British Naval Heritage in Micronesia:
Tangible evidence of the armament trade from 1890 to 1937
by Dirk H.R. Spennemann


British naval involvement in Micronesia (north-western Pacific Ocean) began with the voyages of exploration and intensified after the foundation of the penal colony Port Jackson (Hezel 1983). Often, vessels returned to the UK via China and touched upon various atolls and islands in Micronesia. In fact, the first post-Spanish visit to the Marshall Islands was made by two such vessels (Gilbert 1789). During the 19th Century several British warships visited the area, which until the 1880s was undisputedly in the Spanish domain (cf. Hezel 1979). In 1885 Germany annexed the Marshall Islands (Anonymous 1885), and in 1898 she bought the remainder of Micronesia from Spain, with the exception of Guam which had been annexed by the U.S.A. in the Spanish-American war (Hezel 1983).

From the 1890 onwards British presence in Micronesia waned, as German trading regulations made access to ports and trade opportunities increasingly difficult. Following the outbreak of World War I, Japan annexed the islands from Germany, and following the Treaty of Versailles 1919 and the Washington Naval Limitation Treaty 1922 was awarded Micronesia as a Class "C" Mandate of the League of Nations (Japanese Government 1922, Wright 1930; Peattie 1988). Japan kept foreign observers, among them the British, out of Micronesia (Clyde 193). The next naval involvement of the UK in Micronesia was the aircraft carrier attack on the Japanese defenses on Chuuk (Truk) Atoll in June 1945 (Bailey 1982). With the exception of two aircraft lost in that carrier raid, there are no physical remains in Micronesia as none of the British naval vessels sank in Micronesia.

So what then, are the items of British Naval heritage in Micronesia the title of the article speaks about? The islands and atolls of Micronesia harbour an amazing collection of British-built and British-designed coastal defense guns, emplaced by the Japanese in their efforts to defend their "South Seas Territory."

In the following I will review the extant evidence for British-manufactured coastal defense guns in Micronesia and will outline the history how they came to be emplaced on the islands and atolls now making up the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. Finally we will look at threats to the resources and at options to manage that heritage for future generations. Before doing, so, however, brief overview over the Japanese bases in Micronesia and the Marshall Islands in particular needs to be given to place the subsequent discussion into context.

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Bibliographic citation for this document

Spennemann, Dirk H.R. (2000). British Naval Heritage in Micronesia: Tangible evidence of the armament trade from 1890 to 1937. Albury:
URL: http:/

Dirk H.R. Spennemann, Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, P.O.Box 789, Albury NSW 2640, Australia.

(c) Dirk H.R. Spennemann 1993-2000
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