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J. ARNOLD, S. SINTON, illustrated by DARKO PAVLOVIC
Nimitz supervised the Solomon Islands campaign in late 1942 and early 1943. Thereafter, the rapid buildup of American strength permitted offensive actions on a much larger scale. Nimitz endorsed the "island-hopping" strategy that bypassed many Japanese strongholds, leaving them to "wither on the vine" during the inexorable advance against the Japanese homeland. Through it all, Nimitz continued his aggressive leadership, as illustrated by the drive into the Central Pacific. While the battle for the Gilbert Islands was taking place, American planners considered the next step: the invasion of the Marshall Islands. Nimitz's chief planning officer suggested a bold stroke: a strike against Kwajalein Atoll in the center of the island chain. Nimitz concurred. Citing the apparent enormous risks, General Holland Smith and Admirals Kelly Turner and Raymond Spruance vehemently disagreed. After a heated meeting on December 14, 1943, Nimitz polled his subordinates. They all said Kwajalein was a mistake. Directing his comments to Turner, Nimitz responded, "This is it. If you don't want to do it, the Department will find someone else to do it." The dissenters obliged.
The decisive Battle of Midway occurred because American strategists used their intelligence wisely. Admiral Nimitz observed: "Had we lacked early information of the Japanese movements, and had we been caught with carrier forces dispersed ... the Battle of Midway would have ended differently." Nimitz well understood how US hopes depended upon a small handful of fleet carriers. This shows some of the damage suffered by the Yorktown at Midway. (US Naval Historical Center)
Admiral Thomas Hart (second from left) doubted that the Dutch East Indies could be held in the face of Japanese air superiority. Hart meets with the British Admiral Layton (left) on Java in a futile effort to coordinate an effective defense. (The George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, VA)
The successful capture of the Gilberts and Marshalls demonstrated how fast-carrier operations could support amphibious invasions in wide- ranging operations. Nimitz turned his attention to an attack on the Marianas in order to provide a base to bomb the Japanese homeland. Palau and the Philippines came next. Nimitz advocated bypassing the Philippines in favor of an invasion of Formosa. Daunting logistics and MacArthur's political influence helped persuade Roosevelt to overrule Nimitz and order the invasion of the Philippines. In December 1944, Nimitz received promotion to fleet admiral, a rank that made him equal to MacArthur. The two great leaders had cooperated well in the past and this cooperation continued to the end of the war.
Nimitz ended the war as a hugely popular and respected leader. He succeeded Admiral Ernest King as Chief of Naval Operations for a two- year stint that ended in 1947. In this capacity, he won an important bureaucratic victory by opposing the proposed consolidation of the army and navy. He retired in December 1947 and died in 1966.
Thomas Hart was born in Davison, Michigan, in 1877. He graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1897. Hart led two submarine divisions to Europe in 1917. He graduated from the Naval War College in 1923 and the Army War College the next year. Hart gradually climbed the promotion ladder and became commander of fleet submarines from 1929-31. He held the prestigious assignment of Superintendent of Annapolis from 1931 to 1934. He next commanded a cruiser division and then became a member of the General Board from 1936 to 1939. His successful tenure, while holding a mix of important sea and shore duties, led to his promotion to admiral in July 1939.
Hart was in command of the small, aging Asiatic Fleet when the Japanese attacked the Philippines in December 1941. The Asiatic Fleet had never been intended to operate as a fighting fleet. Rather, its purpose was simply to show the flag. On the war's first day, Japanese bombers drove the fleet out of its main base in Manila Bay.
Admiral Hart inspects a Douglas SBD Dauntless on the flight deck of the Lexington. American carriers were unable to support Hart during his doomed defense of the Dutch East Indies. (National Archives)
Even though Hart had experience with submarines, the outbreak of war found his 22 submarines at sea inexplicably scattered. Neither they nor the surface elements accomplished much in the defense of the Philippines. Hart had built Manila into his fleet's major logistical center. MacArthur's decision to abandon Manila caught him by surprise and deprived the fleet of supplies, repair facilities, and communications. The day after Christmas 1941, Hart fled south aboard a submarine.
Because of his failure, Hart patriotically recommended that someone else assume command of the defense of the Dutch East Indies. Because he was present on the scene, Washington refused. Therefore, Hart next received the unenviable position of commander of naval forces for the American, British, Dutch, and Australian Command. He correctly doubted that the Dutch East Indies could be defended because of Japanese air superiority. He wanted to use his cruisers and destroyers for hit-and-run raids against Japanese convoys. The British wanted to use them to escort convoys to Singapore, and the Dutch to defend Java. Washington's efforts to manage operations from a distance added to the confusion. Hart supervised the successful destroyer action off Borneo on January 24, 1942. It marked the first time an American surface force had engaged since 1898. Still, Hart's pessimism angered some top American leaders and, more importantly, caused difficulties with the senior Dutch commander, Admiral K. W. Doorman. To placate Doorman, Hart was recalled to the United States "for reasons of health." He retired in July 1942 but was recalled to serve on the General Board. He did not see duty at sea again.
Hart retired again in February 1945 to accept appointment to a Senate seat. He held this position until the end of 1946 and died in 1971. During World War Two, fate had dealt Hart an enormously difficult task. He proved unequal to the challenge.