Chapter 2: The Enemy Strikes


The Pan American Airways Philippine Clipper, which had spent the night of 7-8 December at Wake, embarked passengers shortly after sunrise on Monday morning,[1] 8 December, taxied out into the calm green of the lagoon, took take-off position, and at 0655 soared outward toward Guam. Ashore on Wake the usual 0600 reveille had broken out the Marines, all of whom were well rested after their Sunday of holiday routine. Breakfast was being concluded in the mess halls, and many Marines were already 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 set up by Captain Wilson near the air strip, an operator was coming up on frequency with the base at Hickam Field on Oahu, when, at 0650, a frantic uncoded, procedureless transmission cut through from Hickam: Oahu was under enemy air attack.

Captain Wilson made for Major Devereux's tent, and delivered it to the defense commander. major Devereux, after attempting unsuccessfully to reach Commander Cunningham by telephone, called the base communication shack, and learned that a coded priority[2] transmission just in from Pearl was now being broken down. Without hesitating further, Major Devereux dropped the telephone, called for the field music on watch and ordered him to sound "call to Arms".[3]

Marines piled into the trucks which rolled to the battery areas in Camp 1 as gunnery sergeants broke out their men and checked to see that they had their rifles and ball ammunition. By 0735, all positions had reported manned and ready, a defense battalion officers' conference had been briefly held, and a watch had been established as previously planned atop the water tank OP in Camp 1.

Aviation, which already had the dawn patrol airborne prior to arrival of the news from Pearl, was initiating measures for the safety of the 12 new Wildcats as the Philippine Clipper, recalled only 10 minutes out of Wake, circled and let down into the lagoon. At the air strip something close to consternation existed. VMF-211, which had been on Wake but four days, one a holiday, could hardly be said to have gotten established. Although dispersed aircraft revetments were being dozed up and would be ready by 1400 that day, the equally necessary net of access roads which, for the sake of the airplanes, had to be smoothly surfaced, was also uncompleted. The small size of the existing parking area prohibited dispersal beyond rather narrow limits. Major Putnam was thus confronted with a dilemma which he described as follows:

The Squadron Commander was faced with a choice between two major decisions, and inevitably he chose the wrong one. Work was progressing simultaneouslyon six of the protective bunkers for the airplanes, and while none was available for immediate occupancy, all would be ready not later than by 1400. Protection and camouflage for facilities were not available but could be made ready within 24 hours. Fox holes 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.

Thus the primary morning activities of VMF-211's handful of pilots and mechanics were to disperse the aircraft as widely as possible in the open parking area and usable vicinity, to relocate the squadron radio installation from its original temporary site to one under cover, and, above all, to commence arming and servicing all aircraft for combat, in itself no light job.

At 0800, but a few hours after the gutted and blazing Arizona's colors had been broken out aboard the dying ship, under a hail of enemy fire at Pearl Harbor, Morning Colors sounded on Wake, and the flag announced to all hands the garrison's determination and courage for the job ahead.

Defensive preparations hummed throughout Wake. Full allowances of ammunition were dropped off by truck at each unit; the few spare individual weapons in Marine storerooms were issued--as far as they went--to the unarmed AAF soldiers and to the naval air base bluejackets; gas masks and the old style World War I helmets, on hand only for Marines, were distributed to the battery positions. On order from Major Devereux, watches were set at fire-control instruments and guns, while the balance of personnel worked on fox holes, filled the few remaining sandbags at hand, and set about other measures of defensive fortification. The 3-inch antiaircraft batteries were specifically directed to keep one gun, plus all fire-control instruments, fully manned.

Initial command posts, not only for Marine units, but for the island commander, were hastily set up, in most instances for the time being resembling that of the 1st Defense Battalion detachment, which was simply a switchboard in the brush just east of Camp 1. Commander Cunningham's was located in Camp 2, and VMF-211's remained in the squadron office tent, personnel being unavailable from more pressing duties, such as belting extra ammunition and transferring bulk fuel into more dispersable drums.

At 0900, Major Putnam's four-plane combat air patrol returned to base, and after refueling and taking a smoke and stretch, the four pilots[4] clambered back into F4Fs 9 through 12, took off, executed their section rendezvous and climbed to 12.000 feet, scouting the most likely sectors for enemy approach south of Wake. Shortly afterward, the first pilot of the Philippine Clipper, Capt. J.H. Hamilton, reported to Major Putnam at VMF-211's headquarters, with orders from the Island Commander to prepare to conduct a long-range southward search with fighter escort during the afternoon.[5]

While VMF-211's combat air patrol was making a swing north of Wake at 12,000 feet, a half mile below them 36 twin-tailed Japanese bombers droned 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. As the group leader signalled for the gliding let-down in his 10,000-foot approach, he noted that the south coast of the atoll was masked by a drifting rain squall at about 2,000 feet. The three divisions, in 12-plane Vs, dropped rapidly down into the squall and emerged a few second later, almost on top of the Wake airstrip.

At 1158, First Lieutenant Lewis, commanding Battery E at Peacock Point, chanced to look skyward just in time to see a V of 12 strange aircraft heading over a point just midway between Camp 1 and Peacock Point. He jumped for a field telephone connected to the "J"-line as a spray of bright sparks began to sail through the air ahead of the formation, and, as one civilian exclaimed, "the wheels dropped off the airplanes." 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, and, within a matter of seconds, two of Battery E's 3-inch guns were barking at the Japanese, using fire-control data supplied by Lewis's estimate.[6] All along the south shore of Wake, as enemy incendiary bullets began to prickle and spit, .50 caliber antiaircraft machine guns opened fire.

A closed spaced pattern of 100-pound fragmentation bombs and 20-mm. incendiary bullets laced the entire VMF-2311 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 2, one division broke off, swung back and approached Camp 1 and the airstrip from the westward over Kuku Point, and headed for the Pan American installations on Peale, which were likewise heavily attacked. By 1210, the enemy divisions had expended bombs and ammunition, turned away, rendezvoused and commenced their climb back to cruising altitude. "The pilots in every one of the planes were grinning widely. Everyone waggled his wings to signify 'BANZAI'."[7]

On the ground, despite prompt and fairly dense antiaircraft fire, not only from Battery E but from D (3-inch, Peale) and from .50 calibers all over the atoll, the enemy attack had taken telling effect, especially in and about the airstrip.

