Thursday, June 17, 2021

Douglas MacArthur and Chester Nimitz: Five-Star Leadership, Part 1

By Lee Duckworth
HRNM Volunteer 

A study of the background and early careers of General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz is essential to understanding the leadership styles and personalities of the two senior five-star officers in the Second World War’s Pacific Theater. MacArthur appears to have been born with the proverbial “silver spoon” and Nimitz came from a hard scrabble background. The marked differences in their upbringing and personality traits are reflected in their dissimilar leadership styles, yet both are venerated for their accomplishments during the Second World War.

The Early Years

MacArthur has an almost unmatched pedigree. On his paternal side, his grandfather was Lieutenant Governor of the state of Wisconsin and a Justice of the Supreme Court of Washington DC; his father was a Medal of Honor recipient and three-star army general (highest rank in the US Army at that time). From his mother’s side he was related to Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. MacArthur’s mother, Mary “Pinky” Hardy MacArthur, played prominently in his career and unhesitatingly reminded senior officers who had served under her husband to see that her son was promoted. His father, Arthur MacArthur, was stationed throughout the West during the late 1800s, and that was the place where Douglas learned first-hand about riding horses, the cavalry, and the army.
A young Douglas MacArthur (Wikimedia Commons)
MacArthur was seemingly a shoo-in for West Point, although it took three attempts for him to be accepted. His father was stationed in the Philippines during much of the time Douglas was at the military academy, so his mother decided to spend all four years there and met almost daily with her son. Despite the hazing he received for being the son of a senior officer and having his mother watch over him, he rose to be the First Captain (head of the Corps of Cadets) and graduated first in the class of 1903.

By contrast, Nimitz came from a completely opposite background. His family was very poor and his father died before he was born. He too was raised by a strong mother, Anna Nimitz, who concentrated on keeping her son physically fit. Nimitz was strongly influenced by his paternal grandfather, Charles Henry Nimitz, who was a former Texas Ranger and Confederate Civil War veteran. The grandfather had served in the German merchant marine and was an innkeeper who loved to tell stories of his life at sea and in the military. He counseled his grandson to “…learn all you can, then do your best and don’t worry—especially about things over which you have no control.”[1]
Midshipman Chester Nimitz with his grandfather, c. 1905
(Naval History and Heritage Command)
Nimitz grew up in the land-locked German immigrant city of Fredericksburg, Texas, and was an excellent student. His family could not afford college so an appointment to a military academy was Chester’s only avenue for further education. He studied hard for the better part of a year in preparation for the Naval Academy’s entrance exam, besting all other candidates and was admitted to the class of 1905.

Commissioning and Early Careers

Nimitz in 1905
(Wikimedia Commons)
Both men were extremely intelligent and academy classmates sensed they were destined for great military futures. Nimitz graduated 7th in his class and immediately after graduation went to sea on a destroyer. He yearned for command as a young officer, receiving his first command as the CO of USS Decatur, a torpedo boat destroyer. As a 22-year-old ensign he managed to run it aground in the Philippines and was court-martialed for the incident. He accepted full responsibility and learned to never let down his guard. Because Nimitz had a strong engineering background and proficiency in the German language, in 1913 he was selected to serve in Germany, learning about diesel engines and their application in submarines. He later became a submariner, where he spent the majority of his career prior to reaching flag rank.

MacArthur as a student in 1897
(Wikimedia Commons)
MacArthur elected to go into the Army Corps of Engineers and didn’t distinguish himself initially. While stationed in Washington DC he was more interested in the social scene serving as a temporary aide in the White House--his evaluations reflected his less than enthusiastic interest in engineering. In 1905-1906 he served as aide to his father in the Philippines, and along with his mother, made a nine-month tour of Asia observing military capabilities and operations in various countries from Japan to India. This was the first of his four assignments to Asia, where he fell in love with the culture and people. He had the benefit of learning about leadership from a senior officer perspective at his father’s knee. From him he was urged to be bold, do the unexpected, and to act quickly and decisively.

An added benefit of being the son of a three-star general officer was that Douglas was asked for by name to fill vital positions. The posting that paid the most dividends was to Washington DC in 1912, where he joined the Army Staff and later served as its first Public Relations person (then called the Bureau of Information). He became a favorite of Secretary of War Newton Baker and his career soared.

