The Battle Of Wake Island #2 by AliceFromLake ()
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Juan Trippe, president of the world's then-largest airline, Pan American Airways (PAA), wanted to expand globally by offering passenger air service between the United States and China. To cross the Pacific Ocean his planes would need to island-hop, stopping at various points for refueling and maintenance. He first tried to plot the route on his globe but it showed only open sea between Midway and Guam. Next, he went to the New York Public Library to study 19th-century clipper ship logs and charts and he "discovered" a little-known coral atoll named Wake Island. To proceed with his plans at Wake and Midway, Trippe would need to be granted access to each island and approval to construct and operate facilities; however, the islands were not under the jurisdiction of any specific U.S. government entity.
To construct bases in the Pacific, Pan American Airways (PAA) chartered the 6,700-ton freighter SS North Haven, which arrived at Wake Island on May 9, 1935, with construction workers and the necessary materials and equipment to start to build Pan American facilities and to clear the lagoon for a flying boat landing area. The atoll's encircling coral reef prevented the ship from entering and anchoring in the shallow lagoon itself. The only suitable location for ferrying supplies and workers ashore was at nearby Wilkes Island; however, the chief engineer of the expedition, Charles R. Russell, determined that Wilkes was too low and at times flooded and that Peale Island was the best site for the Pan American facilities. To offload the ship, cargo was lightered (barged) from ship to shore, carried across Wilkes and then transferred to another barge and towed across the lagoon to Peale Island. By inspiration, someone had earlier loaded railroad track rails onto North Haven, so the men built a narrow-gauge railway to make it easier to haul the supplies across Wilkes to the lagoon. On June 12, North Haven departed for Guam, leaving behind various PAA technicians and a construction crew.
Out in the middle of the lagoon, Bill Mullahey, a swimmer from Columbia University, was tasked with blasting hundreds of coral heads from a 1 mile (1,600 m) long, 300 yards (300 m) wide, 6 feet (2 m) deep landing area for the flying boats.
On August 17, the first aircraft landing at Wake Island occurred when a PAA flying boat, on a survey flight of the route between Midway and Wake, landed in the lagoon.
By October 1936, Pan American Airways was ready to transport passengers across the Pacific on its small fleet of three Martin M-130 "Flying Clippers". On October 11, the China Clipper landed at Wake on a press flight with ten journalists on board. A week later, on October 18, PAA President Juan Trippe and a group of VIP passengers arrived at Wake on the Philippine Clipper (NC14715). On October 25, the Hawaii Clipper (NC14714) landed at Wake with the first paying airline passengers ever to cross the Pacific. In 1937, Wake Island became a regular stop for PAA's international trans-Pacific passenger and airmail service, with two scheduled flights per week, one westbound from Midway and one eastbound from Guam.
Wake Island is credited with being one of the early successes of hydroponics, which enabled Pan American Airways to grow vegetables for its passengers, as it was very expensive to airlift in fresh vegetables and the island lacked natural soil.
Following the first attack, the Pan Am employees were evacuated, along with the passengers of the "Philippine Clipper," a passing Martin 130 amphibious flying boat that had survived the attack unscathed. The Chamorro working men were not allowed to board the plane and were left behind.
To be continued...
Image Comments (6)
MarcoCraine () 2:29PM | Thu, 18 June 2020
Come for the shiny flying boat, stayed for the interesting history lesson. Nice.
steelrazer () 11:26AM | Fri, 19 June 2020
Great illustration for the history! Great texture on the clipper, and the work you did on the island still blows me away! Really good stuff.