Chester W. Nimitz graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1905 and served as chief of staff to the commander of the U.S. Atlantic submarine force during the First World War. By 1939, he had risen to become chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Navigation. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Nimitz was elevated to commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, which gave him command of all land and sea forces in the Pacific Theater, one of the two main theaters in the region. (General Douglas MacArthur commanded the other, the Southwest Pacific.)
Under Nimitz’s command, U.S. forces scored a major victory at the Battle of Midway in June 1942 and carried out campaigns in the Solomon Islands (1942-43), the Gilbert and Marshall Islands (1943-44) and the Japanese islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa (1945), among many others. In December 1944, he was advanced to the Navy’s newly created rank of fleet admiral and given five stars. On September 2, 1945, Nimitz signed the treaty of Japan’s capitulation aboard his flagship, the USS Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay.
On Monday, the Naval War College Library in Newport, Rhode Island, is set to roll out the digitized version of the more than 4,000 pages that chronicle Nimitz’s daily activities and communication during the time he commanded the Pacific Theater. Douglas Smith, historian of the Naval War College, calls the diary “the most authoritative source on the Pacific War available anywhere.” Known as the Nimitz “Gray Book” — because the original volumes were bound in a gray cover — the diary lends unprecedented insight into what the admiral knew and how he made his command decisions. Captain James Steele, a member of Nimitz’s staff, began the diary the day after Pearl Harbor and ended it on the last day of August in 1945, two days before the formal Japanese surrender was signed.
Nimitz’s voluminous operational diary was declassified in 1972, but only recently digitized. Its 4,030 single-sided pages filled 28 bankers boxes held at the Operational Archives at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. Beginning in August 2012, the Naval War College Foundation (with the support of the Naval History and Heritage Command) undertook efforts to digitize the documents, a painstaking process considering the fragility of the document’s pages after decades in storage.
Beginning on Monday, February 24, the Nimitz Gray Book will be available online as part of the Naval War College’s Naval Historical Collection. According to Robert Cressman, a historian at the Naval History and Heritage Command, the diary is a must-read for anyone seeking a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most famous naval campaigns in history. “You’re getting the whole picture, from the South Pacific to the Aleutians, and picking up on the progress of the war….You’re getting a fly-on-the-wall approach to how decisions were made and how the war was fought.”