World War I

MacArthur was in the trenches and on the front lines in Europe in 1917-1918 and was the nation’s most decorated soldier, earning two Distinguished Service Crosses and seven Silver Stars. He was promoted from major to colonel (skipping over Lt Col) and by war’s end, was a brigadier general. MacArthur saw firsthand the futility of fighting from the trenches and the use of direct assault. He applied those lessons in his World War II island-hopping campaigns.

Conversely, during World War I, Nimitz served on a surface ship that never saw combat. He was however, instrumental in pioneering the underway refueling of ships from auxiliary vessels, which stood him in good stead for World War II.

Check back next week for part 2 of the Nimitz and MacArthur story!


[1] Potter, E. B. Nimitz. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (1976)

Thursday, June 3, 2021

The Naval War College: An Army Idea?

By John Pentangelo
HRNM Director


No, the U.S. Army did not give birth to the idea of a Naval War College, not exactly. But, a discussion between one of its most famous officers and one of the Navy’s most visionary intellectuals at the close of the American Civil War provided a spark that influenced professional military education forever after.

Established in Newport, Rhode Island in 1884, the Naval War College was the first institution of its kind in the world. It is renowned today for its role in educating naval officers in their chosen profession. The lectures provided by Alfred Thayer Mahan in early years became the basis of his seminal book, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783. The book, published in 1890, was read widely by world leaders and influenced the build-up of major naval powers in the early 20th century. The college continued to do innovative work in the field of war gaming and the development of war plans after the First World War. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, a 1923 graduate of the college, credited the war gaming program with helping to prepare the Navy’s ultimate victory in the Pacific during the Second World War. Today the college educates military personnel from all over the world, nourishes global partnerships, and offers a Master’s degree in Defense and Strategic Studies. So how did the idea for the Naval War College originate?

General William Tecumseh Sherman, 1865 (National Archives)

In 1865, Lieutenant Commander Stephen B. Luce was in command of the gunboat USS Pontiac with the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. He was ordered to report to General William Tecumseh Sherman to guard the crossing of Savannah River as Sherman marched north to begin his campaign in the Carolinas. In discussion, Sherman shared his opinion on how to take the city of Charleston. The Navy tried unsuccessfully to take Charleston by bombarding Fort Sumter for three years. Sherman told the naval officer that Charleston would fall into the Union’s hands “like a ripe pear” when he cut its communications. This proved to be true in the next few weeks. Luce recalled: “After hearing General Sherman’s clear exposition of the military situation the scales seemed to fall from my eyes. ‘Here’ I said to myself, ‘is a soldier who knows his business!’ It dawned upon me that there were certain fundamental principles underlying military operations, which it were well to look into; principles of general application whether the operations were conducted on land or sea.”[1] The seed was planted.

Lieutenant Commander Stephen B. Luce, c. 1865 (Naval History and Heritage Command

Long devoted to education, Luce devoted much of his career to the formal education of naval personnel. Assigned to the Naval Academy during the early years of the Civil War, he revised W.H. Parker’s Instructions for Light Artillery, Afloat and Ashore. He also wrote and published Seamanship, a text for midshipmen. After the war, Luce lamented that naval officers began to specialize increasingly in navigation, hydrography, engineering, or ordnance. He fought against this, insisting to his fellow officers that their profession was war and it was war that they must study. After helping to establish the maritime college in New York (1874), he established the naval apprentice program aboard training ships in the late 1870s and was instrumental in the creation of the Navy’s first shore-based recruit training station at Newport (1883). During this time, he never forgot his meeting with Sherman. The general’s assessment of the military situation and his ability to execute a solution in a non-military way convinced Luce that decision makers required subject matter experts to advise them on military problems. The expertise in the art and science of naval warfare would be best developed through formal education. After years of advocacy, correspondence, research, and thought, Luce became the founding president of the Naval War College, established in 1884. He defined the college as “a place of original research on all questions relating to war and to statesmanship connected with war, or the prevention of war.”[2] The College owes its existence to the visionary leadership, perseverance, and commitment of Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce. Perhaps it owes its inspiration to General William Tecumseh Sherman.



