|The Japanese occupation of Nauru spanned
only some four years but tangible reminders of that time can still
be seen whenever a drive is taken around the island. At frequent intervals
around the coastline concrete bunkers and block-houses built by the
Japanese still stand, some apparently unchanged by the passage of
nearly fifty years.
Stan Gajda looking for war relics on the bottom
of the Nauru boat harbor in 1984. Many small arms rounds were
recovered and one live 25mm AA round and even a $10 banknote which
was used to supply liquid refreshment!
Nauru Zero Fighters
In the vicinity of Rev. Aingimea's residence can be found some
remains of the famous Japanese Zero fighter. All that remains today
is the partial centre section only and is in a swampy area. There was
a fighter strip in this area during the war and some aircraft were simply
left standing in the bush around the edge of the airfield. During the
1960's clearing operations for housing caused most of these fairly intact
aircraft to be destroyed. At least one plane was covered over on the
beach during seawall extensions.
In 1983 a quantity of aircraft structure pieces were shipped to Australia
and donated to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra to assist in
the restoration of a Zero fighter being undertaken by that museum. This
restoration was completed in 1989 and is probably one of the best and
most authentic examples of the A6M2 Zero fighter in existence in the
world today. A trip over to Buota and into the bush nearby will reveal
many wartime relics such as bomb craters and bits of bombs in many area,
a near complete Japanese aircraft engine and parts of old steam locomotives.
When I heard that there were still zeros in Nauru
I took a job there and eventually exported to Australia for the Australian
War Memorial (AWM) in Canberra two engines and a six-cubic metre crate
of airframe parts which were used in their zero restoration which is
now complete and an excellent job too.
Mitsubishi Zero in Aingimea's yard, Nauru 1983. In 1988 they wanted
to put a water tank here so the plane was flattened by a wheel
loader and taken to the dump. It is buried out of sight now and
Zero Cockpit & Fuselage
I recovered the fuselage splice joint off
this for the Canberra AWM in 1984. The remainder was buried when
the swamp behind was filled in about 1990. Also buried were wings
and undercarriages. I also recovered two engines from here which
went to the AWM.
Another Zero cockpit/fuselage section in
the swamp in Nauru. This was partly destroyed since the photo
(1984) but I have saved the front half and the floor of this piece
which is stored at the Nauru Museum
Zero tail unit from the one that went to
the dump. This stuff is part of the six cubic metres of parts
I sent to the Canberra AWM plus two engines in 1984 for their
own zero restoration.
A Nakajima Zero upside down in pig swill
on the edge of the swamp. I recovered this in 1997. In 1983 the
undercart legs still folded by hand. Was on its wheels until about
1970 when the overgrown airfield and the revetment that it was
sitting in was bulldozed for housing.
At Yaren near the eastern end of the airfield
on Anton's land. Demolished by housing people in 1971.
Another shot of the Betty. Fuselage propped
up on oil drums. Demolished by housing people in 1971.
Formally located on the fighter strip at Meneng district still on
its concrete hardstand/revetment. Demolished by housing people in
Six Inch Naval Guns
There are many smaller shelters and machine-gun
nests in the cliffs and hillsides particularly on the western side of
the island and small artifacts can still be sometimes found at or near
these sites. Other major points of interest are the four big double-barrelled
anti-aircraft guns still sited on their mountings on Command Ridge and
near the rubbish dump at topside.
Eight other British built single shot
six inch naval guns made at the turn of the century were sited in
pairs at equal spaces around Nauru. These are above the airport
terminal, above the squash courts (made in 1894), at Ijuw and above
the Kaiser College. One of the A.W. 6" guns on Nauru. This
one is at Ijuw.
One of the Jap Armstrong Whitworth 6"
guns on Nauru. This is one of two that were fitted with armoured
shields straight of the cruiser mountings. This one is at Ewa and
is partly dismantled.
There were also two 6" guns above Denig at the
site of present-day Cliff Lodge. An expedition to find these was mounted
one day and after a minimum of climbing and hacking with the bush knife
the breech end of a British built six inch naval gun was exposed protruding
from the hillside and within sight of the Cliff Lodge residence. The
site on which the house next to Cliff Lodge stands must have been a
six inch gun emplacement and after the war the site was cleared and
the gun simply pushed down the hill a bit.
And, because all the other guns are set in pairs it
would seem reasonable to assume that another gun must have been within
50 metres of this gun site, probably on the present site of Cliff Lodge.
This would have become buried during house-site preperations.
After clearing the rubble and debris away from the
breech of the gun and looking inside the barrel it was discovered that
this gun still had an unfired shell in it's chamber. Why or how this
had occurred and escaped everybody's notice including the occupying
Australian force (which destroyed everything Japanese) and the intervening
50 odd years, one can only speculate but this gun still had a shell
up the spout. Amazing but true.
