The Japanese efforts to subdue the tiny American garrison on Wake Island in the central Pacific in December 1941 is generally regarded as one of the few bright spots on the Allied ledger for the opening months of the Pacific War. American propagandists, desperate for any bit of good news after the Pearl Harbor disaster and bad news from the Philippines, were quick to focus on the U.S. Marine defenders on Wake who repulsed the initial Japanese attempt to seize the island. In Osprey's Wake Island 1941, author Jim Moran shows that the reality was a bit different. The siege of Wake lasted barely two weeks and other than the successful defense against the first invasion attempt on 11 December, most of the rest of the siege was pretty bleak for the defenders. Furthermore, Moran details that the island was actually under US Navy command and that there was a small US Army presence on the island as well. While Moran relies primarily on official US records for his narrative, the real selling point of this volume is the numerous current color photos of Wake taken by the author during a visit to the island in 2009. These photos, ranging from old bunkers and artillery pieces to the invasion area and monuments, add an interesting `After the Battle' feel to the volume. Overall, the author provides a dramatic, first-person kind of narrative that many readers should appreciate, although it is a bit weak on analysis.
In the standard introductory sections, the author lays out the strategic setting that led to the Wake Island campaign, the opposing leaders, forces and plans. Even though the US Hepburn Board had provided $7.5 million in 1938 to build an airbase on Wake, the US military did not actually take action to deploy U.S. Marines to the island until August 1941. However, the Marine garrison was still under 400 men by December 1941 and the first fighter squadron (VMF-211) did not arrive until four days before the war began. Despite the fact that Wake Island had been identified as a critical facility in event of war in the Pacific, the U.S. military was very slow to put plans or forces in place to defend it. In essence, Wake Island was lost before the war even began and no amount of heroism was guying to buy back squandered time or failure to provide adequate resources (like barbed wire - not exactly an expensive or scarce resource). Meanwhile, the Japanese were massing air and naval forces in the central Pacific, with the intent of seizing Wake at the outset of the war (the author doesn't mention whether the U.S. cracking of the JN-25b code provided any early warning about Wake).
The 54-page campaign narrative is the bulk of the volume and provides very tactical coverage of each action. The author also effectively combines Japanese accounts and information with U.S. accounts to produce a fairly seamless narrative. My only concerns with this volume is the lack of analysis and the lack of overall statistics on combat casualties. The Japanese landings on Wake were one of the very few times that SNLF troops conducted serious opposed amphibious assaults in the Second World War and the Japanese did not do very well. Japanese success at Wake was based on numbers and tenacity, not tactical skill. If the Marines had emplaced barbed wire obstacles on the beach and had enough machineguns to provide interlocking fields of fire, both landing attempts would have failed. There is no indication that the SNLF brought ANGLICO-type teams ashore to coordinate air support and naval gunfire and Japanese amphibious tactics appear reminiscent of Gallipoli in 1915. On the other hand, the ridiculous US effort to `relieve' Wake was a half-hearted gesture, since even if the Saratoga task group had succeeded, the delivery of 200 more Marines and a dozen Brewster Buffaloes certainly going to change the fact that the Japanese could plaster the island at will. The volume has a total of five 2-D maps (situation in the Pacific, December 1941; Wake Island defensive positions; naval situation around Wake Island, December 8-23, 1941; situation on Wake and Wilkes Island, 1300-0400 hours 23 December 1941; situation on Wake Island at time of surrender) and three 3-D BEV maps (attempted Japanese landings, 11 December 1941; fighting on Wilkes Island, 23 December 1941; Japanese landings, 23 December 1941) that fully support the narrative. In particular, the small scope of the battle lends itself well to 3-D map visualization. The three battle scenes by Peter Dennis (Captain `Hammering Hank' Elrod bags his second Japanese bomber, 10 December 1941; battery L sinks the Hayate early dawn, 11 December 1941; Maizuru landing force suffers heavy casualties from Hanna's gun, 23 December 1941) are excellent, as usual.
The defense of Wake Island helped to demonstrate American resolve - well sort of, if you don't include the relief attempt - but it was a hopeless action from the start. This volume also helps to frame the issue of what happens when a nation states a defense requirement but then fails to enact timely measures to make it a viable strategy. In 1941, the U.S. wanted air bases in the central Pacific, but made no real effort to defend Guam or Wake until just before the balloon went up - dooming their small garrisons to captivity and handing the Japanese air bases paid for by the U.S. taxpayers.