Chapter 2: The Enemy Strikes1

Map 4: Defense Installations on Wake

The Pan American Airways Philippine Clipper which had spent the night of 7-8 December at Wake re-embarked passengers shortly after sunrise on Monday 8 December,2 taxied into the calm lagoon, and soared toward Guam. Ashore breakfast was nearly over, and some Marines were squaring away their tents prior to falling out for the day's work. Major Devereux was shaving. In the Army Airways Communications Service radio van near the airstrip, an operator was coming up on frequency with Hickam Field on Oahu when at 0650 a frantic uncoded transmission cut through: Oahu was under enemy air attack.

Captain Henry S. Wilson snatched the message and rushed to Devereux's tent. The major tried unsuccessfully to reach Commander Cunningham by telephone, and then called the base communication shack. There, a coded priority3 transmission from Pearl was being broken down. Devereux put down the telephone and ordered the field music to sound "Call to Arms."4 Gunnery sergeant broke out their men and made sure that all had their ammunition. The marines then piled into trucks which rushed them to the battery areas. By 0735 all positions were manned and ready, the planned watch was established atop the water tank in Camp One, and defense battalion officers had held a brief conference.

The dawn air patrol was up before the news came from Pearl,5 but aviation personnel took hurried steps to safeguard the new Wildcats still on the ground. The Philippine Clipper was recalled ten minutes after its takeoff, and it circled back down to the lagoon. But in spite of these measures, things were not running smoothly at the airstrip. VMF-211 had been on Wake only four days and could hardly call itself well established. Aircraft revetments still being dozed would not be ready until 1400 that day, and suitable access roads to these revetments likewise were unfinished. Existing parking areas restricted plane dispersal to hazardously narrow limits. As Major Putnam stated it:

The Squadron Commander was faced with a choice between two major decisions, and inevitably he chose the wrong one. Work was


progressing simultaneously on six of the protective bunkers for the airplanes, and while none was available for immediate occupancy, all would be ready not later than 1400. Protection and camouflage for facilities were not available but could be made ready within 24 hours. Foxholes or other prepared positions for personnel did not exist but would be completed not later than 1400. To move the airplanes out of the regular parking area entailed grave risk of damage, and any damage meant the complete loss of an airplane because of the complete absence of spare parts ... The Squadron Commander decided to avoid certain damage to his airplanes by moving them across the rough ground, to delay movements of material until some place could be prepared to receive it, and to trust his personnel to take natural cover if attacked.6

Thus VMF-211's handful of pilots and mechanics spent the morning dispersing aircraft as widely as possible in the usable parking area, relocating the squadron radio installation from its temporary site to a covered one, and arming and servicing all aircraft for combat.

At 0800, only a few hours after the blazing and dying Arizona had broken out her colors under enemy fire at Pearl Harbor, Morning Colors sounded on Wake. Defensive preparations hummed. Trucks delivered full allowances of ammunition to each unit, the few spare individual weapons in Marine storerooms were spread as far as they would go to the unarmed Air Corps soldiers and Naval bluejackets, and gas masks and helmets of World War I vintage were distributed to the battery positions. Watches were set at fire control instruments and guns, while the balance of personnel worked on foxholes and filled the few remaining sandbags. The 3-inch antiaircraft batteries were specifically directed to keep one gun, plus all fire control instruments, fully manned. Mare units and the Island Commander hastily set up command posts. Commander Cunningham located his CP in Camp Two, and VMF-211's remained in the squadron office tent. Aviation personnel had to stick with their jobs of belting extra ammunition and transferring bulk fuel into more dispersible drums.

At 0900 the four-plane combat air patrol returned to base. The planes were refueled while the four pilots7 took a smoking break, and then clambered back into F4F's 9 through 12 and took off again to scout the most likely sectors for enemy approach. Shortly after this the pilot of the Philippine Clipper, Captain J.H. Hamilton, reported for duty to Major Putnam at VMF-211's headquarters. He had orders from the Island Commander to make a long-range southward search with fighter escort. These orders, however, were later canceled.8

While VMF-211's combat air patrol made a swing north of Wake at 12,000 feet, 36 twin-engined Japanese bombers were flying northward toward the atoll. This was Air Attack Force No. 1 of the Twenty-Fourth Air Flotilla, based at Roi, 720 miles to the south.9 As the enemy group leader signaled for a gliding let-down


in his 10,000-foot approach, he noted that the south coast of the atoll was masked by a drifting raid squall at about 2,000 feet. The three Japanese divisions, in 12-plane Vs, dropped rapidly down into the squall and emerged a few seconds later almost on top of the Wake airstrip. First Lieutenant William W. Lewis, commanding Battery E at Peacock Point, saw these planes at 1150, and he grabbed a "J"-line telephone to warn Devereux. Just as the major answered, a spray of bright sparks began to sail through the air ahead of the enemy formation. One civilian thought "the wheels dropped off the airplanes." But the planes had not come to lose their wheels. Japanese bombs were falling on Wake.

