The Fate of World War II Sites on the
Central Pacific Islands
Dirk H.R. Spennemann
With the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just behind us, it is time
to take stock of the impact this event and the subsequent four years of warfare had on some
parts of the Pacific. Not in terms of death and destruction, or in terms of changed political
alliances, such as the creation of the (former) Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, but in
terms of the visible remains of these times and the role they play in the modern world.
As early as the late 1930s some of the islands of Micronesia had seen the development of
large Japanese naval and air bases. After the outbreak of the war, with the expansion of the
area conquered by the Japanese, further base development took place in the Philippines,
Indonesia, Kiribati (the former Gilbert Islands), Nauru, Papua, New Guinea and the
Solomons. At the same time, the other combatants developed their own bases, such as Eneen-
Kio (Wake Island)—later to be conquered and further developed by the Japanese— Samoa,
Tongatapu (Tonga), Viti Levu (Fiji), Funafuti (Tuvalu, the former Ellice Islands), Efate
(Vanuatu, formerly the New Hebrides) and so on. While the U.S. bases as well as those in
the Japanese-conquered areas were of a temporary nature only, the Japanese bases in
Micronesia had been built as permanent installations.
The impact of the American offensive left many of these bases by-passed by the U.S.
forces, cut off from supplies and "left to wither on the vine," with thousands of Japanese
soldiers dying of starvation. At the same time the U.S. erected their own temporary bases in
Micronesia concurrent with their advance.
Many of the Japanese military installations had been destroyed from a military point of
view by the often daily bombing runs, but much of the substance of the buildings is still
around. In modem terms this means that these islands are littered with war remains, ranging
from runways and other parts of the air installations to pier