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The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King--The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea (2012)

by Walter R. Borneman

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A unique collective biography of the four men who "with a combination of nimble counsel, exasperating ego, studied patience, and street-fighter tactics" shaped the modern U.S. Navy to win WWII at sea.

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Reading about the lived experiences of great personalities arms us in two ways:

1.) It prevents us from committing the same mistakes.
2.) It empowers us to hone some fundamental principles of leadership and life to make our own existence worthwhile.

Borneman successfully brings out the above two factors in his The Admirals, a biographical retelling of the lives and leadership of the United State's four only five-star Admirals who while transforming the face of Naval Operations also transformed their country into the Marine juggernaut it is today. These four were the pugnacious Fleet Admiral William "Bull" Halsey who commanded the Third Fleet in the South Pacific region; the innovative Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz, the CNC for the entire Pacific Naval theatre of war; the bellicose Fleet Admiral Ernest King who was appointed CNC for the entire United States Navy and the laconic Fleet Admiral William Daniel Leahy who became the White House's de facto Chairman of the then embryonic Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Borneman lucidly underscores the origins of these four, the tragedies which shaped them and their perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds threatening to deaden their careers. For Halsey, Naval aviation and the ability envision a radical progression from battleships to Naval carriers proved his salvation; for Nimitz advances in submarine warfare heralded the ressurection of his career while King and Leahy found lifelines in the world of strategic policy making. The Admirals convincingly argues that these were not random cards dealt out by a careless twist of fate but rather reorientations which all four men tightly embraced having forecast that technological innovation would forever alter the role of the Navy in future conflicts.

The most groundbreaking facet of this book, besides its easy to understand language and avoidance of over-the-top maritime lingo and detail, is its exoneration of Leahy from baseless charges of political kowtowing and substantiation of the fact that all four Admirals harmonized their efforts to crush the Axis on both land and sea in WWII. King's strategic vision allowed him to preserve marine lifelines which allowed the unhampered movement of men and material to various battlefields across the Atlantic and within Europe. Nimitz worked hard and fast to upgrade submersible capabilities to render death blows to both German and Japanese marine combatants targeting these lifelines. Halsey pursued the Japanese Navy tirelessly with his hit hard, hit fast and hit often tactics to keep them away from Nimitz's plans while Leahy focused the White House's military-industrial policy without devolving into a yes man as many uninformed historians are wont to accuse him of.

Overall, The Admirals is a grand lesson in the craft of leadership. Leahy led by bluntness and voicing his opinions to the President of the United States; King focused on encouraging tactical initiative in his men; Halsey narrowed in on battlefield deficiencies while Nimitz merged technology and tradition to annihilate the foe. In their own way all four collectively reimagined American maritime dominance over the world's oceans and worked to generate the marine power required to make their homeland superior in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.

While the ending is anticlimactic given that the deaths of all four were rapid, one is left with a sense of awe at being allowed an ephemeral glimpse into the hearts and minds of four Admirals who found themselves pitted against two sanguinary foes on multiple fronts and effectively annihilated them. Well worth a read for all would-be leaders and professional soldiers. ( )
  Amarj33t_5ingh | Jul 8, 2022 |
Admiral Earnest T. King Elementary School is only two blocks from my building in Lorain, Ohio—where he was born and raised. And while I had heard of "Bull" Halsey and Chester Nimitz, Admirals King and Leahy were pretty much mysteries. I really didn't know much about any of them, especially not like Eisenhower, MacArthur, Bradley, and Patton. I've read bios of all the Generals, but nothing about the Admirals.

So, Walter Borneman's book leads us through their lives prior to entry into the Naval Academy, their careers, World War II commands, and their deaths. The best part of the book is how he contrasts their very different individual personalities, as well as their interactions with other Admirals and Generals, particularly Douglas MacArthur. As much as I've read about World War II and all the sea battles in the Pacific, this book filled in a huge history hole in my understanding of the leadership on the Navy side of things. ( )
  mtbass | Apr 16, 2021 |
Read during Christmas break 2019-2020 before going into second semester of EWS. Detailed account of WWII from the Navy's perspective. The book spends a great deal of time going through the background of each of the admirals and focuses the second half on their contributions and role in WWII and their relations with one another and the president.

Pulled this book off the shelf again and used it for some research for my GCMH project while at the Naval War College in 2023.
  SDWets | Jan 30, 2021 |
Informative study of Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy and King, with Douglas MacArthur thrown in for contrast. ( )
  LindaLeeJacobs | Feb 15, 2020 |
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It is graduation day at Annapolis--The United States Naval Academy.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A unique collective biography of the four men who "with a combination of nimble counsel, exasperating ego, studied patience, and street-fighter tactics" shaped the modern U.S. Navy to win WWII at sea.

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won the war at sea? wasn't that cunningham, etc?
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