcanal, on October 15 Nimitz assessed the situation: "It now appears that we are unable to control the sea in the Guadalcanal area. Thus our supply of the positions will only be done at great expense to us. The situation is not hopeless, but it is certainly critical." (National Archives)
Relying upon intelligence intercepts, Nimitz aggressively employed his scarce earners to intercept the Japanese at the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942. Before that .battle, he confidently observed that "because of the superiority of our personnel and equipment" the United States could take the risk of fighting the Japanese even when facing adverse odds. This proved to be an overly sanguine view. Still, the drawn battle was a useful propaganda victory and marked the first strategic check to Japanese expansion.
Nimitz's superb intelligence teams predicted another Japanese thrust against Midway Island. Nimitz was determined to parry this thrust but the fleet was critically short of carriers. When the badly damaged Yorktown arrived at Pearl Harbor on May 22, Nimitz and the navy's technical experts sloshed around the dry dock to inspect the vessel. The best estimate was that repair would take 90 days. Nimitz told shipyard technicians, "We must have this ship back in three days." On the morning of May 29, the Yorktown departed to join the forces that intercepted the Japanese at the decisive Battle of Midway.