The World at War

Gilbert & Ellice Islands 1892-1957

Gilbert & Ellice Islands Timeline

1892May 27 Captain H.M. Davis of HMS Royalist lands at Abemana atoll and proclaims a British protectorate over the Gilbert Islands.
September A British protectorate is proclaimed over the Ellice Islands.
1897Australian geologist Sir Edgeworth David drills an 1,100 foot deep bore shaft on Funafuti in the Ellice Group in a search for proof of Darwin’s theory on the origin of coral atolls.
1900May 3 Albert Ellis, a New Zealander in the employ of the Pacific Islands Company, arrives at Banaba (Ocean) Island and discovers rich phosphate deposits.
August 28 Laborers from Hawaii and the Gilbert Islands begin mining phosphate on Ocean Island.
November 28 The jurisdiction of the British Resident Commissioner for the Gilbert and Ellice Islands protectorate is extended to Ocean Island by proclamation.
1901September 28 Admiral Tupper arrives at Ocean Island aboard HMS Pylades to formally take possession of the island for Great Britain.
1902The British Government grants a 99 year lease on Christmas Island to Lever Pacific Plantations. The company plants 72,863 coconut palms on the island and introduces silver lip pearl shells into the lagoon.
The Pacific Islands Company becomes the Pacific Phosphate Company whose earnings from the Ocean Island diggings allow it to pay an average dividend of 27% during the first five years of operation.
1907The administrative capital of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony is moved to Ocean Island.
1909September The Resident Commissioner of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands visits Swains Island and demands an $85 tax payment from Eli Jennings, the American proprietor of the island’s coconut plantation. Jennings pays the assessment but appeals to the American consul at Apia, Samoa who arranges for the return of the payment.
1916January 12 The Gilbert and Ellice Islands including Ocean, Fanning and Washington Island are annexed by Great Britain as a crown colony.
During the Year The Union Islands (Tokelau) are annexed to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony.
1919November 28 Great Britain reasserts its claim to Christmas Island and annexes it to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony.
1920July The Pacific Phosphate Company is liquidated and its assets sold to the British Phosphate Commission, a consortium established by the governments of Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
1925Great Britain asks New Zealand to accept responsibility for the administration of the Union Islands (Tokelau) and invites the United States to annex Swains Island.
March 4 Swains Island is annexed to the United States by a joint congressional resolution and place under the administration of American Samoa.
1926February 11 An Order in Council transfers responsibility for administration of the Union Islands (Tokelau) to New Zealand which in turn places administration of the islands under its Western Samoan mandate.
1935March 30 The United States Coast Guard cutter Itasca lands a party of colonists on Howland Island in the Phoenix Group to reassert American claims established under the Guano Act of 1856.
April 3 The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca lands colonists on Baker Island in the Phoenix Group to reassert sovereignty claims established under the Guano Act of 1856. The colonists construct a lighthouse on the west end of the island.
1936August 6 A party from HMS Leith lands on Canton Island in the Phoenix Group and plants a sign asserting British sovereignty in the name of King Edward VIII.
December 31 The population of the Crown Colony totals 34,443 including 32,390 Gilbert and Ellice Islanders, 262 Europeans and 923 Chinese.
During the Year The United States challenges Great Britain’s claim to Christmas Island.
1937February A British weather observer is stationed on Christmas Island to maintain a daily radio weather service.
March The American ship SS Shoshone lands a party on Howland Island in the Phoenix Group that constructs an airfield for the impending arrival of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan during their round the world flight.
March 18 Great Britain annexes the uninhabited Phoenix Islands (except Howland and Baker) to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony.
June 3 A landing party from HMS Wellington visits Canton Island to post a sign asserting British sovereignty over the island in the name of King George VI.
July 2 Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan disappear while en route to Howland Island in the Phoenix Group from Lae, Papua.
July 8 American and New Zealand scientific parties arrive on Canton Island in the Phoenix Group to observe a total eclipse of the sun.
August 31 HMS Leith lands two radio operators on Canton Island to maintain British sovereignty claims to the island.
During the Year The Colonial Development Fund provides £16,000 which is used to transfer 2,000 settlers from the overcrowded Gilberts to the previously uninhabited islands of Hull, Sydney and Gardener in the Phoenix Group.
HMS Leith visits each of the islands in the Phoenix Group and lands an official party on Canton Island.
1938March 3 President Roosevelt signs an executive order placing Canton and Enderbury Islands in the Phoenix Group under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
March 6 The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Taney lands a party of American colonists on Enderbury Island.
March 7 A seven man party of American surveyors and colonists lands on Canton Island and establishes camp alongside the British.
1939April Canton and Enderbury Islands are placed under an Anglo-American condominium for 50 years and "thereafter until such time as it may be modified or terminated by mutual consent".
