Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island

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

XXVII
"WE'LL MAKE A STAND HERE"

The Fight for the Main Islet, 23 December 1941

"We'll Go to the 3-Inch Gun"

Unperceived by the Marine seacoast batteries, Patrol Boats 32 and 33 sliced through the whitecaps toward the lee shore of Wake Island. Mere minutes after Gunner McKinstry opened the battle for Wilkes, the two Japanese transports ran themselves onto the barrier reef opposite the airstrip. Five hundred or more SNLF troops from Uchida and Itaya Companies stood braced on board. Their mission was to cut across Wake's southern leg, seize the runway, and expand their gains to the east and west.1

The first American to discover the enemy's main assault force was Lieutenant Hanna. Hanna was the nominal commander of Battery H, but his unit was so widely scattered across the atoll that he actually exercised direct control only over the five .50-caliber machine guns strung out along the outer edges of the airfield. Major Devereux had also made Hanna responsible for defending the main islet's south beach from Peacock Point to Camp 1. Though this was where the garrison most expected a Japanese landing, Hanna received just nine or ten Marines, a few civilian volunteers, and four .30-caliber machine guns to cover a sector nearly four thousand yards long. Rather than spread the .30-caliber section along this whole front, Devereux had the guns dig in a little to the west of Peacock Point.

Hanna was with the four .30s when Patrol Boat 32 came looming out of the darkness directly before him. The ship swung sharply to the west, steaming at the sluggish speed of twelve knots toward the far end of the airfield. The lieutenant grabbed his field phone and relayed a warning to

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