Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island

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

XVIII
"DID THEY EVER GIVE US A LESSON"

Wake's Population Mobilizes for War, 8 December 1941

"We Didn't think the Japs Would Be as Tough as They Were"

Until the day he died, James Devereux bristled at the slightest suggestion that the first Japanese air raid on Wake Island caught his Marines with their pants down. "We were on the alert," he insisted, "we were an set, that sort of thing." In his memoirs, Devereux even blamed the disaster on the Navy for not equipping Wake with radar.1

Radar would have been a great help, but its absence does not totally absolve Devereux for the garrison's poor showing in its first encounter with the enemy. Devereux lowered his guard nearly two hours before the Japanese arrived, leaving most of his antiaircraft artillery unmanned to free a few dozen additional Leathernecks for work details. As it turned out, Batteries E and D were not of much use against bombers operating at such low altitudes, but Devereux could not foresee that his opponents would use such tactics. Even the Marines assigned to the Wake Island Detachment's eighteen 50- caliber machine guns--weapons meant to counter low-level attacks--were hobbled by Devereux's caution. Several Battery H men indicated that they had prior instructions to hold their fire against incoming planes unless they received orders to the contrary. The Leathernecks were more fearful of shooting down friendly aircraft than the possibility of a surprise attack, and that hesitation played into the hands of the Japanese.2

Although Devereux headed the largest unit in the Wake garrison, other senior American officers bear their share of responsibility, particularly Major Putnam and Commander Cunningham.

-261-

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