British Gun



On December 11, 1941 a Japanese naval task force was positioned to support a Japanese Special Naval Landing Force invasion. US MC shore batteries successfully repulsed the attempted landing, sinking one destroyer and damaging two cruisers, two destroyers and:a transport ship. After the fleet withdrew,, Marine Fighter Squadron 211 sunk an additional destroyer. During the next 11 days, Wake Island was bombed 8. times, destroying virtually all above ground facilities. During the December 22 raid, the last remaining U. S. Navy F4F fighter was downed.

At 0245 December 23, 1941 a full scale invasion force landed and overran Wake Island. At 0900 hours, the island was surrendered to the Japanese. A U.S. Navy task force carrying reinforcements for Wake Island was within 425 miles of the island at the time of the attack, however, the task force was recalled to Pearl Harbor prior to the surrender of the island.

Wake Island remained under Japanese occupation until the end of the war. U.S. casualties during the battle for Wake Island were 109 killed in action (62 military, 47 civilian) . Imperial Japanese Navy losses were much higher, including the lives of 1,000 men, two destroyers, one submarine and 21 aircraft. Wake's Marine defenders sank the first two Japanese warships lost in World War II.

T'he Japanese took approximately 1,600 prisoners on Wake Island (450 military, 1,150 civilian) . During January, 1942, all military prisoners and about 750 of the civilian prisoners were transported to Prisoner of War (POW) camps in China and Japan. The prisoners remaining on Wake Island were utilized by the Japanese building island fortifications. In,September 1942, all remaining prisoners except 98 heavy equipment operators were transported to POW camps in China. The 98 personnel who remained on Wake Island were eventually executed by the Japanese in October, 1943.

Japan's fortification of Wake island was extensive. Approximately 65 artillery pieces ranging from 3 inch anti- aircraft guns to 8 inch coastal guns were deployed around the island. Numerous concrete pillboxes and a series of tank traps were constructed along the shoreline. The airfield was upgraded and several aircraft revetments were built. A power plant, water desalination plant and several bombproof blockhouses were also constructed. The Japanese garrison consisted of over 4,400 army and navy personnel and included 24 light tanks and 55 aircraft (fighters and bombers) .

The first United States attack against Wake Island occurred in February 1942 when carrier based planes bombed the island. In July 1943, T'he U.S. Army Air Corps began bombing Wake Island from Midway Island. During October 1943, a six carrier task force combined with bombers from Midway, carried out an intensive two day operation, successfully eliminating Japanese air strength and destroying 90% of the island's facilities. After the United-States captured the Marshall Islands in February 1944, additional air raids were staged from Kwajalein enabling the U.S. to impose a full naval and air blockade of Wake Island for the remainder of the war. Forty seven U.S. aircraft were lost during these raids.

On September 4, 1945, two days after the formal surrender of Japan, Wake Island was surrendered to the United States Marine Corps. At the time of the Japanese surrender, the Japanese garrison consisted of 1,200 men, all of who returned to Japan in November 1945. During the Japanese occupation of Wake Island, Japanese casualties were over 2,700 (725 killed in action, 1,000 deaths from sickness or malnutrition, and 1000 sick and wounded who were evacuated during July 1945) .

After the war, Wake Island was operated by the U.S. Navy until 1947, when Island administration was turned over to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) . During the FAA period, Wake Island became a major civilian/military refueling stop. Pan American Airways also re-instituted substantial operations. At one time, the island population exceeded 2,000 personnel and included families, a school (kindergarten through ninth grade) and numerous aviation related facilities.

After the introduction of long range commercial jet airliners, Wake Island began to loose its importance as a major commercial aircraft refueling stop. In 1972, both the FAA and Pan American closed their operations and civil and administrative control of Wake Island was given to the United States Air Force. Currently the population of Wake island is about 200, and Wake Island Airfield is used to support military operations throughout the Pacific region.

Many historic World War II facilities remain, the most significant being the "98 rock", a large piece of coral standing in the lagoon inscribed "98/U.S./P.W/5-10-43", a message carved by one of the 98 POW's later executed on Wake Island. Other significant remains include US MC command post and hospital bunkers, the Japanese command post bunker, and numerous Japanese pillboxes, fighting positions, tank traps and aircraft revetments. Only one artillery piece remains; an 8 inch British made gun captured by the Japanese in Singapore and relocated to Wake Island (picture at top of this page). Ruins of the partially completed U.S. Naval Air Station also remain on Peale Island.

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Last updated 13 May 2003