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Encyclopedia > Government of Wake Island
For other uses, see Wake Island (disambiguation).

Wake Island is an atoll (having a coastline of 19.3 kilometers) in the North Pacific Ocean, about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to the Northern Mariana Islands. Due to its position relative to the IDL, it is one day ahead of the 50 states. Wake is an atoll of three coral islands formed from an underwater volcano. Its central lagoon is the former crater and the island is part of the rim. As an unorganized, unincorporated territory of the United States, it is technically administered by the Office of Insular Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior, but all current activities on the island are managed by the United States Air Force.

Wake Island


  • Geographic coordinates: 19°17′ N, 166°36′ E
  • Area (land): 6.5 kmē
  • Coastline: 19.3 km
  • Maritime claims
    • exclusive economic zone: 200 nm (370.4 km)
    • territorial sea: 12 nm (22.2 km)
  • Climate: tropical, with occasional typhoons
  • Elevation extremes:
    • lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
    • highest point: unnamed location 6 m


Discovery and settlement

The Spanish discovered the uninhabited island in 1568. The British visited it in 1796 and named it after Captain William Wake. The U.S. Navy visited the island in 1841 and named the two smallers islands after naturalist Titian Peale, a civilian, and Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, the captain of the vessel, who later was involved in the Trent Affair. It was annexed 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.-China route. The village was the first human settlement on the island, and remained in operation up to the day of the first Japanese air raid.

World War II

1941 — The Battle of Wake Island

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 were stationed on the island, commanded by Major James P.S. Devereux. On December 8, 1941, 16 Japanese medium bombers flown from bases the Marshall Islands attacked Wake Island, destroying eight of the twelve F4F Wildcat fighter aircraft belonging to Marine Corps fighter squadron VMF-211. All of the Marine garrison's defensive emplacements were left intact by the raid, which primarily targeted the Naval aircraft. On December 11, 1941 the garrison, with the support of the four remaining Wildcats, repulsed the first Japanese landing attempt (the only unsuccessful amphibious invasion attempt of World War II) and sank the destroyers Hayate and Kisaragi. Hayate was the first Japanese naval ship sunk during World War II.

The second siege on the United States Wake garrison continued without resupply and Wake fell to the Japanese Special Landing Force on December 23, 1941 (the same day that General Douglas MacArthur begins withdrawal from Manila to Bataan). The initial resistance offered by the garrison prompted the Japanese Navy to detach two aircraft carriers (Soryu and Hiryu) from the force which attacked Pearl Harbor to support the second landing attempt. Captain Henry T. Elrod, one of the pilots from VMF-211, was awarded the United States Medal of Honor posthumously for his action on the Island during the Japanese landings on the 23rd. The Japanese captured the men remaining on the island (of whom the majority were civilian contractors employed with Morrison-Knudsen Company). The story of the men was memorialized in the 1942 war movie, Wake Island. A special military decoration, the Wake Island Device was also created to honor those who had fought in the defense of the island.


On February 24, 1942, USS Enterprise attacked the Japanese garrison on Wake Island. The United States forces bombed the island from 1942 until Japan's surrender in 1945. On July 8, 1943, B-24 Liberators in transit from Midway Island bombed the Japanese garrison on Wake Island. George H. W. Bush also conducted his first mission as an aviator over Wake Island. Afterwards, Wake was occasionally raided, but never attacked en masse.

On October 7, 1943, carrier planes from USS Yorktown conducted an extremely successful raid. Fearing an imminent invasion, Rear Admiral Shigematsu Sakaibara ordered the execution of the 98 American laborers who had been left on the island. They were taken to the northern end of the island, blindfolded, and machine-gunned. For his crimes, Sakaibara and his subordinate, Lieutenant-Commander Tachibana were sentenced to death. (Tachibana's sentence was later commuted to life in prison)

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.


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, the island's airstrip 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.

The United States military personnel have left and there are no indigenous inhabitants. Wake is claimed by the Marshall Islands and some civilian personnel ("contractor inhabitants") remain. As of July 2004, an estimated 200 contractor personnel were present. The island remains a strategic location in the North Pacific Ocean. The island serves as an emergency landing location for transpacific flights. Some World War II facilities and wreckage remain on the islands.

Since 1974 from Wake Island military rockets were launched at 19°17'24" N and 166°37'05" E. These rockets are launched for the test of anti missile systems and for atmospheric re-entry tests.

This article incorporates information from The World Factbook, which is in the public domain.

External links

  • Wake Island (http://www.pacificwrecks.com/provinces/wake.html) : Pacific Wreck Database
  • Wake Island (http://dict.die.net/wake%20island/) : Dictionary Definition
  • History of Wake Island (http://www.richardsramblings.com/archives/2002/09/000164.html) : Richard's ramblings
  • Surrender of Wake by the Japanese (http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/Wake/USMC-M-Wake-VI.html) : Marines in World War II
  • U.S. Army Strategic and Missile Defense Command (http://www.smdc.army.mil/KWAJ/logistics/wake.html) : Logistics, flight schedules, facilities
  • AirNav - Wake Island Airfield (http://www.airnav.com/airport/PWAK) : Airport details, facilities and navigational aids
  • CIA World Factbook (http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/wq.html) : CIA World Factbook
  • Rocket launches at Wake Island (http://www.astronautix.com/sites/waksland.htm)

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  Results from FactBites:
Wake Island (1485 words)
Wake Island, the main or center section of the "wishbone", is much the largest of the three islands.
The surface of the three islands is a smooth roll of disintegrated coral, interspersed with boulders, which are most numerous on Wilkes and the southern leg of Wake Island, where they range to five or six feet in diameter.
Vegetation is densest on the south leg of Wake Island, west and south of the airfield.
Wake Island: Map, History and Much More from Answers.com (2726 words)
Wake Island was held by the Japanese from 1941 to 1945.
Wake Island was discovered by the Spanish in 1568, visited by the British in 1796 and named after Capt. William Wake, and annexed by the United States in 1898.
Wake Island (also known as Wake Atoll) is a coral atoll having a coastline of 12 miles (19 kilometers) in the North Pacific Ocean, located about two-thirds of the way from Honolulu (2,300 statute miles or 3,700 km west) to Guam (1,510 miles or 2,430 km east).
  More results at FactBites »



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