As pilots attempted to man their planes, seven of the eight F4F-3s had been burned or blasted from tail to rudder, and the remaining one had sustained serious but not irreparable damage to its reserve fuel tank. Major Bayler's air-ground radio installation was severely damaged by fragments and strafing, and the whole aviation area seemed a sea of blazing gasoline from the 25,000-gallon avgas tank which had been hit in the first strike; on all sides, as well, 50-gallon fuel drums popped 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, of 55 Marine aviation personnel then on the ground, 23 were killed outright or died of wounds before morning, and 11 more were wounded and survived. At one stroke, VMF-211 had sustained over 60 percent casualties. Two pilots (Lieutenants Graves and Holden) were killed, Lieutenant Conderman would die before daybreak, and another, Lieutenant Webb, was seriously wounded. Three more pilots, Major Putnam, Captain Tharin and Staff Sergeant Arthur, had received minor wounds but remained on their feet. Almost half of the ground crews were dead.

In Camp 2 and the adjacent Pan American area, the luxurious hotel, together with more important seaplane-base facilities, was afire, the Philippine Clipper had received a few stray machine-gun bullets, and some 10 Chamorro civilian employees of PAA had been killed.

So far as is known, the enemy escaped without the loss of a single airplane, although several of the bombers sustained damage from AA fire. The Marine combat air patrol, well above the raid and momentarily scouting to the north, had not made contact, and executed a routine landing some minutes after the attack. To add the final stroke of ill fortune, F4F number 9, piloted by Captain Elrod, was unable while landing to avoid striking its propeller on a mass of bomb debris, and it too was out of action with a bent propeller and a badly jarred engine.

Admiral Inouye might well congratulate the Twenty-fourth Air Flotilla for their devastating strike and upon their initial good fortune.

RAIDS THROUGH DECEMBE 10th


The most bitter lesson to be derived from the initial Japanese raid was of course the very short notice with which the raiders struck. This factor was undoubtedly heightened by the fortuitous rain squall which masked the enemy let-down and approach, but the complete lack of any type of early warning was much more than a matter of bad weather. it was a matter which pointed squarely at Wake's most critical shortage: the want of radar. Throughout the operation, time and time again, despite the most vigilant visual observation, Japanese planes, assisted by the ever-booming surf which masked engine-noises, would be almost at the bomb-release point by the time they were spotted.


After the enemy had departed, the immediate problem was damage-control at the airstrip. Casualties were despatched to the contractor's hospital, a one-story structure containing two wards, isolation facilities, an operating room and clinic which had been taken over as the island aid station.[8] Hardly less important than the human casualties were those inflicted by the Japanese on Major Putnam's "sleek and fat" airplanes.

The intact three (numbers 10, 11, and 12) were immediately sent aloft on combat air patrol and to safeguard them against further surprise on the ground. Before the fires were completely out, the squadron commander had designated Second Lieutenant Kinney as the replacement Engineering Officer, vice First Lieutenant Graves, who had been killed. Kinney's principal assistant was Technical Sergeant Hamilton, an enlisted aviation pilot of many years' experience in all phases of Marine Corps aviation. Within a few hours, Kinney and Hamilton had commenced the ceaseless scavenging of burnt-out wreckage for salvageable tools and parts which was to mark outstandingly the maintenance in effective operation of the remnant of VMF-211.

Other reassignments were necessitated by casualties, and these were promptly made. Captain Freuler reorganized the ordnance section, Lieutenant Kliewer took over the radio section, while Captains Elrod and Tharin, experienced Marine pilots whose diversified training had included thorough fundamental instruction in ground warfare, supervised construction of individual fox holes, shelters and infantry defensive works in the VMF-211 area. Of all these projects, the most important--in addition to that already progressing on the aircraft revetments--was the mining of the airstrip with heavy dynamite charges at 150-foot intervals. This was primarily a counter-airborne scheme, and was coordinated with deep bulldozed furrowing of all open ground about the strip where airborne landings might be accomplished. Commencing that night as a further precaution, heavy engineering equipment was parked at regular intervals so as to obstruct the runway at all times when friendly planes were not aloft. Based on what was then known of enemy capabilities, it was planned not only to continue the dawn and dusk reconnaissance flights but to maintain a noon combat air patrol to attempt interception of succeeding raids.

Throughout the atoll, the tempo of activity--except among the majority of contract workmen[9]--already swift, had been accelerated perceptibly as a result of the first air raid, which had demonstrated so graphically the enemy's power to inflict damage.

At all battery positions, individual improvement of emplacements, fox holes, camouflage and all possible defensive work was pursued. As a protection against any attempt by the enemy to force Wilkes channel, a Navy lighter, loaded with dynamite amid a stack of concrete blocks, was anchored directly in the channel. Telephone lines, exposed as they were above ground, had been pounded and whipped apart in the bombing. Steps were therefore initiated to double up key trunks and to attempt to dig the most important underground.[10] Construction of more durable and permanent command posts and shelters were likewise initiated before the day closed in a cold drizzle.

As a final, somewhat macabre touch, the bodies of Wake's first dead were taken from the hospital, which had no mortuary, to an empty reefer box at Camp 2, and were placed there pending eventual burial.

During the night, working as best they could by black-out, aviation Marines, assisted by volunteer civilian equipment operators, followed a previous design experimentally worked out at Ewa by marine Air Group 21, and completed eight blast-proof aircraft revetments. By next morning, 9 December, which dawned bright and clear, the four operational aircraft (including number 8 with the damaged reserve fuel tank) were therefore relatively safe. Plane 9, which required an engine overhaul and propeller repairs, was also being worked on within a bunker.

Forty-five minutes before dawn, at 0500, the day began with general quarters, following which the defense commander set Condition 1. This condition of readiness consisted of having all phones manned and circuits open; weapons and fire-control instruments fully manned; and battle-lookouts posted.

At 0545, after their morning warm-up, the four F4F-3s took off over Peacock Point, rendezvoused in section over the field and climbed upward to scout 60-80 mile sectors along the most probable routes of enemy approach. At 0700, by the time the fighters had finished their search and were close aboard homeward bound, the defense battalion detachment was released to Condition 2, which relaxed personnel readiness to permit only half the guns at each position to be manned, reduced fire-control instrument crews, and allowed circulation of marines around positions while at work--of which there was ample amount.

