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Wake Island (CVE-65)

An atoll in the northern Pacific, consisting of three islands (Wake, Peale, and Wilkes) which became an American advanced base in 1941. At the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 (8 December on Wake), all naval activities at the atoll were under Comdr. Winfield S. Cunningham, United States Navy; under his overall command were the 13 officers and 365 enlisted men of the 1st Defense Battalion, United States Marine Corps, commanded byMaj. James P. S. Devereaux, United States Marine Corps, whose heaviest guns were 5-inch/51-caliber rifles once mounted in old battleships. A Marine fighter squadron, dispatched at the "eleventh hour," reached Wake only a few days before the Japanese attack; that unit, consisting of 12 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighters from Marine Fighter Squadron (VMF) 211, was commanded by Maj. Paul A. Putnam, USMC. Also on Wake were 1,000 civilian construction workers employed by Contractors, Pacific, Naval Air Bases, and a small Army communication detachment.

Although the atoll went to general quarters upon hearing of the Pearl Harbor attack, a combination of a lack of radar, loud surf noises (which made sound-detectors practically useless), and heavy cloud cover rendered it possible for the Japanese to achieve a surprise attack shortly before noon on 8 December. Twenty-seven planes emerged from the low-hanging clouds and bombed and strafed the airfield, destroying seven of VMF-211's F4F-3's and killing or wounding 62 percent of the aviation personnel on the island.

Over the next two weeks, the Japanese bombed Wake almost incessantly, softening up the atoll for invasion. The first attempt met with failure on 11 December, when shore batteries and VMF-211's remaining F4F-3's sank two Japanese destroyers, Kisaragi and Hayate, and damaged the light cruiser Yubari, the flagship of the invasion force.

The setback suffered on 11 December forced the Japanese to bring up reinforcements, including two of the homeward-bound Pearl Harbor striking force carriers, and carrier-based planes began hitting the atoll on 21 December. The following day, the last two flyable Wildcats, there had never been more than four operational over the two-week defense of Wake, went up to do battle with Japanese. One crippled Wildcat returned, so badly shot-up that it was un-useable.

With the aviation element now disposed of, the Japanese felt confident that they could land. Accordingly, at 0200 on 23 December 1941, the enemy managed to establish a beachhead, running two old destroyer-transports ashore in the process under heavy gunfire. After bitter fighting, the men of the Japanese Special Naval Landing Force managed to overcome the defending Marines but not without sustaining heavy casualties. Wilkes was the last island to surrender, on theafternoon of the 23d.

(CVE-65: dp. 7,800; l. 512'3"; b. 65'; ew. 108'1"; dr. 22'6"; s. 19 k.; cpl. 860; a. 1 5", 16 40mm., ac. 28; cl. Casablanca; T. S4-S2-BB3)

Wake Island (CVE-65) was laid down under a Maritime Commission contract (MC hull 1102) on 6 Februrary 1943 at Vancouver, Wash., by the Kaiser Shipbuilding Co., Inc.; launched on 15 September 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Frederick Carl Sherman, the wife of Rear Admiral Sherman; commissioned on 7 November 1943, Capt. Hames R. Tague in command.

Following commissioning, Wake Island received supplies, ammunition, and gasoline at Astoria, Oreg., and got underway on 27 November 1943 for Puget Sound and anchored the following day at Bremerton, Wash., where she continued to load supplies and ammunition. The escort carrier operated in the Puget Sound area conducting structural firing tests and making stops at Port Townsend, Sinclair Inlet, and Seattle before sailing south on 6 December. She arrived at SanFrancisco on 10 December; took on fuel; and, two days later, headed for San Diego, arriving there on 14 December for shakedown and availability. Before departing, the escort carrier took on board the personnel and planes of squadron VC-69.

On 11 January 1944, Wake Island got underway and steamed, via the Panama Canal, to Hampton Roads, Va., arriving at Norfolk on 26 January. Following availability, the escort carrier sailed on 14 February for New York in company with Mission Bay (CVE-59), Swenning (DE-394), and Haverfield (DE-393).

On 16 February, after loading supplies and embarking Army and Navy officers for transportation, Wake Island set course for Recife, Brazil, the first stop on her voyage to Karachi, India. She arrived at Recife on 1 March and made stops at Capetown, South Africa, and Diego Suarez Harbor, Madagascar, before arriving at Karachi on 29 March. The escort carrier began her return trip on 3 April and arrived back at Norfolk on 12 May.

