Wake Island was the site of a famous battle in the Pacific Theater of World War II. By December 7, 1941, it was a small (but growing) naval air station (NAS). The construction and development of the island began in January 1941. As Pacific Fleet Commander, Admiral Kimmel, recognized the vulnerability of the island, he sent the Marines to defend it in August 1941. On December 8, 1941, the Japanese attacked Wake Island with a series of aerial bombardments.
On December 11, the Japanese attempted their first invasion of the island. But they were sucked into a trap. The Marine defenders bloodied a much larger Japanese task force. Additionally, the fighting men of Wake won the first tactical victory of the Pacific and gave America hope that it could fight back and win. This was a much-needed morale boost only a few days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It would take the Japanese task force another 12 days with two aircraft carriers and 1,000 more landing forces to overwhelm the Marines defending the island and finally take it.
In this solo podcast, I cover the battle from the point of view of the Marine Corps Commanding Officer, Major James P.S. Devereux. I also integrate the writing of Private First Class (PFC) John R. Himelrick. This is the story of how Marines, sailors, soldiers, and even civilians were able to defend the island for 16 days against nearly impossible odds. Without reinforcements, it was only a matter of time before the island fell.
Structure of the Podcast
The primary defenders of the island were Marines from First Defense Battalion and VMF 211. This episode explores how the Marines fought and what lessons can still be learned today. With a strong focus on Major Devereux’s decision making, this episode tries to challenge the listener to think about “What would you do?” “How would you react amidst the ‘fog of war’”?
Wake and EABO
Wake Island’s American defenders did surrender on December 23, 1941. But the deck was stacked against them from day one. There are a lot of “what ifs” that surround its defenses? I cover these counterfactuals in the episode. Furthermore, this battle is good considering what the Marine Corps is currently trying to accomplish today with Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO). Wake Island was meant to be an EABO. Therefore, it can provide relevant lessons for today’s operating environment.
Check out the maps, which are helpful to view while listening to the podcast.
More Maps of each location of the Battle.
- Major Devereux’s Book: The Story of Wake Island
- PFC Himelrick’s diary entries. Available through the Marine Corps History Division upon request.
- The Defense of Wake by Lt. Col. R.D. Heinl, Jr. published in 1947
- “The Battle of Wake Island” article by Gregory J.W. Urwin
- Warfare History Network
- Cover Image Attribution: English: Gunnery Sgt. Bill Lisbon, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (Link)