At 0730 the Grumman's returned with negative reports, and, at the airstrip, Lieutenant Kinney continued his tinkering with plane 9. With the squadron's engineering problem what it had become, it was evident that means must be established for hangar overhaul and night work by black-out. Considering these problems, Major Putnam determined to modify two of the new plane shelters by enlarging them, ramping down entrances from ground level, and roofing them over with I-beams, lumber and light-proof paulins. By this expedient it would be possible to conduct extensive overhaul and maintenance around the clock and always with maximum protection.

As the morning wore on, individuals tended to keep closer to their fox holes and peel a weather eye skyward. Based on the known distance to the mandated Marshalls, it had already been a simple matter to compute that, with a dawn take-off, Japanese bombers could reach Wake at any time after 1100.

At 1145, methodical almost to a fault, the Twenty-fourth Air Flotilla arrived over Wake from Roi. This time they were spotted by Marine Gunner H.C. Borth, who was in charge of the water tank OP. Within a few seconds after he had shouted his warning into the J-line, the air-ground radio (once mare in operation with makeshift equipment obtained by Major Bayler from the Naval Air Base), was telling the combat air patrol of the raid; on the ground, batteries were going to general quarters; and, all over the island bursts of three shots, the now accepted air-raid alarm,[11] were being fired to spread the word.

As the leading Japanese planes approached Peacock Point at 13,000 feet--a welcome change from the previous day--batteries opened fire from Peale and Peacock just before the first salvo of bombs was released. A few moments before, south of Wake, the combat air patrol had made contact with one flank of the line of division Vs, and, while the enemy planes droned steadily on at 160 knots, Lt. David D. Kliewer and Technical Sergeant Hamilton managed to cut off a straggler despite hot return fire from a top turret. As the bomber nosed down into its final, flaming spin, 3-inch high-explosive shells began to burst in and around planes of the center division, and the fighters broke off.

Bombs began to strike the ground: first on Peacock strong-point, all about Battery E, one of the 3-inch batteries now in action, damaging a 3-inch gun and shattering the range-finder of closely adjacent Battery A (5-inch seacoast). Up the east leg of Wake Island traveled the strike of bombs; Camp 2 was next. The contractor's hospital received direct hits and burst into flames; civilian and Navy barracks; garage and blacksmith shop; advance-base storehouse and machine shop--all were destroyed within a few minutes by fire or explosion. The incomplete Naval Air Station, adjacent on Peale, despite the steady fire of Battery D's 3-inch guns, took destructive hits in the aerological building, hangar, and radio station, where a greater part of Wake's Navy radio gear was destroyed on the spot.

But the tight Japanese air discipline, excellent for defense against fighters, made their formations a well-aligned, carefully closed-up, massed target for antiaircraft guns, and, but the time bombs had hit Peale, five bombers were visibly smoking from the ground. A moment later, one of these burst into a sheet of flame and disintegrated in the air, Wake's second certain kill. The other four limped toward home somehow but were still smoking[12] when the 24-power antiaircraft height-finder tracked them out of sight.

The resultant damage almost equaled that of the initial raid. The hospital, filled with wounded from the day before, burned to the ground while the two surgeons saved first the patients and then what medical supplies and equipment could be salvaged. Camp 2 and the Naval Air Station were now as badly off as the airstrip and VMF-211's area. Four Marines and 55 civilians were killed.

Japanese aviation's performance this day, however, had conveyed some lessons to the defenders. Summing them up, from 9 December until the final carrier-strikes, Major Putnam would write:

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 * * *

The afternoon of 9 December saw commencement of what would be a painfully familiar and laborious process on succeeding afternoons: the business of collecting wounded, of picking and salvaging for undamaged items amid blasted ruins, the relocation of undamaged installations in safer spots.

The Japanese attack on Peacock Point's antiaircraft battery (Battery E) suggested to Major Devereux that the enemy were working in a familiar and logical sequence. On the day before, they had struck at Wake's means of fighter defense. Today they had bombed not only the Naval Air Station but the 3-inch battery which had opened so promptly against their first raid. To protect his remaining nest-egg of AA weapons, the commanding officer of the defense detachment therefore ordered that Battery E evacuate its present position and displace to a new site some 600 yards east and north, from which the battery could carry out present antiair missions equally well. At the same time, to bring the battery up to its former effectiveness, Marine Gunner McKinstry was sent to Wilkes to pick up one of the unmanned Battery F 3-inch guns as a substitute for that knocked out by today's raid. The displacement was executed with care, one platoon (two guns) at a time, the first being set up and ready to fire at the new site before the second quit the old.

With the hospital destroyed, another pressing problem had arisen. That afternoon, therefore, the Island Commander directed that ammunition now stowed in Magazines 10 and 13--"igloos" of reinforced concrete and steel--be placed in the open to make way for two 21-bed underground wards. Interior dimensions of the erstwhile magazines were 20 by 40 feet on the sides, and, at the highest, a 15-foot overhead. Blacked-out operation of the new aid stations would of course be possible and electric lighting was to be provided by small gasoline generators. The shelters were located at the north and south ends, respectively, of a group of four such newly completed magazines. Separation of the two wards was intentional, for the sake of safety in dispersion, and medical supplies were equally divided between them. A Marine aid station, under Dr. Kahn, functioned in the southern shelter, and a Navy-civilian aid station was established in the northern one under Dr. Shank. By nightfall, both were in operation.

All through the night the Marines of Battery E labored to complete displacement. Aided by contractor's trucks and almost a hundred civilian volunteers, the guns, sandbags (too valuable and scarce to be left at the old position), fire-control equipment and ammunition were removed to the new site where emplacements were dug, sandbags refilled and the guns set down again. By 0500, just in time for dawn general quarters, Battery E was in position and ready to fire.

On 10 December, after a morning of continued defensive activity, the Japanese confirmed the defenders' expectation that the previous day represented a fair sample of the prospective pattern of life (and death) on Wake. At 1045 or a short time after, 26 of the same bombers appeared, this time from the east. Again VMF-211 intercepted, and again the squadron scored. Captain Elrod, leading the combat-air patrol, personally shot down two more bombers while the 3-inch guns slammed away.

This day's raid again hit what luckily was now the empty original 3-inch battery position at Peacock Point, although Battery E's guns were firing on the enemy from their new site. Battery D, the other active 3-inch unit, on Peale, received two successive passes by one division. During the first, although the battery very inconveniently suffered a power-plant casualty at just the wrong moment and thus had to fire on barrage data, one enemy plane was seen to catch fire, and circled back, smoking badly.

