Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island

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

XII
"TIME IS SHORT"

Wake Nerves for War, October-November 1941

"Sarge, Where Is Wake Island?"

Although the Pacific Air Ferry Route facilitated the quick movement of thirty-five B-17s to the Philippines, the U.S. Army Air Forces disliked flying the Central Pacific. The Wake Island-Port Moresby leg led over the Japanese Mandates, and the Japanese could close it down at any time. No sooner did the air reinforcement of the Philippines become War Department policy than Army aviators began lobbying for a South Pacific ferry route that would bypass hostile territory.

General Marshall approved the AAF's recommendations on 3 October 1941, and he directed Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short, commander of the Army's Hawaiian Department, to take charge of the project. That same day, President Roosevelt authorized Secretary of War Stimson to deliver aircraft to any American territory or anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, Australia, and the Dutch East Indies and to build the bases required to effect such deliveries.

The way stations General Short originally picked for the new southern route were Christmas Island, Canton Island, Suva Island in the Fijis, and Townsville on the east coast of Australia. He estimated that one fivethousand-foot runway could be laid out at each site by 15 January 1942. The Navy, moreover, would have usable airfields in place on Palmyra and Samoa by the summer.1

Until at least mid- January 1942, however, any B-17s dispatched to Mac- Arthur would have to pivot off Wake and fly over the Marshalls and Carolines. And the passage of the first thirty-five heavy bombers had revealed

-151-

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