She spent the remainder of May and part of June undergoing alterations and an overhaul. She then took on board the planes and personnel of VC-58 and, on 15 June, set course toward Bermuda for duty as the nucleus of Task Group (TG) 22.6, a combined, air-and-surface, antisubmarine, hunter-killer group. The highlight of her cruise came on 2 July, when one of the carrier's Avengers intercepted the surfaced U-543 off the coast of Africa between the Canary and theCape Verde Islands, making its way home after an unsuccessful patrol in the Gulf of Guinea. The torpedo bomber's pilot, Ens. Frederick L. Moore, USNR, braved heavy antiaircraft fire from the German submarine while making two bombing attacks which sank the U-boat. However, no evidence appeared to confirm the kill, so the escort carrier and her escorts spent the ensuing fortnight hunting the already-destroyed submarine.

Task Group (TG) 22.6 began her next serious encounter with the enemy two minutes before noon on 2 August, when Howard (DE-138) sighted a U-boat's conning tower some eight miles away. She and Fiske (DE-143) were detached to investigate, while all planes in the area were recalled. A "killer" TBM, armed with depth bombs, was catapulted at 1209. At 1235, a torpedo, apparently fired by a second submarine, hit Fiske midships and broke her in two. The ships of the group managed to maneuver clear of two more torpedoes which were fired at the force. The first report of casualties listed 4 dead, 26 missing, and 55 seriously injured. Farquhar (DE-139) was detached to support Howard and later to pick up survivors. As the group was preparing to avenge the loss of Fiske, heavy fog and rain stopped all operations.

On 4 August, TG 22.6 was dissolved and, four days later, Wake Island made rendezvous with Convoy UC-32 as it steamed westward. She left the convoy on the 11th and headed for Hampton Roads. She arrived at Norfolk on the 15th for alterations and repairs which lasted through the 25th. Following post-repair trials and a brief availability, the escort carrier sailed on 29 August for Quonset, R.I., to relieve Mission Bay on carrier aircraft qualification operation duty which lasted through 30 October.

The next day, the escort carrier sailed for Norfolk with Lea (DD-118) and Babbitt (DD-128) as escorts and arrived on 1 November for a period of availability. On the 11th, she stood out of Norfolk in company with Shamrock Bay (CVE-84) and escorts bound via the Panama Canal for the west coast. The escort carrier entered San Francisco Bay on 28 November and moored at the Naval Air Station, Alameda, Calif., where she embarked two new aircraft squadrons before headingfor Hawaii the following day. She moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, on 5 December; detached squadrons VC-9 and VPB-149; and disembarked personnel, planes, and equipment. Ten days later, Wake Island, her flight deck laden with cargo and unable to launch or receive planes, got underway for the Admiralty Islands with escorts Rowell (DE-403) and O'Flaherty (DE-340). She arrived at Manus on 27 December, discharged all cargo and passengers, sailed for the Palau Islands, and arrived at Kossol Reef Lagoon on New Year's Day 1945. Late that evening, she loaded ammunition from a barge and got underway at 0642, bound for the Philippines and the forthcoming invasion of Luzon, in company with a tremendous fleet which had gathered for the operation.

Two days later, Wake Island passed through Surigao Strait and launched both SNAP (antisnooper air patrol) and LCAP (local combat air patrol). On 4 January 1945, she was operating in the Sulu Sea and launched a three-hour SNAP. The American planes sighted a single-engine Japanese float plane on the water off the southeastern tip of Panay Island. It appeared to be in the hands of a salvage crew. Two of the scout planes made two strafing runs each and left the plane riddled and the salvage crew dispersed.

The Fleet entered Panay Gulf about 100 miles northwest of Manila. Wake Island's surface search radar was jammed by enemy transmission, and the escort carrier went to general quarters at 1714. One minute later, a Japanese single-engine plane appeared overhead in a steep diving attack on Ommaney Bay (CVE-79), some 4,200 yards away. Fire immediately flared from that carrier's flight and hangar decks; and, after 20 minutes, her crew abandoned Ommaney Bay under a dense cloud of black smoke. She burned with explosions of ammunition and was finally scuttled astern of the Fleet by a torpedo from an American destroyer.

