Tag Archives: Wake Island

8–23 December 1941

Captain Henry Talmadge Elrod, United States Marine Corps
Captain Henry Talmadge Elrod, United States Marine Corps

Wake Island is a coral atoll in the Pacific Ocean, located 2,298 miles (3,698 kilometers) west of Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, and 1,991 miles (3,204 kilometers) east of Tokyo, Japan. The atoll consists of three small islands with a lagoon, surrounded by a coral reef. As part of the American expansion in the Pacific, in 1899, unoccupied Wake Island was claimed by the United States under orders of President William McKinley.

In 1935, Pan American Airways constructed a fuel and maintenance station for its transpacific flying boats, with a 48-room hotel for passengers and employees of the airline. In 1941, the U.S. Navy established a base at the atoll, and constructed an airfield and port facilities. A battalion of U.S. Marines garrisoned the base. Approximately 1,100 civilian construction workers were also at Wake. A detachment of twelve Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters of VMF-211 were delivered by an aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise (CV-6), 4 December 1941.

Aerial reconnaissance photographic mosaic of Wake Island, 3 December 1941. (U.S. Navy)

On December 8, 1941 (Wake is west of the International Date Line; this was December 7 in Hawaii), the island was attacked by 36 Mitsubishi G3M Type 96 twin-engine bombers from the Marshall Islands. Eight of VMF-211’s Wildcats were destroyed. Nearly half of the detachment’s personnel were killed or wounded. Several air attacks followed.

On 11 December the Japanese invasion force arrived. Defense artillery sank a Japanese destroyer, Hayate, while VMF-211’s four remaining Wildcats sank another destroyer, Kisaragi. The invasion force flagship, light cruiser Yubari, was bracketed by the Marine’s shore-based guns, and the Japanese force withdrew.

On 23 December, a second invasion force, supported by two aircraft carriers, arrived and Japanese marines came ashore. The outnumbered defenders surrendered the island late in the day.

In January 1942, surviving American military personnel and most of the civilian workers were removed from the island aboard a Japanese passenger ship, Nitta Maru. They were taken to prison camps in China and Japan. On the night of 7 October 1943, 98 of the American civilians still on Wake Island were lined up on the beach and killed by machine gun fire.

Captain Henry T. Elrod's Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, Bu. No. 4019, with squadron markings 211-F-11, damaged beyond repair on Wake Island. This photograph was taken by the landing force of the Imperial Japanese Navy, sometime on or after 23 December 1941. (IJN)
Captain Henry T. Elrod’s Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, Bu. No. 4019, with squadron markings 211-F-11, damaged beyond repair on Wake Island. This photograph was taken by the landing force of the Imperial Japanese Navy, sometime on or after 23 December 1941. (IJN)

Henry Talmadge Elrod was born at Rebecca, Georgia, 27 September 1905, the son of Robert Harrison Elrod, a farmer, and Margaret Isabelle Rainey Elrod. After high school, Elrod studied at the University of Georgia and Yale University.

After three years of college, Henry T. Elrod enlisted as Private, United States Marine Corps, 1 December 1927, at San Diego, California. After recruit training, Private Elrod remained at San Diego for several years. Promoted to Corporal, he was assigned to Marine Observation Squadron 8 (VO-8M), in March 1930. This was a unit of the West Coast Expeditionary Force based at NAS San Diego.

In July 1930, Corporal Elrod was transferred to the Marine Barracks at the Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., where he was “under instruction,” training as an officer candidate. One 10 February 1931, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps.

2nd Lieutenant Henry Talmadge Elrod, United States Marine Corps. (U.S. Navy)

From 21 April 1933, Lieutenant Elrod was assigned to NAS Pensacola, Florida, undergoing flight training.

Lieutenant Elrod married Miss Elizabeth Hogun Jackson ¹ at St. John’s Church, Mobile, Alabama, 10 May 1933.

Elrod graduated from flight training and received his wings as a Naval Aviator in February 1935. He was promoted to First Lieutenant. On 1 September 1937 he was promoted to the rank of Captain.

Captain Elrod was again stationed at San Diego, from 5 July 1938. He and Mrs. Elrod resided at 432 E Avenue, Coronado, just south of the Naval Air Station.

In 1940, Captain Elrod was sent to to Hawaii, attached to Marine Fighter Squadron 211 (VMF-211). Up to this time, he was credited with 3 years, 5 months of sea service.

After his death in combat, Captain Elrod was buried on Wake Island. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of Major, 8 November 1946. His remains were exhumed and reinterred at Arlington National Cemetery in November 1947.

On 6 July 1985, the United States Navy Oliver Hazard Perry-class Guided Missile Frigate USS Elrod (FFG-55) was placed in commission, named in honor of Major Henry Talmadge Elrod.

USS Elrod (FFG-55). (U.S. Navy)

¹ Mrs. Elrod served as a Major, U.S. Marine Corps. She enlisted as a private, U.S.M.C.R.-W. in 1943, and was commisioned as a second lieutenant, October 1943. While at MCAS Miramar, July 1945, she was promoted to first lieutenant, and to captain, October 1946. By June 1947, Captain Elrod was one of only ten women Marine Corps officers still on active duty. She commanded Company E, Headquarters Battalion, Headquarters Marine Corps, 31 December 1946–19 December 1948. In 1950, Captain Elizabeth Elrod married Colonel Roger Carleson, U.S.M.C., who, like her first husband, was also a Naval Aviator. Her uncle was an Admiral, U.S. Navy. She died 7 May 1985 at Culpeper, Virginia, at the age of 79 years, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 December 1941

Captain Henry Talmage Elrod, USMC. (1905–1941). Awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, for his actions in the defense of Wake Island.
Captain Henry Talmage Elrod, United States Marine Corps, was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, for his actions in the defense of Wake Island. (U.S. Navy)

11 December 1941: The last four aircraft of Marine Fighter Squadron 211 (VMF 211), led by Captain Henry Talmage Elrod, U.S. Marine Corps, attacked the invading Imperial Japanese Navy South Seas Force, consisting of four light cruisers, six destroyers, two patrol boats and two amphibious support ships with 450 Special Navy Landing Force soldiers, as they approached to invade the United States outpost at Wake Island. The Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats bombed the destroyer IJN Kisaragi.