Lewis, an experienced antiaircraft artilleryman, had not only complied with the commanding officer's directive to keep one gun manned, but had added another for good measure. Within a matter of seconds he had two of Battery E's 3-inch guns firing at the Japanese,10 and .50 caliber guns along the south shore of Wake quickly took up the fire. A tight pattern of 100-pound fragmentation bombs and 20mm incendiary bullets struck the entire VMF-211 area where eight Grummans were dispersed at approximately hundred-yard intervals. While two 12-plane enemy divisions continued to release bombs and to strafe Camp Two, one division broke off, and swung back over Camp One and the airstrip. For a second time within less than ten minutes the airstrip was bombed and strafed. By 1210 the strike was over. The enemy planes turned away and commenced their climb to cruising altitude. "The pilots in every one of the planes were grinning widely. Everyone waggled his wings to signify 'Banzai'."11

The enemy attack burned or blasted seven of the eight F4F-3's from propeller to rudder, and the remaining Wildcat sustained serious but not irreparable damage to its reserve fuel tank. A direct bomb hit destroyed Major Bayler's air-ground radio installation, and the whole aviation area flamed in the blaze from the 25,000-gallon avgas tank which had been hit in the first strike. Fifty-gallon fuel drums burst into flame. VMF-211's tentage, containing the squadron's scanty stock of tools and spares, had been riddled and partially burned. Worst of all, 23 of the 55 aviation personnel then on the ground were killed outright or wounded so severely that they died before the following morning, eleven more were wounded but survived. At one stroke, VMF-211 had sustained nearly 60 per cent casualties. Nearly 50 per cent of the ground crewmen were dead. Three pilots (Lieutenants George A. Graves, Robert J. Conderman, and Frank J. Holden) were killed, and another, Lieutenant Henry G. Webb, was seriously wounded. Three more pilots, Major Putnam, Captain Frank C. Tharin, and Staff Sergeant Robert O. Arthur, had received minor wounds but remained on duty. In Camp


Two and the adjacent Pan American area, the hotel and other seaplane facilities were afire, the Philippine Clipper had received a few stray machine-gun bullets, and some ten civilian employees of PAA had been killed.12 The enemy did not lose a single bomber although "several" were damaged by antiaircraft fire.13 The Marine combat air patrol, well above the raid and momentarily scouting to the north, had not made contact. These pilots returned for landing shortly after the attack, and by a final stroke of ill fortune Captain Henry T. Elrod damaged his propeller seriously on a mass of bomb debris.

Wake's defenders were most concerned that this first raid had struck almost before they knew that enemy planes were overhead. The rain squall had helped the Japanese, but the atoll's lack of early-warning equipment was almost as beneficial to the enemy. The garrison needed radar, but none was available. Throughout the siege the Japanese planes continued to elude the most vigilant visual observation, and with the sound of their engines drowned by the booming surf they would often have their bombs away before they were spotted.

Damage control began at the airstrip as soon as the enemy departed. Casualties went to the one-story contractor's hospital which had been taken over as the island aid station,14 the dead were placed in a reefer box at Camp Two, and able-bodied aviation personnel tuned their attention to the airplanes and to the gasoline fires. The three planes still able to fly were sent up on combat air patrol. In the sky they would be safe from another surprise raid. Crews and officers reorganized and reallocated jobs. Second Lieutenant John F. Kinney became engineering officer to replace First Lieutenant Graves who had been killed.15 Kinney's principal assistant was Technical Sergeant William J. Hamilton, an enlisted pilot, and these two men began salvaging tools and parts from burned planes. Their efforts immeasurably aided future operations of VMF-211. Captain Herbert C. Freuler reorganized the ordnance section, Lieutenant David D. Kliewer took over the radio section, and Captains Elrod and Tharin supervised construction of individual foxholes, shelters, and infantry defensive works in the VMF-211 area. Other work included mining the airstrip at 150-foot intervals with heavy dynamite charges to guard against airborne landings. Furrows were bulldozed throughout the open ground where such landings might take place, and heavy engineering equipment was placed to obstruct the runway at all times when friendly planes were not aloft. Plans called for continuation of the dawn and dusk reconnaissance flights, and for the initiation of a noon combat air patrol as well. It was hoped that these patrols could intercept subsequent enemy raids.


Elsewhere on the atoll new defense work progressed just as rapidly.16 Emplacements, foxholes, and camouflage were improved at all battery positions. A Navy lighter loaded with dynamite surrounded by concrete blocks was anchored in Wilkes channel to guard this dredged waterway. Telephone lines were repaired, key trunk lines were doubled wherever possible, and every possible attempt was made to bury the most important wires.17 Construction of more durable and permanent command posts and shelters began before the day ended in a cold drizzle. Working that night under blackout restrictions, aviation Marines and volunteer civilians completed eight blast-proof aircraft revetments. The atoll's four operational planes were thus relatively safe within these revetments when 9 December dawned bright and clear, and Captain Elrod's plane also was in a bunker undergoing repairs to its propeller and engine.

General quarters sounded at 0500, 45 minutes before dawn, and the defense commander set Condition 1. This readiness condition required full manning of all phone circuits, weapons, fire control instruments, and lookout stations. The four F4F-3's warmed up and then took off at 0545 over Peacock Point. They rendezvoused in section over the field and then climbed upward to scout 60- to 80-mile sectors along the most probable routes of enemy approach. At 0700 the fighters finished their search without sighting any enemy planes and then turned back toward the atoll. There the defense detachment shifted to Condition 2 which required that only half the guns be manned, and that fewer men stood by the fire control instruments. This permitted Marines to get after other necessary work around their positions. At the airstrip Lieutenant Kinney continued work on Elrod's plane, and the squadron's engineering problem made it evident that hangar overhaul and blackout facilities had to be set up. Major Putnam decided to enlarge two of his new plane shelters for this purpose. Entrance ramps were cut below ground level, and the revetments were roofed with "I" beams, lumber, and lightproof tarpaulins. These expedients allowed extensive overhaul and maintenance at all hours and provided maximum protection for planes and mechanics.