1940July 14 Pan American Airways’ Samoa Clipper stops at Canton Island for the first time during a flight from Honolulu to Auckland.
1941July 19 Twenty-two volunteers from the New Zealand Army 8th Brigade Group and fifteen radio operators from the New Zealand Post and Telegraph Department depart Suva, Fiji on the RCS Viti for coast watching duties in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. None of the coast watchers ever sees a German raider and all are captured by the Japanese shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
July Australia and New Zealand evacuate dependents of British Phosphate Commission employees from Ocean Island.
December 8 A Japanese flying boat drops six bombs on the Government Headquarters on Ocean Island.
December 9 Japanese troops occupy Makin, Abaiang and Marakei in the northern Gilbert Islands.
December 10 Japanese landing parties visit Tarawa where they round up the European population and inform them that no one must leave the island without the permission of the naval commander. The Japanese destroy all means of transportation and ransack the Burns Philp trading station then depart for Makin atoll.
1942February 13 An 1,142 man American task force lands on Canton Island to protect the air route to New Zealand.
February The Free French cruiser Triomphant evacuates the remaining Europeans and Chinese from Ocean Island.
August 17 – 18 The submarines USS Nautilus and USS Argonaut land two companies of the Marine 2nd Raider Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson and Major James Roosevelt, son of President Roosevelt, on Japanese occupied Butaritari Island on Makin Atoll. The Marines wipe out the Japanese garrison and the Nautilus sinks a freighter and a patrol boat before the force withdraws.
August 20 Japanese troops reoccupy Makin Atoll. Nine survivors of the U.S. Marine 2nd Raider Battalion left behind in the confusion of the American withdrawal are captured and taken to Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands.
August 26 Japanese troops occupy Ocean Island. All but about 160 Banabans are deported to Nauru or Truk.
August 31 Japanese troops occupy Abemama Island.
September 15 Japanese forces occupy Tarawa and begin fortifying the atoll.
October 2 American forces occupy the Ellice Islands and begin constructing airfields on Funafuti, Nukufetau and Nanumea as a base of operations against the Japanese in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands.
October 15 Seventeen New Zealand coast watchers, two Australians and three Britons are executed by the Japanese on Tarawa in retaliation for the previous day’s American air raid on Betio Islet.
October 16 Nine Americans taken prisoner by the Japanese after the Makin Atoll raid are executed at Kawajalein by order of Vice Admiral Koso Abe.
November 11 A B-17 carrying Eddie Rickenbacker to meeting with General MacArthur in Port Moresby misses the refueling base at Canton Island and ditches in the Pacific. Rickenbacker and six other survivors drift in life rafts fro 3 weeks before reaching Nukufetau in the Ellice Islands.
1943March 27 Japanese aircraft attack the American airfield at Funafuti for the first time.
April 27 American B-24 bombers takeoff on the first offensive operation launched from Funafuti, an attack on Japanese occupied Nauru.
November 6 The United States Seventh Air Force establishes its forward headquarters base on Funafuti.
November 13 American bombers from Funafuti begin bombing Tarawa in preparation for an amphibious landing.
November 20 A 35,000 man American naval task force launches an attack on the heavily fortified Japanese base at Betio islet, Tarawa which is held by 2,600 Japanese marines, 1,000 Japanese and 1,200 Korean construction workers. The opening salvos barely damage the Japanese installations. The 2nd Marine Division suffers 1,500 casualties in the initial assault.
Landings by the U.S. Army’s 27th Infantry Division and U.S. Marines on Makin atoll encounter relatively light resistance.
November 21 The Japanese inflict heavy casualties on Americans attempting to reinforce the beachhead at Tarawa. Only 450 of 800 of the marines make it to the beach. Armored units finally land and help secure the beachhead.
November 22 U.S. Marines standoff a final suicide charge by Japanese troops on Betio islet, Tarawa.
The British Resident Commissioner for the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, Vivian Fox-Strangways, lands on Tarawa.
The battle for Makin atoll ends. American forces sustain 66 dead and 150 wounded in capturing the island.
U.S. Marines land on Abemama atoll. The 23 Japanese holding the island hide in a bunker.
November 23 The Battle of Tarawa ends. Betio Islet is declared secure at 1:12 p.m. after 76 hours of combat. Only 17 Japanese and 129 Koreans live to surrender. American forces suffer 1,056 dead and 2,300 wounded.
General Smith hoists the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack over Tarawa.
November 26 The Japanese garrison on Abemama atoll is found dead, the apparent victims of mass suicide.
1945August 20 Japanese troops murder the 150 Banabans remaining on Ocean Island. One man, Kabunare Koura, survives the massacre.
August 21 Australian troops retake Ocean Island from the Japanese.
During the Year The 280 Banabans who survived the war on Nauru and Truk are resettled on Rambi Island in Fiji.
1946April An Australian military tribunal in Rabaul convicts Suzuki Naoomi, the Japanese commander of Ocean Island, guilty of war crimes and sentences him to death.
1956June 19 An advance party of British nuclear testing technicians establishes a base on Christmas Island and establishes recording stations on Fanning and Malden Islands.
1957February The inhabitants of Christmas Island are evacuated to Fanning Island.
May 15 The first British hydrogen bomb is dropped from 18,000 feet and exploded over Christmas Island.

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