Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island

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

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"WE'LL BE BACK IN PEARL HARBOR IN A FEW MONTHS"

The Increasing American Military Commitment, September-October 1941

"They'd Come in at All Hours of the Damn Day and Night"

Just before Major Hohn's Marines departed for Wake Island, the War Department reversed America's Pacific strategy. Overturning thirty-four years of defeatist tradition, the bomber generals of the newly organized U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) convinced their superiors that air power could protect the Philippines and check Japanese aggression elsewhere in Southeast Asia. The ramifications of this technological leap of faith were numerous and wide-ranging, touching even one of the humbler outposts in America's line of Pacific defenses. The Army Air Forces converted Wake into a stop on an aerial ferry route to the Philippines, forcing the atoll's Marine garrison to drop its shovels from time to time and go into the filling-station business.

From the moment American military and naval planners first gave serious thought to the possibility of war with Japan, they despaired of saving the Philippines. The archipelago was too big, it lay fifty-five hundred miles farther from the United States than from Japan, and its garrison was little more than a constabulary force. The first War Plan Orange, adopted in 1907, vaguely charged the archipelago's defenders with trying to hold out until the U.S. Navy could steam to their relief. Under the 1914 version of War Plan Orange, the Army proposed retiring to the island fortress of Corregidor to hold the mouth of Manila Bay for at least sixty days. But the Navy could not promise to get there any sooner than sixty-eight days--and only if its progress went unopposed.1

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