As the morning wore on, men began to work closer to their foxholes and to keep a wary eye skyward. A dawn takeoff from the nearby Japanese-mandated Marshalls could bring a second Japanese bomber raid over Wake at any time after 1100. This "clock-watching" was justified. Disgustingly prompt, enemy planes from the Twenty-Fourth Air Flotilla at Roi arrived at 1145.18 Marine Gunner H.C. Borth spotted them first from the water tank OP, and he shouted the warning over the "J"-line circuit. Seconds later the air-ground radio (again in operation with makeshift equipment) passed


this alarm to he combat air patrol, and battery crewmen rushed to general quarters. Soon three bursts of antiaircraft fire, the new alarm signal,19 were exploding from all sectors, and Wake stood by for its second attack of the war.

The leading Japanese planes approached from the southeast at 13,000 feet, and antiaircraft batteries on Peale Island and Peacock Point opened fire just before the first bombs were released. Minutes earlier the combat air patrol had made contact with one flank of the Japanese planes south of Wake, and Lieutenant Kliewer and Technical Sergeant Hamilton managed to cut off a straggler. They shot it down despite hot return fire from a top turret, and as the enemy plane spun away in flames the ground batteries' 3-inch shells began to burst among the Japanese. The Marine fighters broke contact and withdrew.

The first stick of bombs exploded around Batteries E and A on Peacock Point and damaged a 3-inch gun in the E Battery position and a range finder at Battery A. Other bombs crashed along the east leg of Wake Island and into Camp Two. There direct hits destroyed the hospital, the civilian and Navy barracks buildings, the garage, blacksmith shop, a storehouse, and a machine shop. The falling bombs then straddled the channel at the tip of Wake and began to rain down on Peale Island. They made a shambles of the Naval Air Station which was still under construction, and scored a direct hit on the radio station. This destroyed most of the Navy's radio gear.20 Meanwhile the antiaircraft guns continued to fire into the tight Japanese formation, and five bombers were smoking by the time Peale Island was hit. A moment later one of these planes burst into flames and blew up in the air. That was Wake's second certain kill. The other limped away still smoking.21

The hospital burned to the ground while the two surgeons saved first the patients and then as much medical supplies and equipment as they had time to salvage. Camp Two and the Naval Air Station were now as badly wrecked as the aviation area had been on the previous day, and four Marines and 55 civilians had been killed. But the defenders had learned some lessons, and the Japanese were not to have such an easy time hereafter. Major Putnam summed it up:

The original raid…was tactically well conceived and skillfully executed, but thereafter their tactics were stupid, and the best that can be said of their skill is that they had excellent flight discipline. The hour and altitude of their arrival over the island was almost constant and their method of attack invariable, so that it was a simple matter to meet them, and they never, after that first day, got through unopposed…22

Defenders spent that afternoon collecting wounded, salvaging useful items from blasted ruins, and moving undamaged installations to safer spots. These jobs were to become painfully familiar on succeeding afternoons.


The Japanese attack on Battery E at Peacock Point and along the island's east leg suggested to Major Devereux that the enemy would plan their raids in a logical sequence to pass over the atoll's long axis. One the previous day they had struck Wake's aviation, and now they had bombed not only the Naval AIr Station but the 3-inch battery which had engaged them so promptly during that first raid. Thus Peacock Point was particularly vulnerable, and to protect his remaining antiaircraft weaspon, Devereux ordered Battery E to shift to a new site some six hundred yards east and north. There the battery could manage its job equally well. And to make sure that its fire power did not suffer, the battery drew one of the unused 3-inch guns assigned to the "phantom" Battery F on Wilkes. This weapon replaced the one damaged by bombs.

To provide new hospital facilities, ammunition was cleared from the two most widely-separated reinforced concrete magazine igloos, and these were converted into underground medical centers. Each measured 20 by 40 feet and could accommodate 21 hospital cots. They met blackout requirements, and with lights furnished by two small generators could be operated efficiently at night. Medical supplies were divided between the two aid stations. Dr. Kahn was in charge of the Marine hospital in the southern shelter, and Dr. Shank maintained the Navy-civilian facility at the north end of the row of magazine igloos. Both were in use by nightfall that day.

During the night Battery E displaced to its new position. Aided by contractor's trucks and almost 100 civilian volunteers, Marines moved the guns, sandbags (too valuable and scarce to be left behind), fire control equipment, and ammunition. Emplacements were dug at the new site, sandbags refilled, and the guns readied for action. By 0500, just in time for dawn general quarters, the battery was in position and ready to fire.23 Dummy guns were set up at the old position.

On 10 December the Japanese confirmed Devereux's theory that they would maintain certain patterns of approach and attack. At about 1045, 26 enemy bombers appeared, this time from the east. Again VMF-211 intercepted, and some of the bombers were hit before they reached the atoll. Captain Elrod, leading the fighters, shot down two enemy planes after the 3-inch guns began to fire. Bombs hit Battery E's abandoned position at Peacock Point, but the new site was not threatened. On Peale Island Battery D received two successive passes by one enemy flight division. The first pass scored a damaging hit on the battery's powerplant, but the guns continued to fire on barrage data. One plane burst into flames.

