Chapter 4: The Fall of Wake1

At Wake, 23 December began with intermittent rain squalls, and shortly after 0100 the defenders saw a succession of vivid, irregular flashes beyond the horizon north of Peale Island. Men on the atoll could hear nothing above the rain and the boom of the surf, but it was obvious that the flashes were not signals or searchlights. They were too brilliant and irregular for that. Old fleet-duty hands were reminded of night battle practice at sea. Was there a naval battle, or were the Japanese coming back? The defenders could only guess.

By this time the Marines were used to seeing lights, even though these were unusual. But at 0145 came a more urgent alarm. The word over the "J"-line announced that the Japanese were landing at Toki Point on Peale. Major Devereux alerted all units and then telephoned Lieutenant Kessler at Toki Point for additional information. The Battery B commander told Devereux that he could see lights in the distance but that there was no landing in progress. The beach positions had been manned, Kessler added, because boats were "believed" to be somewhere offshore. By this time all units had sent their men to general quarters, and at Camp One, Second Lieutenant Poindexter loaded his scanty mobile reserve unit of eight Marines2 and four .30 caliber machine guns into their truck, reported his actions to the command post, and moved out toward Peale Island. But the word from Kessler had convinced Devereux that if the enemy were landing, they were not doing it on Peale Island. He put a damper on the general alarm, and ordered that Poindexter be intercepted when his truck passed the command post. He held the mobile reserve there to await developments.

The Japanese Approach

Developments were not long in coming. Admiral Kajioka's amphibious force had at last sighted the atoll's faint outline, and the ships were reducing speed. Moments later, in the words of a Japanese "combat correspondent" who was moved to poetry by this amphibious venture, "The honorable, first order of 'CHARGE' was given, and the daring officers and men, with white sashes, bravely went down to the surface of the sea."3


Approximately 800 of the SNLF troops were distributed between the two destroyer-transports.4 The other 200 presumably were embarked on board one or more of the transports or the float-plane tender Kiyokawa, and the 500 sailors of the provisional reserve force apparently were to remain at their normal duties unless called to reinforce the landing effort.5 The Maizuru Second Special Naval Landing Force, now brought to full strength by reinforcements from Saipan, was essentially a Japanese version of the battalion landing team (BLT). Its three rifle companies had numerical designations but were more commonly identified by the names of their commanders. Thus the 1st Company, commanded by Lieutenant Kinischi Uchida, was often called the Uchida unit. Similarly, the 2d and 3d Companies were styled respectively the Takano unit and the Itaya unit.

The Uchida and Itaya companies would assault Wake Island while 100 "picked men" of the Takano unit seized Wilkes.6 The balance of the Takano company presumably would back up the other two companies on Wake Island. At about the time the premature landing alarm was sounded on the atoll, the amphibious force was putting landing craft over the side. The weather was giving them trouble, but at about 0200 the SNLF troops clambered down into these craft. "The hardships encountered in lowering the landing barges were too severe even to imagine," reported correspondent Ibushi. "Now we, the Naval Landing Force, on the barges which we were in, must charge into enemy territory and carry out the final step of securing a landing point after touching the shore."7

As the landing craft pitched through the breakers, the destroyer-transports turned to make their final runs onto the reef south of the airstrip. These vessels, Patrol Boats 32 and 33, mounted the reef in a smother of breakers and foam, and went aground near the west end of the airstrip. Two of the landing barges scraped bottom as they approached the reef near Camp One, and still there was no sign that the atoll defenders were awake. But suddenly tracers penciled from the beach at Wilkes Island and .50 caliber slugs splattered through the gunwales of one barge. Then a searchlight from Wilkes flared on to silhouette the picked men of the Takano unit landing on that island. It was then 0245, and the battle for Wake was on.

The Defense of Wake Island

Map 5: Landing on Wake Island, 23 December 1941

Since 0215 Marines had been confident that a landing against them was in progress.


Lights could be seen offshore north of Peale Island and all along the south coasts of Wake and Wilkes Island. At about 0230 Marines on Peacock Point through they could see the outlines of two barges heading along the coast toward the airfield, but these evidently were the patrol craft heading in toward the reef. By now Major Devereux, Major Potter, his executive officer, a radioman, and a switchboard operator in the defense detachment command post were swamped by reports of sounds, lights, and shapes. As he collected this information and relayed reports to Commander Cunningham, Devereux saw that the greatest threat was developing along the south coast of the atoll, and he dispatched Lieutenant Poindexter's eight-man mobile reserve to defensive positions between Camp One and the airstrip.

Poindexter's men had not left the truck, and the lieutenant had them transported down the island and into position within 15 minutes. The area into which they moved was just west of the road junction near the west end of the airstrip. There this small force commanded the south shore road as well as the critical beach section south of the field. The lieutenant reported that this area was being bombarded when he reached his defensive positions, but there were no signs of a landing.

But at 02358 defenders on Wilkes reported that they could hear barge engines above the surf, and Marine Gunner McKinstry opened fire with a .50 caliber machine gun at a dark shape near the beach below. Ten minutes later Captain Platt requested permission to illuminate the beach with his 60-inch searchlight, and the landing was discovered. Two barges could be seen on the beaches at Wilkes, the lights also revealed the patrol craft aground off Wake.

