Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island

By Gregory J. W. Urwin | Go to book overview

VII
"THE WORK IS BEING COMPLETED IN AN EFFICIENT AND WORKMANLIKE MANNER"

The Pace of Base Construction, January-December 1941

"A Hazardous and Costly Operation"

The William Ward Burrows revisited Wake Island six more times in 1941, dropping off a total of 459 reinforcements for the Pioneer Party. More than a single transport was required, however, to provide the manpower and matériel demanded by the CPNAB construction schedules.1

Between 1 January and 31 August 1941, the U.S. Fleet detached three ships from the fleet train at Pearl Harbor to assist the Burrows in sustaining the base-building programs on Wake, Midway, Johnston, and Palmyra: the cargo ships Regulus and Sirius and a newly purchased auxiliary, the Kaula. Whenever he could spare them, the commander of the fleet's Base Force released additional ships for occasional delivery runs to the island outposts.2

Wake and the other island bases screening Pearl Harbor fell under the administrative purview of the Fourteenth Naval District. Rear Adm. Claude C. Bloch, district commandant (COM 14) since early 1940, was the officer primarily responsible for the construction of the new naval air stations. To facilitate the flow of building supplies, Bloch's public works officer purchased a dozen steel lighters in California--each able to carry one thousand tons of cargo. He also rented a barge with a two-thousand-ton capacity and chartered three deep-sea tugboats. Slow oceangoing tugboats normally hauled the barges to Wake a pair at a time; a round trip from Pearl took a month. The William Ward Burrows and other supply ships often augmented the efforts of the tugs by taking a single barge in tow on their trips to the atoll.3

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