On Wilkes, however, heretofore uninjured, the enemy scored a success which compensated for his bad bombing over Peale. One stick of bombs lit squarely on a construction dump of dynamite in which 125 tone were cached west of the "New Channel."[13]

The resultant explosion denuded the greater part of Wilkes of brush, set off all 3-inch and 5-inch ready ammunition at Batteries L and F (fortunately the latter was still not in full commission), and swept the seacoast battery (L) clean of accessories, light fittings and anything else in the least movable. To everyone's amazement, casualties on Wilkes amounted to but one Marine killed, four Marines wounded, and one civilian suffering--as well he might--from shock.

Damage to Battery L was serious if not crippling. When the dazed gunners picked themselves up, they found that all battery fire-control instruments (except the gun telescopes on Gun 2) had been destroyed, blown away or damaged beyond repair. The guns themselves, rugged pieces of naval ordnance built to stand long and hard lives at sea, were similarly battered. Gun tubes were dented, firing locks torn off, training and elevating racks burred and distorted.

Battery F, the hitherto unmanned 3-inch battery, had suffered similar but not quite so serious damage. One more gun (over and above the damaged weapon which had just been towed down from Peacock Point) had suffered serious injury from blast and flying debris. Marine Gunner McKinstry who, this very morning, had been directed by the defense detachment commander to form with these guns a scratch antiboat battery from sailors and civilian volunteers, had lost half his weapons before starting in. Finally, one 60-inch searchlight on Wilkes had been knocked end-over-end, with resultant major damage to the delicate arcs, bearings, and electronic fittings of the multimillion-candlepower light.

His judgment ratified that the enemy were definitely attempting to knock out Wake's antiaircraft defenses, Major Devereux again ordered Battery E, principle object of enemy attentions, to displace, this time to a position north of the airstrip in the interior angle of the lagoon. The dummy guns set up in the original Peacock Point antiaircraft emplacements, by now rather badly battered, were renewed during the afternoon of 10 December and the unmanned fourth gun of Battery E was detached from the battery for antiboat emplacement elsewhere.[14] Reasoning which prompted selection of the site above the airstrip was subsequently explained by the battery commander:

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.


All night the Marines of Battery E sweated out a second displacement, and again before daylight the much displaced 3-inch battery was in position and ready to shoot. And they, as well as the other Marines on Wake, might well now ask, "What next?"

GENESIS OF THE RELIEF EXPEDITION


In his first message after the Pearl Harbor holocaust, President Roosevelt had warned the American people to be prepared for word of the fall of Wake. Yet before the gutted Arizona's hulk had ceased burning at Pearl Harbor, thought was being given and initial action taken to attempt a relief or reinforcement of Wake.
There were many commitments to be made, however, and few resources available. With the core of the fleet on the bottom of Pearl Harbor, there could be little question, for the time being, of a sustained and aggressive fleet defense. Wake, as well as the other outer islands, would stand or fall largely by its own strength and by the ability of its Marine garrison, perhaps slightly augmented from the small resources at Pearl Harbor, to keep from being snuffed out like Guam.

To reinforce these islands--Johnston, Palmyra, and Midway were the key points in the inner defensive area about Pearl--available Marine forces on Oahu included two defense battalions, the Third and the Fourth;[15] elements of the First Defense Battalion; and miscellaneous barracks and ships' detachment personnel. If personnel were to be found for the relief of Wake, it would constitute a charge against this meager balance.

From the standpoint of matériel, it was fortunate that a stock-pile of base-defense equipment and advanced base supplies (including radar) was already on hand at Pearl Harbor in the hands of the Marine defense Force quartermaster. Fighter aircraft, next to radar the most crucial need on Wake, were already en route to Pearl from San Diego, from which the USS Saratoga, with Marine Fighting Squadron 221 embarked, had departed at maximum speed on 8 December, at 1019 (west longitude time--this would be 9 December on Wake).

By 9 December,[16] Admiral Kimmel's staff had laid general plans for an attempt to relieve Wake. On 10 December, the next day, these had crystallized.

The expedition to Wake itself would be sent forward under cover of Task Force 14 to be composed of one carrier (Saratoga, still bearing VMF-211), Cruiser Division 6 (three heavy cruisers, Astoria, Minneapolis, San Francisco), and Destroyer Squadron 4 (9 destroyers), the Tangier, a seaplane tender suitably adapted for transportation of troops and equipment, and a fleet oiler (Neches). To divert the Japanese in the Marshalls and to provide strategic support, Task Force 11, a similar force (less transports) built around the USS Lexington, would strike enemy forces and bases supposed to exist at Jaluit, 814 miles south of Wake. In general support of Task Forces 8 and 14, Vice Admiral Halsey, in USS Enterprise, commanding a third similar task force, would operate west of Johnston Island.

Marine ground units for the relief of Wake would consist of selected elements and equipment from the Fourth Defense Battalion, which, on 10 December, were alerted for immediate embarkation. Batteries went into march order, fire-control instruments were checked for any minute flaw, and troops were issued clothing as well as the hand-etched monel-metal identification tags, still as novel as the steel helmets which all hands had donned on the 7th. Among the Marines, the destination was secret, but like many such it was badly kept: "We're headed for Wake" was the word which circulated all day on 10 December. By nightfall substantial progress had been made in equipping the tiny relief force for departure, and assembly of supplies by black-out, no simple task in those days, was well along.

Late on 10 December, however, came further orders to delay the preparation and return troops and weapons to their former battery positions. This delay--which on troop levels appeared to be a cancellation of the whole project--was occasioned by two factors: (1) necessity to await arrival of Saratoga with VMF-221, then making all speed from San Diego; and (2) desire by CinCPac's staff to complete an over-all estimate of the Pacific situation.

On 12 December, at early dawn, the relief force began loading equipment and supplies aboard the Tangier, which was berthed at Navy Yard Pier 10. Having received at least partial information from Wake as to the beleaguered island's most pressing needs, Marine supply activities at Pearl Harbor could furnish the following critical items: Three complete sets of fire-control instruments and data-transmission systems for 3-inch antiaircraft batteries, plus additional electrical data-transmission cables, and ordnance tools and spares.
Replacements--plus needed spare items--for all 5-inch seacoast fire-control and ordnance gear previously damaged.
More than 3 million rounds of belted .50 and .30 caliber machine-gun ammunition, plus ample rifle and pistol ammunition and grenades. Barbed wire, antipersonnel mines, and additional engineer tools were also included.
Nine thousand rounds of 5-inch shell and 12,000 rounds of 3-inch shell. The latter, equipped with new type 30-second mechanical time fuzes, would give the Wake antiaircraft batteries a higher ceiling and far more dependable ballistic performance than the World War I 21-second powder-train antiaircraft fuzes with which they were supplied.
Most important in this critical cargo, however, was radar--something unfamiliar even as a word to many Marines of those days. One early warning set, an SCR-270, and a primitive fire-control radar, the SCR-268, were stowed aft on the flight-deck of the Tangier.


