Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island

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

XIV
"THE ELITE OF ALL BRANCHES OF THE SERVICE"

The Wake Island Marines and Their Corps

"Make the Capture of the Island Sufficiently Costly"

Major Putnam's twelve-plane flight would be the last military unit to join the Wake Island garrison. As at many other Allied bases from Singapore to Pearl Harbor, this last-minute reinforcement was too puny to stave off disaster. The Japanese Navy and Army were poised to pounce in a widereaching offensive that would make a mockery of America's tardy efforts to alter the balance of power in the Pacific.

Had Commander Cunningham ordered a nose count early on Sunday morning, 7 December 1941, he would have ascertained that Wake Island supported a human population of 1,742 men--1,218 of them civilians. Twenty-seven Americans and 45 Guamanians looked after the Pan American Airways complex. The other 1,146 civilians worked for Contractors Pacific Naval Air Bases.1

Wake's military personnel totaled 524. One officer and 5 enlisted men had been placed there by the U.S. Army to maintain a link in the communications network established to guide B-17s to the Philippines. Ten officers and 58 men belonged to two small naval detachments. One dozen bluejackets manned the atoll's flotilla of small boats, and the remaining sailors operated the naval air station--a nondemanding job after VP-22 departed the atoll on 6 December. The Marine sick bay contained an additional Navy man recently put ashore from a submarine for emergency medical care. The defense of Wake rested with the 449 Marines and Navy medics attached to the First Defense Battalion's Wake Island Detachment and VMF-211.2

-183-

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