On Wilkes Island, undamaged from the earlier raids, one stick of bombs lit squarely on a construction dump where 125 tons of dynamite were cached west of the "New Channel."24 The resultant explosion stripped most of the underbrush off Wilkes, detonated all 5- and 3-inch ready ammunition at battery positions,25


and swept Battery L's emplacement clean of accessories, light fittings and other movable objects. Fortunately only one Marine was killed. Four others were wounded, and one civilian sustained shock. But materiel-wise, Battery L was in serious shape. All fire control instruments except the telescopes on Gun 2 had been blasted away or damaged beyond repair, the gun tubes were dented, firing locks were torn off, and traversing and elevating racks were burred and distorted. Equipment loss at Battery F, organizing that morning, was less serious. One gun was damaged from last and flying debris. In addition, the 60-inch searchlight on Wilkes had been knocked end over end. This seriously damaged the light's delicate arcs, bearings, and electronic fittings.

After this raid Major Devereux again ordered Battery E to displace. This time it would set up north of the airstrip and near the lagoon in the crotch of Wake. The dummy guns at Peacock Point, damaged by this third raid, were refurbished during the afternoon of 10 December, and Battery E's unmanned fourth gun was detached for antiboat emplacement elsewhere.26 Battery E's new position would be most advantageous, the battery commander reasoned:

Most all bombing runs were made from the east or west and the bombs were dropped along the length of the island. in this position the Japanese must make a run for the battery alone and most of the bombs would be lost in the lagoon.27

That night the battery personnel sweated through their second displacement, and by next morning they were in position and again ready to shoot.

Genesis of the Relief Expedition28

After the Pearl Harbor attack, President Roosevelt warned the American people to be prepared for the fall of Wake. Yet before the Arizona's hulk stopped burning, plans were underway to send relief to the atoll. But with much of the Pacific Fleet on the bottom of Pearl Harbor, little assistance could be provided. Wake, like other outer islands, would stand or fall on its own unless it could be augmented from the meager resources then at Pearl Harbor. Marine forces on Oahu included two defense battalions, the 3d and 4th,29 elements of the 1st Defense Battalion, and miscellaneous barracks and ships' detachments. Any personnel sent to relieve Wake would have to come from these units, and that meant that other important jobs would have to be slighted. There was a limited source of equipment including radar and other supplies at Pearl Harbor in the hands of the Marine Defense Force quartermaster; and fighter


aircraft, needed almost as much as radar, were already en route from San Diego on board the USS Saratoga30

On 9 December31 Admiral Kimmel's staff decided to send relief to Wake in a task force built around this carrier, Cruiser Division 6 (cruisers Astoria, Minneapolis, and San Francisco), the nine destroyers of Destroyer Squadron 4, the seaplane tender Tangier, which would carry troops and equipment, and the fleet oiler Neches. These ships would comprise Task Force 14. While it sailed for Wake, Task Force 11 built around the USS Lexington, would make diversionary strikes in the vicinity of Jaluit some 800 miles south of Wake. A third task force, commanded by Vice Admiral Halsey in the carrier Enterprise, would provide general support by conducting operations west of Johnston Island.32

Men and equipment to aid Wake would be drawn from the 4th Defense Battalion, and on 10 December this unit was alerted for immediate embarkation. The destination was not announced, but it did not require much imagination for rumor to cut through military secrecy. "We're going to Wake" was the word that circulated all day while the batteries prepared to mount out. By nightfall the personnel and equipment were squared away, and units groped about in the blackout to assemble their gear for loading. But in the midst of this work came orders to knock off and return to original battery positions. The CinCPac staff wanted to make a complete new study of the Pacific situation before it sent this relief off to Wake.33 Besides the task force had to await the arrival of the Saratoga.

CinCPac finally decided to make the attempt to reinforce Wake, and embarkation of certain units of the 4th Defense Battalion began two days later, on 12 December. By this time the Wake defenders had sent a partial list of their most critical needs, and Pearl Harbor supply activities filled this as best they could. These important items, which were loaded in the Tangier at pier 10 in the Navy Yard, 34 included an SCR-270 early-warning radar unit and an SCR-268 radar set for fire control. Also stowed on board were 9,000 rounds of 5-inch ammunition, 12,000 of the 3-inch shells with 30-second time fuzes, more than three million rounds of belted ammunition for .50 and .30 caliber machine guns, quantities of grenades, ammunition for small arms, barbed wire, antipersonnel mines, and additional engineering tools. Other equipment would enable the men at Wake to repair their bomb-damaged weapons. This included three complete fire control and data transmission systems for 3-inch batteries, needed replacement equipment for the atoll's 5-inch guns, electrical cable, ordnance tools, and spare parts.

Units of the 4th Defense Battalion embarked for this expedition included Battery F with 3-inch guns, Battery B with 5-inch guns, a provisional machine gun detachment drawn from Batteries H and I,


and a headquarters section drawn from the Headquarters and Service Battery of the defense battalion. First Lieutenant Robert D. Heinl, Jr., commanded this force when it completed embarkation on 13 December, but the command passed to Colonel J.S. Fassett just prior to the departure of the task force two days later.35 After loading, the Tangier moved to the upper harbor36 where Rear Admiral Fletcher's Cruiser Division 6 waited for the Saratoga. The carrier came in to fuel on the 15th,37 and the task force sortied late that day and set course for Wake.

Enemy Plans and Actions, 8-11 December38

Admiral Inouye, commanding the Japanese Fourth Fleet at Truk, had set numerous projects and operations in motion on 8 December. Current war plans called for him to capture and develop Wake, Guam, and certain Gilbert islands including Makin and Tarawa. By 10 December, when Guam fell, Inouye could check off all these jobs except the one at Wake.39 Despite its small size this atoll was giving the admiral and his people at Truk and Kwajalein some moments of worry. The other islands had fallen to them with little trouble, but they knew that Wake's defense was in better shape. They estimated that this atoll was defended by about 1,000 troops and 600 laborers. Wake's fighter planes were aggressive, and the flak from the island was at least prompt and determined. Between the Marine planes and this flak the Twenty-Fourth Air Flotilla surely had lost five of its planes, not counting four more "smokers" that the Wake defenders fervently hoped never made it back to Roi.

