Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island

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

XXVIII
"THE ISLAND IS BEING SURRENDERED"

The Final Hours of Resistance, 23 December 1941

"It Was a Most Ominous Sight"

In keeping with the Wake garrison's chain of command, Commander Cunningham allowed Major Devereux to direct all the atoll's ground forces in the effort to repel the Japanese invaders. The major had proven himself in the art of coastal defense on 11 December. But he was less adept at land warfare. The Japanese did not hand Devereux many opportunities to affect the outcome of the fighting on 23 December. Nevertheless, combat leadership is also a matter of creating opportunities.1

Communication failures plagued Devereux from the start, and they largely explain his performance. The major's command post lost all contact with Wilkes Island about an hour after the searchlight near Battery F illuminated two incoming landing craft. The situation on the main islet deteriorated almost as quickly. Devereux heard nothing more from Lieutenant Hanna or Major Putnam after they set out to oppose the landing below the airstrip. Soon Devereux's switchboard could no longer raise Camp 1, the Mobile Reserve, or the emplacements at the west end of the runway. Once the Japanese surrounded Hanna's three-inch gun and VMF-211, some of them pushed on to threaten American positions to the north and east. The line to Battery A went out immediately after Lieutenant Barninger learned that the enemy had landed.2

By 4:00 A.M., the only front-line units still in contact with Devereux's CP were Battery E under Lieutenant Lewis and a pair of .50-caliber machine guns at the eastern edge of the airfield. The two .50s were manned by six

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