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The Wake Island Defenders in Captivity, 1941-1945
  • ISBN/SKU: 9781591148999
  • Binding: Hardcover & eBook
  • Era: 20th Century
  • Number of Pages: 512
  • Subject: World War II
  • Date Available: November 2010
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Full Description:

Told here for the first time in vivid detail is the story of the defenders of Wake Island following their surrender to the Japanese on December 23, 1941. The highly regarded military historian Gregory Urwin spent decades researching what happened and now offers a revealing look at the U.S. Marines, sailors, soldiers, and civilian contractors in captivity. In addition to exhaustive archival research, he interviewed dozens of POWs and even some of their Japanese captors. He also had access to diaries secretly kept by the prisoners. This information has allowed Urwin to provide a nuanced look at the Japanese guards and how the Americans survived three-and-a-half years in captivity and emerged with a much lower death rate than most other Allied personnel captured in the Pacific.  


In part, Urwin says, the answer lies in the Wake Islanders' establishment of life-saving communities that kept their dignity intact. Their mutual-help networks encouraged those who faltered under physical and psychological torture, including what is today called waterboarding. The book notes that the Japanese camp official responsible for that war crime was sentenced to life imprisonment by an American military tribunal. Most Wake Islanders spent the war at two camps just outside Shanghai, one of the few places where Japanese authorities permitted the Red Cross to aid POWs. The author also calls attention to the generosity of civilians in Shanghai, including Swiss diplomats and the American and British residents of the fabled International Settlement, who provided food and clothing to the prisoners. In addition, some guards proved to be less vicious than those stationed at other POW camps and occasionally went out of their way to aid inmates. As the first historical work to fully explore the captivity of Wake Island's defenders, the book offers information not found in other World War II histories.


Gregory J. W. Urwin is professor of history at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he specializes in American and British military affairs. He is the author of eight other books, including Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island, which won the Gen. Wallace M. Greene Jr. Award from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation. He lives in Doylestown, PA.


New Books in Military History interview with Gregory Urwin - here.


PRAISE for Victory in Defeat

"Urwin's extensive research brings his characters and a semblance of their experiences to life. The author’s mastery of his subject shines through in objective descriptions of cultural influences, geographic landscapes, and perspectives derived from interactions with the people involved."

Air and Space Power Journal

The adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” perfectly applies to Gregory Urwin’s Victory in Defeat. The title may lead some potential readers to dismiss the book as simply another treatment of World War II with a focus on US Marines or prisoners of war (POW). If that is the case, then they are missing a treasure trove that enriches the reader’s soul. Urwin’s extensive research brings his characters and a semblance of their experiences to life. Specifically, his interviews with several American POWs and their Japanese captors, together with references to historical documents and other sources, lend vivid clarity to the scenarios and atrocities, making readers feel as if they were living in the moment.”

Air Force Research Institute

“An eye-opening read for all, don’t miss this fascinating story.”

Sea Classics

“Overall, while a niche book, this volume makes for good reading and tells some inspiring stories of men who would not give up even in the face of tremendous adversity.”

Company of Military Historians Dispatch, August 2012

“…The main focus of the work and its contribution to Pacific War history is as a very complete and detailed record of the lives of the men as prisoners of the Japanese… Overall the book is well written and interesting. It appears to be well researched and there are 90 pages of endnotes.”

— Pacific Affairs, March 2012

Victory in Defeat is detailed and meticulously researched, but its greatest strength lies in its reliance on the firsthand accounts of the actors in the story—both POWs and guards. The challenge for the historian, in addition to verifying and qualifying these statements, is to skillfully weave them into the text while avoiding the semblance of a rough, cut-and-paste style. Urwin is clearly a master of his craft, for he has given us a highly readable, if often chilling, narrative of an important episode in World War II history.”

Pacific Historical Review, February 2012

“…This is a document of considerable historical, cultural and psychological interest.”

The Japan Times, October 30, 2011

“This book evolved from Gregory Urwin’s doctoral dissertation, and as such it is meticulously researched, with many of the author’s primary sources coming from the extensive oral history collection maintained by the University of North Texas, in Denton, or the many survivor interviews that he conducted himself. The narrative is also well written, and readers who are interested in tales of POW survival during World War II will find Victory in Defeat to be a truly fascinating account.”

The Journal of America’s Military Past, Fall 2011

“In this well-researched, beautifully written account of the Wake Island defenders and a large contingent of civilian contractors, the author takes readers on a journey from a unique perspective—as the title implies, victory through defeat. A wonderful book of POW history, this book stands as a rigorous but cautionary study of U.S. military history. Highly recommended."

Choice, August 2011

The Center for World War II Studies and Conflict Resolution at Brookdale Community College, Lincroft, New Jersey, recently hosted Gregory Uwin to present VICTORY IN DEFEAT ~  Click here to view.


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