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Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz’s 4,000 Page ‘Gray Book’ Collection To Be Put Online

During World War II, Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz  kept a collection of communications that grew to more than 4,000 pages. The so-called “Gray Book,” named for its original cover, spans from the days after the attack on Pearl Harbor to the final days of World War II. Now, on what would have been Nimitz’s 129th birthday, that collection is being made available to the public, according to Naval History and Heritage Command Public Affairs.

“There’s perhaps no greater champion of freedom in the history of the U.S. Navy than Chester Nimitz and his leadership of the Pacific Fleet during World War II.”

The Naval War College Henry E. Eccles Library in Newport, R.I., will be holding an unveiling of the Gray Book on Feb. 24, 2014, at 6:30 p.m. EST. The event will include a lecture on the Gray Book as well as a question and answer session with U.S. Naval Academy Professor of History Emeritus Craig L. Symonds, PhD. Symonds is the author of numerous books, including  The Battle of Midway and Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles that Shaped American History. Both books touch on the pivotal role that Nimitz played in the history of the U.S. Navy. “There’s perhaps no greater champion of freedom in the history of the U.S. Navy than Chester Nimitz and his leadership of the Pacific Fleet during World War II,” said Naval War College President Rear Adm. Walter E. “Ted” Carter, Jr.

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz

Admirals Chester W. Nimitz, Ernest J. King, and Raymond Spruance aboard the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis, ca. 1944. The Gray Book will give scholars and naval history enthusiasts a chance to see how Nimitz made decisions during World War II. U.S. Navy photo

The Gray Book was started hours after the Dec. 7, 1941 attack, by Capt. James Steele, a member of Nimitz’s staff. It runs through the major events of the Pacific Theater until Aug. 31, 1945, just two days before Nimitz was present aboard the USS Missouri (BB 63) in Tokyo Bay to sign the instrument of surrender. The physical collection is possessed by the Naval History and Heritage Command’s (NHHC) Operational Archives and consists of 4,030 single-sided pages. The pages fill 28 banker boxes and are held at the Operational Archives at the Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.

The physical collection is possessed by the Naval History and Heritage Command’s (NHHC) Operational Archives and consists of 4,030 single-sided pages. The pages fill 28 banker boxes and are held at the Operational Archives at the Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.

The size of the Gray Book reflects the magnitude of the job Nimitz undertook when he replaced Adm. Husband E. Kimmel on Dec. 25, 1941. After three years, he became a Fleet Admiral, a newly created five star rank. “You’re getting the whole picture, from the South Pacific to the Aleutians, and picking up on the progress of the war,” said Robert Cressman, a historian at NHHC.

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz confers with (from left to right) Gen. Douglas MacArthur, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Adm. William D. Leahy, concerning future moves in the war against Japan, during the president’s visit to Hawaii, July 26 – Aug. 10, 1944. U.S. Navy photo

Although the Gray Book was declassified in 1972, it wasn’t made available to the public. The pages of the Gray Book are fragile after decades of storage. It took an immense undertaking, funded by the Naval War College Foundation, with support from the NHHC, to digitize the collection. After Feb. 24, that collection will be available worldwide to authors, researchers, naval history enthusiasts, and sailors interested in their naval heritage. As the U.S. pivots to the Pacific, this collection will offer insights into a previous time when the Pacific was a crucial operational area. “I think it’s immensely valuable for people to see how it was done,” said Cressman. “You’re getting a fly-on-the-wall approach to how decisions were made and how the war was fought.”

“They clearly reveal what Nimitz thought was important, which gives the reader a great deal of insight into how his experiences both operationally and at the Naval War College informed and influenced his prosecution of the war.”

Those who have had a chance to view the Gray Book offered a sneak peek. “I’ve seen the collection and it’s really a national treasure,” said Capt. Henry Hendrix, Ph.D., director of the NHHC. “They clearly reveal what Nimitz thought was important, which gives the reader a great deal of insight into how his experiences both operationally and at the Naval War College informed and influenced his prosecution of the war. I’m extremely pleased we can now share it with researchers, the American public, and sailors past and present. I’m eager to see the collection discussed and to demonstrate the continued relevance of leveraging history in the decision making process,” Hendrix added.

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz

Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz signs the instrument of surrender aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63), Sept. 2, 1945. standing directly behind him are (left-to-right): Gen. of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Adm. William F. Halsey, and Rear Adm. Forrest Sherman. U.S. Navy photo

For those unable to make it to Newport, the event will be live streamed on the Navy Live blog: http://navylive.dodlive.mil/. Viewers will be able to submit questions via an interactive chat.

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Steven Hoarn is the Editor/Photo Editor for Defense Media Network. He is a graduate of...