449 USMC personnel consisting of:
399 infantry of the 1st Defense Battalion
50 det. VMF-211
6 coastal artillery pieces
12 anti-aircraft guns
68 U.S. Navy personnel
5 U.S. Army personnel
Casualties and losses
2 destroyers sunk
325 sailors killed
2 transports sunk
2 patrol boats wrecked
7–8 aircraft shot down
20 aircraft damaged[Note 1]
12 aircraft lost
70 civilians killed
1,104 civilians interned, of whom 180 died in captivity
Dutch East Indies
The Battle of
Wake Island began simultaneously with the attack on
Pearl Harbor naval/air bases in
Hawaii and ended on 23 December 1941,
with the surrender of the American forces to the Empire of Japan. It
was fought on and around the atoll formed by
Wake Island and its minor
islets of Peale and Wilkes Islands by the air, land, and naval forces
of the Japanese Empire against those of the United States, with
marines playing a prominent role on both sides.
The island was held by the Japanese for the duration of the Pacific
War theater of World War II; the remaining Japanese garrison on the
island surrendered to a detachment of
United States Marines on 4
September 1945, after the earlier surrender on the battleship U.S.S.
Tokyo Bay to General Douglas MacArthur.
2 First landing attempt
2.1 Aborted USN relief attempt
3 Second assault
4 Japanese occupation
4.1 War crimes
6 Order of battle
6.1 American forces
10 Further reading
11 External links
In January 1941, the
United States Navy constructed a military base on
the atoll. On 19 August, the first permanent military garrison,
understrength elements of the 1st Marine Defense Battalion,
totaling 450 officers and men, were stationed on the island, under
Major James P.S. Devereux, USMC of Baltimore. The defense battalion
was supplemented by Marine Corps fighter plane squadron VMF-211,
consisting of 12 F4F-3 Wildcat fighters, commanded by marine aviator
Major Paul A. Putnam, USMC. Also, present on the island were 68 U.S.
Navy personnel and about 1,221 civilian workers for the
Morrison-Knudsen Civil Engineering Company. Forty-five Chamorro men
(native Micronesians from the
Mariana Islands and Guam) were employed
by Pan American Airways at the company's facilities on Wake Island,
one of the stops on the
Pan Am Clipper
Pan Am Clipper trans-Pacific amphibious air
service initiated in 1935.
5"/51 caliber gun
5"/51 caliber gun on Texas 1914.
3"/50 caliber gun
3"/50 caliber gun aboard Slater
The Marines were armed with six 5-inch (130 mm)/51 cal pieces,
originating from the old battleship USS Texas; twelve 3 in
(76 mm)/50 cal anti-aircraft guns (with only a single working
anti-aircraft director among them); eighteen .50 in
(12.7 mm) Browning heavy machine guns; and thirty .30 in
(7.62 mm) heavy, medium and light water- and air-cooled machine
On 28 November, naval aviator Commander Winfield S. Cunningham, USN
reported to Wake to assume overall command of U.S. forces on the
island. He had 10 days to examine the defenses and assess his men
before war broke out.
On 8 December, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor (Wake being
on the opposite side of the International Date Line), 36 Japanese
Mitsubishi G3M3 medium bombers flown from bases on the Marshall
Islands attacked Wake Island, destroying eight of the 12 F4F-3
Wildcats on the ground. The remaining four Wildcats were in the air
patrolling, but because of poor visibility, failed to see the
attacking Japanese bombers. These Wildcats shot down two bombers on
the following day. All of the Marine garrison's defensive
emplacements were left intact by the raid, which primarily targeted
the aircraft. Of the 55 Marine aviation personnel, 23 were killed and
11 were wounded.
Following this attack, the Pan Am employees were evacuated, along with
the passengers of the "Philippine Clipper", a passing Martin 130
amphibious flying boat that had survived the attack unscathed. The
Chamorro working men were not allowed to board the plane and were left
Two more air raids followed. The main camp was targeted on 9 December,
destroying the civilian hospital and the Pan Am air facility. The next
day, enemy bombers focused on outlying Wilkes Island. Following the
raid on 9 December, the guns had been relocated in case the Japanese
had photographed the positions. Wooden replicas were erected in their
place, and the Japanese bombers attacked the decoy positions. A lucky
strike on a civilian dynamite supply set off a chain reaction and
destroyed the munitions for the guns on Wilkes.
