Naval History and Heritage Command

Attacks on the Philippines, Guam, and Wake


80-G-178320. Cavite Navy Yard, Philippines, with Sangley Point in the left distance, October 27, 1941. The larger ship docked at the Navy Yard (near right edge of image) is USS Canopus (AS-9). Canopus would be scuttled off of Bataan in 1942. USS Langley (AV-3, formerly CV-1), which supported neutrality air patrols, is tied up at Sangley Point (upper left center). She would be scuttled after receiving extensive damage from a Japanese bombing attack in 1942. Official U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click image to download.

Attack on the Philippines, December 8, 1941

On December 8, 1941, as prelude to multiple amphibious landings in the Philippines, the Japanese launched air attacks on U.S. and Filipino bases. Cavite Navy Yard, primary base of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, was first bombed on December 10 and had been largely destroyed by the time of the evacuation of Manila on December 25.

SC 130991

SC 130991. Fires at Cavite Navy Yard, Philippines, resulting from the December 10, 1941, Japanese air raid. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Click image to download.

Attacks on Guam and Wake, December 8, 1941

L40-11.09.07 Agana, Guam

L40-11.09.07. Aerial of Agana, Guam, from the north east, June 3, 1940. Click image to download.

Guam, in the Marianas, was subjected to two days of air attacks before its garrison (365 Marines, a small Navy detachment, and 308-man native Chamorro security force) surrendered to Japanese landing forces on December 10.

80-G-411160 Wake Island

80-G-411160. Wake Island. Aerial photograph taken from a PBY patrol plane on  May 25, 1941, looking west along the northern side of Wake, with Peale Island in the center and right middle distance and Wilkes Island in the left distance. Official U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click image to download.

Wake Island, a solitary atoll in the central Pacific, was being developed as a U.S. Navy air station and submarine base at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. It was also a Pan-American Airlines refueling stop for its “China Clipper” service. Wake was garrisoned by the Fleet Marine Force’s 1st Defense Battalion. Also on hand were officers and sailors of the naval air station detachment, five U.S. Army Signal Corps personnel, and just over 1,200 Pan-American employees and construction contractors.  For air defense, a Marine Corps fighter squadron, VMF-211, was belatedly provided on December 4, 1941.

Japanese air raids on Wake commenced on December 8 and destroyed most of VMF-211’s aircraft on the ground, along with much of Wake’s infrastructure. A Japanese landing attempt on December 11 was repulsed but with heavy losses to shore defenses and the surviving VMF-211 aircraft. Follow-on Japanese air attacks and a second amphibious assault on December 23 were more successful. The outnumbered U.S. defenders surrendered later that day.

80-G-179006 Loss of Wake Island, December 1942

80-G-179006. Wrecked Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighters of Marine Fighting Squadron 211 (VMF-211), photographed by the Wake airstrip sometime after the Japanese captured the island on December 23, 1941. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click image to download.

Learn more:

Navy Department Communiques, December 1941
(digitized in Navy Department Library Online Reading Room)


Robert J. Cressman, The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II. Annapolis, MD/Washington, DC: Naval Institute Press/Naval Historical Center, 1999.

Samuel Eliot Morison, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. III—CThe Rising Sun over the Pacific, 1931–April 1942. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1950.

Published:Thu Mar 23 11:10:45 EDT 2017