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Wake Island - Opinions

Discussion in 'Land Warfare in the Pacific' started by LRusso216, Aug 21, 2010.

  1. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    I've just finished reading Bill Sloan's Given Up for Dead. Since my knowledge of the PTO is still sketchy, I'm curious about opinions from more knowledgeable Rogues on the battle. Sloan seems to give much of the blame for the surrender of Wake on three individuals; Winfield Scott Cunningham, for not knowing the situation on the island, Frank Jack Fletcher, for not continuing toward the island and his decision to refuel his old destroyers, and William Pye for recalling Fletcher's task force after receiving the "Issue in doubt" message.

    According to Sloan, most of the Marines he interviewed felt they should have kept on fighting, especially those on Wilkes. My question is this; should the island have continued to resist, and where, if anywhere, does blame lie for the surrender?

    Since I haven't read widely on the subject, I would be interested in other viewpoints as well as suggestions on other sources I could read to increase my knowledge.
     
  2. Greg Canellis

    Greg Canellis Member

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    A very indepth and scholarly work is Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1997) by Gregory J. W. Urwin.

    Greg C.
     
  3. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    Well, Adm. Pie got sacked after the re-call order, even taking into consideration of the "issue in doubt" message. There was little to no communication on the island between the units which led to Cunningham's decision to capitulate, so I don't think a lot of blame could be put on him. Fletcher's decision to re-fuel the DDs didn't help either, which I believe coupled with the "issue in doubt" message led Adm. Pie to hit the panic button. So I say #1 Adm. Pie, #2 Adm. Fletcher, and #3 Cmd Cunningham. Just my opinion though.

    From what I've read, the Marines were still standing tough and not yet beat when the order to surrender came out.
     
  4. Lost Watchdog

    Lost Watchdog Member

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    The harsh reality was that Wake could not be held once the Japanese landed. It was only a question of when, not if, surrender came. That said, the Marines could and should have fought on longer, just like the British should have done at Singapore. I think reinforcing the island, even before the Japanese attacks, would be just reinforcing defeat. It would have been better to evacuate.
     
  5. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Much ink has been spilled regarding the Battle of Wake Island. Support, both pro and con for the personalities listed, as well as a few others, has been an ongoing debate for some time. That being said, I have not read Sloan's book, so I don't know what is said about Cunningham, Fletcher and Pye.

    An account of the battle from Cunningham's perspective was printed in a past issue of "Sea Classics" magazine and can be found here: Was WAKE ISLAND Surrendered Prematurely? | Sea Classics | Find Articles at BNET
    This passage from page 9 makes for an interesting read
    With regards to Admiral Fletcher, a "positive" 4 page write up on him can be found here: ADMIRAL FRANK JACK FLETCHER
    While Samuel L. Morison has been highly critical of Fletcher, especially the refueling issue at Wake. Yet, John B. Lundstrom point out in his "The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway," that Fletcher, despite the refueling, would still be able to reach Wake Island on the 24th of December, 1941 in accordance with the planned relief effort. Lundstrom also points out that Fletcher was expecting several days of fighting, during which the destroyers would likely be unable to refuel. Lundstrom has also recently published "Black Shoe Carrier Admiral : Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal." The recall order was a direct order from a superior officer, to which Fletcher was not so inclined to disobey direct orders. Even though Fletcher found the order distasteful, which is an understatement since he is reported to have thrown his cap on the deck upon its receipt, he had little other choice than to obey.

    Admiral Pye is caught in the most unhappy position of "damned if you do, damned if you don't." He is damned if he goes ahead with the relief of Wake, because he is face with the fairly certain knowledge that the USS Saratoga will either be lost or heavily damaged. He is damned if he does not, because the Navy honor and prestige riding on this action. While relieving Wake is good for the morale of the service and the public at home, this pales in comparison to the loss of the USS Saratoga, one of the few carriers in the Pacific. Pye had figured that the carrier aircraft attacking Wake meant that a sizable carrier force was in the area, with which the Saratoga alone could not handle. However, the plan, as originally conceived by Kimmel, had the USS Enterprise act as a back stop, to far distant to have an effect on the battle, and the USS Lexington was headed off to conduct a diversionary raid to distract the Japanese. The Lexington would belatedly be called off from her raid and ordered by Pye to assist the Saratoga. However, the delay in the Lexington reaching Wake would have postponed the expected relief date of December 24th even further. During Admiral Pye's deliberations as to going ahead with the relief of Wake or calling it off, he received a dispatch from Admiral Stark which contained the sentence "Wake is now and will continue to be a liability." This confirmed Pye's view that Wake just was not worth the risk of losing the Saratoga.

    From Wake Island: Dec. 7-23, 1941
    Should the island have continued to resist? The answer depends on how patriotic or fatalistic you are. There were some 1,000+ civilian construction workers on the island and their care had to be taken into consideration. The island was within land-based bomber range of Japanese aircraft, against which Wake's AA defenses were already neutralized. The only way to keep it supplied was by sea, which was controlled by the Japanese. The island was also not strategically important, so the Marines are defending nothing, but their own honor(though that is very important to Marines). IMHO, the Marines resisted as long as was necessary, they tied down many Japanese forces for longer than necessary, their mission was accomplished, it was time for the commander to think of the lives of the men and civilians under his command. Any further bloodshed would have served no purpose other than to extend the "butcher's bill."

