Following the war, Nimitz was appointed to the Navy Department staff in Washington, and in 1920 he transferred to Pearl Harbor to oversee construction of a new submarine base there. Over the next 20 years, he served in a wide variety of submarine billets as well as aboard battleships and destroyers. He also spent several tours in Washington and helped establish the first Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps programs in American universities. He won promotion to rear admiral in 1938.
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Nimitz was chief of the Bureau of Navigation. On 31 December 1941, on the recommendation of navy secretary Frank Knox, President Franklin D. Roosevelt promoted Nimitz to full admiral and appointed him commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, replacing Admiral Husband E. Kimmel at Pearl Harbor. Although a single U.S. command in the Pacific would have been far more advantageous, General Douglas MacArthur would not agree to serve under a naval officer. As a result, two commands emerged. As commander in chief, Pacific Ocean Area, Nimitz directed all U.S. military forces in the Central Pacific and provided support to MacArthur and his Southwest Pacific forces.
Although the Allies made the war against Japan secondary to their Europe First strategy, Nimitz did not delay his plans to halt Japanese expansion, retake Japan's gains, and push the war to the Japanese homeland. Using information provided by American code-breakers about Japanese plans, Nimitz halted the Japanese invasion of Port Moresby in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942 and the Japanese effort to take Midway that June. The latter battle transferred the initiative to the Americans. Nimitz and MacArthur cooperated in a series of island-hopping campaigns that progressed closer and closer to the Japanese mainland. Nimitz's forces took the Gilbert Islands in November 1943, the Marshall Islands in February 1944, and the Mariana Islands in August 1944. In October, he joined MacArthur's forces to retake the Philippines. Nimitz's accomplishments were recognized in December 1944 by his promotion to the newly established five-star rank of Admiral of the Fleet. In early 1945, Nimitz directed the offensives against Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. His forces were preparing to invade Japan when the Japanese surrendered. On 2 September, Nimitz signed the formal Japanese surrender aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo bay.
Nimitz returned to Washington in October and assumed the post of chief of naval operations. For the next two years, he supervised the postwar demobilization of men and ships and provided input into the development of nuclear-powered submarines. Nimitz retired in December 1947. In the following years, he briefly served as adviser to the secretary of the navy and for two years he was the United Nations commissioner for Kashmir. Nimitz died on 20 February 1966 near San Francisco, California.
James H. Willbanks
Brink, Randall. Nimitz: The Man and His Wars. New York: Penguin, 2000.; Driskell, Frank A., and Dede W. Casad. Chester W. Nimitz, Admiral of the Hills. Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 1983.; Hoyt, Edwin P. How They Won the War in the Pacific: Nimitz and His Admirals. New York: Weybright and Talley, 1970.; Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of U.S. Naval Operations in World War II. 15 vols. Boston: Little, Brown, 1947–1962.; Potter, Elmer B. Nimitz. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1976.; Potter, Elmer B. "Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz." In Stephen Howarth, ed., Men of War: Great Naval Leaders of World War II, 129–157. New York: St. Martin's, 1992.