As the loading swirled to completion on 13 December, the following Marine relief force, commanded by First Lt. R.D. Heinl, Jr.,[17] embarked aboard the Tangier:

Battery F, Fourth Defense Battalion, FMF (3-inch antiaircraft)
Battery B, Fourth Defense Battalion, FMF (5-inch seacoast)
Provisional ground and antiaircraft machine-gun detachment from Batteries H and I, Fourth Defense Battalion, FMF
Provisional headquarters and service detachment from H & S Battery, Fourth Defense Battalion, FMF
Detachment of VMF-221


While all this loading was being carried out, Cruiser Division 6, commanded by Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher, USN, remained in Pearl Harbor, awaiting arrival of the Saratoga with her load of aircraft for Wake, and the venerable Neches, of a class well-known for its slowness (12 knots with a fair wind was maximum speed), stood by to act as task force train.

By nightfall on 13 December, loading and embarkation were completed, and the Tangier shifted to a berth in upper Pearl Harbor. After darkness on the next day, 14 December, Saratoga arrived in the Hawaiian area, but was unable to enter Pearl by night while the antisubmarine nets were closed. At 0900 next morning, 15 December, Saratoga stood in and commenced to refuel, and, at 1600 the same day, the Tangier, Neches, and a temporary escort of four destroyers stood out of Pearl in a twilight sortie, to rendezvous later at sea with Saratoga and Cruiser Division 6.

Help, it seemed, was enroute to the defenders of Wake.

ENEMY PLANS AND ACTIONS DECEMBER 8 - 11TH


From Truk, Admiral Inouye, commanding the Imperial Japanese Fourth Fleet, had set numerous projects and operations in motion on 8 December. Not only was he charged by current war plans with capture and base development of Wake, but, more important, that of Guam and the Gilberts (notably Makin and Tarawa). Simultaneous operations, roughly similar, were therefore in progress on 8 and 9 December against Wake, Guam, Makin, and Tarawa.

By dark on 10 December, Guam, defended by a few Marines with no weapons larger than machine guns, had fallen to an outnumbering naval attack force. Earlier that same day, Makin had surrendered, and Tarawa had been raided by a Japanese landing party which had rummaged about while the British authorities lay in hiding, and withdrawn after taking a few prisoners.

Wake alone remained. Despite its small size, and the offhand manner in which Admiral Inouye's directive from higher authority had dismissed it, the people on the ground at Truk and Kwajalein were not inclined to dismiss it so lightly, because, even though the other objectives had fallen with anticipated ease, it was known that Wake's defenses were much farther along, and it was estimated that some 1,000 troops and 600 laborers composed the defending garrison. Finally, although the initial raid had accomplished all that could possibly have been expected, it was apparent that Wake's fighter aviation still remained aggressive, and the flak, if not heavy, was continuous and prompt. Between these two, the Twenty-fourth Air Flotilla had certainly lost five of its airplanes, and at least four more "smokers" seen from Wake may well have failed to reach their base at Roi.

The Twenty-fourth Air Flotilla was composed of Air Attack Forces 1 and 3. The former, as we have seen, flew shore-based bombers, and the latter, some 15 four-engined patrol bombers (probably Kawanishi 97s). Air Attack Force 1 based on Roi., while Air Attack Force 3, which was also bombing or scouting Baker, Howland, Nauru, and Ocean islands, was for the time being at Majuro, 840 miles south of Wake.

Commander Twenty-fourth Air Flotilla was charged with preliminary air operations, including necessary aerial softening of Wake. His plan of preparing Wake for the Japanese landing was orthodox and correct. The first raid had been directed at the airstrip and VMF-211's twelve new fighters: without them succeeding raids would be easier. The second raid was essentially a mop-up for the first. Principle targets had been the naval air station, sea-plane facilities, and the various other supporting establishments which could contribute to any aviation defense of the atoll. This accomplished, the Twenty-fourth Air Flotilla could settle methodically down to the more routine business of taking out the various batteries, both antiaircraft and seacoast. With this in mind, the raid of 10 December had concentrated on Peale (where poor bombing as well as Battery D's return fire had netted the Japanese a zero return) and on Wilkes, whose dynamite cache had rewarded the airmen with a gratifyingly extensive and visible explosion.

Perhaps by the standards of aerial preparation required by the Japanese for reduction of other island objectives this could be considered adequate. Nevertheless, as events would shortly prove, the three days' bombing, while inflicting considerable damage on Wake, had been insufficient to warrant the landing as it would be attempted.

Actual conduct of this operation was delegated to Rear Admiral Kajioka, Commander Destroyer Squadron 6, whose flag flew in the new light cruiser Yubari. Perhaps the best summary of the landing plan itself comes to us from the mouth of this chief of staff:

In general, the plan was to have 150 men land on Wilkes Island and the balance, 300 men, on the south side of Wake Island to capture the airfield. The northeast coast was unsuitable for amphibious landings; also we didn't think this was too favorable a place due to the defenses. The alternative landing plan was that in the event of bad winds on the south side of the island we would land on the northeast and north coast * * * We expected to have a rough time and that we would have difficulty with a landing force of only 450 men. It was at the beginning of the war; we couldn't mass as many men as we considered necessary, and it was planned in an emergency to use the crews of the destroyers to storm the beach.


The naval force at Admiral Kajioka's disposal for the capture of Wake comprised a task force of one light cruiser (the flagship), two obsolescent light cruisers (fire support and covering duties), six destroyers, two destroyer-transports, two new transports, and two submarines.[18]

For his air support, the Twenty-fourth Air Flotilla would act as necessary inasmuch as reduction of a small "South Seas" island such as Wake could hardly be deemed of sufficient priority to warrant employment of carrier air.

The 450 men of the landing force were Kajioka's share of Special Naval Landing Force personnel assigned to the Fourth Fleet. What their armament or special equipment was is not known, but is presumed to have been that normal for Japanese infantry formations of company and battalion size: light machine guns, knee mortars, and infantry cannon.