[1] Stephen Luce, “Naval Administration, III,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings Vol. 29 (1903): 820

[2] Stephen B. Luce, An Address Delivered at the United States Naval War College, The Writings of Stephen B. Luce, eds. John D. Hayes and John B. Hattendorf Naval War College Press Newport, RI, 39-40

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Wooden Warrior: The First USS Minnesota

USS Monitor defends Minnesota during the Battle of Hampton Roads, March 9, 1862 (U.S. Navy)

By Zach Smyers
HRNM Educator

When the smoke cleared and the cannonade ceased on March 9, 1862, the wooden frigate USS Minnesota was still standing and the Battle of Hampton Roads was over. During the battle, Minnesota had gotten stuck on a sandbar, and the ship suffered heavy damage and several casualties from the attacking ironclad CSS Virginia. Due to the arrival of the ironclad USS Monitor, Minnesota was spared a fate similar to its fellow wooden ships, USS Cumberland and USS Congress, which were both sunk on the first day of the battle. Minnesota was successfully removed from the sandbar on March 10, 1862. The ship received much-needed repairs and returned to duty, serving as the flagship of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

Built at the Washington Navy Yard, Minnesota was high-tech for its time. Minnesota had two engines operated by four boilers, as well as a full complement of sails known as a “ship rig.” This allowed Minnesota to reach a top speed of 12.5 knots (approximately 14 mph). Initial construction of the ship began in 1854. It was launched on Dec 1, 1855, and commissioned on May 21, 1857. The newly commissioned USS Minnesota, classified as a Steam Frigate 1st Class of the Merrimack class (interestingly, the same class as the renamed CSS Virginia), displaced 4,833 tons, had a length of 264 feet 9 inches, a beam of 51 feet 4 inches, and a draft of 23 feet 10 inches. The ship’s crew consisted of 646 officers and enlisted sailors. Armament included two 10-inch guns, twenty-eight 9-inch guns, and fourteen 8-inch guns.


USS Minnesota (Naval History and Heritage Command)

After the Battle of Hampton Roads, Minnesota experienced its fair share of action. On April 14, 1863, Minnesota participated in the Battle of Suffolk. During this battle, four Sailors from Minnesota earned the Medal of Honor while temporarily assigned to USS Mount Washington. While operating on the Nansemond River on April 14, 1863, Mount Washington lost propulsion after its boilers were destroyed by Confederate gunfire. Despite being dead in the water, the Sailors from Minnesota manned a 12-pound howitzer and returned fire for six hours.

The following year, during the December 1864 Battle of Fort Fisher in Wilmington, North Carolina, Minnesota provided gunfire support against Confederate positions located inside the fort. In addition to this, Minnesota contributed 240 men to the landing force during the second battle, which took place from January 13 to January 15, 1865. The second assault on Fort Fisher was successful, and the Union was able to shut down a vital port that had supported the Confederate war effort.

After the Civil War, Minnesota was decommissioned on Feb 16, 1865, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The ship was re-commissioned in June 1867 to help train midshipmen during a cruise to Europe. On January 13, 1868, Minnesota was placed in reserve at the New York Navy Yard. The ship was re-commissioned again on June 12, 1875 and served as a gunnery and training ship for naval apprentices. The ship would serve in this capacity for the next twenty years.

USS Minnesota with its signal flags flying (Naval History and Heritage Command)

In 1895, Minnesota was loaned to the Massachusetts Naval Militia. This would be the ship’s last duty station prior to being sold to Thomas Butler & Co. of Boston in August 1901. Minnesota’s name was stricken from the Navy register so it could be used again on a brand-new battleship (BB 22), and the original Minnesota was burned at Eastport, Maine, to salvage its iron fittings. USS Minnesota represented its namesake state in a proud manner during its Navy career. It fought gallantly during the Battle of Hampton Roads, and despite being stuck and unable to move, the Sailors on Minnesota never gave up. Their determination and fighting spirit lived up to the Navy’s core values of honor, courage, and commitment. These values were represented again by Minnesota Sailors during the Battle of Suffolk and the Battle of Fort Fisher. It is appropriate that a fighting ship like Minnesota was used later in its life to train future Sailors before they joined the fleet.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

From Commodore Perry's Black Ships to the Battle of Okinawa

A zoomed in portion of Wilhelm Heine's lithograph "Exercises of Troops in Temple Grounds, Simodo, Japan" on June 8, 1854, showing sailors firing two brass boat howitzers. (Brown University Library)

By Elijah Palmer
HRNM Deputy Director of Education

Blink and you'll miss it. Buried in the grainy footage of 6th Marine Division's fighting on Okinawa in 1945 is a short clip of Brigadier General William Clement, assistant division commander of the 6th Marine Division, placing a bouquet on the grave of a U.S. Navy Sailor. This might not have been too unusual if this footage was taken at the cemeteries that were hastily established on Okinawa that year, with rows of white crosses marking part of the horrendous loss of life from that last great battle of World War II. But in this case, the buried sailor had been dead for nearly a century! 

