Nishimura's 4th Destroyer Squadron participated at the beginning of the Pacific war in amphibious operations in the northern Philippines and Balikpapan and Borneo in the Netherlands East Indies and fought in the Battle of the Java Sea. In June 1942, Nishimura assumed command of the 7th Cruiser Division and fought in the naval battles off Guadalcanal. In 1943, Nishimura was promoted to vice admiral and assigned command of the 2nd Battleship Squadron. He commanded C Force, Southern Force in the SHO-1 Plan in an attempt to reach the American landing beaches in Leyte Gulf through Surigao Strait in the 23–26 October 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf. Nishimura's force consisted of the old battleships Fuso and Yamashiro, heavy cruiser Mogami, and 4 destroyers.
Nishimura's force was met in Surigao Strait by Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorff's Task Group 77.2 of 6 old battleships, 4 heavy cruisers, 4 light cruisers, 28 destroyers, and about 40 torpedo boats. Early in the morning of 25 October 1944, Nishimura's forces were first savaged by U.S. torpedo boats and destroyers along the strait with the U.S. battleships and cruisers arranged athwart the end of the strait, in effect crossing the T of Nishimura's formation. In the ensuing battle, all of Nishimura's ships were sunk except the destroyer Shigure. Oldendorff lost no ships, and only 1 destroyer was badly damaged when it was caught in the crossfire of Japanese and American gunfire.
Cutler, Thomas J. The Battle of Leyte Gulf, 23–26 October 1944. New York: Harper Collins, 1994.; Field, James A., Jr. The Japanese at Leyte Gulf: The Sho Operation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1947.