    As to who was to blame for its loss, does it even matter? They were on an island in the middle of the Pacific surrounded by superior numbers of opposing Japanese forces, far removed from supporting US forces. They were put in an untenable position before the war started, with the US Pacific Fleet to protect them in case of Japanese attack. However, that fleet was wrecked on December 7th and Wake's protective shield was gone.

    If you want to blame anyone blame the Japanese. After all if it was not for them, the island would never have been put in the situation it was in.
     
  6. mikebatzel

    mikebatzel Dreadnaught

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    Hi Lou. It's been a while since I read the book, but I do believe Wake could have been defended. Had a second attempt at taking the island failed, it is unsure whether Japan would have made a third attempt. The two biggest problems to the defenders of the island were both the darkness and the loss of communications. Cunningham was to far to the rear of the fighting, and once the Japanese found and cut the lines to the front, he had no information as to the outlook of the situation.

    I do believe Sloan had one conclusion correct. Had Cunningham not been concerned about "poetic justice" he might have realized how gloomy his "situation in doubt" message really was.

    As daylight came the defenders were able to launch an effective counterattack. IIRC Wilkes had been cleared of Japanese and most or all of the airfield had been recaptured(?). At the time of the surrender there was an estimated 250 enemy left on the island. It might have been possible to repulse those remaining troops, but without a minimal of air-support from US carriers to disrupt the landing of more Japanese troops, the Marines would have been forced to surrender eventually.
     
  7. Billy the Kid

    Billy the Kid Member

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    Hello: Heres a little tidbit for you.
    do you realise some of the dead
    were bo buried untill 1958.
    From Wake Island.
    Billy the kid
     
  8. formerjughead

    formerjughead The Cooler King

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    One of the chants we had in boot camp was the "Code of Conduct". One part of the Code says: "I am a United States Marine, I willl never surrender as long as I have the means to resist; if in comand I will not surrender my Marines while they still have the means to resist..."

    Aside from that TAKAO summed up my opinion. I have nothing to add at this point.
     
  9. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    Pacific Alamo: The Battle for Wake Island by John Wukovits is also decent story of the battle.

    My personal view is that the Wake could have held, that day, and destroyed the landing force.
    The defenses were in much better shape than Devereux or Cunningham expected. The men's morale was high and many were surprised with the surrender order, they thought that the defense, at least in their immediate areas, was going reasonably well. That said, if this Japanese attempt had failed, the garrison would still have been overcome eventually. ​
     
  10. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    I completely agree with you USMCPrice. I saw that book on the shelf at the LSU Union Bookstore the other day after getting my bi-weekly haircut. I should have grabbed it then, but now I will get it during my next visit. Thanks for putting out that info about the book.

    Did the USN relief force contain additional ground forces as well? And aircraft, were there any to spare after Pearl Harbor? That would determine the possibility of the Marines holding out on Wake into early 1942, that and how determined the Japanese were in taking the island as well. At least the Marines could have stabilized their defences long enough to facilitate a pull-out of the forces there.
     
  11. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    A-58,

    Yes, reinforcements were part of the convoy. The USS Tangier(AV-8) was carrying marines of the 4th Defense Battalion(not certain of actual troop numbers) HyperWar: A Magnificent Fight: Marines in the Battle for Wake Island , as well as, ammunition and a radar set. The USS Saratoga was carrying Brewster Buffaloes of VMF-221, IIRC, 14 planes, but I will have to check "The First Team," as additional aircraft for Wake Island. When the raid was called off, both the Marine Defense Battalion and VMF-221 would be off loaded at Midway Island.

    While the Marines and the radar set would have been of great advantage to the relief of Wake. The Brewster Buffaloes of VMF-221 would probably have had a negligible affect on the outcome, especially if they went against the Hiryu and Soryu. VMF-221 would take horrific losses at the Battle of Midway: Brewster Buffalo: VMF-221 at Midway and the pilot reports of the battle Brewster Buffalo: USMC combat reports

    Also, by ferrying VMF-221, the USS Saratoga was left without many fighters, 13 Wildcats, to defend herself and the convoy, or with which to participate in an attack on the Japanese.
     
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  12. mikebatzel

    mikebatzel Dreadnaught

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    USN relief effort did include about 200 marines as well as the items Takao mentioned. IIRC all of them had volunteered for the mission
     
  13. formerjughead

    formerjughead The Cooler King

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    I think something we are not realizing is that in Dec. 1941 the US was still very unsure of the capabilities and abilities of the Japanese. Had TF-11(Saratoga) and TF-14(Lexington) continued to Wake they would have been attacked and at the time Japan had Air Superiority, so it's very possible at least one or both carrers would have been lost, and the relief would have been a bust allowing the Japanese to achieve a significant victory.

    So the caution on Pye's part in recalling the relief attempt in my view is justified as he is reacting according to the understanding of Japanese Naval Doctrine at the time. If you consider that there were possibly 2 IJN Carriers in the vicinity of Wake his actions seem quite reasonable. Unfortunately blame rests on the shoulder of the survivors and Adm. Pye was lambasted for recalling the relief.

    No blame; but, all responsibility for the surrender should lay with Cmdr. Scott and Maj. Devereaux as they were the commanders on the ground at Wake who made the decision to surrender. Both survived the war and were awarded the Navy Cross.
     

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