Neither of the 5-inch batteries which command the south approaches to Wake9 could bear against the landings. Terrain masks likewise prevented them from firing at Patrol Craft 32 and 33 on the reef.10 The only weapon larger than a machine gun that could engage these destroyer-transports, already beginning to spew out their human cargo, was the 3-inch gun emplaced on the rise between the beach road and VMF-211's hard-stand parking area. But this gun was not manned. Realizing the importance of this weapon, Second Lieutenant Robert M. Hanna, in command of the antiaircraft machine guns about the field, gathered a scratch crew consisting of one Marine, Corporal Ralph J. Holewinski, and three civilians11 and


JAPANESE PATROL CRAFT lost in the assault on Wake Island are silent witnesses to an American carrier raid during the last days of the war. (USN 495560)

JAPANESE NAVAL TROOPS who took Wake Atoll are shown in a contemporary propaganda painting taking their prisoners toward a collecting point. (SC 301066)


raced to this gun. Major Devereux also realized the critical importance of holding this area, and he ordered Major Putnam and the 20 men of VMF-211 to form an infantry support between the 3-inch gun and the enemy landing.

All defense units on Wake Island were disposed to meet the enemy. Hanna and the VMF-211 "infantrymen" held the left flank south of the airfield parking area. To the west, and squarely in the path of the enemy's initial rush toward the west end of the field, were Second Lieutenant Kliewer and three aviation Marines. They guarded one of the generators which was wired to detonate the mines buried in the airstrip. At the road junction farther west Poindexter's mobile reserve was already firing its four machine guns eastward along the beach at Patrol Craft 32 where the enemy troops had revealed themselves by injudicious use of pyrotechnic signals. At Camp One four .30 caliber machine guns were manned for beach defense by Battery I's gun shed crew and the Naval Air Station sailors who had been serving as lookouts on the water tank OP. Behind this general line, two .50 caliber machine-gun sections (each of two guns) guarded the airstrip. One section held the west end of the strip near Lieutenant Kliewer's generator, and the other section was located on the east end of the strip.12 These two sections could command the length of the field, and could partially interdict movement across the field. Other machine guns were in the Peacock Point area. At the battery positions gun crews stood by their weapons and manned such local perimeter defenses as their meager strength permitted.

Lieutenant Hanna and his jury-rigged crew quickly got the 3-inch gun into action. They laid the weapon by estimate and "Kentucky windage,"13 and fired their first round at Patrol Craft 33 which was less than 500 yards away. The shell hit the bridge of the destroyer-transport, and wounded the captain, the navigator, and five seamen. Two other sailors were killed. While men of the Uchida and Itaya units swarmed off the ship, Hanna and his crew fired 14 more rounds into the superstructure and hull of the craft. Finally it burst into flames, illuminating the landing area. "The scene was too beautiful to be a battlefield," reported a Japanese observer on board the cruiser Yubari. 14

Flames from this ship lighted Patrol Craft 32 farther west along the beach, and Hanna shifted his fire to this vessel. Three-inch shells hulled this transport-destroyer, and crews from both these ships joined the SNLF troops landing on the island. This added possibly 100 extra men to the battle ashore, and Hanna's gun already was seriously threatened by the Uchida unit which had made the beach assault. Major Putnam's aviators fought off these early attempts to silence the 3-inch gun, but the Japanese continued to attack. Alternating between creeping infiltration tactics and screaming rushes, the Uchida troops drove the Marines back on each side


of the gun until the defenders were in a position which Devereux later described as "a box-shaped thing." Here they continued to hold.

But farther west Japanese troops had reached the south shore road between the mine field generator and Lieutenant Poindexter's small mobile reserve, and by the light from the burning patrol craft Poindexter could see these enemy cross the road and disappear into the brush beyond. The lieutenant was directing machine-gun fire into this brush area when he heard other firing from the direction of Camp One. He left Gunnery Sergeant T.Q. Wade in charge of the reserve force and headed toward the camp. There he found that two large landing craft had grounded on the reef some 30 yards off-shore southeast of the camp.15 Four machine guns from Camp One fired at the barges, but the rounds ricocheted off. This fire evidently discouraged the craft from attempting a landing at this point, however, because they backed off the reef and nosed about as if seeking a better site.

While these two boats floundered about in the surf, Lieutenant Poindexter formed two teams of grenadiers to move down to the water's edge and lob hand grenades into the barges. One team consisted of himself and Boatswain's Mate First Class James E. Barnes, while the other consisted of Mess Sergeant Gerald Carr, and a civilian, R.R. Rutledge, who had served as an Army officer if France during World War I. The machine guns suspended fire, and the grenadiers attacked. By this time the Japanese had landed a short distance farther east, and Boatswain's Mate Barnes managed to throw at least one grenade inside a barge just as the enemy debarkation commenced. The explosion inflicted heavy casualties, but some 75 to 100 enemy splashed ashore and entered the underbrush east of Camp One. This heavy growth north of the road soon became a sort of no man's land into which the Japanese continued to infiltrate and expand their beachhead.

All this Poindexter managed to report back to Major Devereux in a final message from Camp One before wire communication was lost. But shortly after this a panicky civilian who had managed to pick his way through the brush from Camp One to Devereux's command post brought in reports--totally untrue--that Camp One was being overrun and that he had seen Japanese troops bayoneting the machine gunners of the mobile reserve.

