After successfully repelling the first wave of Japanese landing forces the surviving US Marines, navy personnel, and civilian contractors didn’t have long to bask in the warmth of victory. The Japanese planned a larger amphibious landing task force for the next bout, and were deadly serious in avenging their previous bloody setback. For the Americans who had successfully sunk two Japanese destroyers, 325 Japanese onboard those ships, and severely crippled a light cruiser, it was like a dream come true, but just as in the Alamo on Texan soil one battle would lead to another with the defender being way overmatched.
Unbeknownst to the desperate defenders at Wake, a planned rescue effort by Pacific Naval Command ended once news of a large reinforcement effort by the Japanese was already underway. A task force of 3 US heavy cruisers, 10 destroyers, the Saratoga Aircraft Carrier, the 4th Marine Defense Battalion, a squadron of Brewster Buffalo fighters, a Sea Plane Tender, and one oiler were to steam to Wake Island and offload munitions and supplies.
Further fleet flotilla maneuvers included the carrier Lexington, 8 destroyers, and an oiler that were to head for the Marshall Islands as a diversionary tactic as well. However, Naval intelligence believed that 2 Japanese main battle ships were headed for wake along with known Imperial Fleet warships that would participate in another landing attempt on Wake. Little did they know that the two Japanese carriers that participated in the Pearl Harbor attack would assist in the next Wake Island assault. US Pacific Fleet Commander William S. Pye instead ordered the rescue effort to Wake to abort. This move would doom the defenders to defeat. TF-11 and TF-14 never set sail for their intended objective.
The second wave
After several more bombings that knocked out the hospital station along with the civilian dynamite storage a fantastic sympathetic detonation of ammunition all over the island was set off. On December 23rd the Japanese made their final thrust to take Wake Island. US Marines manned their 30 caliber heavy machine gun emplacements and what heavy shore batteries that were left faced off against the next Japanese task force now reinforced with aircraft carriers Hiryu and Shoryu. This time the Japanese would deploy more than 900 assault troops.
Bloody price to pay
The final battle began at 02:30 with preliminary bombardment, but once again the Japanese paid dearly for their occupation of Wake. The 12 anti-aircraft 3 inch guns took down 7 or 8 Japanese fighters and damaged another 20 aircraft. The Japanese lost two patrol boats once ashore that crashed and burned. Two troop transports were sunk as the Japanese managed to get ashore under heavy machine gun fire from the US Marines. The ground fighting was bitter and the once again the invaders absorbed heavy losses. 320 Japanese troops were killed in combat with another 333 being wounded. Sometime shortly after noon the battle was over with the US Marine defenders having done the best they could with what ammunition remained.
How the action ended
Had the lines of communication not been cut by the bombardment with one half of the defenders denied communications with the other half, Commander Cunningham may not have surrendered when he did. The US Troops were still able to fight, but the Commander feared that his forces would be mercilessly routed since he could no longer keep informed of developments. The losses of the Americans were comparatively light with 49 killed and 53 wounded and the remaining 433 left that were captured.
Deciphering the code
Despite the defeat at Wake Island it was considered a moral and intelligence victory for the American people and US armed services badly needed at a time when so many losses were being reported in the Pacific theater. Little did the Japanese know that the code breakers working for the US Naval Intelligence had used communications from Wake to verify their ability to read Japanese military command communications. This alone would end up winning the war for America in the end. The fact that Wake cost the Japanese a bloody victory that had delayed their timetable gave Americans the moral boost.
Punishing the captives
Unfortunately, even though Wake would be blockaded by US submarines making resupply by the Japanese impossible and causing starvation among the garrison it would not be until September 23, 1945 after the cease fire signing in Japan that the enemy flag was finally ordered down. During the Japanese occupation of Wake American prisoners were often tortured and executed whenever the garrison received news of continuing US victories in the Pacific. Cruel retribution was exacted upon the Americans time and time again! Occasionally the island was raided by US aerial assaults, but a final landing by US troops never occurred until after the war was over.
In the aftermath
The Japanese Commander of the Wake island garrison responsible for ordering the execution of 100 American POW’s prior to a US raid on the island was put to death for war crimes he committed upon the captured Americans during the course of the Japanese occupation in 1947. If not for a single American who escaped the mass shooting and then carved details of the war crime on coral near the island shore before being recaptured and killed, authorities might not have known the full extent of the atrocities committed on Wake island. Glory is a term that does not measure the terror and loss of life in battle, Wake Island demonstrated the courage we find more and more elusive in today’s world.