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Wake Island (also known as Wake Atoll, ) is a coral atoll having a coastline of 12 miles (19 kilometers) in the North Pacific Oceanmarker, located about two-thirds of the way from Honolulumarker (2,300 statute miles or 3,700 km west) to Guammarker (1,510 miles or 2,430 km east). It is an unorganized, unincorporated territory of the United Statesmarker, administered by the Office of Insular Affairs, U.S.marker Department of the Interiormarker. Access to the island is restricted, and all current activities on the island are managed by the United States Air Force. There is also a missile facility operated by the United States Army. The largest island (Wake Island) is the center of activity on the atoll and has a 9,800 foot (3,000 m) runway.

For statistical purposes, Wake is grouped as one of the United States Minor Outlying Islands.


Aerial overview of the atoll
Wake is located to the west of the International Date Linemarker and is one day ahead of the 50 states.

Although Wake is officially called an island in the singular form, it is actually an atoll comprising three islands surrounding a central lagoon:

Island acres hectares
Wake Islet 1,367.04 553.22
Wilkes Islet 197.44 79.90
Peale Islet 256.83 103.94
Wake Island 1,821.31 737.06
Lagoon (water) 1,480 600
Sand Flat 910 370

Referring to the atoll as an island is the result of a pre-World War II desire by the United States Navy to distinguish Wake from other atolls, most of which were Japanese territorymarker.


Wake Island lies in the tropical zone but is subject to periodic temperate storms during the winter. Sea surface temperatures are warm all year long, reaching above in summer and fall. Typhoons occasionally pass over the island.

Typhoon Ioke

On August 28, 2006, the United States Air Force evacuated all 188 residents and suspended all operations as category 5 Super Typhoon Ioke headed toward Wake. By August 31, the southwestern eyewall of the storm passed over the island, with winds well over , driving a storm surge and waves directly into the lagoon inflicting major damage. A US Air Force assessment and repair team returned to the island in September 2006 and restored limited function to the airfield and facilities leading ultimately to a full return to normal operations.

Typhoon Sarah

On September 16, 1967, at 2240 local time, the eye of Typhoon Sarah passed over the island. Sustained winds in the eyewall were 130 knots, from the north before the eye, and from the south afterwards. All non-reinforced structures were demolished. There were no serious injuries, and the population was evacuated after the storm.


Pre-European discovery

Some scant indigenous Marshallese oral tradition suggests that prior to European exploration, nearby Marshall Islandersmarker traveled to what is now Wake Island, which the travelers called Enen-kio after a small orange shrub-flower said to have been found on the atoll. In ancient Marshallese religion, rituals surrounding the tattooing of tribal chiefs, called Iroijlaplap, were done using certain fresh human bones, which required a human sacrifice. A man could save himself from being sacrificed if he obtained a wing bone from a certain very large seabird said to have existed on Enen-kio. Small groups would therefore brave traveling to the atoll in hope of obtaining and returning with this bone, thus saving the life of the potential human sacrifice.

Based upon this oral tradition along with concepts of first-usage lands rights claims commonly held in Micronesian cultures as legitimate for settling indigenous land disputes, a small separatist group of Marshall Island descendents who call themselves the Kingdom of EnenKio lay claim to Wake Island. The Marshall Islands and U.S. governments, who also have competing claims over the island, vigorously deny the claim. No evidence suggests there was ever a permanent settlement of Marshall Islanders on Wake Island.

European discovery and exploration

On October 20, 1568, Álvaro de Mendaña de Neyra, a Spanish explorer with two ships, Los Reyes and Todos Santos, discovered "a low barren island, judged to be eight leagues in circumference", to which he gave the name of "San Francisco". The island was eventually named for Captain William Wake, master of the Britishmarker trading schooner, Prince William Henry, who visited in 1796.

JN Reynolds's 1828 report to the US House of Representatives describes Capt. Edward Gardner's discovery of a long island situated at 19°15' N, 166°32' E, with a reef at the eastern edge, while captaining the Bellona in 1823. The island was "covered with wood, having a very green and rural appearance" and was probably, Reynolds concludes, Wake Island. It was placed on charts of the time by John Arrowsmith.

On December 20, 1840, the United States Exploring Expedition commanded by Commodore Charles Wilkes of the U.S. Navy, landed on and surveyed Wake. Wilkes described the atoll as "a low coral one, of triangular form and eight feet above the surface. It has a large lagoon in the centre, which was well filled with fish of a variety of species among these were some fine mullet." He also noted that Wake had no fresh water and that it was covered with shrubs, "the most abundant of which was the tournefortia." The expedition's naturalist, Titian Peale, collected many new specimens, including an egg from a short-tailed albatross and various marine life specimens.