This Twenty-Fourth Air Flotilla was composed of Air Attack Forces One and Three. Force One flew shore-based bombers, and Force Three operated approximately 15 four-engined patrol bombers (probably Kawanishi 97s). Force One based on Roi, while Force Three, which was also bombing or scouting Baker, Howland, Nauru, and Ocean Islands, flew out of Majuro Atoll 840 miles south of Wake. The commander of this air flotilla had the mission of softening Wake for capture, and he was going about it in a creditable fashion. First he struck the airstrip to clear out the fighter planes, and then he figured to come back with the sky to himself and finish off his job. Subsequent targets had been the Naval Air Station, seaplane facilities, and other installations. With these missions accomplished, the pilots of the Twenty-Fourth Air Flotilla could settle down to the methodical business of taking out the antiaircraft and seacoast batteries. Thus the raid of 10 December concentrated on Peale where poor bombing and Battery D's fire held the Japanese to no gains, and on Wilkes where bombs set off the dynamite cache.

After those three strikes the Japanese decided Wake was ripe for a landing, and


the job went to Rear Admiral Kajioka who commanded Destroyer Squadron 6 in his new light cruiser Yubari. Kajioka planned to land 150 men on Wilkes Island to control the dredged channel, and 300 men on the south coast of Wake Island to capture the airfield. An alternate plan called for landings on the north and northeast coasts, but the admiral hoped to avoid these beaches unless unfavorable winds kept his men away from the south side of the atoll. The Japanese expected that a landing force of only 450 men would face a difficult battle at Wake, but this force was the largest that Admiral Kajioka could muster at this early date in the war. But if things hit a snag, destroyer crews could be used to help storm the beaches. The naval force at Admiral Kajioka's disposal included one light cruiser (the flagship), two obsolescent light cruisers for fire support and covering duties, six destroyers, two destroyer-transports, two new transports, and two submarines.40 The Twenty-Fourth Air Flotilla would act as his air support. Wake was so small that the admiral did not consider carrier air necessary.

The 450 men of the landing force constituted Kajioka's share of the special naval landing force personnel assigned to the Fourth Fleet. It is probable that they were armed with the weapons typical to a Japanese infantry unit of company or battalion size, and that their weapons included light machine guns, grenade launchers, and possibly small infantry cannon. It is likely that assault troops were embarked in the two old destroyer-transports (Patrol Craft 32 and 33), while the garrison and base development echelon was assigned to the medium-size transports. The assault shipping from Truk arrived at Roi on 3 December, and on 9 December41 the force sortied on a circuitous route for Wake.

The Japanese expected no American surface opposition, but they nonetheless screened their approach with customary caution. Two submarines scouted 75 miles ahead of the main body, and these boats were to reconnoiter Wake prior to the arrival of the task force.42 Specifically they would try to find out whether the atoll defenders had any motor torpedo boats. Behind these submarines, and 10 miles forward of the main body, a picket destroyer maintained stations from which it would make landfall and conduct a further reconnaissance. Ships of the task force neared Wake on the evening of 10 December. The weather was bad with high winds and heavy seas, but there was advantage even in this. The squalls provided a natural screen behind which the approach would surely remain undetected. Reports from the submarines and the screening destroyer indicated that Wake was not aware of the Japanese approach, and at 0300 on 11 December the


task force made landfall and prepared to disembark the landing force. From Kajioka's flagship Wake was barely visible while the admiral led his force to bombardment and debarkation stations five or six miles off the atoll's south shore.

The Attempted Landing, 11 December

In spite of Wake's back silent appearance to the Japanese, the atoll defenders had spotted the enemy. Lookouts reported ships in sight just prior to 0300, and as the shadowy outlines drew closer Devereux decided they formed an enemy force which included cruisers, destroyers, and some auxiliaries. The garrison went to general quarters, and Devereux ordered Major Putnam to delay the takeoff of his four airplanes until after the shore batteries began to fire. And these batteries were ordered to hold their fire43 until they received orders to open up. Major Devereux reasoned that the enemy force could outgun his defense force, and that premature firing would only reveal the location and strength of the seacoast batteries and rob them of a chance to surprise the enemy.

Meanwhile the enemy force was having trouble with the bad weather that had screened its approach. Assault troops found it difficult to make their transfer to sea-tossed landing craft, and some of these craft overturned or became swamped in the high waves. By dawn at 0500, the flagship Yubari, still in the van, reached a position approximately 8,000 yards south of Peacock Point. There she turned westward and commenced a broadside run parallel to the south shore of Wake. The other enemy ships followed generally along this course but kept approximately 1,000 yards further to seaward. Although the Japanese were not aware of it, the Yubari was being tracked along this course by the 5-inch guns of Battery B on Peacock Point. The camouflage had been removed from battery positions so that the guns could train.44

A few minutes later, the Yubari and the other two cruisers (Tatsuta and Tenryu) opened fire at area targets along the south shore of Wake. These salvos laddered the island from Peacock Point to the vicinity of Camp One. The high-velocity 6-inch shells which hit near Camp One ignited the diesel-oil tanks between the camp and Wilkes Channel, and only a repetition of Devereux's order to hold fire restrained Lieutenants Clarence A. Barninger and John A. McAlister, respectively commanding the 5-inch batteries at Peacock and Kuku Points, from returning fire. The other Japanese ships, following the cruiser and destroyer screen, maneuvered to take stations for their various missions.

