Since the 15th of December, when a submarine hit two mines, the Marine garrison at Wake had expected to be invaded. Two weeks of expectant, anxious boredom. The Vindicator dive bombers that reinforced the air garrison gave the Marines little comfort. The Vindicator pilots, inexperienced, were better prepared to bomb enemy ground forces than naval units.
Before dawn, explosions wake the garrison. In the darkness it is hard to figure out what is going on, but the conclusion is that a small force of minesweepers is clearing a path through the defensive minefields. All forces in the island go on alert.
There is but a sliver of moon but the night is clear. Six PT boats exit the anchorage to look for the enemy. They find it.
At a lookout yells:
There, 6000 yards away, the black shapes of three cruisers and 4 destroyers loom. H.O. Szukalski, the flotilla commander launches his boat at full speed against the enemy ships. His consorts follow him, 6 white streaks on the black sea. The enemy cruisers open fire first, followed by the destroyers. The PT boats weave and dart trying to avoid the enemy fire and place themselves in position to launch their torpedoes. Szukalski divides his attention between conning his boat and issuing a radio report to Wake. The PT boats follow the cruisers out to sea where they lose contact.
The cruisers are not done though. After shaking off the pestering torpedo boats, they turn back and once again approach the island. At 8000 yards they spot a US transport task force attempting to get underway. CL Yubari opens fire at the same time that DMS Chandler fires and scores on CL Tenryu. A fierce battle ensues, DMS Chandler and Wasmuth, together with plucky PC Taney fire all their guns trying to let xAK Florence D to get underway and off. They fail. 3 torpedoes score on the transport. 3 shells hit Chandler and a grand total of 14 turn Taney into an inferno.
Wake sends a pro forma report on the battle and impending invasion. Pearl Harbor acknowledges receipt and, within minutes, an unexpected reply crackles on the wireless.
“Hang on. Help on the way. Pearl Out”
The PT boats, on their way back to Wake encounter three small minesweepers but decline to engage them. Wisely, Szukalski decides to reserve his boats for the invasion force.
The airstrip at Wake is severely strained to park the Grumman fighters and the old Vindicator dive bombers at dispersal. Moreover, expecting naval bombardment at any time, the airplanes cannot be armed and fueled, for obvious reasons, until dawn breaks and the immediate threat of naval bombardment passes. With the first light of dawn mechanics rush to fuel fighters and bombers while armorers struggle to hang 1000 Lbs bombs on the machines using equipment that is not only inadequate but also lacking in numbers. The airplanes fueled and armed queue at the departure end of the runway awaiting the green light from the tower.
The air raid siren blares. The AA guns turn and point North east. On the tower the officers raise their binoculars.
“Hold your fire,” someone screams into an intercom, “They are Dauntless bombers, ours!”
“How did they make it from Midway?” someone wonders.
“They have to be flying on fumes,” says a young ensign at the tower. “Shall I launch the strike before landing them?”
“Land the Dauntless, then launch the Marine bombers,” the commander decides.
A red flare from the tower prevents the Vindicator bombers from taking off.
A jeep rushes off to inform the first Vindicator, the flight leader of the plan. Just as it arrives blocking the bomber from departing, a green flare informs the SBD 3 that they are cleared to land.
“They seem too high to land,” the ensign comments.
Just then, the lead Dauntless fires a green and white flare.
“Those are the colors of the day,” the ensign interprets.
“They are not landing. That is a strike!”
The commander calls up the jeep on a walkie-talkie.
“Tell the Vindicators to follow the Dauntless. Launch. Launch.”
The SBD-2 Vindicator flight takes off, finally, and tries to both follow the SBD-3 while formatting, not doing either thing very well, but at least they know the general direction in which to go.
They arrive in time to witness the SBD-3s diving in. There is no work for the 9 F4F-3 escorting fighters. The dive bombers get to work. AMC Kongo Maru, Bomb hits 2, on fire, AMC Kinryu Maru BH 3, heavy fires, two transports, hit 3 and 4 times spew flames and smoke while doomed soldiers try to abandon ship.
The carrier airplanes turn around and see the Vindicators with their 4 Wildcat escorts. They wag their wings and head back to their carrier. The Marine pilots head in. They attack and miss the two AMC and one untouched transport. Serendipity takes a hand however and two of the marine pilots score on CL Katori, Bomb hits 2, on fire.
Later in the afternoon, 18 SBD-3 with 13 F2A-3 escorts locate and sink the 3 minesweepers.
18 SBD-2 revisit the invasion force. AMC Kongo Maru and Kinryu Maru each take a 500 Lb bomb apiece, PB Kaikei Maru takes 2.
The invasion has been repelled.
Tomorrow, newspapers all over the US will blare the results of this battle to a nation thirsty for good news. So will the BBC and the radio stations. Lost in the third or fourth pages will be the fall of Manila, the loss of San Fernando, Ambon, Beaufort.
Nowhere will it say that it was all an accident. That Car 3, heading to strike Truk in an effort to divert the enemy’s attention from the DEI, just happened to be nearby.
During the night, Car 3 is ordered to remain in the vicinity of Wake, under no conditions to move S or W of the island, and to destroy any remaining enemy forces.
Appear at places to which he must hasten; move swiftly where he does not expect you.