Nor is their distribution aboard ship accurately known. It seems likely, based upon the Japanese dispositions afloat during the succeeding landing, that the Special Landing Force men--i.e., the assault echelons--probably were embarked in the two old destroyer-transports, while the follow-up garrison, and base-development echelon was assigned to the medium transports.

In anticipation of execution of all this, Admiral Kajioka's naval forces and assault shipping had arrived at Roi from Truk on 3 December. On 9 December,[19] moving by a rather circuitous track to westward of the direct line from Roi to Wake, movement to the objective commenced.

Although no American surface opposition was expected, the approach of the Japanese force was screened with customary caution. The two submarines, maintaining position approximately 75 miles ahead of the main body, were to conduct general reconnaissance plus a detailed size-up of Wake upon arrival,[20] with special attention to the possible presence of motor torpedo boats, of which the Japanese appear to have been leery throughout. Well in rear of the submarines, but 10 miles forward of the main body, a picket destroyer was stationed to make the landfall and conduct further similar reconnaissance.

As the enemy ships, now following a northward track, neared Wake on the evening of 10 December, the weather turned against them, with high winds and heavy seas. To make up for this disadvantage, however, the weather provided a natural screen behind which the approach would surely remain undetected.

This anticipation was confirmed by negative reports from the submarines and from the destroyer. The former, after executing whatever after-dark reconnaissance they could, had turned southward and proceeded to meet the main body, seemingly a rather hazardous maneuver for submarines, especially during the first days of a war.

By 0300 on the morning of 11 December, Admiral Kajioka had made his landfall, and the landing force was preparing to boat despite the heavy wind and seas. Wake, barely visible through the darkness, remained dark and silent. If the defenders were alert and their batteries manned, there was no sign to indicate it, and, with Kajioka's flagship, Yubari, in the van, the Japanese attack force commenced its final northwesterly approach to bombardment and debarkation stations 5 to 6 miles off the south shore of Wake.

THE ATTEMPTED LANDING DECEMBER 11TH


Just prior to 0300, on 11 December, after lookouts had reported ships in sight, Major Devereux discerned an indefinite but considerable naval force well offshore to the south of Wake approaching the atoll on what seemed to be a northwesterly track, led by a cruiser. As the ships closed Wake, it became apparent that the formation included cruisers, destroyers and some auxiliaries--all Japanese.


The garrison was immediately ordered to general quarters, and, after ascertaining that four aircraft were operational that morning, the defense detachment commander took steps to insure that his shore batteries were prepared to engage the now dimly-seen enemy. Emphatic orders went out to hold fire[21] for the time being, no matter how tempting the targets appeared to be. Major Devereux reasoned that the enemy force undoubtedly outgunned Wake both in effective range and weight of metal, and that premature commencement of fire would not only reveal the location and strength of the seacoast batteries, but would probably rob them of surprise, their best ally.

The enemy force, in fact composed of three light cruisers, six destroyers, two destroyer-transports and two former merchantmen now in service as transports, closed Wake cautiously, continuing on a northwesterly course and attempting, despite the heavy seas and high winds, to boat the 450 Special Landing Force troops who were supposed to capture Wake that morning. Because of the unfavorable weather, boating progressed slowly and unsatisfactorily, with some landing craft being overturned or swamped.

By 0500, just as dawn was breaking, the cruiser Yubari (force flagship, Rear Admiral Kajioka) still in the van, reached a position approximately 8,000 yards south of Peacock Point, turned westward and commenced a run, broadside-to, paralleling the south shore of Wake. Keeping about a thousand yards further to seaward of the still silent island, the other enemy ships likewise turned and proceeded westward. Although the enemy were not yet aware of it, the Yubari was already being tracked by Battery A (5-inch seacoast) on Peacock Point from which camouflage had been removed so that the guns could train.

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, laddering successive salvos in deflection from Peacock Point to the vicinity of Camp 1. As the high-velocity 6-inch shells hit near Camp 1, they set fire to the Diesel oil tanks between that place and Wilkes Channel, and Lieutenants Barninger and McAlister, respectively commanding Batteries A and L, the 5-inch batteries at Peacock and Kuku Points, were only restrained from returning fire by a repetition of the original hold-fire order. Meanwhile the Japanese ships proceeded behind the cruiser and destroyer screen to take stations for their various missions. For the best reconstruction of their maneuvers and tracks during this period, see Map 2.

At this time, with daylight now full, the action can best be described in two roughly simultaneous phases, that off Peacock Point and that off Wilkes.

After completing her initial firing run down the shore of Wake, the Yubari, apparently accompanied by the two destroyer-transports, reversed course, turning toward the atoll and thus closing the range. By 0600, she had reached a position almost due south of Battery A, some 4,500 to 6,000 yards distant.[22] Battery A's rangefinder had been put out of action during the air raid of 9 December, but, using estimated data, the battery range section was already plotting the target, and the gun sections were standing by to fire.

At 0615, the defense detachment commander, now standing on the beach beside his command post, gave orders to commence firing.

What then happened to the Yubari and her consort can best be described in the words of a report by Lieutenant Barninger:

After we ceased firing, the whole fleet having fled and there being no other targets to engage, the cruiser lay broadside to the sea still pouring steam and smoke from her side. She had a definite port list. After some time she got slowly under way, going a short distance, stopping, and continuing again; she was engulfed in smoke when she crept over the horizon.

Despite the onshore wind which carried the smoke from the burning cruiser and the protecting smoke screen down the line of sight toward Battery A, it therefore seemed certain that the Yubari had been hulled at least four times and had taken one more hit on her forward turret. As she retired southward out of 5-inch range, but still within that of her own 6-inch guns, she continued to return fire, although this slackened after the final hit on No. 1 turret. About 18,000 yards offshore, almost across the horizon, she ceased fire, having slightly wounded one Marine of Battery A.

During Peacock Point's duel with the Yubari, just described, Battery L on Wilkes had rapidly engaged a succession of enemy ships with excellent effect.

A slight initial delay in Battery L's commencement of fire had resulted from the battery commander's hesitation to fire with such rough data as could be obtained without the aid of his rangefinder, which had been blown out of operation by the explosion of Wilkes Island's dynamite cache during the Japanese air raid of 10 December.