The loss of communications was not localized at Camp One. Devereux's command post had lost contact with Lieutenant Hanna, the VMF-211 infantrymen, the CP of the .50 caliber machine-gun battery near the airstrip, and Battery A at Peacock Point. The tactical line to Wilkes Island also went out at this time, but the "J"-line, which lay north of the airfield, still linked the defense battalion CP with that of Captain Platt on Wilkes. Nobody knows exactly what caused this communications failure, but the nature of the trouble suggests that it might have been caused by a single break. The location of this major break, if there was one, must have been near the battalion command post where lines were close together. But all Wake survivors hold the opinion that the Japanese cut the lines; and they point out that the Wilkes "J"-line did not go out until some time after this failure of the line south of the field. Thus defenders believe that the lines were being


cut as the enemy attack progressed inland. Devereux tried to contact his Wake Island positions by radio, but his inter-island net never had been reliable, and the sets characteristically failed to function that morning. There were no communication personnel in the command post to trouble-shoot lines,16 and for the remainder of the battle Devereux had no communications with his defensive line along Wake's south coast.

It was now obvious to Devereux at his "blacked-out" CP that fights were in progress all along the west leg of Wake Island, and that he must sacrifice a defensive unit from some other area to reinforce his effort in the critical zone. Lieutenant Lewis' Battery E in the crotch of Wake Island could not be disbanded. It was the only completely equipped and up-to-strength17 antiaircraft battery on the atoll. Battery B's 5-inch guns on Peale Island also should remain manned for possible missions against enemy ships. But Captain Godbold's Battery D might be used as infantry. This unit had two 3-inch guns, but no fire control equipment; and Peale Island did not appear to be threatened. Two officers and some 40 men from this battery became the atoll reserve, and at 0300 Major Devereux ordered Godbold to send one gun section (about nine men) from this reserve force to the aid of Hanna's untrained crew. Corporal Leon Graves brought these men around from Peale Island in a truck driven one of the civilians, and Major Devereux directed them toward Hanna's position.

By this time the Japanese had made at least two penetrations through the Marine "line" along the south edge of Wake Island, and it is possible that the enemy was also landing inside the lagoon in rubber boats. Several defenders speak of seeing red flares rising from within the lagoon, and after the surrender Marine working parties found rubber boats on these interior beaches. If these landings were taking place, it is probable that they occurred on the north beaches of Wake Island's west leg.18 From such sites the men landing in rubber boats could join up with those landing on the south beaches.

Captain Godbold on Peale Island was one of the defenders who saw these red flares inside the lagoon, and he had Battery B at Toli Point send a two-man patrol down the interior coast of that island to investigate. Godbold then sent a three-man patrol from his own battery down the outer coast of Peale. These two patrols met at the southeast end of the island without encountering any enemy. The captain then established a three-man outpost to cover the bridge between Peale and Wake Islands.


But interior landings or no, the Wake defenders had their hands full. Japanese cruisers began to bombard the atoll's main island at about 0330. The landings continued in spite of the fact that Battery E now fired air bursts over the beaches, and enemy infantry continued to press closer to Hanna's 3-inch gun south of the airstrip. The VMF-211 troops still held, but their partial perimeter was being compressed tighter and tighter around the gun. This action was now little more than a battle for preservation of the weapon and the Marine involved. Major Putnam's men could not check the Japanese penetration farther to the west, nor could they prevent the enemy from moving behind them or into the island triangle above Peacock Point. And the Japanese wanted to concentrate in this triangle so they could launch an attack up the island's east leg. The VMF-211 troops could only hope to cling to the slight hillock of their position, and stay there as long as possible.19

Meanwhile Corporal Graves and his detached gun squad from Battery D were trying to reach Hanna's 3-inch gun. Devereux had told them to detruck at the road junction some 600 yards below the end of the strip and west of Peacock Point. From there they were to go through the underbrush to the gun position. But the squad detrucked considerably short of this junction--probably less than 200 yards below the strip. From there the men struck out through the brush in the general direction of the Hanna-VMF-211 area. They were soon stopped, however, by enemy machine-gun and small-arms fire which killed one Marine and pinned down the others.20 After a time Graves withdrew his unit northward toward the command post where it later participated in defensive efforts command by Major Potter.

It is not clear what sort of an enemy force Corporal Graves encountered in the Peacock triangle, or how the Japanese got there. There are indications that a landing might have been made in that area, with barges coming in on the south coast between Battery A on Peacock Point and the Hanna-VMF-211 position. Devereux said after the war that he believed a landing took place at this point, but the matter never has been confirmed. Some Japanese accounts, including those of Captain Koyama and a correspondent,21 mention a landing "near the southeast tip of Wake" to overrun Battery A, which must have been remembered from the action of 11 December--especially by men in the cruiser Yubari. ut Captain Koyama also insisted that the Japanese made only two barge landings with a total of four barges. And these are accounted for by the landings near Camp One and at Wilkes Island. Discounting a third barge landing, this force must have been built up by the rubber boat landings within the lagoon, or by wholesale infiltration behind the position held by Putnam and Hanna.

But at any rate, Devereux soon learned from Corporal Graves that there was an


enemy force in the triangle. And from there the Japanese threatened the entire eastern rim of the atoll. Battery E was now receiving light mortar and long-range machine-gun fire, and Battery A likewise began to receive enemy mortar fire.22 In the face of this, Captain Barninger armed his range section with two .30 caliber machine guns and formed an infantry outpost line on the high ground behind his 5-inch guns.

The enemy fire against Battery E seemed to come from the thick brush on the other side of an inlet southwest of the battery position. Direct 3-inch fire into this area silenced one automatic weapon, but this did not seem to ease the pressure much. Lieutenant Lewis then sent a patrol of approximately 10 men under Sergeant Raymon Gragg to investigate. Gragg went out to the road north of the airstrip, and patrolled to the southwest along this road. Within 50 yards of the battery Gragg's patrol ran into heavy Japanese fire which forced the Marines to deploy. Answering the enemy fire, the patrol held here until the surrender.

