US Marines' last fight on Wake Island
23 December 1941: After repelling one invasion force on 11th December the Marines put up a valiant battle when the Japanese try again.
Major James P.S. Devereux, commanding the detachment of Marines on Wake, wrote the most complete account of the battle1 almost five years after the event. Records kept at the time were destroyed to prevent them falling into Japanese hands - he then spent the rest of the war as a POW.
In the early hours of the 23rd December ( Wake Island time) they saw the lights of Japanese ships offshore. They had a limited number of men available to man the guns -and could not bring the main 4 inch guns to bear on the target. In the pitch black of night they deployed the one Anti-Aircraft gun available:
By the time Hanna reached the gun, the Japs were close aboard driving the destroyers straight into the reef. The first waves of Japanese were preparing to scramble off into the water, to wade ashore through pitch blackness and our almost blind machine gun fire.
Hanna’s gun had no sights for him to use. The 3-inchers had electric repeaters for anti-aircraft fire, without sighting guides of any kind. It looked as though all he could do was point the gun in the general direction of the enemy, but that was the best we could do.
Hanna opened the breech of the gun and peered through the bore, adjusting the gun until by looking through the bore he could see his target, the blurred blobs of blackness that were the grounded destroyers.
“Okay,” he said — and opened fire.
The first shell was a hit. Hannah kept firing as fast as e cou oa , pouring shells into the crowded destroyers, breaking fire only ong enoug to sight through the bore when he shifted targets.
He blasted the vessels, made a slaughter pen of the crowded decks, and the destroyers burst into flame. Now the Marines could see the enemy. They coul see aps tumbling from the burning vessels into the water. The bonfire on the destroyers gave light enough for our machine gunners to sweep the crowded water, to pin down with fire the Japs who already had reached the shore.
Now the Marines were not fighting blindfolded.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to World War II Today to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.