The Naval War College Library in Newport, R.I. publicly unveiled online the 4,000-page “Gray Book” collection of Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz communications that started in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack and ran right up until the closing days of the war. The event was held Monday, Feb. 24 at 6:30 p.m. Eastern.
The event was held on the anniversary of Nimitz’ 129th birthday. It featured a lecture discussing the Gray Book as well as a question & answer session with U.S. Naval Academy Professor of History Emeritus Craig L. Symonds, PhD, author of numerous books including “The Battle of Midway,” in which he recounts the pivotal role played by Nimitz in what was the turning point of the war in the Pacific.
“There’s perhaps no greater champion of freedom in the history of the United States 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.
Naval History and Heritage Command’s (NHHC) Operational Archives, which possesses the physical collection, provided expertise and support to the Naval War College effort to publish the high-quality digital version of the documents.
The WWII historic treasure, named for the color of its original cover, is a daily record of the combat situation in the Pacific Theater and responses of the Commander in Chief, Pacific, and Pacific Ocean Areas (Nimitz) throughout the War. Staff-member Capt. James Steele began it on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked and ended it on Aug. 31, 1945, just two days before the formal end of the war.
“I’ve seen the collection and it’s really a national treasure,” said Capt. Henry Hendrix, Ph.D., director of the Naval History and Heritage Command. “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.”
Nimitz was assigned to relieve Adm. Husband Kimmel, and arrived in Pearl Harbor on Christmas Day, 1941. Nearly three years later, he was advanced to the newly created rank of Fleet Admiral – five stars. Less than a year later, Sept. 2, 1945, he signed the instrument of the Japanese surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri (BB 63) in Tokyo Bay.
“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.
Including records from individual ships, readers can see how each piece fit into the larger whole – while the war was raging around them. The physical collection consists of 4,030 single-sided pages filling 28 bankers boxes held at the Operational Archives at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. The size and complexity of the document reflects the magnitude of the job Nimitz undertook commanding the Pacific fleet controlling the expanse of the Pacific Theater, which now comprises more than 100 million square miles and more than half the Earth’s surface.
It is “the most authoritative source on the Pacific War available anywhere,” said Naval War College Historian Douglas Smith. “Making the document public allows for a better understanding and context of the unique value and consequence of the U.S. Navy, and Nimitz’s approach in directing the Pacific campaign.”
Its pages fragile after decades of storage, the collection would largely be inaccessible. The digitization, conducted gingerly, makes the holding available worldwide to researchers, naval history enthusiasts, and Sailors interested in their naval heritage. As the Navy continues to rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region in accordance with the Defense Strategic Guidance, the Gray Book offers unique insight into this pivotal operational period.
“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.”
The Naval War College Foundation funded the endeavor, which started in August 2012. The documents have been scanned before, but the higher quality scans will offer researchers, scholars and enthusiasts a better way to search through the tome. The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) directly supported the digitization effort, and is currently actively remediating its archival holdings and facilities in order to both safeguard them, and ultimately to make them safely accessible to improve future naval understanding and decision-making.
The Gray Book was declassified in 1972.
The Naval History and Heritage Command, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis, and dissemination of U.S. Naval history and heritage. It is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archaeology, Navy history, nine museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus.
For more news from Naval History and Heritage Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/navhist/.
For more news from Naval War College, visit http://www.usnwc.edu/ or www.navy.mil/local/nwc/.