Battle of Wake Island
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
After the successful attacks on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii Islands, Philippine Islands, British Malaya, and Guam in Mariana Islands, Rear Admiral Kajioka Sadamichi was tasked to take Wake Atoll, a United States Marine Corps base, with three light cruisers, six destroyers, and 450 Special Naval Landing Force troops. Wake, discovered by the British who named the atoll after Captain William Wake, was an atoll of three islands in a lagoon. It was strategically important, along with Guam, as they were situated halfway between Hawaii Islands and Philippine Islands, hence it was annexed by the United States in 17 Jan 1889. Without Guam and Wake, the US would not be able to supply Philippine Islands efficiently.
The atoll's air defenses came from 12 Wildcat figthers and a few anti-aircraft guns. 7 out of the 12 fighters were destroyed on the ground before they were able to take off, but the stationary naval battery were successful in sinking two destroyers (Hayate, Kisaragi) and damaging several other ships including Kajioka's flagship Yubari. The landing attempt was driven off by the remaining Wildcat fighters and the marines beach defenses. Admiral Kajioka would withdraw the attack force back to the Japanese base at Kwajalein. This would be the only unsuccessful attack during Japan's first wave of attacks. He would return on 23 Dec, along with Rear Admiral Abe Koki's two fleet carriers (Hiryu and Soryu) supported by heavy cruisers and destroyers (on the way back from the Pearl Harbor raid), and attempt to take Wake again. This time he would be successful, taking Wake away from the US.
In total, Japan lost over 800 dead before US Marine Corps commander Major James Devereux surrendered the atoll. Devereux had lost only 120 men. Wake would remain under Japanese control until 4 Sep 1945, after Japan's formal surrender.
Wake was part of Japan's "Outline Plan for the Execution of the Empire's National Policy", a plan to expand the outer perimeters so wide that her enemies would not be able to attack by air against the home islands or the rich natural resources the Japan was about to acquire. This perimeter extended from the Kurile Islands down to Wake, Guam, Dutch East Indies, British Malaya, and up to Burma.
Sources: The Pacific Campaign, Wikipedia.
Battle of Wake Island Timeline
|2 Nov 1941||Wake Island received reinforcement from the US Marine Corps 1st Defense Battalion in Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii. The island's defense now consisted of 15 officers and 373 enlisted Marines.|
|28 Nov 1941||US Navy Commander W. S. Cunningham relieved US Marine Corps Major James P. S. Devereux as the overall commanding officer of Wake Island. 9 US Navy officers and 58 sailors arrived with Cunningham aboard seaplane tender USS Wright.|
|29 Nov 1941||US Marine Corps Major Walter L. J. Bayler arrived at Wake Island with a detachment of Marines from Marine Aircraft Group 21 to set up air base communication facilities.|
|4 Dec 1941||12 F4F-3 fighters of US Marine Fighter Squadron 211 arrived at Wake Island, delivered by USS Enterprise; they began daily patrols immediately. Meanwhile, Japanese aircraft scouted Wake Island undetected.|
|8 Dec 1941||Japanese invasion fleet for Wake Island departed from Kwajalein while aircraft of the Japanese Navy 24th Air Flotilla (based at Roi-Namur, Kwajalein) attacked Camp One, Camp Two, and the airstrip on Wake; Japanese aircraft destroyed seven of the Eight F4F-3 fighters were destroyed as well as a 25,000-gallon capacity aviation gas tank. Meanwhile, Pan American Airways aircraft evacuated Caucasians from Wake Island, leaving airline staff of Chamorro ethnicity behind.|
|9 Dec 1941||At Wake Atoll, Japanese Navy 24th Air Flotilla aircraft bombed Naval Air Station on Peale Island and Batteries A and E at Peacock Point.|
