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Book Review
Wake Island 1941
Wake Island 1941 A battle to make the gods weep
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Originally published on:
Model Shipwrights

Wake Island 1941
A battle to make the gods weep
Campaign 144
Author: Jim Moran
Illustrator: Peter Dennis
96 pages


The battle of Wake Island in December 1941 was another legendary ‘last stand’ by US military forces. It was a very personal battle in that American military forces numbered less than 500, as did the initial Japanese assault forces. Wake has been referred to as “The Alamo of the Pacific.” So relatively small was the fight that we know of individual actions against specific targets. Wake also had over 1,000 civilian contractors there; many of them took up arms (Even learning to employ 3” and 5” guns) to fight alongside the US Marines, bluejackets, and handful of Army personnel.

Wake was an icon of American resolve throughout World War Two. It also evokes controversy arising from US Navy command decisions on Wake and at Pearl Harbor. When Admiral Pye ordered the relief force to retire although it was within range of Wake, his order almost resulted in mutiny! Admiral Fletcher had to purposely leave the bridge of his flagship to pretend not to hear ‘mutinous talk’ from his staff, and only last minute intervention from their senior officers prevented the Marines aboard the relief ship USS Tangier from mutinying and commandeering the ship! The pilots of VMF-221 pleaded with their superiors to let them fly to Wake regardless of the risk. Finally, there was during, and since, the war controversy regarding who was in charge and who gave the order to surrender. The island commander was Commander Cunningham while the Marine Defense Battalion commander was Major Devereux. Once the war began the island became a war zone and command should have passed to Maj. Devereux; the order was not received at wake and Cdr. Cunningham remained in charge. After the surrender the Navy did not want yet another disaster at their feet and after the war even tried to deny that Cdr. Cunningham had been on the island!

The battle opened with a Japanese air raid. Although four of twelve VMF-211 F4F-3 Wildcats were airborne and patrolling, over 30 G3M “Nell” bombers demonstrated the excellence of the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force by slipping in undetected and bombed and strafed in textbook fashion. Only four F4Fs were available after the patrol landed. This began the legendary performance of Lt. Kinney, TSgt. Hamilton and Aviation Machinist’s Mate Hesson, who, with few tools and spares and equipment, brought many Wildcats back into action (Even removing a serviceable engine from a burning F4F!). Although VMF-211 under Maj. Putnam never had more than four Grumman serviceable at one time, they used them to great effect. Captain “Hammering Hank” Elrod shot down two bombers and personally destroyed the IJN destroyer Kisaragi. The valiant captain died while lobbing grenades during the final defense.

Much of Wake’s defense is associated with the Marine pilots. However, Marines such as Lt. McAlister , Lt. Hanna, Corporal McAnally, and many others put up legendary fights with cannon, machine guns, and rifles. Then there were the civilians, many of whom took up arms in their defense. Against them Imperial Japan flung cruisers and destroyers, armed transports, converted destroyers, the 24th Air Flotillia, submarines, and eventually a division of heavy cruisers and the aircraft carries Soryu and Hiryu, returning from the Pearl Harbor attack. Overall command was under Admiral Kajioka. His assault forces were the units of the elite SNLF (Special naval Landing Force, Imperial Japan’s equivalent to the US Marines.) and bluejacket landing parties. They numbered in the hundreds for first attack, and in the thousands for the final assault.

When the epic battle ended the Japanese took the military personnel and many civilians to China as POWs. About 150 civilians were forced to work on Wake, scores dying of malnutrition and abuse. In 1943 the garrison commander, Admiral Sakibura, murdered the 98 survivors, for which in 1947 he was tried and became personally acquainted with a noose.


Author Jim Moran did a wonderful job of bringing this battle to life. It is full of detail. There are several quotes and several transcripts from radio messages. Wake Island 1941 is 96 pages in eight chapters, with a bibliography and an index:
Origins of the campaign
Opposing commanders
I. US Commanders
II. Japanese Commanders
Opposing forces
I. US forces on Wake
II. Japanese forces
III. Orders of battle
Opposing plans
I. US plans
II. Japanese plans
The Battle of Wake Island
a. A date that will live in infamy
b. Here they come again!
c. We’re headed for Wake
d. There’s something out there
e. When time stood still
f. We’ll be there for Christmas
g. Enemy on the island, issue in doubt
The Cunningham-Devereux controversy
The battlefield today

Also included are a key to military symbols and Author’s Notes clarifying the use of the Islands’ names.

Photographs and Illustrations Peter Dennis illustrated the book. It features three dramatic battle scenes:
1. CAPTAIN HENRY “HAMMERING HANK” ELROD BAGS HIS SECOND JAPANESE BOMBER, DECEMBER 10, 1941. This is a dynamic scene viewed from the nose of the second target; the bullet flashes – especially through the engine – bring it to life. This painting does contain one of the mistakes in the book: the Wildcat is depicted with six guns firing – the F4F-3 only had four.
2. BATTERY L SINKS THE HAYATE, EARLY DAWN, DECEMBER 11, 1941. Death of the Japanese destroyer Hayate by 5" gun fire.

Nine full color maps orient you to the situations of the Pacific, Wake Atoll deployments, and battles. Included are several of the ‘bird’s-eye-view’ maps that Osprey uses to bring complex situations into focus.

Photographic support is very good. Not only does the book contain dozen of WW2 black and white photos, it also contains several color photos of memorials on the island and island scenes from 2009. Further, the work is fortified with color, and black and white artwork from the war. These photographs feature an excellent selection of practically every significant weapon and piece of equipment – ships, aircraft, crew and individual weapons – used in the battle, in addition to portraits.


Considering the content being limited to 60-140 pages, I consider most Osprey titles to be general coverage of a particular topic with varying degrees of detail. This is an exception. This is a comprehensive and highly detailed account of the battle for Wake Island. The relative short duration and number of personnel involved allows this level of detail. Certainly, the book could be dozens of more pages thick if more personal stories and statements were used. However, such is not necessary to convey the facts of this legendary fight. Aside from the two extra guns on the F4F, I found no other problems except a single typo. This is an excellent book and I highly recommend it.

Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on MODEL SHIPWRIGHTS.
Highs: Excellent content and illustrations.
Lows: An illustration faux pas and a single typo.
Verdict: This is a comprehensive and highly detailed account of the battle for Wake Island.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: Other
  Mfg. ID: ISBN: 9781849086035
  Suggested Retail: £14.99 $23.00
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Oct 26, 2011
  NATIONALITY: United States

Our Thanks to Osprey Publishing!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2020 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. All rights reserved.


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