World War II Chronicle: 23 December 1941

The Fall of Wake

On the evening of 22 December, 1941, Task Force 14 is sailing across the Pacific to break the Japanese siege on Wake. Rear Adm. Frank “Black Jack” Fletcher’s force consists of the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, the heavy cruisers Astoria, San Francisco, and Minneapolis, as well as eight destroyers. The defenders have held out valiantly for two weeks and defeated one landing assault already. But Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo has detached aircraft carriers Soryu and Hiryu from his fleet to assist in the final assault on the American garrison.

At 2100 hours on the 22nd, Vice Adm. William S. Pye — temporarily serving as Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet until Adm. Chester Nimitz reaches Pearl Harbor from Washington, D.C. — learns that the Japanese now have carriers and what they believe are fast battleships in the area. Task Force 14’s departure from Hawaii was already delayed and they could only make 13 knots — hoping to reach Wake on Christmas Eve.

Pye orders the relief operation to turn around. Japanese troops hit the beaches in the pre-dawn hours of 23 December. 449 Marines — including 40 members of Marine Corps Fighter Squadron 211 (VMF-211) now fighting as infantry — face an opposing force that outnumbers them over 5-to-1, supported by carrier-based warplanes. Wake falls to the Japanese by the afternoon of the 23rd.

Adm. Caperton in 1917 aboard his flagship, USS Pittsburgh (Armored Cruiser No. 4) during World War I

Today’s edition commemorates the passing of Adm. William B. Caperton (“Retired Admiral Dies,” page 8), who died on 12 December. Caperton, born 1855 at Spring Hill, Tenn., graduated the U.S. Naval Academy in 1875, serving two years of sea duty before earning his commission. During World War I, Caperton was Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet.

Pictured on page 9 (see “Navigator Roosevelt”) is Capt. Elliott Roosevelt, one of four sons of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Elliott ultimately became a brigadier general in the Army Air Forces, John and Franklin Jr. served as lieutenant commanders in the Navy. James Roosevelt was a brigadier general in the Marine Corps Reserve, serving as Evans Carlson’s second-in-command in the 2d Marine Raider Battalion.

President Roosevelt and son James got to know Carlson from his time as executive officer of the Marine Detachment stationed at the “Little White House” — the president’s retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia. Following his multiple tours in China, Carlson was so concerned over the threat posed by Imperial Japan that he resigned his commission in order to communicate the growing danger. He was sworn back in as a major following Pearl Harbor.

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Images courtesy of the Southeast Missourian

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Author: Documents

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