At about 0430 the .50 caliber machine-gun section at the east end of the airstrip, still in communication with Devereux, reported that the Japanese were attacking in company strength up the road from Peacock Point. Corporal Winford J. McAnally, in charge of the six Marines and three civilian volunteers at this position, was trying to hold the Japanese south of the airstrip. Fire from the .50 caliber gun position, had halted the enemy advance along the road, but the enemy now attempted to infiltrate around the strong point. McAnally contacted another machine gun position some 400 yards to the south on the atoll's east shore, and these two sections alternated in firing at the enemy.

This Japanese force probably was the Itaya unit. This reinforced company evidently infiltrated behind the Putnam-Hanna position at the 3-inch gun while the Uchida company remained near the beach to deal with that weapon which had fired on the patrol craft. The enemy at first had trouble locating McAnally's gun section, but before daylight they were all around the position. McAnally's men continued to hold, however, and the corporal's reports to Devereux gave the major his only link with the action south of the command post.

By 0500, a half hour before dawn, it was clear that the Japanese had a superior force firmly established on the atoll, and that the enemy was free to infiltrate almost at will around and between the isolated positions of the defenders. At this time Commander Cunningham sent his message, "Enemy on island issue in doubt."23 But actually there was little doubt, although the defenders were far from admitting it at that point. The 500 defenders on the atoll were then outnumbered approximately two to one by the enemy; but what was worse, the Marines had their mission and their own atoll against them. "Little Wake" has a vulnerable shore line about 21 miles in length, and the defenders had insufficient men to man even a minimum of their antiaircraft and seacoast guns and at the same time the beach defenses. On Wake Island alone, nearly


half of the 200 defenders had to remain at Batteries A and E, and another 15 Marines manned machine guns and searchlights at Heel Point where the island's east leg crooks toward Camp Two. Thus only about 85 men could oppose the enemy landing force, and half of these were machine-gun crewmen. Marines serving as riflemen against the enemy on Wake Island numbered between 40 and 45.

When Cunningham sent his message, Major Putnam still held the position around Hanna's gun, but the Japanese now had these Marines surrounded. Here the defenders had sustained a number of casualties, including the death of Captain Elrod.24 Camp One also continued to hold, and Lieutenant Poindexter had rejoined his small mobile reserve force near the road junction west of the airstrip. There at first dawn the Marines were taken under heavy fire from the brush off their left (north) flank. Light mortar shells began to fall around the gun positions, and one of the .30 caliber weapons was put out of action. In danger of being outflanked here, Poindexter ordered a withdrawal to Camp One where he would consolidate for his final stand. The unit displaced by section in 150-yard bounds, and arrived at Camp One shortly after daybreak. There Poindexter organized his defenders along a semi-circular line facing seaward and to the southeast. In this line he had about 40 riflemen and 10 machine guns.

Lieutenant Kliewer and his three Marines had survived the night beside the mine field generator, but a heavy Japanese attack threatened them just before dawn. This was repulsed by close-in fighting with submachine guns and grenades, but the Japanese came back again at dawn. This time the enemy made a shouting bayonet charge against the Marines, but again Kliewer and his men, now aided by the .50 caliber machine guns at the west end of the airstrip, managed to halt the attack.

Enemy pressure against McAnally's machine-gun position east of the airstrip also increased during the hour before dawn. The Marine strong point now had been located, and the defenders were under heavy attack by small-arms fire and grenades. McAnally's gunners already had broken up a number of enemy rushes by holding their fire until it would be most effective, but these 10 men could not expect to hold out for long against the reinforced company opposing them.

This was clear also to Devereux at the command post, and at 0530 he directed Major Potter, who until now had assisted in the command post, to assemble every headquarters, service, supply, or casual Marine in the command post area, including Corporal Graves' detached squad from Battery D, and to form a final defensive line approximately 100 yards south of the command post. This force of approximately 40 men would take up positions astride the north-south main road. Devereux then telephoned Captain Godbold on Peale and directed him to truck his entire Battery D, plus the few .50 caliber gunners, to the battalion command post for immediate employment as infantry. With these orders, the atoll's final reserve, totaling approximately 30 officers and men, was committed.

By 0600 McAnally's position was nearly surrounded and under continual infantry25


attack. This he did shortly after 0600, when McAnally was ordered to withdraw northward and join Major Potter's line.

After Captain Godbold's reserve force left Peale Island, First Lieutenant Kessler became commander there since his Battery B was all that remained on the island. In the light of dawn Kessler could see on Wilkes a line of Japanese flags across the center of the island, and a large enemy flag waving from the approximate position of Marine Gunner McKinstry's provisional Battery F. This he reported to Major Devereux, who could only conclude that Wilkes, which had been silent since about 0300, had shared the fate which now appeared imminent for Wake Island.

Above the brush and slight rise of ground which topped the west leg of Wake Island, Kessler could also see the superstructure of Patrol Craft 32. Observing that the ship appeared intact, Kessler at 0600 requested major Devereux's permission to fire on it. Although the line of fire and intervening partial mask26 made this hazardous, the request was approved, and on the first salvo Battery B shot away the ship's mainmast. As a result of subsequent adjustment, the ship was hit about the superstructure and upper hull. It finally caught fire.

