Essays on the Marshallese Past
Historical Sites on Mili Is., Mili Atoll
We do not know when the first people can to settle on Mili Atoll, but a date around the middle of the first millenium B.C. can safely be assumed. At the time of contact with Europeans Mile was inhabited by over 500 people. Mile as the southernmost atoll of the (eastern)
Mile first attained European fame during the beginning of the 19th century, when the mutineers of the whaleship Globe landed on Mile. In the event, the whale ship was retaken by part of the crew and sailed away, stranding the mutineers and some other crew on the atoll. Following self-destruction and attacks by the Mile people all but two Americans were killed. For over 18 months these two lived as slaves on separate parts of the atoll.
The famous blackbirder and confidence trickster
Left: Map of the Japanese Installation on Mile Island.
The strong point: a northern 127mm dual purpose gun position. 1¡Western 127mm dual purpose gun; 2¡Empty 127mm gun emplacement; 3¡Eastern 127mm dual purpose gun with gun director;4¡Western 100cm searchlight; 5¡Power station; 6¡Command bunker.
Purchasing the Marshalls from
Between the wars. After the capitulation of the German Empire in 1918, the newly formed
The Mile airbase. In the late 1930s Japan began to fortify its Marshallese possessions contrary to the Convenant of the League of Nations. These fortifications were centered on
Mili during World War II. In order to create a suitable defense system at its perimeter, the Japanese navy decided to develop some of the atolls of the Marshall Islands into bases for seaplanes, for naval surface units submarines, and, with the advent of long-range land-based bombers, as airfields. Mili was only to become a small lookout, radio direction finding and weather station. After the begin of the war and the Japanese occupation of
However, as the base was begun very late in the war, when Japanese resources were being stretched and when Japanese shipping was under attack by U.S. submarines, the base development is characterised by a relative absence of large concrete structures, such as command buildings, power stations or bunkers. In a very short time, between late 1942 and late 1943, the Japanese had constructed an airfield with three runways (4750', 4550' + 4400'), two hangars and a service apron. By end of 1943 there were also several hundred buildings, mainly of wooden construction, a wooden pier and several repair shops.
There was one radar set (range 50 miles) on island, giving the air wing some 10 minutes warning. During the war two squadrons of planes were temporarily stationed here many of which were destroyed on the ground. A large number of plane wrecks, mainly Zero-fighters (Mitsubishi A6M) and Betty-bombers (Mitsubishi G3M) are scattered about on the island.
The perimeter of the island, especially the ocean side, bristled with guns, which were a mixture of British and Japanese manufacture: 8 6" and 3 14cm coastal defense guns, 4 127mm dual purpose guns, 2 10cm mortars, 35 heavy and over 70 light anti-aircraft guns as well as an assortment of small guns.
Between mid-1943 and Aug. 1945, the US aircraft dropped 3350t bombs and US ships shot 450t shells onto
Mile Island, as you see it today, is the result of three dramatic alterations caused by people: the natural primary forest of the island had been cleared by the first Marshallese settlers and replaced, where possible, by breadfruit trees and taro pits to provide food. During the German times the breadfruit trees were largely replaced by coconut to produce copra. The final transformation came in preparation for the base development, when all trees in the center were cut down to allow for runways, taxiways, roads, barracks areas and the like. Today these areas are largely overgrown with scrub and low but very dense bush.
Mile allows the visitor to see a complete defensive strong point with all its components well exposed. This is well worth visiting. To this end it is suggested that visitors follow the lagoonal track towards the northern tip of the island. The walk (~20min) will lead past several concrete watertanks and some concrete foundations for the main barracks area, past several bombcraters around the former main power station with its large 6-cylinder engines (which is well worth a short detour) and an assortment of small concrete sniper posts.
North of the power station was the antenna field of the Mile radio station. Trained eyes may observe some of the metal spirals which once held the guy wires to the ground.
Coming to the northern tip we come to the 127mm gun battery (1-3, left figure), which is a standard feature on all Japanese defense systems throughout the Pacific. The Mile example is a textbook case, straight from the Japanese artillery manual. One can easily recognise the twin-barrelled 127 dual purpose (anti-aircraft and coastal defense) guns; there are three gun emplacements, two with guns in place (1,3), and one, spare one set out as a triangle (2). You will see several recesses in the walls of the emplacement, which were used to store ammunition to have the gun ready for firing at various angles.
Do not walk around inside the two emplacements which have the guns or step up to the guns as there is some unexploded ammunition in the emplacements which is very dangerous.
On the slight rise in the center of the triangleˆs base stood the gun director as well as the only radar set of the island. South of the the rise is the underground command bunker as well as an underground ammunition depot.
One can also see a network of personnel ditches around the strong point. What has gone by now are dozens of heavy and light machine gun nests which would have defended the strong point against attacks from the ground.
The guns were flanked by two powerful searchlights with 100cm mirrors; the metal bases (truncate pyramids) are easily recognisable. These guns, which were electrically driven, as well as the powerful search lights, had to be supplied by electricity, which was generated by a power station to the southwest of the gun battery. The large 6 cylinder engine, as well as cooling tanks and fuel farm are still visible.
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