Wake Island, formerly Halcyon Island, coral atoll, territory of the United States, central Pacific Ocean. It is a group of three islets (Wake, Peale, and Wilkes) that enclose a shallow lagoon. First sighted by Spanish explorers in 1568, the island was visited by the British in 1796. Wake Island was formally occupied by the United States in 1899. In 1934 it was placed under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Navy, and in 1935 a commercial air base was established on the atoll to serve planes on flights between the United States and Asia. Construction of a naval air base and a submarine base on Wake Island was begun in 1939.
On December 7, 1941, during World War II, immediately after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese air and naval forces attacked Wake Island. After a heroic defense against overwhelming odds, the small garrison surrendered on December 23. The U.S. flag was again raised over Wake Island in September 1945, following the Japanese surrender. The island is administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, although most activities are overseen by the U.S. Air Force. In 2006 a major typhoon struck the island, forcing a complete evacuation and heavily damaging the air base. The facilities were subsequently rebuilt. Area, 8 sq km (3.09 sq mi); population (1997) 126.