Meanwhile Second Lieutenant Robert W. Greeley had reached the command post with the first 20 men from Battery D. There Major Potter, Trying to piece out and extend his sparse line to the right (west), directed that the reinforcements be placed on that flank around the edge of the clearing originally dozed out to prepare for the north-south leg of the airstrip. Captain Godbold arrived with other reinforcements at about 0700,27 and these men joined those already emplaced by Greeley. This line now turned to the right (north) to refuse the flank along the edge of the clearing. Potter's line, now containing about the equivalent of a rifle platoon, thus extended from near the beach, across the two roads south of the CP, and to the airstrip clearing where it made a northward turn. Thus a gap of approximately 450 yards existed between the skirmish line and the shore of the lagoon. This gap the defenders would attempt to cover by fire.

By daylight the atoll defenders could make out the large task force which supported the landing operations. There were then 13 ships at various positions around the island (the four cruisers of Cruiser Division 6 were out of sight east of Wake), and all of them were keeping a safe distance from the 5-inch shore batteries. "Due to the previous experience with the American shore batteries," a senior Japanese officer said later, "we did


not want to come within range."28 In spite of this caution, however, the destroyer Mutsuki began at 0654 to lead two other destroyers (probably the Yayoi and the Mochizuki ) in toward Wilkes Island, possibly to fire shore bombardment missions. But fire from Battery B on Peale quickly hit the Mutsuki, and the formation turned and scurried away. Observers believed that Kessler's fire also hit the second destroyer in the formation after the ships turned, and that the Mutsuki later sank, but Japanese records do not confirm this.

Father to the northwest the two Japanese carriers Soryu and Hiryu headed upwind with their cruiser and destroyer escort,29 and at 0700 "the gallant Eagles of the Navy," as the Japanese Naval Information Service styled them, approached Wake at 6,000 feet. As the formation wheeled over Peacock Point, Battery E opened fire in what was the last antiaircraft action of the battle. The formation split into component groups according to mission, and commenced a methodical and unceasing series of air strikes in close support of the special landing force. Wilkes, Peale, and Wake Island were hit repeatedly.

Dive bombers now battered Kessler's 5-inch gun battery on Peale Island, and the air-supported enemy troops began to move rapidly against Major Potter's line south of the defense battalion command post. Battery E also was being attacked by the carrier planes, and Devereux believed that Wilkes Island and most of the west leg of Wake Island already had fallen to the Japanese. Shortly after 0700 the major called Commander Cunningham and told him that organized resistance could not last much longer. Was there a chance that the relief expedition might yet arrive? No chance at all, Cunningham said.

And there was no chance, although up until two and a half hours earlier than this he men in Task Force 14 thought there might be. During the night of 22-23 December (21-22 December at Hawaii) Vice Admiral William S. Pye, acting CinCPac pending the arrival of Admiral Nimitz from Washington, had been in conference about this relief force for Wake. The officers at Pearl Harbor knew that Admiral Fletcher was running a close race, and they were concerned that this task force would be lost, along with Wake, if the race ended in a dead heat. At one point they decided to order the Tangier to make a solitary dash for the atoll while the Saratoga, then some 425 miles short of Wake, launched Major McCaul's planes from that distance. But this order was countermanded before Fletcher could begin its execution; and finally at 0811 Hawaiian time (some two and a half hours before Wake was to surrender) Task Force 14 was recalled. The force spent most of the day refueling its cruisers, and that night retired toward Midway.

Commander Cunningham and Major Devereux decided that additional defense efforts would be hopeless, and the island commander made the decision to surrender. Acting on these orders, Devereux carried a white flag out of his CP at 0730 and walked south along the shore road to meet the Japanese.


The Fight on Wilkes Island

"At this time," states a Japanese report, "Wilkes Island was the scene of a fierce and desperate battle."30 Here at 0245 Gunner McKinstry fired the first shots in the battle of Wake when he saw barges approaching to land at a point just west of the new channel. After this first burst from gun 10 (see Wilkes map) a Marine searchlight flashed on to reveal the 100 men of the Takano Unit coming through the surf and onto the beach. But by this time the Wilkes detachment was completely disposed to repel a landing, thanks to the earlier and erroneous report of a landing on Peale Island.

When that False alarm sounded, Captain Platt ordered two Battery L gun sections (each about the size of a rifle squad) to positions on the lagoon side of the island, and pulled the remainder of Battery L personnel back to defensive positions along the road near the new channel. Extra ammunition and grenades were issued, and the Battery F personnel were instructed to fire against any landing for as long as they could, and then to pull back across the road to join the men of Battery L. Thus the Battery l position, commanded by Lieutenant McAlister, was well prepared when the Japanese barges hit the beach near that defensive site.

The searchlight beam lasted for only a minute in the face of the Japanese attack, but McKinstry continued to fire at the landing craft he could see on the beach, and McAlister sent two men down toward the beach to hurl grenades at the Japanese. Enemy fire killed on of these men and wounded the other. Battery F then began to fire into the landing area with their 3-inch shells cut for muzzle-burst, but the attack came on up the beach so rapidly that these guns soon were unable to depress sufficiently to engage the Japanese.

Gunner McKinstry had crossed to the 3-inch guns to direct this air-burst fire, but it soon became apparent to him that the position could not hold. The enemy continued to expand their beachhead, and a strong force near Battery F was throwing grenades in among the Americans. The gunner removed the firing locks from the 3-inch guns, and then directed his men to retire to their designated infantry position on the right flank of McAlister's line beyond the road. Japanese tried to pursue this withdrawal, but McKinstry's men drove them back.