This live round has since been removed and was found
to be an armour piercing round weighing about 45 kilos and made of solid
high tensile steel. Shells like this are generally not explosive and
this one has been mated up to an appropriate brass case and is now on
view at the Nauru Museum.
A little while ago, I thought that Command Ridge
was worth having a bit of a look at, even though I had investigated
every nook and cranny on that ridge back in 1983-84 after the Big Fire,
which had laid the entire hilltop bare and revealed many traces of the
wartime Japanese occupation. In those days it was relatively easy to
scout around and pick up numerous and varied war relics such as cartridge
cases, rice bowls, bottles (Dai Nippon Brewery Co.) and other things
along the that same line of interest. I had reckoned then that I had
seen and found all there was on that hill so my expeditions these days
were more of a reminiscence than a relic hunt. Well, it is amazing just
what a fellow sees when his previous interests had followed only a bracket
of the possible range of artifacts. This is what I saw during a recent
look-around at Command Ridge:
A bit of a climb down from where they put in the Digital
Phone antenna and there lying on the ground was the Jap wartime radio
chassis that I had seen and left some nine years ago. So far so good....
A bit of an embankment, and, what's this! A bunch of damaged radio valves
(most of you out there would only know transistors and ICs) and a couple
of intact wartime Japanese light bulbs. And a typewriter crumbling away
in the earth but with the date when it was made in 1937 perfectly legible.
And a bit further along was a large white enamel basin. So what you
might say? Turned it over and there was the Japanese Naval Insignia
stamped in blue on the bottom! Then twist and turn past a couple of
pinnacles and we come upon a concrete bunker built into the rock formation
with steps to go in and a secondary escape tunnel out through to the
other side. A little bit further and there was the place where the Japanese
were going to build a bunker but it was never finished. Evidently the
war was ended and so did this individual requirement and the job was
How do I know that this site was going to be a bunker?
Because all of the rebar-rods were there all bent to shape and stacked
up and the site had been excavated. The workers had built a fireplace
at one end out of a fuel drum (Japanese drums were hand welded and were
stamped with a Kanji character) and they had left some of their tools
scattered about including a shovel still in the fireplace. So there!
Scattered throughout this area are 200 litre fuel drums buried full
depth with the tops off. Invariably these are full of water. A nice
Japanese Navy brass uniform button was found close to one once. The
purpose of this arrangement was to make gardening compost from human
waste and according to Albert Ellis (in his 1946 book) these were very
smelly when the Australians arrived in September 1945 and all had to
be treated with quick-lime. Other finds in this area included fragments
of earthenware rice bowls decorated with a distinctive pattern. Sometimes
enough bits are found to reconstruct a section of bowl that reveals
the original shape, size and pattern. There appears to be quite a few
different variations. Zinc sheet shell fuse canisters are sometimes
encountered in the undergrowth.
Also frequently seen, are the metal rice bowls, enamelled
blue outside and white inside, all of which are stamped with the Imperial
Japanese Naval insignia. Only the other day I passed a tourist up on
the Ridge who was making his way to one of the big gun positions and
he had in his hand a fired 13mm heavy machine gun cartridge case. He
had just picked it up along the path. Cartridges are interesting because
they can tell you when they were made and by whom. This one was made
in the Yokosuka Arsenal (near Tokyo) in 1942. And I thought that there
were no more left up on Command Ridge! It just goes to show you.
Japanese Command Complex
Up on the Gongosan, as they used to call it fifty
years ago. We have looked at Command Ridge and now I would like to take
you further along the Ridge for a better look around and perhaps let
on about a few things that are now probably forgotten. One of the most
amazing things that I still haven't got over is the amount of undergrowth
present along many parts of Command Ridge. This prolific undergrowth
completely obscures many of the interesting features that were installed
by the Japanese that would be of interest to tourists and explorers
alike. If you go left at the top of the road that ends at the salt water
tanks and enter the undergrowth immediately past the digital phone installation
you may come across a gun mounting that originally held twin 13 mm Type
95 heavy machine guns.
All that remains here now is the base mount with the
gun brackets. These ant-aircraft gun installations enabled the gunner
to sit on the mount and track the target with the aid of an optical
sight and by cranking the appropriate handles. There were a number of
these twin mounts up there and there are still three sets to be seen.