On 5 January, Wake Island received 19 survivors of Ommaney Bay who had been rescued by Maury (DD-401). The ship went to general quarters with bogies on the radar screen, but three threatened raids failed to develop. At 1502, eight LCAP fighters from Wake Island pounced upon a division of Japanese Army fighters. When the melee was over, the Americans claimed three certain kills and a probable without suffering any loss themselves. In all, Wake Island launched three LCAP's during daylight. At 1655, the ship again went to general quarters to repel an air attack and for the next hour was under severe attack. At one time, six single-engine planes were simultaneously diving on carriers off Wake Island's port side. Five were knocked down by antiaircraft fire, narrowly missing their targets, but one managed a hit on Manila Bay (CVE-61). She caught fire and dropped behind, but her efficient damage control efforts enabled her to resume her position in the formation in only 51 minutes, with her flight deck out of commission. During the attack, at least 10 enemy planes splashed within 5,000 yards of Wake Island, and her own antiaircraft gunners claimed three.

On 13 January, two enemy planes attacked Salamaua (CVE-96), cruising about eight miles astern of Wake Island. One of the attackers was shot down, but the other scored a hit which briefly slowed that carrier. She soon regained speed and controlled a fire on her hanger deck without losing her position in the formation. Four days later, Wake Island was detached and left Lingayen Gulf in TG 77.14, a force consisting of eight escort carriers and their screen to retire to Ulithi, Caroline Islands. She anchored at Ulithi's southern anchorage from 23 to 31 January, undergoing availability and preparing for further operations. During this period, her home port was changed from Norfolk to Puget Sound, Bremerton, Washington.

On 10 February 1945, the escort carrier got underway to join TG 52.2, which had been established to provide air cover and support while escorting major units to the Volcano Islands and then to furnish naval gunfire, spotting, and direct air support for landing forces. The following day, she steamed to an area off Saipan-Tinian where rehearsals for the invasion took place. On 13 February, Wake Island's commanding officer was designated OTC of Task Unit (TU) 52.2.1.

On 14 February, the escort carrier set course for Iwo Jima and, two days later, arrived at her operating area 49 miles from the southwestern top of Iwo. Shortly after daylight, the heavy bombardment group began shelling shore installations on the island. Planes from Wake Island flew spotting sorties, attacked defensive works with rocket fire, and flew local antisubmarine patrols and hydrographic observation flights over the beaches. D-day for the invasion of Iwo Jima was 19 February; and, on that day, Wake Island operated as before, flying 56 spotting sorties and firing 87 rockets.

Bismarck Sea (CVE-95), a carrier in her group, was sunk by enemy air attack on 21 February. The next day, Wake Island was detached and ordered to proceed to a rendezvous point east of Iwo Jima. There, she was refueled on 23 February and set course to return to the operating area east of Iwo Jima. The following day, she took station some 35 miles from the southern tip of Iwo Jima and flew 55 spotting sorties, expending 205 rockets. In the ensuing weeks, Wake Island continued her operations supporting the Marines who paid with pain and blood for each square foot of the bitterly defended island. On 5 March, she received a message of special interest from Commander, TU 52.2.1, Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague: "If your ship is as good as your Air Department and Squadron, it is a standout. I have seen nearly all the combat CVEs' work and I must say the Wake tops them all for efficiency, smoothness and good judgement. I hope we are together again."

After 24 consecutive days of operations, Wake Island retired on 8 March from her station off Iwo Jima and rendezvoused with Saganaw Bay (CVE-82) west of the island. The next day, they headed for Ulithi and arrived there on 14 March.

The escort carrier spent the next five days at anchor, preparing for another operation. She got underway on 21 March to supply air support for forces about to invade Okinawa. On 25 March, she arrived in the operating area roughly 60 miles south of Okinawa Jima and began sending flights over Kerama Retto beaches and Okinawa. Wake Island continued her support of the campaign through the initial landings at Okinawa on 1 April.

On the 3d, the escort carrier was operating southeast of Okinawa. At 1722, she completed the landing of her fifth spotting sortie, and all her planes were back on board. Eight minutes later, she went to general quarters, and enemy bogies were reported. At 1742, a violent wave hit the ship while planes were being moved for spotting on the flight deck. Two FM-2's were thrown off the flight deck into the water. Two fighters were flipped over on their backs, and two others received severe damage when tossed about.