McKinstry and McAlister now were in good position to protect themselves and to guard the road to Wake Island, but there was little to stop the Japanese from moving farther west and spreading out over all of Wilkes Island unless fire from machine-guns 9 and 10 could aid the main defense line to keep the enemy bottled up around the abandoned 3-inch guns. Gun 9 was already delivering flanking fire against these Japanese, and the enemy advance was temporarily checked. The Takano troops now turned their attacks to knock out this machine gun, but its position was well prepared and well camouflaged. Although nearly surrounded, the Marines on this gun continued to hold and to repel attacks which kept up until dawn.

Meanwhile Captain Platt, in his CP behind the former positions of Battery L, was having the same sort of communications trouble that plagued Major Devereux on Wake Island. By 0300 the captain had lost contact with every position except that


Map 6: Situation on Wilkes Island


of the beleaguered men on Gun 9. From them he learned that the enemy were building up pressure to extend their beachhead farther inland. At about 0400 Captain Platt moved out to the Gun 11 position near the beach, and from there he crept through the brush to a vantage point east of Gun 10. It was now about 0500, and Platt decided quickly that he must mount a counterattack if the Japanese were to be prevented from staging daylight attacks which would enable them to overrun Gun 9 and spread out into the interior of the island.

He hurried back to Gun 10 and ordered Platoon Sergeant Raymond L. Coulson to round up the .30 caliber machine-gun crews and searchlight personnel from Kuku Point, plus anyone else he could lay hold of, and assemble them at Gun 10 for the counterattack. In 25 minutes Coulson was back with the two machine-gun crews and eight riflemen--about a squad in all. These men the captain led back through the underbrush toward the Japanese.

The Marines crept and crawled to within 50 yards of the Japanese. Platt then placed his two machine guns on each flank of his line of departure, and ordered the gunners to fire their short bursts close to the ground so this fire would not endanger the McAlister and McKinstry line farther to the east. By this time dawn was breaking, and Platt quickly drew up his skirmish line of eight Marines. He signaled the machine guns to open fire, and then he led his riflemen forward against the 100 men of the Takano unit.

At about this time on the other side of the Japanese position, Lieutenant McAlister had observed a six-man enemy patrol moving toward his Marines, and he ordered his line to open fire. One enemy was killed and the others sought cover behind a large coral rock near the beach. McAlister's men continued to fire into this area to keep the Japanese pinned down while Gunner McKinstry and Private First Class William C. Halstead worked their way out to this rock and finished off the rest of the patrol.

Meanwhile Platt's counterattack had surprised the other flank of the penetration, and the Japanese at that point were in trouble. Obviously they had expected no opposition from the west, and their light machine guns had been sighted for fire to the east against the McAlister-McKinstry line. Platt's attack carried the Marines into the former position of Battery F, and the Japanese were driven back toward the beach and toward the Marine defense line by the island road.

It was now daylight, and McAlister could see this Marine attack on the far side of the Japanese position. When his men finished mopping up the enemy around the rock near the beach, the lieutenant gathered 24 Marines into a skirmish line of his own and launched a counterattack from his side of the battlefield. The men of the Takano landing force panicked. Organized resistance evaporated in front of the two Marine attacks, and the forces of Platt and McAlister soon joined. About 30 Japanese fled to shelter around the Marine searchlight truck southeast of the Battery F guns, and there the Marines under Platt and McAlister flushed them out and killed them. The Takano unit Wilkes had been destroyed.

McAlister counted four officer and 90 enlisted bodies while his men policed up the battlefield and removed the flags the Japanese had placed in the ground to mark


their front lines. Two wounded Japanese were captured. The other four Japanese--if the Takano unit actually included an even 100--were not accounted for. Marines found several small maps of Wake in the effects of the dead Japanese, and Marine positions were marked accurately on these maps. The photographic missions over the atoll had obviously paid off well.

By 0800 Captain Platt had reorganized his Wilkes defenders, and he again tried to establish contact with Wake Island. He was able to contact the motor pool at Camp One where Poindexter's force had managed to hold throughout the night, but he could not get through to Devereux at the defense battalion CP. At about noon the men on Wilkes observed Japanese landing boats headed for Wake Island and several ships approaching toward Wilkes channel. Platt ordered McAlister to get his 5-inch guns into action against these vessels, but the gun crews found that the weapons were beyond use. The training mechanism on Gun 1 was wrecked, and the Gun 2 recoil cylinder had been riddled by bomb fragments.

Wilkes had been under attack by the dive bombers which had arrived over the atoll at about 0700, but sign language interrogation of the wounded prisoners indicated that the enemy planned no more landings against this section of the atoll. Platt decided to go find the enemy. He ordered McAlister, McKinstry, and Coulson to round up all the men and to strike out east toward the old channel. Dive bombers attacked this route column as it moved down the island, and a destroyer moved in to open up from 2,000 yards. One Marine, Private First Class Robert L. Stevens, was killed by this bombing, but the action against the Marines suddenly ceased.

Platt moved the men forward again in a dispersed formation, and near the old channel he saw three men advancing from the other direction. Two were obviously Marines, Platt decided, but the figure in the rear was a Japanese officer armed with a large sword. The captain moved forward and soon recognized Major Devereux who told him that the island had been surrendered. It was then shortly after 1330. Platt's force did not get a chance to help in the fighting on Wake Island, but it had given such a good account of itself in earlier action that a Japanese officer was prompted later to make this estimate of the Wilkes fighting: "In general, that part of the operation was not successful."31

The Surrender and After

Prior to moving down the road toward the Japanese, who were still receiving determined small-arms fire from the few Marines south of the command post, Major Devereux passed word of the surrender to all units in communication with his command post. These were Batteries A and E on Wake Island, Battery B on Peale, and other small detachments including those at Heel point, and some of the .50 caliber positions on Wake Island. Communications with Battery A had been restored at about daybreak. All units were ordered to destroy their materiel as best they could prior to actual surrender.

