|Wake Island (1942)|
Often referred to as the Alamo of the Pacific, the battle is legend among the Marines. It was the only time during the Pacific War that a Japanese amphibious assault was repelled. The Wake Island Marines that December also offered the first sustained resistance to the Japanese juggernaut that had swept through the Pacific after Pearl Harbor. The battle was a rare example of success in the War's early months.
Throughout 1941, the U.S. Navy was constructing a base on Wake Island with civilian contractors from the Boise, Idaho firm of Morrison-Knudsen. Unfortunately, it was incomplete when the Japanese attacked in December. The first permanent military garrison, just under 400 men from the 1st Marine Defense Battalion, had arrived on August 19 commanded by Major James P.S. Devereux. The airfield was ready to take aircraft by December, and on December 4th, 12 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats from Marine Fighting Squadron VMF-211 arrived on Wake.
|Marine Command Post|
The Japanese invasion force led by Rear Admiral Kajioka Sadamichi consisted of the light cruiser Yubari (flagship), six destroyers--Mutsuki, Kisaragi, Yayoi, Mochizuki, Oite, and Hayate--along with Patrol Boat No. 32 and Patrol Boat No. 33 (two ex-destroyers, each reconfigured in 1941 to launch a landing craft over a stern ramp) and two armed merchantmen, Kongo Maru and Kinryu Maru. To provide additional gunfire support the light cruisers Tatsuta and Tenryu joined the force.
In the initial attack seven of the 12 Wildcat fighters were destroyed on the ground. However, the stationary naval battery was successful in sinking two Japanese destroyers (Hayate and Kisaragi) and damaging several other ships including the flagship Yubari. The remaining Wildcat fighters and the Marine’s beach defenses drove off the landing attempt.
Although the small U.S. force on the island repulsed the initial landing attempt, they were in serious need of additional supplies and support—which would never come. However, the Japanese would and did. On December 23rd, Rear Admiral Abe Koki's two fleet destroyers (Hiryu and Soryu) supported by heavy cruisers and destroyers (on the way back from Pearl Harbor) attacked. This second assault on Wake was successful.
American casualties numbered 52 military personnel (Navy and Marine) and approximately 70 civilians killed (including 10 Chamorros). Japanese losses exceeded 800 dead, with some estimates ranging as high as 1,000. Wake's defenders sank two Japanese destroyers and one submarine, and shot down 24 Japanese aircraft.
The Japanese took 368 Marine, 60 Navy, 5 Army, and 1,104 civilian personnel (including 35 Chamorros) prisoner after the surrender of Wake. Seventeen of the military prisoners died during their captivity, including 2 Marines and 3 sailors who were beheaded and thrown overboard from the Nitta Maru, en route from Yokohama to the POW camp near Shanghai. In Shanghai, two Chamorros were murdered. One hundred-eighty of the civilian prisoners died during their captivity, including 98 murdered on Wake in October of 1943. [It is difficult to confirm these numbers and I welcome documented corrections.]
Those Wake Island Defenders who were not sent to prisons in China became slave laborers throughout the Empire. Twice during his captivity in China, Commander Cunningham attempted to escape only to be recaptured. Major Devereux ended up in Hokkaido at the Hakodate #4, Nishi-Ashibetsu POW camp where after the war ended he was treated to a farewell dinner by nervous officials of the Mitsui Mining Company at the local Mitsui Company Clubhouse (See Here).
|Soto Dam After 2010 Memorial |
Many started their stay in Japan at Tokyo 5D Kawasaki as slave laborers for Nihon Kokan (NKK Steel which is today’s JFE Holdings) stripping boats at a Mitsui dockyard (See POW Merchant Seaman David Wilson's memoir). And many ended up in the infamous Naoetsu in Niigata where Louis Zamperini immortalized by Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken was continually and capriciously tortured. POWs were slave laborers for Shinetsu Chemical and Nippon Stainless.
|Battle of Wake Island Memorial |
Dedication December 7, 2011
A new documentary on the Battle of Wake Island is in the works. The heroism and spirit of Wake will not be forgotten.
Boise, Idaho's Congressman Raúl Labrador (R-ID) is also not yet a co-sponsor of H. Res. 333. Veterans are not listed among Mr. Labrador's "Featured Issues" on his congressional website. No effort was made by Congress to honor the 70th anniversary of the Wake Island defense.