On this day in 1943, Rear Admiral Shigematsu Sakaibara, commander of the Japanese garrison on the Wake Island, orders the execution of 96 Americans POWs, claiming they were trying to make radio contact with U.S. forces.

Captain Shigimatsu Sakaibara, later promoted to Admiral.  The fate of the 98 Americans rested in his hands. National Archives and Records Administration

Captain Shigimatsu Sakaibara, later promoted to Admiral. The fate of the 98 Americans rested in his hands.
National Archives and Records Administration

In late December 1941, the Japanese reinforced existing forces on Wake Island, part of a coral atoll west of Hawaii, in massive numbers after being unable to wrest the island from a small number of Americans troops earlier in the month. The Japanese strength was now overwhelming, and most of those Americans left alive after the battle were taken by the Japanese off the island to POW camps elsewhere. Ninety-six remained behind to be used as forced labor. The Allied response was periodic bombing of the island–but no more land invasions, as part of a larger Allied strategy to leave certain Japanese-occupied islands in the South Pacific to basically starve in isolation.

Wake Island POWs

Wake Island POWs

The execution of those remaining American POWs, who were blindfolded and shot in cold blood, remains one of the more brutal episodes of the war in the Pacific.

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