These instructions were carried out with all possible thoroughness. At Battery E an attempt was made to damage the 3-inch antiaircraft guns by stuffing blankets into the muzzles and then firing a round or two. When this failed to produce appreciable


results, the firing locks were removed and smashed, and grenades were rolled down the muzzles to explode inside and damage the rifling. All electrical fire control data receivers were smashed, electric cables chopped up, and the battery commander fired twenty rounds of .45 caliber ammunition through the delicate optical and electro-mechanical parts of the height finder and director. After completing these measures, Lieutenant Lewis assembled the men of Battery E and marched them under a white flag to the battalion command post.

At Battery A, the 5-inch firing locks were broken and buried, and all gun telescopes smashed. The range keeper was damaged beyond repair. After that a white flag was run up, and Lieutenant Barninger ordered his men to eat as much as they could hold. He then held his men on the position to await arrival of the Japanese. Elsewhere, the hard-pressed riflemen stripped the bolts from their rifles and flung them into the brush.

It was after 0800 before all this had been attended to, and the rifle fire of Potter's line was still covering the final operations of the command post. Major Devereux then tried to contact the Marine aid stations located some 300 yards south of the CP. He believed that the Japanese advance must have reached this point, and he wanted to instruct the battalion surgeon to contact the Japanese. But there was no response from the aid station, and it became apparent that a surrender party must go forward from the CP. Major Devereux and Sergeant Donald Malleck, who carried a white rag tied to a mop-handle, then made their way down the road toward the fighting. At the Marine line Devereux ordered Potter's men to hold their fire, and he and Malleck walked on toward the Japanese.

Near the hospital Devereux and the sergeant were halted by a Japanese rifleman who motioned for them to throw down their arms and helmets. Then the soldier took them to the hospital where the Japanese already were in charge. They had killed one patient and wounded another while capturing the hospital, and how they had all the patients outside trussed up with telephone wire. Commander Cunningham arrived by truck while Devereux was explaining his mission to an English-speaking Japanese officer, and the Marine major turned over his surrender duties to he island commander. A Japanese officer then escorted Devereux and Malleck forward to pass the surrender order to Marine units on the west leg of Wake Island and on Wilkes Island.

They found the VMF-211 riflemen and Hanna's unit still holding around the 3-inch gun in spite of continuing efforts by the Japanese. The Japanese, unable to advance, had taken up positions behind nearby plane revetments, and the fighting here was a deadlock. Captain Tharin was the only officer unwounded in the Marine position, and he was directing the action when Major Devereux contacted him at 0930. There were now but 10 Marines surviving, and nine of them were wounded.

At 1014 Devereux reached Lieutenant Kliewer and his three men beside the mine field generator. These men had been trying since 0900 to coax some life into the gasoline generator so they could blow up the airfield, but the rain during the night had given it a thorough soaking and it would not operate. "Don't surrender, lieutenant," one of the men told Kliewer. "Marines never surrender. It's a hoax."


"It was a difficult thing to do," Kliewer reported later, "but we tore down our guns and turned ourselves over."32

Shortly before 1115 the surrender party, now west of the airstrip, came upon the rear of a Japanese skirmish line facing westward and evidently engaged in a fire fight against Marines n the brush beyond the west end of the strip. After some confusion during which the Japanese fired on the surrender group, Major Devereux passed through the lines and made contact with Lieutenant Poindexter. The lieutenant's mobile reserves, in ignorance of the surrender, had retaken the ground between Camp One and the west end of the strip during the morning's fighting. When Devereux came upon Poindexter, the 30-odd Marines in this force had just completed a steady eastward advance from Camp One, fighting their way forward along the beach with the edge of the brush to their left. Special naval landing force troops were in the thick brush to the north, but they had not attempted to attack the Marines. Divided into three 10-man squads, Poindexter's improvised platoon had advanced with two squads in assault, one on the seaward side of the road and the other north of the road. The support squad protected the exposed left flank by advancing in rear of the left assault squad. During the advance, particularly as he neared the airfield and retraced by daylight the scenes of his fighting during the night, Lieutenant Poindexter counted approximately 80 enemy dead.

After assuring the surrender of this force, Major Devereux led the Japanese toward Camp One, still held by machine-gun sections of Poindexter's group. There the Marine prisoners watched a Japanese climb up the water tank and cut down the American flag which had been flying there throughout the battle.

The surrender group, followed by approximately 30 Japanese, then crossed Wilkes channel by launch. No Marines were to be seen when Devereux landed at about 1300, and the party began walking cautiously westward. At this time the enemy destroyer began firing on the island, but this fire was soon checked by a Japanese signalman who flagged the ship to silence. At 1330, almost midway between the new and old channels on Wilkes, Major Devereux say "a few grubby, dirty men who came out of the brush with their rifles ready..." These were Platt's marines who had annihilated the Takano landing party on Wilkes and now were advancing eastward to repel what they thought was still another landing. Thus all resistance had been silenced, and Wake now was in Japanese hands.

[See Volume V for further details on the fate of the captives after surrender.]


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (3) * Next Chapter (5)


[1] Unless otherwise noted the material in Chap 4 is derived from Devereux Rept; Putnam Rept; (Officer's name) Repts, especially LtCol W. McC. Platt Rept, 1stLt J.A. McAlister Rept, MG C.B. McKinstry Rept; Devereux Interview; replies to HistSec questionaire by Col G.H. Potter, LtCol W. McC. Platt, LtCol A.A. Poindexter; Capture of Wake; Wake Attack; Hawaii-Malaya NavOps; Devereux Story.