After completing her initial firing run the Yubari, apparently accompanied by the two destroyer-transports, reversed course in a turn which closed the range on Wake. By this time it was daylight, and by 0600 these ships were some 3,500 yards south of Battery A on Peacock Point.45


Battery A, with no range finder, had estimated the range to these ships, and the range section personnel were plotting the target while the gun section crews stood by to fire. The order to fire came from Devereux's command post at 0615, and the guns at Peacock Point opened fire on the Yubari and the ships with her while Battery L engaged the other enemy ships within range of Wilkes Island. Battery A's first salvo went over the Japanese flagship, and Lieutenant Barninger ordered the range dropped 500 yards. This fire from the beach caused the cruiser to veer away on a zig-zag course, and to concentrate her fire on the Battery A guns. Her shots straddled the Marine positions as she pulled away rapidly. Barninger adjusted as best he could for the evasive tactics of the Japanese ship, and his guns soon scored two hits. Both shells entered the cruiser at the waterline amidships on her port side, and the ship belched steam and smoke as she slackened speed. Two more shells then caught her slightly aft of these first wounds, and she turned to starboard to hide in here own smoke. A destroyer then attempted to lay smoke between the troubled cruiser and the shore battery, but it was chased away by a lucky hit from a shell aimed at the cruiser. The Yubari continued to fire at Peacock Point until her 6-inch guns could no longer reach the island. Then, listing to port, she limped smoking over the horizon.46

Meanwhile Battery L had opened up from Wilkes on the three destroyers, two transports, and the light cruisers Tatsuta and Tenryu which had broken off from the Yubari at the west end of her first firing run. These cruisers and transports steamed north at a range of about 9,000 yards southwest of Kuku Point while the destroyers (probably Destroyer Division 29 consisting of the Hayate, Oite, and either the Mutsuki or Mochizuki)47 headed directly for shore and opened fire. At about 4,000 yards from the island they executed a left (westward) turn, and the Hayate led them in a run close along the shore. At that point Battery L opened fire. At 0652, just after the third two-gun salvo, the Hayate erupted in a violent explosion, and as the smoke and spray drifted clear, the gunners on Wilkes could see that she had broken in two and was sinking rapidly. Within two minutes, at 0652, she had disappeared from sight.48 This prompted such spontaneous celebrations in the Battery L positions that a veteran noncommissioned officer had to remind the gun crews that other targets remained.

Fire then shifted to Oite, next in line behind the Hayate. This destroyer was now so close to shore that Major Devereux had difficulty restraining his .30 caliber machine gun crews from firing at her. A 5-inch gun scored one hit before the on-shore wind carried smoke in front of the target. With this concealment, the destroyers turned to seaward away from Battery L. Marines fired several more salvos into the smoke, but they could not spot the splashes. Some observers on Wilkes thought they saw the Oite transfer


survivors and sink, but reliable enemy records indicate only that she sustained damage.49

Battery L now shifted fire to the transports Kongo Maru and Konryu Maru then steaming approximately 10,000 yards south of Wilkes. One shell hit the leading transport, and this ship also turned to seaward and retired behind a smoke screen which probably was provided by the two fleeing destroyers. Their course carried them past the transport area. By this time civilians on Wilkes had joined the defensive efforts as volunteer ammunition handlers, and the battery next engaged a cruiser steaming northward 9,000 yards off the west end of the island. This was either the Tenryu or the Tatsuta; but whatever her identity, she hurried away trailing smoke after one shell struck her near the stern. The departure of this ship, at about 0710, removed the last target from the range of battery L. in a busy hour, this unit had fired 120 5-inch shells which sank one destroyer, damaged another, and inflicted damage to a transport and a light cruiser. Two Marines had sustained slight wounds.

Meanwhile the other half of the Japanese destroyer force (Destroyer Division 30) ran into its share of trouble as it moved west of Kuku Point on a northwesterly course. Led (probably by the Yayoi, these three destroyers at 0600 steamed within range of Battery B's 5-inch guns on Peale. The Marines opened fire on the leading ship, and the Japanese promptly raked Peale with return salvos which scored hits in and about the positions of Batteries B and D. This shelling destroyed communications between Battery B's guns and the battery command post, and put Gun Two out of action with a disabled recoil cylinder. Lieutenant Woodrow W. Kessler, the battery commander, continued his duel with only one gun, and used personnel from Gun Two to help keep up the fire. Ten rounds later a shell caught the Yayoi her stern and set her afire. Kessler then shifted his fire to the second ship which was maneuvering to lay a smoke screen for the injured Yayoi. Under this concealment all three destroyers reversed course and retired southward out of range.

The Japanese force was now in full retirement. At 0700 Admiral Kajioka ordered a withdrawal to Kwajalein. Bad weather and accurate Marine fire had completely wrecked the admiral's plan to take Wake with 450 men. But commanders on the atoll took immediate precautions to guard against a dangerous relaxation of defenses. They reasoned that the Japanese might have carrier aircraft ready to continue the attack which the ships had started. and Major Putnam was already aloft with Captains Elrod, Freuler, and Tharin to reconnoiter the area from 12,000 feet. When this search located no enemy aircraft or carriers, the Marine pilots turned southwest to overtake the retiring Japanese task force. The fliers found the enemy little more than an hour's sail from Wake, and they swept down to attack.