Wreck of the Libelle

Wake Island first received international attention with the wreck of the Libelle. On the night of March 4, 1866, the 650 ton barque Libelle of Bremenmarker, Germanymarker, struck the eastern reef of Wake Island during a gale. The ship was under the command of Captain Tobias and en route from San Franciscomarker to Hong Kongmarker. Among its passengers were opera singer Anna Bishop (ex wife of the celebrated French harpist Nicolas Bochsa), her husband Martin Schultz (a New Yorkmarker diamond merchant), and three other members of an English opera troupe.

After 21 days, the 30 stranded passengers and crew set sail in a longboat and a gig for the then Spanish island of Guammarker. The longboat, containing the opera troupe, Mr. Schultz and other passengers, arrived on Guam April 8. The gig, commanded by the Libelle's captain, was lost at sea. While stranded on Wake Island, Captain Tobias had buried valuable cargo including 1,000 flasks (34,500 kg) of mercury, coins and precious stones worth approximately $150,000, and at least five ships conducted salvage operations in their recovery. The plight of the Libelle, its passengers and cargo was reported by many newspapers.

American possession

Wake Island was annexed as empty territory by the United States on January 17, 1899. In 1935, Pan American Airways constructed a small village, nicknamed "PAAville", to service flights on its U.S.–Chinamarker route. The village was the first human settlement on the island and relied upon the U.S. mainland for its food and water supplies; it remained in operation up to the day of the first Japanese air raid.

Military buildup

In January 1941, the United States Navy constructed a military base on the atoll. On August 19, the first permanent military garrison, elements of the 1st Marine Defense Battalion, totaling 449 officers and men, were stationed on the island, commanded by Navy Commander Winfield Scott Cunningham. Also on the island were 68 U.S. Naval personnel and about 1,221 civilian workers.

They were armed with six used 5 inch/51 cal (127 mm) cannons, removed from a scrapped battleship; twelve 3 inch/50 cal (76.2 mm) M3 anti-aircraft guns (with only a single working anti-aircraft director among them); eighteen Browning M2 .50 caliber heavy machine guns; and thirty heavy, medium, and light, water or air-cooled Browning M1917 .30 caliber machine guns in various conditions but all operational.

World War II

Battle of Wake Island

On December 8, 1941, the same day as the Attack on Pearl Harbormarker (Wake being on the opposite side of the International Date Line), at least 27 Japanesemarker medium "Nell" bombers flown from bases on Kwajalein in the Marshall Island group attacked Wake Island, destroying eight of the 12 F4F Wildcat fighter aircraft belonging to Marine Corps fighter squadron VMF-211 on the ground. All of the Marine garrison's defensive emplacements were left intact by the raid, which primarily targeted the aircraft.

The garrison—supplemented by civilian volunteers—repelled several Japanese landing attempts. An American journalist reported that after the initial Japanese amphibious assault was beaten back with heavy losses, the American commander was asked by his superiors if he needed anything, to which the commander sent back the message "Send us more Japs!", a reply which became a popular legend. However, when Lt. Col. Devereux learned after the war that he was credited with that message he pointed out that he was not the commander, contrary to the reports, and denied sending that message: "As far as I know, it wasn't sent at all. None of us was that much of a damn fool. We already had more Japs than we could handle."

Winfield S. Cunningham, Commander, US Navy, was in charge of Wake Island. He had ordered coded messages be sent during operations and a junior officer had added "send us" and "more Japs" to the beginning and end of a message to confuse the Japanese code breakers. This was put back together at Pearl Harbor and became part of the lore of WWII. Cunningham and Deveraux each wrote books about the battle and the aftermaths and imprisonment.

The garrison was eventually overwhelmed by the numerically superior Japanese invasion force. American casualties were 52 military personnel and approximately 70 civilians killed. Japanese losses exceeded 700 killed, with some estimates ranging as high as 1,000; in addition, the Japanese lost two destroyers, one submarine and 24 aircraft.

In the aftermath of the battle, most of the captured civilians and military personnel were sent to POW camps in Asia, while some of the civilian laborers were enslaved by the Japanese and tasked with improving the island's defenses.

Capt Henry T. Elrod, USMC, one of the pilots from VMF-211, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for shooting down two Japanese Zero fighters, sinking a destroyer and fighting on the ground to defend the island. Many of his comrades were also highly decorated for their roles in the fighting. The Wake Island Device was created for American veterans of the battle.

