Key point: The Wake Island defenders, military and civilian alike, were extraordinary individuals.
In mid-December 1941, the 400 U.S. Marines who called the island outpost of Wake home stood a lonely sentinel in the watery Central Pacific wilderness, like a cavalry fort in an oceanic version of the Western frontier.
As the Japanese juggernaut spread the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere to the farthest reaches of the Pacific Ocean, most of America’s Pacific battle fleet, the backbone of the nation’s power in the hemisphere, rested on Pearl Harbor’s muddy bottom along with almost 2,000 young American sailors. Marines on Guam and British infantry in Malaya were fighting futile holding actions against swarms of enemy troops. In the Philippines, Japanese bombers demolished General Douglas MacArthur’s air force before it lifted from the ground, and Japanese infantry forced his troops into a disastrous retreat toward the Bataan Peninsula.
Next on Japan’s Timetable of Conquest
Hong Kong and Singapore were poised to fall, and the crowning blow—the destruction of the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser HMS Repulse at the hands of Japanese planes off Malaya—caused British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to lament, “Over all the vast expanse of waters Japan was supreme, and we everywhere were weak and naked.”