Wednesdays can be a rough part of any week, but Wednesday, December 10, 1941 was arguably one of the darkest days for the Allies in the Second World War. Just days earlier, the Japanese had launched strikes against British, Dutch, and American positions throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
War had been declared, and if it wasn't already clear that no quick or easy victory would be coming, the events of December 10 certainly made that fact crystal clear. The day arguably started out badly and went to worse.
The United States, which had already been hit hard at Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, faced its next setback when the Battle of Guam ended in defeat. The U.S. territory, which had been acquired from Spain following the Spanish-American War, was defended by only a small, lightly armed garrison of sailors and Marines. They were quickly overrun by a significantly larger Japanese landing force.
It wouldn't be until July 21, 1944 that the United States was to return—and only after nearly three weeks of hard fighting was the island finally liberated on August 10, 1944.
Japanese forces also made landings at Vigan and Aparri in the Philippines, which followed the Japanese Landing Forces assaults on Luzon that had begun two days earlier.
On the same day as the Japanese were mounting their attacks on the U.S. positions in the Philippines, the axis power began its occupation of the British-held Gilbert Islands. However, for the British, the loss of those islands was overshadowed by a far greater tragedy.
By December 1941, the British military had suffered through a fair share of setbacks, including the loss of HMS Hood during the Battle of the Denmark Strait in May. While the Royal Navy was able to seek revenge by sinking the German battleship Bismarck, no such quick vengeance would come after the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse were sunk by Japanese aircraft north of Singapore. Admiral Sir Tom Spencer Vaughan Phillips, KCB, commander of the Royal Navy's Force Z was among those lost on Prince of Wales. He was one of the highest-ranking Allied officers killed in battle during the Second World War.
The loss of the two capital ships, along with Adm. Phillips, was one of the most devastating and even embarrassing defeats in the entirety of Royal Navy history.
The British would also continue to face additional setbacks in the Far East. Singapore would be lost in just over two months, along with the whole of the Malay Peninsula, and Great Britain would be reduced to a secondary partner in the campaign against Japan as the Royal Navy was driven back across the Indian Ocean.
The Allies would of course rebound following the tragic events of December 1941, but for those who lived through it, December 10 must have seemed to be one of the darkest moments of the year.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.
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