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat (Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum NASM 2009-9043)

VMF 211 had lost two-thirds of its aircraft on Monday, 8 December:

“. . . 36 twin-engine bombers based on Roi and Namur Islands in the Kwajalein Atoll, 620 miles to the southward, executed the day-bombing missions.  The first strike, three 12-plane vees dove out of a rain squall at noon 8 December. The surf was roaring so furiously that nobody ashore heard or saw the enemy until fifteen seconds before the first bombs hit. The planes leveled out at 2000 feet altitude and made for the airfield, where 8 Wildcats were being serviced and fueled. Here 4 grounded planes disintegrated under direct hits; fire spread and destroyed 3; the eighth was hit but later salvaged; 23 Marine officers and men were left dead or dying. . . Four Wildcats now got into the battle, strafing the retreating ships and dropping their little 100-pound bombs from an extemporized release, returning to rearm, take off and bomb again. They put the torpedo battery of Tenryu out of action, hit the radio shack of Tatsuta, and started gasoline fires on a transport. One plane was badly shot up; the pilot, Captain Elrod, just managed to ground it on the beach, burning and broken, but he had already made a lethal pass at the retreating destroyer Kisaragi, which carried an extra load of depth charges. A second Wildcat was just pushing over to press home an attack on this destroyer at 0731 when she blew up and sank. There were no survivors.

History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume III: The Rising Sun in the Pacific 1931–April 1942, by Samuel Eliot Morison, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1988. Chapter XII at Pages 230 and 234.

IJN Kisaragi was sunk off Wake Island by four F4F-3 Wildcats of VMF 211, 11 December 1941. (Kure Maritime Museum)
The Mitsuki-class destroyer IJN Kisaragi was sunk off Wake Island by four F4F-3 Wildcats of VMF 211, 11 December 1941. (Kure Maritime Museum)

A few minutes earlier another destroyer, IJN Hayate, had received two direct hits in its magazines from the 5-inch/51-caliber guns of Battery L, a coast defense artillery battery of the U.S. Marines. It was hit at a range of 4,000 yards (3,658 meters), exploded and sank with all hands. The invasion force flag ship, light cruiser IJN Yubari, received 11 direct hits from the Marine gunners. Under the combined air and artillery attacks, the invasion force withdrew.

The island finally fell to the unrelenting Japanese attacks, 23 December 1941.

Captain Henry T. Elrod's Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, 211-F-11, Bu. No. 4019, shown here damaged beyond repair and salvaged for parts, took part in the attack on IJN Kisaragi. (Imperial Japanese Navy)
Captain Henry T. Elrod’s Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, 211-F-11, Bu. No. 4019 (second number series), shown here damaged beyond repair and salvaged for parts, took part in the attack on IJN Kisaragi. (Imperial Japanese Navy)

Captain Elrod’s fighter was a Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, designed by Robert Leicester Hall as a carrier-based fighter for the United States Navy. The F4F was a single-place, single-engine, mid-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear, designed to operate from land bases or U.S. Navy aircraft carriers.

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat

The F4F-3 was 28 feet, 10½ inches (8.801 meters) long, with a wingspan of 38 feet, 0 inches (11.582 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 9 inches (3.581 meters). Unlike the subsequent F4F-4, which had folding wings for storage aboard aircraft carriers, the F4F-3 had fixed wings. The wings had an angle of incidence of 0°, and 5° dihedral. The horizontal stabilizer span was 13 feet, 8 inches (4.166 meters) with 1½° incidence. The empty weight of the basic F4F-3 was 5,238 pounds (2,376 kilograms), and the gross weight was 7,065 pounds (3,205 kilograms).

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat

The F4F-3 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp SSC5-G (R-1830-76) two-row, 14-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. The R-1830-76 had a normal power rating of 1,100 at 2,550 r.p.m., from Sea Level to 3,500 feet (1,067 meters), and 1,000 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 19,000 feet (5,791 meters). It was rated at 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff. The engine turned a three-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller with a diameter of 9 feet, 9 inches (2.972 meters) through a 3:2 gear reduction. The R-1830-76 was 4 feet, 0.6 inches (1.221 meters) in diameter, 5 feet, 11.31 inches (1.811 meters) long, and weighed 1,550 pounds (703 kilograms).

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat. (U.S. Navy)

The F4F-3 had a maximum speed of 278 miles per hour (447 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 331 miles per hour (533 kilometers per hour) at 21,300 feet (6,492 meters). Its service ceiling was 37,000 feet (11,228 meters). Its maximum range was 880 miles (1,416 kilometers)

The F4F-3 Wildcat was armed with four air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns with 450 rounds of ammunition per gun.

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat. (U.S. Navy)

The prototype XF4F-1 made its first flight in 1935. It was substantially improved as the XF4F-2. The first production F4F-3 Wildcat was built in February 1940. The airplane remained in production through World War II, with 7,860 built by Grumman and General Motors Eastern Aircraft Division (FM-1 Wildcat).

According to the National Naval Aviation Museum, F4F Wildcats held a 9:1 ratio of victories over Japanese aircraft, with 1,006 enemy airplanes destroyed in combat.

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, circa 1942. (U.S. Navy)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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