The targets which meanwhile virtually filled the battery's field of fire consisted of a division of three destroyers, both enemy transports, and two of the light cruisers (Tatsuta and Tenryu), which had broken off from the Yubari at the westward end of her earlier firing track, and were now steaming northward, at a range of about 9,000 yards southwest of Kuku Point. The destroyers, probably Destroyer Division 29 (Hayate, Oite and one other, either Mutsuki or Mochizuki), had originally preceded the cruisers during the initial westerly run parallel to the shore, but had likewise broken off from the bombardment track of Yubari near its westward terminus, and had steamed rapidly in, heading directly for shore, firing as they closed. Approximately 4,000 yards offshore, they executed a left (westward) turn, and the leading ship, Hayate, was just settling down on a run close along the shore of Wilkes when Battery L opened fire. At 0652, just after the third two-gun salvo, the Hayate was swallowed up 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.[23]

For a moment, the effect of Battery L's shooting proved too much for the 5-inch gun crews, and firing was involuntarily checked until a veteran non-commissioned officer broke the spell and reminded the Marines that other targets remained.

Fire was then shifted onto Oite, the destroyer which had been following Hayate, now so close to shore that Major Devereux was forced to forbid .30 caliber machine gunners from trying to open fire. One hit was observed before the troublesome onshore wind smoke-blanketed the target, which had already turned to seaward, leading the remaining ship of the division away from Battery L. Several more salvos were fired into the smoke, but splashes could not be spotted, possible evidence in itself that the shells were hitting. Some observers on Wilkes believed that they saw this ship transfer survivors and sink, but otherwise reliable enemy records indicate only that she sustained damage.

Approximately 10,000 yards offshore, the two transports Kongo Maru and Konryu Maru steamed almost due south of Wilkes. McAlister checked fire against the retiring Oite and trained onto the leading transport. After being hit once, she too turned to seaward and retired behind a destroyer smoke screen probably provided by the two retreating ships of Destroyer Division 29, whose retirement track carried them close by the transport area.

While Wilkes Island civilians turned-to as volunteer ammunition handlers, the battery commander picked up a cruiser 9,000 yards offshore steaming northward off the west end of Wilkes. This was either Tenryu or Tatsuta. Whatever her identity, one taste of Marine gunfire was sufficient--after a few salvos she was hit aft, and turned away trailing smoke.

It was not 0710, and no targets remained within range of Battery L, which had fired some 60 salvos (120 rounds), and had, in one hour's hot work, sunk one destroyer, damaged another, and probably damaged a transport and a light cruiser. Two Marines on Wilkes had sustained slight wounds which were dressed by the hospital corpsmen on the island.

Destroyer Division 30, comprising the other half of the Japanese destroyer force, was meanwhile proceeding west of Kuku Point on a northwesterly course, led in all probability by the Yayoi. At a range of 10,000 yards, shortly after 0600, the division steamed into the field of fire of Battery B, the 5-inch unit on Peale, which immediately opened on the leading ship. The Japanese reaction was prompt and aggressive, consisting of a concentrated return fire which raked Peale and scored hits in and about the guns of Batteries B and D, destroying communications between the 5-inch guns and the battery command post. At this juncture, the worst possible time, Gun 2 of Battery B sustained a disabling recoil-cylinder casualty which put the piece out of action. Continuing the duel with only one gun, Lieutenant Kessler, the battery commander, shifted Gun 2's crew to Gun 1 as additional shellmen and powdermen and kept up his fire.

A few minutes later, after 10 salvos mainly fired on local control (enemy counterbattery fire had knocked out communications and forced the battery back to fundamental gunnery methods), perseverance was rewarded, and the stern of the Yayoi was seen to be hit and afire. Kessler shifted his gun onto the second ship of the column, which was maneuvering to lay a smoke screen behind which the injured Yayoi could retire. Under cover of this diversion, the three destroyers reversed course and retired southward out of range.

The Japanese force was now in full retirement. Admiral Kajioka's plans had been thwarted not only by the inauspicious weather but by the stout and accurate fire from the beach, and, at 0700, having broken away from Battery A's pounding of the Yubari, he ordered a general retreat on Kwajalein. Within a few minutes the enemy force had withdrawn beyond gun range of Wake, and, there being no more targets, Major Devereux gave the cease-firing order.

This was exactly the logical moment for an air attack to harry the retiring Japanese, and VMF-211, which had been airborne since the commencement of the surface action, was on station and fully armed, with four Grummans operational.

Major Putnam had taken off with his three most experienced pilots, Captains Elrod, Freuler, and Tharin. Their primary mission being the air defense of Wake, the fighter pilots conducted a thorough sweep at 12,000 feet to make sure that the enemy force was not backed up by carrier aviation or a coordinated strike from bases in the Marshalls. This possibility disposed of, the squadron intervened in the surface action in time to catch the Japanese force little more than an hour's sail southwest of Wake.

Probably due to the fact that enemy destroyers and cruisers presented a recognition problem under the best of circumstances, the pilots' accounts as to exactly which ships each hit are somewhat confused. Certain it is, however, that VMF-211 inflicted heavy casualties on the retreating Japanese.

Both light cruisers of Cruiser Division 18 (Tenryu and Tatsuta) were bombed and strafed, probably by Captains Elrod and Tharin, in face of thick antiaircraft fire which damaged both planes. The torpedo battery of the Tenryu was put out of action, and the topside radio shack of Tatsuta was silenced. Captain Freuler singled out a transport, Kongo Maru, which he hit on the stern with one of his island-modified 100-pound bombs, starting a gasoline fire, which burned fiercely on the topside and in the holds.

As each fighter expended its two bombs, the pilot would return to Wake, rearm and fly out again. During one of these periods, two fresh pilots, Lieutenant Kinney and Technical Sergeant Hamilton, relieved and continued the attacks. To Kinney fell the greatest frustration of the day. Just pushing over at 0731 to press home an attack on a Japanese destroyer below him, he saw her blow up with a tremendous single explosion. This was the destroyer Kisaragi, which had unwisely been carrying a deckload of depth charges. She was in all probability victim of a previous strike by Captain Elrod, but exact information is missing inasmuch as no survivors could be found.

Patrol Boat 33, one of the two converted destroyer-transports, was also hit during the air strikes, but information as to the extent or nature of damage is not available. In all probability, if only by elimination, it appears that this ship was also the so-called destroyer hit by Battery A during the Peacock Point action.

