Gregory J. W. UrwinVictory in Defeat: The Wake Island Defenders in Captivity

Naval Institute Press, 2010

by Jay Lockenour on March 3, 2011

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Gregory J. W. Urwin’s Victory in Defeat: The Wake Island Defenders in Captivity (Naval Institute Press, 2010) tells the story of the Americans captured on Wake Island in December 1945. The Wake Island garrison’s defeat of the initial Japanese landing attempt was one of the few bright spots for Americans in the opening weeks of the Second World War and earned the praise of President Roosevelt. The surrender of the small Marine garrison and the civilian contractors working on the atoll on December 23, 1941 may have ended the battle, but for those men, the struggle for survival was just beginning. They spent the remaining three and a half years of the war in various Japanese prison camps. And survive most of them did. Of the 1621 Americans taken prisoner, 1378 returned – a mortality rate roughly half that suffered by Allied prisoners of the Japanese as a whole. Urwin argues that discipline, outside aid, and a good measure of luck accounted for the survival of so many of the Wake Islanders. He also highlights the important role that Japanese policy and behavior played. The captives certainly suffered their share of cruelties and the crimes of the Japanese army and navy against these men were many. But without the humanity, and even occasionally the kindness, of their captors, many more of these Americans would have died. Victory in Defeat is an impressive book that tells a gripping and important story.

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