A blood-and-guts tale from the early days of WWII.
Not many Americans of the day knew much about Wake Island, a dismal atoll closer to Tokyo than Honolulu. But, writes journalist Sloan, it had been on the Japanese war planners’ map ever since the US Navy authorized the use of its outpost as a refueling station for Pan American Airways’ “China Clipper” service, which the Japanese saw as proof that “Wake was quietly being groomed for future military use.” As indeed it was, Sloan continues: Wake lay close to major Japanese bases, and it was easier to defend than Guam or Midway, providing one link in “a defensive chain envisioned by Washington as a protective westward shield for Hawaii.” The Japanese attacked Wake only a few hours after bombing Pearl Harbor, and for the next two weeks Japanese and Americans fought out what some contemporary writers characterized as a latter-day Alamo. Sloan begins all this on a clunky note—he promises, with much self-satisfaction, to place the reader “down in the sweat, smoke, and grime of foxholes and gun pits, where bullets whine, bombs explode, coral splinters fly, blood spurts, rats bite, men scream, and death is never more than inches away”—but his narrative overall is a competent if by-the-numbers account of that siege. He adds value to it by drawing on the memories of a rapidly dwindling number of American (and a couple of Japanese) veterans, and by pointing to some historical accidents that the fight exposed: one, that the Japanese made several costly blunders, including the failure to provide adequate air cover for its task force, and two, that the American commanders in Hawaii missed an opportunity to reinforce Wake and attack the oncoming Japanese fleet. As it was, the Japanese eventually forced Wake’s defenders to give up, but at a lopsided cost: whereas 4,500 Japanese were killed attacking and holding the atoll, Sloan writes, only 366 Americans “died either of combat injuries or the ill effects of captivity.”
It’s no Guadalcanal Diary or From Here to Eternity, but likely to interest WWII buffs all the same.