Captains Elrod and Tharin strafed and bombed two ships (probably the cruisers Tenryu and Tatsuta),50 and got their planes damaged by heavy antiaircraft fire


from those two targets. But the Tenryu suffered bomb damage to her torpedo battery, and the Tatsuta's topside radio shack was hit. Captain Freuler landed a 100-pound bomb on the stern of the transport Kongo Maru, and saw his target flare up with gasoline fires. After dropping their two bombs each, the fliers hurried back to Wake to rearm.

Two fresh pilots, Lieutenant Kinney and Technical Sergeant Hamilton, substituted for two of the original fliers during one of these shuttles between the atoll and the enemy ships, and the air attacks continued for a total of 10 sorties during which the Marines dropped 20 bombs and fired approximately 20,000 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition.51 The destroyer Kisaragi, probably hit earlier by Captain Elrod, finally blew up just as Lieutenant Kinney nosed over at her in an attack of his own. One of the destroyer-transports also sustained damage from the air strikes.

This action was not all "ducks in a barrel" to the Marine fliers, and any damage to the scanty Wake air force was a serious one. Japanese flak cut the main fuel line in Elrod's Grumman, and although he managed to get back to the atoll he demolished his plane in a crash landing amid the boulders along Wake's south beach. Antiaircraft fire pierced the oil cooler and one cylinder in Captain Freuler's plane. He returned to the field safely, but he finished his approach on a glide with a dead engine that could never be repaired.

Accurate assessment of enemy losses in this first landing attempt is not possible. Japanese records indicate, however, that the destroyer Hagate was sunk by shore batteries and the destroyer Kisaragi by the VMF-211 bombs. Two more destroyers, the Oite and the Yayoi, were damaged as was a destroyer-transport. The transport Kongo Maru was bombed and set afire. All three cruisers (Yubari, Tatsuta, and Tenryu) received injuries from air or surface attacks.52

Japanese personnel casualties can be fixed only approximately. Assuming that the two sunken destroyers were manned by crews comparable to those required by similar U.S. types (about 250 officers and men per ship), it would be logical to claim approximately 500 for these two losses with the fair assumption that few if any survivors escaped in either case. Personnel losses on the other seven ships damaged are not know, but it must be assumed that casualties did occur.53


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (1) * Next Chapter (3)


[1] Unless otherwise noted, the material in chap 2 is derived from Devereux Rept; Putnam Rept; (Officer's name) Repts; Bayler Rept; Devereux Story.

[2] By east longitutde date; this was the same as Sunday, 7 December east of the date line.

[3] At this time relative priorities in dispatch traffic were as follows: Urgent (to be used only for initial enemy contact reports), Priority, Routine, Deferred. Thus a priority dispatch presented a considerably more important transmission than it now would.

[4] Cdr Cunningham, who immediately recalled the Philippine Clipper, has since stated that it was he who ordered the defense battalion to general quarters, but it appears that this action had already been taken prior to his issuance of any order. Cunningham Interview, 4.

[5] Kinney Interview, 3.

[6] Putnam Rept, 8.

[7] There were: Capt Elrod, who had relieved Maj Putnam on station, and 2dLt Davidson in one section, and 1stLt Kinney and TSgt Hamilton in the other.

[8] Orders were changed and the clipper took off for Midway at 1250 that afternoon to evacuate certain PAA personnel plus all passengers. Mr. H.P. Hevenor, a government official who missed the plane, was marooned on Wake and eventually ended up in Japanese hands. "It struck me as a rather drastic lesson in the wisdom of punctuality," commented Col Devereux. Devereux Story, 58.

[9] Notes on Enemy Interviews, n.d., hereinafter cited as Enemy Notes.

[10] Battery E, it will be recalled, had no height finder but was supposed to rely for this data on telephonic information from Battery D on Peale. Without waiting for word from Peale, Lt Lewis made a quick estimate of target altitutde, cranked it onto his director, and had the battery in action within a matter of seconds.

[11] Account by Norio Tsuji, a Japanese observer during the raid. ATIS (SWPA), Enemy Publicatons No. 6, "Hawaii-Malaya Naval Operations," 27Mar43, 27-38, hereinafter cited as Hawaii-Malaya NavOps.

[12] Cunningham Interview, 5.

[13] JICPOA Item No 4986, Professional notebook of Ens T. Nakamura, IJN, 1941-1943, 25Feb44, hereinafter cited as Nakamura Notebook.

[14] The battalion surgeon of the 1st DefBnDet, Lt(jg) Gustavbe M. Kahn (MC), USN, was ably assisted by his civilian colleague. Dr. Lawton M. Shank, the contractor's surgeon, whose coolness and medical efficiency throughout the siege won high praise.

[15] Kinney Interview, 4.

[16] Approximately ten per cent of the civilian workers volunteered for military or defensive duties, and some attempted to enlist. Many of these men served with heroism and efficiency throughout the operation.

[17] "Surface lines could not seem to stand up although they were all paralleled. We wanted to bury them, but we could not do so by hand ... considering the scarcity of men to do the work. We could not obtain permission to use the ditch diggers of the contractors..." LtCol C.A. Barninger reply to HistSec, HQMC questionnaire, 18Feb47, 8-9, hereinafter cited as Barninger.

[18] Enemy Notes, 1.

[19] Wake did not have an air raid alarm, and this traditional three-shot signal was the only alternative. Defenders tried to make an alarm system with dismounted auto horns wired to storage batteries, but it never worked. Last Man Off Wake Island, 65, 122.