First landing attempt
Early on the morning of 11 December, the garrison, with the support of
the four remaining Wildcats, repelled the first Japanese landing
attempt by the South Seas Force, which included the light cruisers
Yubari, Tenryū, and Tatsuta; the destroyers Yayoi, Mutsuki, Kisaragi,
Hayate, Oite, and Asanagi; two Momi-class destroyers converted to
patrol boats (Patrol Boat No. 32 and Patrol Boat No. 33), and two
troop transport ships containing 450
Special Naval Landing Force
The US Marines fired at the invasion fleet with their six 5-inch
(127 mm) coast-defense guns. Major Devereux, the Marine commander
under Cunningham, ordered the gunners to hold their fire until the
enemy moved within range of the coastal defenses. "Battery L", on
Peale islet, sank Hayate at a distance of 4,000 yd (3,700 m)
with at least two direct hits to her magazines, causing her to explode
and sink within two minutes, in full view of the defenders on shore.
Yubari's superstructure was hit 11 times. The four Wildcats also
succeeded in sinking the destroyer Kisaragi by dropping a bomb on her
stern where the depth charges were stored. Both Japanese destroyers
were lost with nearly all hands (there was only one survivor, from
Hayate), with Hayate becoming the first Japanese surface warship to be
sunk in the war. Kisaragi and Hayate sank with 325 Japanese sailors.
The Japanese force withdrew without landing. This was the first
Japanese setback of the war against the Americans.
After the initial raid was fought off, American news media reported
that, when queried about reinforcement and resupply, Commander
Cunningham was reported to have quipped, "Send us more Japs!" In fact,
Cunningham sent a long list of critical equipment—including
gunsights, spare parts, and fire-control radar—to his immediate
superior: Commandant, 14th Naval District. But the siege and
frequent Japanese air attacks on the Wake garrison continued, without
resupply for the Americans.
The initial resistance offered by the garrison prompted the Japanese
Navy to detach the aircraft carriers Sōryū and Hiryū from the force
that had attacked Pearl Harbor to support the second landing attempt.
Aborted USN relief attempt
The projected US relief attempt by Admiral Frank Fletcher's Task Force
11 (TF 11), supported by Admiral Wilson Brown’s TF 14,
consisted of the fleet carrier Saratoga, the fleet oiler Neches, the
seaplane tender Tangier, the heavy cruisers Astoria, Minneapolis, and
San Francisco, and 10 destroyers. The convoy carried the 4th Marine
Defense Battalion and fighter squadron VMF-221, equipped with Brewster
F2A-3 Buffalo fighters, along with 9,000 5-inch rounds, 12,000 3-inch
(76 mm) rounds, and 3,000,000 .50-inch (12.7 mm) rounds, as
well as a large amount of ammunition for mortars and other battalion
small arms. TF 14—with the fleet carrier Lexington, three heavy
cruisers, eight destroyers, and an oiler—was to undertake a raid on
Marshall Islands to divert Japanese attention.
At 21:00 on 22 December, after receiving information indicating the
presence of two IJN carriers and two fast battleships (which were
actually heavy cruisers) near Wake Island,
Vice Admiral William S.
Pye—the Acting Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific
Fleet—ordered TF 11 to return to Pearl Harbor.
Wreckage of Wildcat 211-F-11, flown by Captain
Henry T. Elrod
Henry T. Elrod on
December 11 in the attack that sank the Japanese
Japanese Patrol Boat No.32 (left) and Patrol Boat No.33
The second Japanese invasion force came on 23 December, composed
mostly of the ships from the first attempt with the major
reinforcements of the carriers Hiryū and Sōryū, plus 1,500 Japanese
marines. The landings began at 02:35; after a preliminary bombardment,
the ex-destroyers Patrol Boat No. 32 and Patrol Boat No. 33 were
beached and burned in their attempts to land the invasion force. After
a full night and morning of fighting, the Wake garrison surrendered to
the Japanese by mid-afternoon.
