Video: The Pacific Admirals of World War II

Only four men in American history have been accorded the five-star rank of Fleet Admiral. Interacting with one another over four decades, Chester W. Nimitz, William F. Halsey, Jr., William D. Leahy, and Ernest J. King, not only rose to the top and won World War II, but also gave the United States Navy a global reach that has lasted for almost seven decades. They were an unlikely quartet. All were graduates of the United States Naval Academy, but each came to display wildly different personality and leadership styles. Nimitz was the epitome of the stern but loving grandfather, but heaven help the man who let him down. Halsey was the hale-hearty fellow who through charisma and rough charm came to personify the American war effort in the Pacific. Leahy was the steady hand—almost invisible to the public but essential to Franklin Roosevelt’s decision-making. King was the demanding, hard-edged perfectionist who gave no quarter to superiors and subordinates alike and who was seemingly quite proud of his terrifying reputation. These four Fleet Admirals played critical and occasionally controversial roles in the defining events, tactics, and developing weapons that won World War II, including submarines, aircraft carriers, and naval air power. In the process, they led America’s greatest generation to victory.

A native of Colorado, Walter Borneman received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Western State College of Colorado, and subsequently earned a law degree from the University of Denver. Much of his writing has focused on military history and the American West, including a history of Alaska, a biography of James K. Polk, an account of the building of the transcontinental railroad, and histories of the War of 1812 and the French and Indian War. His book The Admirals has won high praise, including the comment of one reviewer that “there’s scarcely a page where a reader won’t learn something unexpected and, occasionally, shocking.”