World War II Chronicle: 7 December 1941

As the sun rose on Wake Island, word reached the remote coral atoll that the Pacific Fleet headquarters at Pearl Harbor was under attack — America was now at war. Maj. Paul A. Putnam ordered his fighter squadron to begin around-the-clock reconnaissance patrols in case Wake, some 2,000 miles west of Hawaii, was targeted as well.

Maj. Putnam earned the Navy Cross for his role during the Battle of Wake

12 brand-new F4F Wildcats, chosen from Maj. Putnam’s Marine Fighter Squadron 211 (VMF-211), had just landed at Wake four days ago — transferred from Pearl Harbor in part of the repositioning of forces in response to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Howard R. Stark’s 27 November “war warning.” 1,200 Morrison-Knudsen Corporation defense contractors were in the process of turning Wake into a military base. At 1158, a formation of Japanese G3M Betty bombers flew in from the south (VMF-211’s prowling Wildcats were prowling north of the island), targeting the parked fighters, sitting totally exposed as the bulldozer crews wouldn’t have the parking revetments for the new fighters completed until 1400 hours.

When the low-level attack was over, the base’s fuel tanks were burning, seven Wildcats were completely destroyed (an eighth was heavily damaged), 23 of the squadron’s 55 men and officers were killed and 11 wounded. VMF-211 may have been down — just four serviceable planes (those in the air during the attack), little fuel, and other than what they could salvage from the four shattered Wildcats, and no spare parts — but they were most definitely not out.

Over the next two weeks those four fighters, coupled with spectacular gunnery from the 1st Coastal Defense Battalion, would make the Japanese pay dearly to take the island — sinking or damaging every vessel in the enemy invasion fleet.

Welcome to the first installment of the World War II Chronicle at Unto the Breach. Each day (except Sunday) we will publish clippings from the newspaper 78 years ago, transporting readers back in time so they can witness the second world war as it happened. Click below to continue reading about the early accounts of the Pearl Harbor attacks when reports — some accurate, some not — were still streaming in.

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Today’s act of valor: Mess Attendant Doris “Dorie” Miller of USS West Virginia earns the Navy Cross by carrying his mortally wounded skipper to a position of safety then manning a machinegun he had no previous training and defends his ship against attacking enemy planes.

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Author: Documents

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