The US Marines lost 49 killed, two missing, and 49 wounded during the
15-day siege, while three US Navy personnel and at least 70 US
civilians were killed, including 10 Chamorros, and 12 civilians
wounded. 433 US personnel were captured. USMC History estimates that
125 Japanese were killed in ground combat with another 125 wounded. It
also estimates 92 killed and 195 wounded from damaged ships. At
least 28 land-based and carrier aircraft were also either shot down or
damaged. The Japanese captured all men remaining on the island, the
majority of whom were civilian contractors employed by the
Captain Henry T. Elrod, one of the pilots from VMF-211, was awarded
Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor posthumously for his action on the island during
the second landing attempt, having shot down two Japanese A6M2 Zeros
and sunk the Japanese destroyer Kisaragi. A special military
Wake Island Device, affixed to either the Navy
Expeditionary Medal or the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, was
created to honor those who had fought in the defense of the island.
Attack by Yorktown planes in October 1943
Fearing an imminent invasion, the Japanese reinforced
Wake Island with
more formidable defenses. The American captives were ordered to build
a series of bunkers and fortifications on Wake. The Japanese brought
in an 8-inch (200 mm) naval gun which is often incorrectly
reported as having been captured in Singapore. The U.S. Navy
established a submarine blockade instead of an amphibious invasion of
Wake Island. As a result, the Japanese garrison starved, which led to
their hunting the
Wake Island Rail, an endemic bird, to extinction. On
24 February 1942, aircraft from the carrier Enterprise attacked the
Japanese garrison on Wake Island. U.S. forces bombed the island
periodically from 1942 until Japan’s surrender in 1945. On 24 July
1943, Consolidated B-24 Liberators led by Lieutenant Jesse Stay of the
42nd Squadron (11th Bombardment Group) of the U.S. Army Air Forces, in
transit from Midway Island, struck the Japanese garrison on Wake
Island. At least two men from that raid were awarded Distinguished
Flying Crosses for their efforts. Future President George H. W.
Bush also flew his first combat mission as a naval aviator over Wake
Island. After this, Wake was occasionally raided but never attacked en
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See also: Japanese war crimes
The 98 rock
On 5 October 1943, American naval aircraft from Lexington raided Wake.
Two days later, fearing an imminent invasion, Japanese Rear Admiral
Shigematsu Sakaibara ordered the execution of the 98 captive American
civilian workers who had initially been kept to perform forced labor.
They were taken to the northern end of the island, blindfolded and
executed with a machine gun. One of the prisoners (whose name has
never been discovered) escaped, apparently returning to the site to
carve the message "98 US PW 5-10-43" on a large coral rock near where
the victims had been hastily buried in a mass grave. The unknown
American was recaptured, and Sakaibara personally beheaded him with a
katana. The inscription on the rock can still be seen and is a Wake
On 4 September 1945, the remaining Japanese garrison surrendered to a
detachment of US Marines. The handover of Wake was officially
conducted in a brief ceremony aboard the destroyer escort Levy.
After the war, Sakaibara and his subordinate, a lieutenant commander,
were sentenced to death for the massacre of the 98 and for other war
crimes. Several Japanese officers in American custody had committed
suicide over the incident, leaving written statements that
incriminated Sakaibara. Sakaibara was hanged on 18 June 1947.
Eventually, the subordinate's sentence was commuted to life in prison.
The murdered civilian POWs were reburied after the war in Honolulu's
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, commonly known as Punchbowl
William L. Taylor, like many of the
Wake Island POWs, was relocated to
China for forced labor for the Japanese army. In 1945, he was
traveling on a Japanese train as part of a work detail from Shanghai
when he escaped with Jack Hernandez by jumping off the train when
Japanese guards were not looking. Hernandez broke his
leg and was forced to remain behind, as Taylor continued his journey.
Down the line, Taylor met up with Chinese communist soldiers who he
quoted as saying, "You're OK now, we are friends with the Americans."
