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After Pearl Harbor: Battle of Wake Island

a sign in front of a sunset

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor has remained a culturally prominent day in American history. Inciting America’s entrance into World War II, Pearl Harbor Day marks both an unfortunate and historic day. While many are familiar with the basics of Pearl Harbor, you may not be familiar with the Battle of Wake Island, which occurred on the same day. Keep reading to learn more about the Battle of Wake Island.

After Pearl Harbor: Battle of Wake Island

Wake Island is a tiny island situated in the Pacific between Hawaii and Guam. The Japanese attacked Wake Island the same day they attacked Pearl Harbor. The battle was ultimately over the control of this small island in Central Pacific. US Marines and civilians of the island defended the island against invaders from Japan, but ultimately, American troops surrendered to Japan.

There was hope and optimism that the tiny island would push through and withstand Japanese forces, but Japan kept the island under a near constant air attack and U.S. relief failed to turn it aside. The Japanese returned on December 23 with increased force and power. Within a mere and grim five hours, the island had to surrender.

Commander from the U.S. Navy, Winfield Scott Cunningham, was in charge of the forces and their eventual surrender. Cunningham, a member of the Naval Academy Class of 1921, proved a distinguished pilot. He had flown fighters and flying boats, and received schooling in strategy and tactics. Contemporaries and fellow officers in the Navy regarded him as an intelligent, quick-witted officer who harnessed and cherished moral courage. His long and eclectic experience in aviation duty had fitted him well for his independent duty at the Battle of Wake Island. He eventually went on to earn the Navy Cross for his leadership of the defense of Wake. Despite the eventual surrender, Cunningham remains a prominent figure in American history due to his expertise at this prominent battle.

Following The Battle

After Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Wake Island, Wake Island spent the rest of World War II in Japanese hands. The Japanese barricaded Wake with more than 4,000 troops and erected extensive fortifications to protect them from attack. The U.S. military never tried to retake the island after the miserable battle. However, the U.S. military did cut the island off from resupply. They also subjected it to periodic naval bombardments and air raids. Furthermore, once October of 1943 rolled around, control of Wake Island became tumultuous again. While the Japanese heavily fortified the island and attempted to control it, American aircrafts repeatedly attacked it throughout the war creating major devastation. It was again surrendered on September 4, 1945 back to America.

Lastly, an interesting and sad historical note. On October 5, 1943, when the Japanese saw imminent invasion, an execution was ordered of 98 American civilians. These civilians were taken to one side of the island and shot with machine guns. A prisoner escaped and returned to carve a legacy into a large rock: 98 US PW 5-10-43. It can still be seen there today.

We hope you enjoyed learning about the Battle of Wake Island. Visit the Pearl Harbor Warbirds blog to learn more — and find us on our social media channels — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!