[20] CO NAS Wake Rept to ComFourteen, 20-Dec41, 1-2.

[21] A Japanese report indicates that 14 of these bombers were damaged by antiaircraft fire during this attack. Nakamura Notebook.

[22] Putnam Rept, 10.

[23] LtCol W.W. Lewis reply to HistSec, HQMC questonnaire, 28Feb47, 1, hereinafter cited as Lewis.

[24] The "New Channel" was a partially-completed waterway through the center of Wilkes.

[25] By this time the Btry F position was being activated, but it was not as yet in full commission. Marine Gunner McKinstry, with naval personnel and volunteer civilians, had started that morning to form an antiboat battery with this unit's three guns and the damaged gun inherited from Btry E.

[26] This 3-inch gun, which figured conspicuously in the later defense, was located south of the airstrip and the VMF-211 area.

[27] Lewis, 2.

[28] Unless otherwise noted the material concerning the Relief Expedition is derived from a magazine article by LtCol R.D. Heinl, Jr., "We're Headed for Wake," MC Gazette, June 1946.

[29] This battalion, which during 1941-1943 executed more overseas displacements than any other defense battalion in the Fleet Marine Force, pulled out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during late October 1941, moved secretly through the Panama Canal, and arrived at Pearl Harbor on Monday 1 December. On 7 December the battalion manned a 3-inch battery at the Navy Yard, and also served some antiaircraft machine guns. Since it had just completed this oversea movement, and had its equipment ready for service, the 4th was a logical choice for its eventual role in the attempt to relieve Wake.

[30] These planes comprised VMF-221. The Saratoga had departed at maximum speed on 8 December (9 December on Wake). Ship's Log USS Saratoga, December 1941, hereinafter cited as Saratoga log.

[31] Throughout this section dealing with the relief attempt, west longitude dates and local times are used.

[32] CinCPac OPlan 39-41, 15Dec41, 2.

[33] Notes of interview by Capt S.E. Morison, USNR, with RAdm C.H. McMorris, 13Jan47, hereinafter cited as McMorris Interview.

[34] USS Tangier log, December 1941.

[35] Col Fassett was to become Island Commander at Wake when the relief force arrived at the atoll. ComFourteen orders to Col Fassett, 15Dec41.

[36] Tangier log, op. cit.

[37] The Saratoga arrived in the Hawaiian area during the night of 14 december, but she could not entyer the harbor until next day when the antisubmarine nets were opened. Saratoga log.

[38] Except as otherwise noted, material in this section dealing with Japanese operations is derived from Capture of Wake; Wake Attack; Nakamura Notebook; Enemy Notes.

[39] Campaigns of the Pacific War.

[40] Yubari; Tatsuta and Tenryu (2 old light cruisers, comprising Cruiser Division 18); Oite, Hayate, Mutsuki, Kisaragi, Mochizuki and Yayoi (6 older destroyers, comprising Destroyer Division 29 and 30); Patrol Boats 32 and 33, so-called (actually old destroyers converted into light troop-carrying craft with missions similar to the American APD); and Kongo Maru and Konryu Maru, both medium transports.

[41] Capture of Wake, II, 373 lists this date as 8 December, but other dates from this authority are consistenly one day behind, and it is therefore probable that the date of 9 December is correct.

[42] The submarines were scheduled to arrive at Wake prior to dawn, and it is therefore not clear how they expected to make a visual recconnaissance that would be of much value.

[43] Cdr Cunningham's postwar report states that Maj Devereux wanted to illuminate the enemy force with searchlights and to open fire much sooner, but that this request was denied. Cunningham Interview, 7. Devereux denies this, and he is supported by virtually all other records of the action.

[44] Barninger, 4.

[45] The range finders on the 5-inch guns of Btrys A and L had been rendered inoperative by previous bombings, and ranges therefore had to be estimated. This resulted in considerable variance among the later reports of this action. These discrepancies undoubtedly were aggravated by the long dispersion pattern characteristic of these flat trajectory naval weapons.

[46] The Btry A commander, whose comments are the source of this account of action against Adm Kajioka's flagship, believes that his guns scored two more hits on the cruiser before she got out of range. Barninger, 4-5.

[47] Wake Attack.

[48] Platt, op. cit., 3. The Hayate thus was the first Japanese surface craft sunk during the war by U.S. naval forces.

[49] Enemy Notes, 1.

[50] The VMF pilots were not sure about the identification of their targets but a consultation of all available source of information seems to substantiate this account of the action.

[51] CO VMF-211 Rept to CO MAG-21, 20Dec41.

[52] The widely-credited claim, originated in good faith, that dive-bombing attacks sank a cruiser off Wake cannot be supported. All three cruisers returned to Wake less than two weeks later to support the final attack on the atoll. The officially established occasion of the loss of each is as follows: Yubari(Philippine Sea, 27Apr44); Tenryu (Bismarck Sea, by submarine action, 18Dec42); Tatsuta (off Yokohama, by submarine action, 13May44). As indicated in the text the violent explosion and sinking of the Kisaragi, combined with recognition inexperience, probably accounts for the cruiser claimed. ONI StatisticalSec, "Naval Losses of All Nations," (located at NHD), 5Feb46, Table VIII.

[53] In a letter dated 22Nov51, Capt Tashikazu Ohmae, leading Japanese naval student of WW II, puts Japanese losses for this phase of the Wake operation at "nearly 500." Ohmae letter cited in Robert Sherrod, History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II (Washington: Combat Forces Press, 1952), 41, hereinafter cited as Marine Air History.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation