World War II Chronicle: 16 December 1941

Before commanding the Marine defenders on Wake, Brig. Gen. Devereux served aboard the battleship USS Utah, as well as China, Cuba, and Nicaragua.

On page 8 is a brief story that has become somewhat of a legend about the defenders of Wake Island. When Hawaii radioed the garrison asking what they needed after defeating the initial assault by the Japanese invasion fleet on 11 December, the response was “Send us more Japs!”

“Send us” and “more Japs” was added to the beginning and end of the message, but that was only to confuse Japanese code breakers. “None of us was that much of a damn fool,” James Devereux (commanding officer of the 1st Defense Battalion) said after the war, “We already had more Japs than we could handle.”

Navy Frank Knox issues his report on the Pearl Harbor attack, which can be read on page 3. During the Spanish-American War, Knox served in Troop D of Theodore Roosevelt’s 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment — the “Rough Riders.” When the United States entered World War I, Maj. Knox rejoined the Army, serving as an artillery officer in France. Knox suffers several heart attacks during the war and passes away while still in office in 1944.

Headlines found in today’s edition:

  • Japs Slack Offensive at Luzon
  • Foe Strikes at Malaya
  • Nazis Flee Russian Pursuers
  • Victory In Libya Now Certain
  • Knox Report From Hawaii Less Devastating Than Expected
  • Wake Island Marines Crave More to Fight

On page 2 is a headline and a few sentences about the House of Representatives approving funding for 150,000 tons of naval fighting ships. While not as exciting as dive bomber pilots dodging flak to knock out an aircraft carrier or Marines charging up a hill to knock out an enemy pillbox, our economy was every bit as important as the valor of our fighting men when it came to winning World War II.

For a year after Pearl Harbor, Japan runs wild across the Pacific, inflicting staggeringly one-sided losses on the Allies.  Victor Davis Hanson writes in The Second World Wars: “in just four early naval battles preceding the Battle of the Coral Sea — at Pearl Harbor, Singapore, in the Indian Ocean, and the Java Sea — [the Japanese] sank or grounded six Allied battleships, one carrier, one battle cruiser, six cruisers, and five destroyers, and killed over six thousand British, Dutch, Commonwealth, and American seamen, all without suffering a single ship lost and fewer than two hundred dead.”

To those reading the news as it happened, defeat after defeat for the first several months of the war had to be scary. But those losses were because our gutted Pacific Fleet’s ships, planes, and weapons were substantially behind those of the Japanese. But the United States manufacturing base is already in the process of forging a brand-new Navy that Japan has no hope of matching in either quantity or quality. Ten new and vastly improved battleships were built, in addition to refloating all but two of those sunk on December 7. Tack on 24 Essex-class fleet carriers, nine light carriers, 122 escort carriers, 14 heavy cruisers, 328 destroyers, 400 destroyer escorts, 228 submarines, and thousands of merchant vessels, freighters, and other transports.

By 1943, the United States Navy bears little resemblance to the one that Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo’s First Air Fleet attacked on Sunday morning. Considering that Japan attacked a country that had ten times their industrial capacity, it was not a matter of who would win the Pacific War once the smoke cleared from Pearl Harbor; it was just a question of how long it would take before Japan lost.

Click on the images to zoom in

Instructions: To read the paper, click on the images (courtesy of the Southeast Missourian) to load the high-resolution version.

Today’s act of valor: over the period of 7 December through 22 December, Maj. James Devereux’s 1st Defense Battalion holds off the Japanese siege against impossible odds. For his inspiring leadership and valiant devotion to duty, Devereux is awarded the Navy Cross.

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Author: Documents

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