Japanese occupation and surrender

The 98 rock
The Japanese-occupied island (called Otori-Shima or "Bird Island" for its birdlike shape) was bombed several times by American air forces; one of these raids was the first mission for future United States President George H.W. Bush .

After a successful American air raid on October 5, 1943, the Japanese garrison commander Rear Adm. Shigematsu Sakaibara ordered the execution of the 98 captured American civilian forced laborers remaining on the island. They were taken to the northern end of the island, blindfolded and machine-gunned. One of the prisoners escaped the massacre, carving the message 98 US PW 5-10-43 on a large coral rock near where the victims had been hastily buried in a mass grave. The unknown American was recaptured and beheaded. After the war, Sakaibara and his subordinate, Lt. Cmdr. Tachibana, were sentenced to death for this and other war crimes. Tachibana's sentence was later commuted to life in prison. The murdered civilian POWs were reburied in Honolulu Memorial, Hawaii.

During the Japanese occupation, Wake island's native species of flightless Rail Bird was hunted and eaten to extinction after the occupants became cut off from the supply route in 1944. Because of its flightlessness and curiosity, it was easy for just two men to catch barehanded. The last rail was killed in 1945 by the starving soldiers.

On September 4, 1945, the remaining Japanese garrison surrendered to a detachment of the United States Marine Corps. In a brief ceremony, the handover of Wake was officially conducted.


On October 14, 1950, the island served as a one-day meeting site between General Douglas MacArthur and President Harry S. Truman, meeting to discuss strategy for the Korean War hostilities that had broken out four months earlier.

Since 1974, the island's airstrip, Wake Island Airfieldmarker, has been used by the U.S. military and some commercial cargo planes, as well as for emergency landings. There are over 700 landings a year on the island. There are also two offshore anchorages for large ships. On September 16, 1985, the World War II-related resources on Peale, Wilkes, and Wake Islands were designated a National Historic Landmark (and thereby also listed on the National Register of Historic Places).

The United States military personnel have left, and there are no indigenous inhabitants. Wake, with an undelineated maritime boundary with them, is claimed by the Marshall Islandsmarker, and some civilian personnel ("contractor inhabitants") remain. , an estimated 200 contractor personnel were present. The island remains a strategic location in the North Pacific Ocean and serves as an emergency landing location for transpacific flights. Some World War II facilities and wreckage remain on the islands.

Subsequently the island was used for strategic defense and operations during the Cold War. It was administered by the United States Army Space and Missile Defense Command (formerly known as the United States Army Space and Strategic Defense Command). Since 1974, Wake Island has served as a launch platform for military rockets involved in testing anti-missile systems and atmospheric re-entry trials. Launches take place from

From late April until the middle of August 1975, Wake Island was used as a refugee camp for more than 8,000 Vietnamesemarker refugees who fled their homeland after the fall of Saigonmarker that ended the Vietnam War.

Territorial claim by the Republic of the Marshall Islands

The territorial claim by the Republic of the Marshall Islandsmarker on Wake Atoll leaves a certain amount of ambiguity regarding the actual or hypothetical role of the U.S. military, responsible under agreement for the defense of Marshallese territory, in the event of any strategic crisis or hostilities involving Wake. However, the atoll was formally annexed by the U.S. in the 19th century and is still administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of Insular Affairs.


  1. - 'Super' Typhoon Slams Tiny Wake Island - Australia New Zealand | Indonesia | Map
  2. 'Monster' Typhoon Ioke Makes Direct Hit on Wake Island
  3. NOAA The 1967 Central Pacific Tropical Cyclone Season
  4. Tons of Books Online
  5. EnenKio Introduction
  6. Land disputes
  10. Wake Island
  11. Reynold's Report to the House of Representatives
  12. Condition Red: Marine Defense Battalions in World War II (Battalion Summaries)
  13. Legends
  14. .
  15. CIA - The World Factbook - Wake Island


  • Sloan, Bill. Given up for Dead: America's Heroic Stand at Wake Island. Bantam Books, 2003. ISBN 0-553-80302-6.
  • Heine, Dwight and Jon A. Anderson, "Enen-kio: Island of the Kio Flower", Micronesia Reporter, 1971.
  • Urwin, Gregory J.W. ..Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island. University of Nebraska Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8032-9562-6.
  • Drechsler, Bernd; Begerow, Thomas; Pawlik, Peter-Michael. Den Tod vor Augen - Die unglückliche Reise der Bremer Bark Libelle in den Jahren 1864 bis 1866. Bremen 2007.

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