|Battle of Wake Island|
|Part of World War II|
|United States||Empire of Japan|
|Commanders and leaders|
The Battle of Wake Island was the US Navy's first major offensive of World War II. The entire US Pacific Fleet under the leadership of Admiral Husband Kimmel lead the largest task force the world had ever seen against the Japanese garrison on Wake Island. Although he succeeded in liberating the islands, the Japanese counter attack devastated the fleet, sinking all US carriers, forcing the US Navy to withdraw.
Wake Island was a strategic island in the Pacific to the Japanese in their war with the United States. After the failed attempted by the Japanese to hit the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, the IJN struck at Wake, easily taking it while the US was still on alert after the Japanese raid. With the combined efforts of the allied powers in the Java Sea ending in failure, it allowed the Japanese to push as far south as Timor Island, giving the IJN the land bases it required to bomb northern Australia, effectively, cutting the Dutch East Indies in two. Separated from his allies in the west, Admiral Kimmel chose to strike back at the Japanese by gathering all US forces in the Pacific. With what was left of the US Asiatic squadron regrouping at Pearl, the US Pacific Fleet sailed for Wake Island with a regiment of Marines.
Liberation of Wake Island
The US Fleet approached Wake Island from the north, their carriers providing combat air patrols (CAP's) for the fleet. As the fleet neared, the front line Wildcats shot down a Japanese reconnaissance seaplane. Unsure if the element of surprise was gone, the US fleet was put on high alert as it moved ahead with the invasion. As they reached the islands, the only naval forces encountered were submarines. In spite of their attacks, no ships were lost and the carriers launched their attack planes against the island, while the battleships pounded the shore.
The Japanese returned fire with shore batteries, but they were soon put out of action. Some Zero fighters managed to rise to provide support for dive bombers, but there were simply not enough. The US Navy's CAPs were able to overwhelm them with few losses of their own. With enemy air power and shore guns neutralized, the US Marines loaded up into barges and landed on the island. Cut off from friendly support, the Japanese garrison was soon defeated, but not before fighting to the death.
Japanese Counter Attack
With Wake Island secure, Kimmel chose to wait and let the Japanese fleet come to him. His waiting paid off, and the Japanese Fleet regrouped and struck with all their fleet carriers. Unbeknownst to the US Navy, the Japanese had fortified their mid-Pacific islands with aircraft. With the added power of these land bases, and the Japanese combined fleet, they were able to simply overwhelm the US Navy's CAPs.
Another problem encountered were the US pilots. Although the Wildcat fighters were an average match for the Zero, their pilots chose to engage the fighters instead of the dive bombers. This allowed many of the Japanese attack planes to pass through the US Fleet's CAP's sinking all four US carriers. During this attack, the Japanese struck the USS Arizona, sinking the ship and killing the fleet commander, Admiral Kimmel himself.
Although the US Navy pilots managed to strike back and sink one Japanese carrier, it was a hollow victory. What remained of the US fleet was forced to flee back to Hawaii, leaving the island garrison of marines stranded.
The battle was a disaster for the US Navy. They'd lost all four of their remaining Pacific carriers, while only sinking one Japanese carrier. This blow hammered home the end of the battleship as the 'Queen of the Sea,' bringing forth the carrier as the new front line capital ship. With no more carriers left in the Pacific, the US Navy transferred all its carriers from the Atlantic to the Pacific as a stop gap measure, while US ship builders hurried to build replacement carriers. With the US Navy effectively neutralized, the IJN transferred a good chunk of their fleet south to help support the armies attack on Singapore.