[2] This unit, along with a few Marines from supply and administration sections and 15 Navy enlisted men commanded by BM 1stCl James E. Barnes, was also responsible for the defense of Camp One.

[3] The latter-day Masefield was Kayoshi Ibushi of the Japanese Naval Information Section. "This reporter," as he later said of himself, "... was able to have the honor of taking the first step upon the island as a man of letters ... the capture of Wake Island ... was so heroic that even the gods wept." Hawaii-Malaya NavOps, 32.

[4] One account says 500 men of this force wre on the two destroyer-transports. At this time all SNLF units attached to the Fourth Fleet were concentrated for the seizure of Wake in much the same manner that U.S. Fleet Marine Force units would have been employed.

[5] The exact number of Japanese troops who fought on Wake has not been determined. Adm Morison cites Marine estimates that "at least 1,200 troops landed early on the 23rd," and that others came ashore after the surrender. Rising Sun in the Pacific, 245.

[6] Itaya's name and that of his company appears in one Japanese source as "Itatani." Hawaii-Malaya NavOps, 28.

[7] Ibid.

[8] The Japanese list 0235 as the official time of their landing. Statements of Marine officers do not agree. Some say the landings came at about 0130, while others place the time almost an hour later. In his official report, Devereux gives the time of landing on Wilkes at 0215, but his published narrative says 0120. Yet a subsequent study convinced him that the time of 0235 was closer to the fact. Excepting the variances concerning events during these dark early hours of the battle, Marine accounts agree generally as to events after daylight.

[9] Btry A (Peacock Point) and Btry L (Wilkes).

[10] One of the advantages of the Navy 5"/51 for seacoast defense missions was that it had 360° train, as contrasted to the limited traverse of the 155mm field guns used by the Army for this role. In this instance, however, terrain masks, slight though they were, prevented either A or L from bearing.

[11] 1stLt R.M. Hanna Rept to CO, 1stDefBnDet, 11Oct45, 2. Of these three civilians, two (Paul Gay and Bob Bryan) were subsequently killed in action, and the third, Eric Lehtola, was wounded. Hanna states thay they fought with "exceptional gallantry."

[12] These two sections had been sited to provide antiaircraft fire as well as final protective fire along the airstrip. This conformed with defense battalion practice, but the light of hindsight prompted Devereux to wish that he had moved these sections closer to he beach where they could have been tied in with the general line.

[13] These 3-inch Army antiaircraft guns were equipped only for indirect fire at aerial targets, and they had no sights or other fire control equipment to facilitate direct sighting by local control.

[14] Hawaii-Malaya NavOps, 33.

[15] Lewis.

[16] MSgt R.M. June reply to HistSec, HQMC, questonnaire, 11Mar47, 2.

[17] "Up-to-strength" was a relative term on Wake. The 1941 tables of organization allowed such batteries two officers and 75 enlisted men. At this time Battery E had two officers and about 50 men.

[18] Although Japanese sources do not mention such interior landings the evidence to support them is generally convincing. The rubber boats did not enter the lagoon through the channel between Wilkes and Wake Island, because this narrow channel was covered throughout the battle. Devereux surmises that the boats entered the lagoon at the open end of the atoll between Kuku and Toki Points. Such landings would explain, without necessarily ruling out infiltration, the early presence of individual Japanese at various points along the lagoon shore. One Japanese source does mention that red rocket flares were to be used as a signal that "We have succeeded in landing." Hawaii-Malaya NavOps, 33.

[19] Kinney Interview. At about this time Maj Putnam, already wounded, told his men, "This is as far as we go." Six hours later, when the island fell, they still held.

[20] Col Devereux suggests that some of the machine-gun fire which swept through the Peacock triangle might have come from firendly weapons. He points out that Marines had .30 or .50 caliber machine gun sections on virtually the entire perimeter of the triangle.

[21] Capture of Wake, II, 372.

[22] Barninger's report also speaks of occasional fire from "a small field piece." LtCol C.A. Barninger Rept, 6. This may have been a 70mm howitzer of the type organic to Japanese infantry battalions.

[23] Wake File.

[24] The Japanese sustained at least 62 casualties trying to take this gun position, and one of them was Lt Uchida, the company commander.

[25] Among the Japanese killed before his position at about this time were two flame-thrower operators. Although use of flame is not recorded, this was perhaps the earliest tactical employment of this weapon in the Pacific island war.

[26] Kessler had to train the flat-trajectory 5"/51's so as to fire across Flipper Point and just clear the crest of Wake Island. The line of fire passed less than 250 yards to the west of Lt Kliewer's position at the generator.

[27] Like so many other questons as to exact times of events during the defense of Wake, this one is subject to conflictng testimony. Maj Potter states that Godbold reached the command post at 0600. Godbold gives 0715 as the time. Other sources, while not giving times, put the arrival of Battery D shortly after daybreak. Balancing all accounts against each other, 0700 or shortly before seem to be the best synthesis.

[28] Hawaii-Malaya NavOps, 29.

[29] In addition to the two carriers, this task force was composed of the new 12,000-ton heavy cruisers Chikuma Tone, and six destroyers, two of which were Tanikaze and Urakaze.

[30] Hawaii-Malaya Navops, 29.

[31] Capture of Wake, II, 372.

[32] 1stLt D.D. Kliewer Rept.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation