Wake Island (1942)

 

 

Director:  John Farrow. 

Starring:  Brian Donlevy (Maj. Geoffrey Caton), Robert Preston (Pvt. Joe Doyle), Macdonald Carey (Lt. Bruce Cameron), Albert Dekker (Shad McClosky), Barbara Britton (Sally Cameron), William Bendix (Pvt. Aloysius K. 'Smacksie' Randall), Mikhail Rasumny (Ivan Probenzky), Walter Abel (Cmdr. Roberts), Damian O'Flynn (Capt. Bill Patrick), Bill Goodwin (Sgt. Higbee), Phillip Terry (Pvt. 'Cookie' Warren), Don Castle (Pvt. Cunkle), Rod Cameron (Capt. Pete Lewis), Frank Albertson (Johnny Rudd).

Japanese have a hard time taking a small island between Guam and Midway, 4,254 air miles from San Francisco.  

 

This is a pretty good film.   The great determination of the marines was quite admirable and it was interesting watching the methods they employed to hold off the Japanese for so long.  (Comic relief provided by the old reliable William Bendix as Pvt. Aloysius K. 'Smacksie' Randall.)

This film honored the men who fought so hard to thwart the Japanese from taking Wake Island from the American marines. 

It honors the men of Marine Fighting Squadron 211 of Marine Aircraft Group 21 and the Wake Detachment of the First Defense Battalion. 

June 1941, the US marines landed on Guam. 

by October 1941 the Marines had:

1) six 5" naval guns;

2)  twelve mobile 3" anti-aircraft guns;

3) squadron of 12 Gruman F4F aircraft (known as "wild cats"); and

4) 385 men of the First Defense Battalion. 

Major Geoffrey Caton (Preston Foster) takes over as the commander of the marines on Wake Island.  The island atmosphere is very relaxed with the marines enjoying the lack of pressure.  Their peace and quiet is shattered by the new commander. 

But they will soon have much more to worry about than just their commander for they learn that the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.  Almost simultaneously, the Japanese attack Wake Island.

The Japanese bomb Wake Island by air.  The men hold on.  Ships arrive and shell Wake Island.  They then land troops on the island, but the amphibious landing is a failure.  The Japanese then launch around eleven other assaults, all of which fail. 

The Japanese finally plan an all-out assault on the tiny island bringing up forces from the Gilbert Islands.  This time they succeed in taking Wake Island. 

The defenders of Wake Island were great heroes to the Americans, who followed their dogged resistance to the Japanese attempts to seize Wake Island.  More is the shame that a Naval commander had determined that the Navy would not come to the aid of the Wake Island defenders, because he did not believe they had a chance of holding out against the Japanese assaults.  By this decision, the naval commander earned himself infamy and a transfer to a less demanding position with no further advancements in his naval career. 

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:

 

1941 (December 7)  --  Japanese attack Wake Island.  16 Japanese medium bombers flown from bases on the Marshall Islands destroyed eight of the twelve Marine F4F Willdcat fighters.

On the island were 449 officers and men under naval Commander Winfield S. Cunningham, 68 U.S. Naval personnel, and about 1,221 civilian workers. 

1941 (December 11)  --  the garrison repulsed the first Japanese landing attempt. The Americans sunk the destroyer Hayate and damaged most of the other Japanese ships. The four Wildcats sank another destroyer, the Kisaragi. This was the first Japanese defeat of the war.

The Japanese Navy detached two aircraft carriers (Soryu and Hiryu) from the force which attacked Pearl Harbor to support the second landing attempt.

1941 (December 22)  --  a task forced was sent to Wake Island, but suddenly received orders signed by Vice Admiral William S. Pye, to return to Pearl Harbor.  The Vice Admiral feared too many possible losses of naval ships. 

1941 (December 23)  --  a second Japanese invasion force arrived, this time with 1,500 Japanese marines.  The garrison had to surrender after a nigh and morning of fighting. 

During the 15 day siege, the Americans lost 49 U.S. Marines, 3 naval personnel and 70 civilians killed.  The Japanese lost between 700 to 900 killed with at least 1,000 wounded. 

The Japanese were in the midst of their preparations to machine-gun their prisoners of war, when a new Japanese commander put a stop to their plans.  

1945 (September 4)  --  the remaining Japanese garrison on Wake Island surrenders to a detachment of the United States Marine Corps.

 

 

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