H-Gram 002, Attachment 3
Samuel J. Cox, Director NHHC
29 December 2016
Amongst many significant historic documents preserved in the Navy's Operational Archives by NHHC is Admiral Nimitz' personal diary from WWII, which contains numerous insights to his thinking during many battles and major events of the war. Shown in the attachment is the original diary entry, in Nimitz' handwriting, made just before relieving VADM William S. Pye (who had relieved ADM Kimmel on 17 Dec) in a short ceremony aboard the submarine USS Grayling (SS-209). "31 Dec. 41 This is just a very hasty note to tell you that at 10.a.m. - just 30 minutes from now -- I will relieve Pye and become C in. C. Pacific Fleet [Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet]. May the good Lord help and advise me and may I have all the support I can get for I will need it. I have still not reached the point where I can sleep well because there is so much going on and so much to do. I am well however and full of energy."
Nimitz' task was monumental, beginning with the exhausted and demoralized PACFLT Staff. Although the Navy responded heroically to the actual attack on Pearl Harbor, the adverse psychological impact of such an overwhelming defeat was profound, especially amongst those who had devoted enormous effort preparing for war, only to fail in such spectacular fashion. In the minds of much of the PACFLT staff, the Japanese went from being viewed as inferior to invincible overnight. The reality was bad enough, as the Japanese rolled up victory after victory immediately after Pearl Harbor, but what is not appreciated today is the effect of rampant rumors that wildly exaggerated Japanese capability and success even further, provoking panicked reactions, enormous confusion, and occasional friendly fire deaths. Multiple accounts described the decision to abandon Wake Island as darkest and most demoralizing point of the war for the PACFLT staff, even more than the Pearl Harbor attack itself. Despite this, upon assuming command, Admiral Nimitz fired no one. Other than bringing his Flag Secretary, Nimitz kept Kimmel's staff intact. In his initial address to the staff, never raising his voice, he calmly and coolly informed them that (based on his previous experience as the then equivalent of Navy N1) that the Bureau would not have assigned them to the PACFLT staff if they were not known to be very good. Nimitz admitted that they had taken a wallop, but radiated confidence that they would prevail in the end. Nimitz did offer to consider requests for sea duty, but would not approve transfer requests for other reasons. Nimitz understood that despite the defeat, the staff now had invaluable and irreplaceable experience (lessons learned) and with the right attitude, the staff could be effective again. His approach was electrifying to the staff. Although Kimmel's Intelligence Officer, LCDR Edwin Layton, did request transfer to sea duty, Nimitz refused, stating "You will kill more Japs here" and retained Layton for the duration of the War.
Of note, although the story was later told that Nimitz chose the USS Grayling for the change of command because, "nothing else was afloat," that is not true. There were plenty of battle-ready Pacific Fleet ships to choose from, but Nimitz had an affinity for submarines from his early experience as a submarine officer. Prior to Nimitz, the PACFLT Flagship was the battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), but for the duration of the war, the PACFLT Flagship was always a submarine, which given the disproportionate losses inflicted on the Japanese, and disproportionate losses suffered by the U.S. submarine fleet, Nimitz viewed as entirely appropriate. USS Grayling was lost with all-hands in September 1943 near the Philippines.