At the same instant, two FM-2's broke loose from their lashings on the hangar deck and collided with major damage to both. At 1744, a Japanese single-engine plane plunged at the ship from a high angle and missed the port forward corner of the flight deck, exploding in the water abreast the forecastle. Thirty seconds later, a second similar plane whistled down on the starboard side at tremendous speed, narrowly missing the bridge structure and plunging into the water about 10 feet from the hull. The plane exploded after impact, ripping a hole in the ship's side below the waterline, about 45 feet long and about 18 feet from top to bottom and making many shrapnel holes. Parts of the plane were thrown onto the forecastle and into the gun sponsons. Various compartments were flooded, and the shell plating cracked between the first and second decks. Other shell plating buckled, and the main condensers were flooded with salt water, contaminating some 30,000 gallons of fresh water and 70,000 gallons of fuel oil. At 1824, salting made it necessary to secure the forward engine, and the ship proceeded on one propeller. Remarkably, there were no injuries; and, by 2140, corrective measures had been taken, and the ship was again steaming on both engines. The next day, Wake Island steamed to Kerama Retto anchorage with escorts Dennis (DE-405) and Gross (DE-444). While she remained there undergoing inspection by the fleet salvage officer, special precautions were taken to guard against possible Japanese suicide swimmers from islands of the cluster not yet secured.

The escort carrier set course for Guam on 6 April 1945 and, four days later, arrived at Apra Harbor for repairs in drydock which lasted through 20 May. The next day, the ship, in company with Wantuck (APD-125), headed for Okinawa where she resumed her mission of supporting the troops on the island.

Wake Island was then detached on 2 June and, escorted by Ralph Talbot (DD-390), proceeded to Kerama Retto for replenishment. At Kaika Harbor, Kerama Retto, she loaded bombs, rockets, and dry and fresh provisions, despite many enemy aircraft in the vicinity. The escort carrier made rendezvous with Cowanesque (AO-79) for refueling and, once her tanks were full, returned to the operating area off Okinawa on 6 June 1945.

The following day, Wake Island, as part of the task unit, engaged in strikes on Sakashima Gunto. Natoma Bay (CVE-62) was hit by a suicide plane, and Sargent Bay (CVE-83) was attacked by a second. Wake Island's support operations continued until 15 June when Rear Admiral Durgin landed on board the escort carrier for an official visit. In a ceremony held on the flight deck, he presented citations and awards to 16 pilots of VOC-1.

The following day, Wake Island and Dennis were detached, proceeded independently for Kerama Retto, and arrived there on 17 June. She was replenished and then returned to the area southwest of Okinawa to resume flight operations. Two days later, Wake Island received a message detaching her from TG 32.1 due to battle damage received on 3 April and a subsequent finding by the Bureau of Ships that "pending yardwork, this vessel is considered unsafe for operations in a forward area." She headed for Guam and conducted firing practices and launched LASP sorties en route. Upon her arrival at Port Apra on 24 June, all personnel of squadron VOC-1 were transferred to Naval Air Base, Agana.

Between 25 June and 3 July, Wake Island, loaded with nine Hellcats, 24 Corsairs, 11 Avengers, and two Piper Cubs, made a round-trip to Okinawa and delivered aircraft with 46 ferry pilots to Tactical Air Force, Yontan Field, Okinawa.

Arriving back at Guam, the escort carrier unloaded ammunition and aviation spares and took on board 300 sacks of United States mail along with 10 Corsair and 20 Helldiver duds for transportation, then sailed for Pearl Harbor in company with Cape Esperance (CVE-88) and Bull (APD-78). On July 10th, she detached Bull and Cape Esperance and proceeded independently to Hawaii. A week later, the ship arrived at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, where she unloaded her cargo and took on board 138 enlisted men and 49 officers as passengers to the continental United States. On 18 July, Wake Island cleared the channel at Pearl Harbor, bound for southern California. She arrived at San Diego, Calif., on 25 July and discharged her passengers and planes.

While moored at North Island, San Diego, the escort carrier took on board six Avengers, 10 Wildcats, 53 officers, and 13 men of squadron VC-75 for training and carrier aircraft landing qualifications off San Nicholas Island. She continued to conduct flight qualifications through December 1945.

This period was distinguished on 5 November when the first jet-propelled landing on an aircraft carrier was made on Wake Island. Personnel of VF-41 and representatives of the Ryan Company came on board during the morning, and the escort carrier got underway from the Naval Air Station, San Diego, in company with O'Brien (DD-725). For two days, she conducted tests and landing qualifications for the jet-propelled FR-l's (Fireballs).

With the new year 1946, Wake Island prepared for inactivation. She was decommissioned on 5 April; struck from the Navy list on the 17th; and subsequently sold for scrap to the Boston Metals Co., Baltimore, Md., on 19 April 1946.

Wake Island earned three battle stars during World War II.

Published: Wed Apr 27 03:29:47 EDT 2016