After 10 weeks of traveling with the Chinese communists in northern
China, he was able to contact American military forces, who called for
a plane to pick him up and take him to an American base in northern
China. Before he left China, he met Mao Zedong, who gave him a gift of
Chinese rugs and told him he was the only POW who had successfully
come through north China. In an interview with the
History Channel during the episode "Wake Island: The Alamo of the
Pacific", he said that Mao saved his life.
Order of battle
Commandant, 14th Naval District
Island Commander, Wake. Winfield S. Cunningham
1st Defense Battalion
1st Defense Battalion Detachment, Wake – Major James
5-inch Artillery Group
Maj. George H. Potter
3-inch Artillery Group
Capt. Bryght D. Godbold
VMF-211 (Marine Corps Fighter Squadron)
Maj. Paul A. Putnam
Equipped with 12 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighters
1st Defense Battalion
Maj. James Devereux
Understrength - total 450 officers and men
A memorial to the
Wake Island defenders stands near the command post
of Major Devereux
Admiral Kajioka’s flagship, the cruiser Yubari
Japanese destroyer Hayate, sunk at Wake
Japanese destroyer Kisaragi, sunk at Wake
Japanese artillery on Wake
Wake Island attacked in 1943
The formal surrender of the Japanese garrison on
Wake Island on 4
Shigematsu Sakaibara is the officer in the right
Sakaibara signing the surrender of
Wake Island aboard USS Levy on
4 September 1945.
A memorial to the American civilian POWs
^ USMC History estimates 21 aircraft shot down and 51 aircraft damaged
^ Naval and air personnel not included.
^ a b "The Defense of Wake". Ibiblio.org/.
^ Martin Gilbert, the Second World War (1989) pg 282
^ 20 later died in captivity
^ "War in the Pacific NHP: Liberation -
Guam Remembers". nps.gov.
Archived from the original on 2012-12-17. Retrieved 2014-09-13.
^ 1st Marine Defense Battalion Archived August 25, 2005, at the
^ Only 449 marines were on hand for the battles at
Wake Island because
one officer [Major Walter Baylor], USMC had been ordered to leave on
20 December with official reports.
^ Urwin, Gregory. "Battle of Wake Island". Encyclopædia
^ "Battle of Wake Island, 8-23 December 1941". historyofwar.org.
^ a b Cunningham, W. Scott (1961).
Wake Island Command. Boston, MA:
Little, Brown and Company.
^ Robert J. Cressman, A Magnificent Fight: Marines in the Defense of
World War II
World War II Commemorative Series, ed. Benis M. Frank
(Marine Corps Historical Center: Washington, D.C.:1998). Electronic
version - accessed 6-10-2006
^ Lundstrom, John B. The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from
Pearl Harbor to Midway. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press,
1990. ISBN 1-59114-471-X.
^ The Defense of Wake: Appendix III
^ A MAGNIFICENT FIGHT: Marines in the Battle for
Wake Island Archived
May 12, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
^ "Dirk H.R. Spennemann, 8-inch Coastal Defense Guns".
marshall.csu.edu.au. Retrieved 2014-09-13.
^ Scearce, Phil; "Finish Forty and Home", pgs 113-114.
See also: Bibliography of Wake Island
Burton. Fortnight of Infamy: The Collapse of Allied Airpower West of
Pearl Harbor. US Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-096-X.
Devereaux, Colonel James P.S., USMC (1947). The Story of Wake Island.
The Battery Press. ISBN 0-89839-264-0. CS1 maint: Multiple
names: authors list (link)
Sloan, Bill. Given up for Dead: America's Heroic Stand at Wake Island.
Bantam Books, 2003. ISBN 0-553-80302-6
Uwrin, Gregory J.W. (1997). Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake
Island. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-9562-6.
Moran, Jim (2011).
Wake Island 1941; A battle to make the gods weep.
Osprey Campaign Series #144; Osprey Publishing. Illustrator: Peter
Dennis. ISBN 978-1-84908-603-5
Urwin, Gregory J. W. Victory in Defeat: The
Wake Island Defenders in
Captivity, 1941–1945, (2010) Naval Institute Press,
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Coordinates: 19°17′24″N 166°36′04″E / 19.2900°N