Wednesday, December 20, 2006

December 23, 1941

On this date, the Wake detachment of the 1st Defense Battalion, USMC along with VMF-211, USMC surrendered to superior invading Japanese forces. Thus ending the heroic defense of Wake Island that had seen the repulse of one previous invasion, the destruction of one Japanese warship, the IJN Hayate due to accurate coastal defense fire by the Marines, while VMF-211 managed to sink IJN Kisaragi along with shooting down several attacking Japanese aircraft.

The second successful invasion was supported by two Japanese fleet carriers Soryu and Hiryu and was launched in the early hours of December 23, 1941. By this time VMF-211 had no Wildcats left so were acting as infantry to bolster Major Devereux's 400+ defenders. All were exhausted. They all were hoping relief would show on December 24th when the carriers Lexington and Saratoga were supposed to bring relief forces. 0100, 23 December 1941 these hopes were dashed when enemy forces were spotted off Toki Point. Until sometime after 0900, the Marines and civilian volunteers resisted the Japanese, but the enemy's superior numbers and willingness to absorb casualties forced Commander Cunningham to surrender his forces instead of having them killed for no reason. So Wake Island was captured. Meanwhile several hundred miles away, the two American carrier task forces would soon be told to pull back; that Wake had fallen. It was reported men broke down and wept while others tried to plead for a crack at the Japanese, both carriers set sail for Pearl. Admiral Pye's reign as CinCPac would last just a few more days before Chester Nimitz took on the burden of beating the Japanese back.

These Marines and some of their civilian contractors would spend the rest of the war as prisoners in China and Japan. I say some since some of the contractors were kept on Wake as forced labor. October 5, 1943 saw another American raid on the island; this time conducted by the new aircraft carrier Yorktown. On October 7, 1943 the Japanese commander of Wake Island Rear Admiral Sakaibara, fearing an American invasion, ordered the remaining 98 civilian contractors to be taken to the northern end of Wake, tied up, and murdered by machine gun fire. One of the 98 actually escaped long enough to scrawl on a rock evidence of the massacre before being recaptured and personally beheaded by Rear Admiral Sakaibara. After the end of hostilities, Rear Admiral Sakaibara was found guilty and executed.

One Marine on Wake Island earned the Medal of Honor, pothumously. Then Captain Henry 'Hammering Hank' Elrod of VMF-211 was awarded it for his exploits in sinking the Japanese destroyer IJN Kisaragi with light bombs during the first invasion attempt and during the defense of a gun battery on 23 December, 1941 that saw Capt. Elrod engaged in close quarter combat with the Japanese using grenades and a Tommy Gun. It was while defending SGT Hanna's 3-inch gun that Capt. Elrod was killed. VMF-211 would be re-formed and re-named the Wake Island Avengers.

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