|10 Dec 1941||Japanese Destroyer Squadron 6 conducted amphibious invasion on Wake and Wilkes islands in failure, losing one destroyer and three other craft to shore battery and one destroyer to US aircraft, making them the first Japanese ships to be sunk in the Pacific War; this invasion was the only time in the Pacific War that shore defenders overcame an amphibious landing. In the air, USMC Captain Elrod shot down a Japanese G3M2 Type 96 land attack aircraft at Wake, which was the first USMC air-to-air kill of the Pacific War. On the same day, Japanese aircraft destroyed a 125-ton dynamite cache, and the resulting explosion caused damage to coastal batteries.|
|12 Dec 1941||Japanese reconnaissance flying boats bombed Wake and Peale Islands in a pre-dawn raid, followed by daylight bombing by land-based attack aircraft from Majuro, Marshall Islands; neither bombing caused significant damage. Aircraft from US Marine Fighter Squadron 211 reported a possible sinking of a Japanese submarine 25 miles southwest of Wake Atoll.|
|14 Dec 1941||Japanese reconnaissance flying boats from Wotje and Roi, Marshall Islands bombed Wake Island in a pre-dawn raid, damaging Camp One facilities, the airstrip, and a fighter; Wake Atoll's aircraft was now operating on only one airstrip. After daybreak, more Japanese land-based attack aircraft struck the atoll.|
|15 Dec 1941||Japanese reconnaissance flying boats bombed Wake Island. Meanwhile, US Navy Task Force 14 (USS Saratoga, USS Astoria, USS Tangier, with escorts; under Rear Admiral Frank Fletcher), carrying a US Marine Corps expeditionary force consisted of elements of the 4th Defense Battalion and Marine Fighter Squadron 211, departed Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii to reinforce Wake.|
|16 Dec 1941||Hiryu, Soryu, Tone, Chikuma, and two destroyers broke from the Pearl Harbor attack force to reinforce the Wake Island attack force. Meanwhile, Japanese naval land-based aircraft bombed Wake Island.|
|17 Dec 1941||Japanese aircraft attacked Wake Atoll, igniting a diesel oil tank on Wilkes Island and damaged an evaporator unit that was vital for the island's water supply.|
|18 Dec 1941||US Navy Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet Chester Nimitz ordered the submarines of Task Force 7 near Wake Atoll to move south out of the area until reinforcements arrived.|
|19 Dec 1941||Japanese Navy land-based attack aircraft from Roi, Kwajalein, Marshall Islands attacked Wake Atoll, seriously damaging defense battalion facilities at Camp One.|
|20 Dec 1941||The American garrison at Wake Atoll received its first guest since the start of the Pacific War as a US Navy PBY aircraft arrived from Midway Atoll. The PBY crew brought news that aircraft from Marine Fighter Squadron 221 and men from the 4th Defense Battalion were being prepared to reinforce Wake.|
|21 Dec 1941||The US Navy PBY aircraft which had arrived at Wake Atoll on the previous day departed with passengers; these passengers would be the last US personnel to leave the atoll. During the day, 29 Japanese carrier aircraft from Soryu and Hiryu attack the island, followed by 33 land-based aircraft four hours later, damaging Battery D on Peale Island. Meanwhile, American intelligence indicated a large Japanese air force build-up in the Marshall Islands and a possible Japanese fleet present east of Wake Atoll, the latter of which seriously threatened the attempts to reinforce Wake.|
|22 Dec 1941||33 dive bombers and 6 fighters from carriers Soryu and Hiryu attacked Wake Atoll; during the aerial battle, one of the last two operational F4F Wildcat fighters of Marine Fighter Squadron 211 was shot down, while the other one was badly damaged.|
|23 Dec 1941||Before dawn, at 0235 hours, 1,500 troops of the Japanese Maizuru Second Special Naval Landing Force landed on Wake Island and Wilkes Island in the Wake Atoll; from the air, carrier aircraft from Soryu and Hiryu provided support by attacking targets on Wilkes, Peale, and Wake Islands. Given that defeat was now imminent, acting commander of the US Navy Pacific Fleet Vice Admiral William Pye recalled Task Force 14 with USS Saratoga; the force was originally dispatched to reinforce Wake. At 0800, the Americans surrendered. On Wilkes Island, the Americans attempted one final counterattack, killing 100 Japanese troops at the cost of 11 US Marines killed and 5 wounded.|
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Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, 16 Mar 1945