Although the results of VMF-211's find strike combined admirably with the defense battalion's gunnery to deliver a handsome success to me Marine forces, the Japanese flak had exacted a toll which could ill be met from Wake's scanty resources. Captain Elrod's Grumman had a main fuel line cut, and, although he was able to make the island, the resultant crash-landing amid the boulders along the south beach completely demolished the airplane. Freuler took a hit which pierced his oil cooler and one cylinder, but he was fortunate enough to be able to reach the field even though the engine was a total loss.

VMF-211 had flown a total of 10 sorties, expended twenty 100-pound bombs and approximately 20,000 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition.

Accurate assessment of enemy losses during the course of the whole action is by no means easy. The consensus of seemingly reliable postwar enemy records credits Wake on this occasion with having sunk two ships, the destroyers Hayate and Kisaragi, by gunfire and bombing respectively. Two more destroyers, Oite and Yayoi, were damaged, together with Patrol Boat 33. One transport, Kongo Maru, was bombed and set afire. All three cruisers (Yubari, Tatsuta and Tenryu) received injuries from air or surface attacks.[24]

Japanese personnel casualties can be fixed only approximately. Assuming that the two sunken destroyers were manned by crews comparable to those required by similar United States 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 no survivors escaped in either case. Seven more ships were damaged, but with what personnel losses we do not know. Two hundred does not seem an excessive figure, all things considered; if this is anywhere near correct, we may well believe that their ill-fated attack of 11 December cost the Japanese at least 700 casualties, mostly dead, and possibly more.

Set against the total Marine casualties of four men wounded in action, the comparison for this day reflects very favorably upon the defenders of Wake.

Footnotes
[1] By east longitute date; this was the same day as 7 December east of the date line.
[2] At this time, relative priorities in despatch traffic were as follows: Urgent (to be used only for a few types of battle-reports), priority, routine, deferred. Thus a priority despatch presented a considerably more important transmission then than it now would.

[3] Captain 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.

[4] These were: Captain Elrod, who relieved major Putnam and Second Lieutenant Davidson in one section, and First lieutenant Kinney and Technical Sergeant Hamilton in the other.

[5] This search was never conducted, inasmuch as the clipper took off for Midway at 1250, evacuating certain PAA personnel plus all passengers--except 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 Colonel Devereux.

[6] 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, Lieutenant Lewis made an instantaneous estimate of target altitude, cranked it onto his director, and had the battery in action within a matter of seconds.

[7] Account by Tsuji Norio, a Japanes observer during the raid.

[8] The battalion surgeon of the 1st Defense Battalion detachment, Lt. (j.g.) Gustave M. Kahn, (M.C.) USN, was ably assisted by his civilian colleague, Dr. Lawton M. Shank, the contractor's surgeon, whose coolness under fire and medical efficiency won high praise throughout the defense. Dr. Shank did not survive imprisonment, but he has since been recommended for posthumous award of the Navy Cross.

[9] Approximately 10 percent of this group immediately volunteered for duties connected with the defense of Wake, and many of these served with heroism and efficiency throughout the operation, some attempting to enlist.

[10] One strongpoint commander comments: "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 * * *."

[11] At no time didWake ever possess a single air-raid alarm. Failing this, the traditional three-shot sentinel's alarm signal was the only alternative. Experiments were tried whereby dismounted auto horns were wired to storage batteries, but this system failed.

[12] A Japanese journal indicates that 14 of the bombers were damaged by antiaircraft fire during this attack.

[13] The "New Channel" was a partially completed water-filled cut through the center of WIlkes.

[14] This single 3-inch gun, which later figured conspicuously in the defense, was located south of the airstrip and VMF-211's area. See Map 1.

[15] This battalion, which during 1941-43 executed more overseas displacements than any other defense battalion in the Fleet Marine Force, had been pulled out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during late October 1941, moved secretly through the Panama Canal to Pearl Harbor, and had arrived on Monday, 1 December, just in time to meet the Japanese. On 7 December, although hardly unloaded, the battalion had put a 3-inch battery (Battery F) into action in defense of the Navy Yard, together with antiaircraft machine-gun units. Since it had just completed an overseas movement and had its equipment ready for service, the Fourth was a logical choice for its eventual role in the attempt to relieve Wake.

[16] Throughout this section dealing with the relief attempt, west longitude dates and local times will be employed.

[17] Two days later, just prior to sailing, it was determined to send Col. H.S. Fassett forward to assume duty as Island Commander, Wake, and upon boarding the Tangier, this officer took command of the Marine force embarked.

[18] Yubair, Tatsuta and Tenryu (2 old light cruisers, comprising Cruiser Division 18); Oite, Hayate, Mutsuiki, Kisaragi, Mochizuki, and Yayoi (6 older destroyers, comprising Destroyer Divisions 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 and Konryu Maru, both medium transports.

[19] The only Japanese source of this information gives this date as 8 December, but, inasmuch as his other dates are consistently 1 day behind in all cases subject to check, it is a fairly safe guess that December 9 is correct.

[20] Since the submarines' estimated time of arrival at Wake would be prior to dawn, it is a fair question just what a submarine's lookouts could have contributed in the way of amphibious reconnaissance information of any great value.

[21] Commander Cunningham's postwar report states that Major Devereux requested permission to illuminate the enemy force with searchlights and desired to open fire much sooner, but that these requests were denied. Supported by all other pertinent records of the action, Colonel Devereux denies that this was the case.

[22] Because of the fact that the rangefinders of both Batteries A and L had been rendered inoperative by previous bombings, all ranges were initially estimated and then "shot in." As a result, there exists considerable variance among the reports as to the ranges at which fire was opened, hits scored, etc. This unavoidable discrepancy was undoubtedly heightened, even after hits had begun taking effect, because of the flat trajectory and resultant long-range pattern of the 5-inch Navy guns.

[23] The Hayate therefore became the first Japanese surface craft to be sunk during the war by United States naval forces, and in all probability was the first consequential war loss sustained by the Japanese Navy in our times.

[24] The widely credited claim, originated in evident good faith, that dive-bombing attacks sand a cruiser off Wake cannot be supported. Of the three cruisers engaged, all survived to return to Wake to support the final attack less than 2 weeks later. The officially established occasion of the loss of each is as follows: Yubari (Philippine Sea, 27 April 1944); Tenryu (Bismarck Sea, by submarine action, 18 December 1942); Tatsuta (off Yokohama, by submarine action, 13 May 1944). As indicated in the text, the violent explosion and sinking of the Kisaragi, combined with recognition inexperience, probably accounts for the cruiser claimed.

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