During December 1941, the stubborn defense of Wake by less than 450 Marines galvanized not only the American public but their comrades in arms. In days of disaster then, as of uncertainty later, the thought of Wake and its defenders encouraged Marines to hang on longer, and to fight more resolutely. Small in time and numbers though the action was by comparison with Guadalcanal or the other great battles to come, Wake will never be forgotten.

To my mind, in addition to the obvious military lessons which may be drawn from any battle, be it victory or defeat, the defense of Wake points up two soldierly characteristics which may well be remembered by Marines. These are military adaptability, and the realization that, first and always one must be prepared to face ultimate close ground combat with the enemy.

The officers and men of the 1st Defense Battalion on Wake were artillerymen of a highly specialized type; those of VMF-211 were aviation technicians. neither group let its specialized training or background prevent it from fighting courageously and well as basic infantry when the chips were down. Despite its specialization, each group did the best it could with what it had.

These capabilities and attributes, I submit, should characterize Marines now as they characterized those Marines on Wake, who, though they were outnumbers and eventually overwhelmed, were never outfought.

General, U.S. Marine Corps
Commandant of the Marine Corps


"The Defense of Wake," a monograph prepared by the Historical Section, Division of Public Information, Headquarters United States Marine Corps, is one of a series of operational monographs designed to provide both student and casual reader with thorough and complete narratives of the major operations in which Marine Corps units participated during World War II. As a sufficient number of monographs are brought to completion, these in turn will be condensed and edited for final compilation into official operational history.

Production of this monograph on the defense of Wake has presented special problems. Not only are the character and scale of the action much different from those ordinarily encountered in the operational history of the Marine Corps during the past war, but the sources are far less reliable and more subject to error than would ordinarily be the case.

Virtually all the documentation of the operation was produced five or more years after the battle was concluded, and there is scarcely an original source which does not somewhere allude to the possible fallibility of memory during the interval. As a result, even in cut-and-dried matters, such as important dates or casualty figures, the reader must accord a tolerance more broad than would ordinarily be acceptable in a historical study. In cases of conflict--and there have been many--the historian has been forced to weigh evidence, compromise, deduce, and reconstruct, processes which may produce results unacceptable to isolated individual recollections.

This preface would not be complete without acknowledgment of the generous and scholarly assistance of the Office of Naval History and especially of the Navy's operational historian, Capt. Samuel Eliot Morison, USNR, together with his assistant, Lt. Comdr. Henry Reck, USNR. Both of these officers have rendered invaluable aid in research and criticism.

For cartographic assistance, acknowledgment must go to the Reproduction Section, Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Va.

All photographs are United States Marine Corps or Navy official.

Above all, however, credit must be given to the numerous officers, all survivors of Wake, who, in lengthy interviews or by painstaking replies to official questionnaires did so much to clarify the record as to what actually took place. It is strongly hoped that these and others with first-hand experience will make possible further improvement of this narrative either by submitting comments, or when in Washington, by visiting the Historical Section, Division of public Information, Headquarters United States Marine Corps, for interview and discussion of the points involved.

Brigadier General, U.S. Marine Corps
Director, Division of Public Information

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