(National Archives and Records Administration, 428-NPC-13055)

There are three graves visible in the clip, all from sailors who sailed with Commodore Matthew Perry's expedition to Japan. Perry left Hampton Roads in November 1852 and arrived in the Ryukyu Islands by May 26, 1853, coming ashore at Naha, Okinawa. At the time, Okinawa (then called "Loo Choo") was a vassal state to Japan. Perry's fleet (called the "Black Ships" by the Japanese) sailed to Japan shortly after his visit to Okinawa, but would return several times through the protracted events that led to the Kanagawa Treaty on March 31, 1854 that opened Japan's ports. 

A Japanese painting of Perry's fleet (MIT Visualizing Cultures Project)

Some who died during the Perry Expedition were buried in Japan, most famously a Marine Private Williams. But several were interred in Naha, Okinawa at a foreigner cemetery near Tomari Port that had been established sometime in the early 1800s. In fact, part of Perry's treaty with the people of Okinawa mentioned the cemetery specifically. 

A Japanese depiction of the funeral of Pvt. Williams, USMC. Williams' headstone was also drawn on some of Japanese scrolls in the collection of the Naval War College Museum. (MIT Visualizing Cultures Project)

In the video clip above, the first grave that is zoomed in on is of John Barnes, who was a seaman on USS Vandalia. He died on December 31, 1853 at the age of 23. The next tombstone seen in the footage is Hugh Ellis, who was a landsman. That was the lowest rank for a sailor, and meant that he had little to no experience. Ellis was stationed aboard USS Mississippi, and passed away on July 24, 1853, just as the American fleet returned to Okinawa after the first visit to Japan.  A 1905 book titled Loochoo Islands by Charles Leavenworth references the cemetery and the author claims that he has gravestone rubbings of some of the inscriptions. The book also states that Ellis was from Syracuse, New York. The last grave shown in the video is Jesse L. Carter, a sailor aboard USS Macedonian. He died on January 10, 1854. Leavenworth's Loochoo Islands states that Carter was from Rhode Island. 

There were a few other Americans buried in the Tomari International Cemetery from this time era, including Eli Crosby, 2nd assistant engineer aboard USS Susquehanna, who died on January 24, 1854. Two sailors from a separate surveying expedition in late 1854, John Miller and John Williams, both off of USS Vincennes, are also buried there.  Another Navy sailor, noted only as William Board, died in 1854. 

The Marines in 1945 were not the first American military personnel to honor their predecessors, as both Loochoo Islands and the 1903 "Army and Navy Register" reference Sailors from USS Vicksburg (Gunboat No. 11) paying respects and repairing tombstones in an April 1903 visit to Naha. 

A colorized picture of the "Graves of American Sailors" near Naha, from the 1908 book In Togo's Country by Henry Schwartz (University of the Ryukyus Library)

As can be seen in the later part of the video clip, the cemetery suffered heavy damage from the bombardment and bombing of Naha both prior to the invasion as well as during the fighting there in May 1945. As American forces pressed the Japanese defenders in costly fighting, they reached the northern outskirts of Naha by mid-May 1945, and had secured the entire city by the end of May. 

Marines of the 22nd Regiment, 6th Marine Division firing a water-cooled .30-caliber machine gun on the outskirts of Naha, overlooking the Asato Gawa river looking south, on May 12, 1945. Below their position is a large cluster of traditional Okinawan tombs, but they are likely set up near some at the higher elevation as well. They are on the high ground above the Tomari Foreign Cemetery, firing in a south/southeast direction. (U.S. Marine Corps Archives)

This 1945 map (based on a captured Japanese 62nd Infantry map) shows the area of the Tomari cemetery, with the orange arrow pointing to that area. The green arrow points to the the Okinawan tomb area (see picture above) which still exists today, and is visible off the Tomari Port bridge as you drive north. The blue circles indicate minefields. (Map detail courtesy of MacArthur Memorial)

The vast majority of Naha was razed during the fighting at the end of World War II. In 1955, the cemetery was restored and can be visited today
The Tomari International Cemetery today (Naha City Tourism Database)