One still rotates about its base and had escaped my observations from
previous years and was only discovered in 1993 when battling through
the undergrowth with a machete. At this point but over along the ocean
side slope starts a zig-zag trench system that continues along the ridge
at this level until within sight of the tanks at the fuel farm. At intervals
there are branch-offs that lead to machine gun nest positions and to
One of the machine gun nests not
far along from the salt water tanks looks fine when observed from the
lower slopes, but a look over the top of the firing slit reveals an
enormous hole about fourty feet across and ten feet deep where an American
bomb of at least 1,000lbs had scored a hit.
One of the many bunkers found all over Nauru.
This one is at Ewa.
Inside the Bunker
Bob Lindley inside one of the Nauru bunkers.
Anyway, continuing along the visible track that meanders
south along Command Ridge a stone structure may be noticed on the right.
This is one of the many underground bunkers along here, this one being
built on the highest part of the island, something like 265ft above
sea level and it used to have a trig point on it ten years ago. The
bunker entrance has been cleaned out a bit and now it is easy to enter
the passage and have a look around inside. There is some Japanese writing
on one of the walls. The stone wall is circular and there is a set of
steps on the southern side and if one takes the trouble to battle through
all the vegetation then you will be rewarded with being able to stand
on the concrete roof of the bunker. The doorway is much more difficult
to find as it is obscured by a mound of earth as well as shrubs etc.,
but it is facing the track just before the stairs.
Near this bunker but on the ocean side of it and heavily
obscured by undergrowth and fallen trees is another 13mm gun mounting,
set up in a circular stone enclosure. The mounting shows signs of the
demolition charges used by the Australian occupation troops to destroy
the installation. A bit more of searching from here in a westerly direction
will lead to some gun firing slits becoming apparent in the stones and
If you ever find the entrance then there are five rooms
here all interconnected and at two levels that are separated by a steel
rung ladder. The Japanese made an ingenious use of an existing rock
formations by concrete reinforcement, overburden coverage and camouflage.
Some of these bunkers are only given away by the firing apertures. Once
back on the path/track and a bit further along another large circular
stone structure will be encountered again on the right. This is a most
interesting heavy anti-aircraft gun installation. There are two entrances
into this position and both are a little difficult to penetrate due
to the undergrowth but these can be found by following the wall to the
left or to the right.
Inside is a large rotating mounting complete with heavy
guns of 127mm calibre. The barrels are pointing skyward and have had
the muzzles blown apart by the Australians. The whole installation was
powered by a large Yanmah diesel generator (you climbed a ladder and
greased the valve gear from a platform) which powered the electric motors
which then drove the hydraulic pumps. The guns were moved horizontally
and vertically by hydraulic motors. The generators were taken out after
the war by Camillo Scotty's father and he put them all together under
one roof and created Nauru's first commercial power station!
The guns were semi-automatic in operation in that the
chambering of the rounds and extraction of the empty cases was done
automatically. The attending crew followed the gun around as it tracked
the target and simply threw the live rounds onto the cradles at the
The ammunition was stored in crates of twelve rounds
each that were spaced at regular intervals in recesses along the inside
perimeter of the wall. This ensured ammo was readily available no matter
which direction the gun was pointed. This gun installation still has
an ammo crate underneath the mounting and the recesses in the wall can
still be clearly seen. The ammunition was most impressive. Each shell
weighed around ninety pounds complete and was a fixed round (shell and
case together) and was about a metre long. (Have a look at the ammo
crate!). The gun was capable of firing the 50lb projectile to a height
of 35,000 feet and the shell was exploded by a timed fuse only.
Also, the guns were fired simultaneously electrically,
as the shell cases were fitted with electrical primers. The target was
tracked by rangefinder and the fuses timed by a predictor linked to
the rangefinder. Shells could also be set by hand and by making an educated
guess. No, I am not making this up, I have actually found and picked
up bits and pieces of a lot of the operating gear related to these guns
and I have also read the book. Fuses are sometimes picked up out in
the fields where they have lain after falling to earth after exploding
at their targets. Primers and even the large cartridge cases have been
picked up by me on or near the Ridge. But you have to look hard!
These guns have been fired in anger many times and
have probably caused casualties among American bomber and fighter crews.
The 127mm gun installation near the tank farm did in fact shoot down
an American bomber with the total loss of the crew:
The B-25G twin-engined bomber #4264977, lifted off
the runway at Butaritari in the Gilbert Islands a little after a quarter
past eight in the morning of Thursday the 29th June 1944. On board were
Karl James the pilot, Alexander Cheropovich the co-pilot, John Keeling
the navigator, Frank Kapla the radio operator-gunner, Harry Stockton
the engineer-gunner and Benedict Jasper the armourer-gunner, all members
of the 41st Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Force.
Twelve aircraft left Butaritari that day and after
gaining height while circling above the lagoon and formatting up into
four flights of three planes each, the Group set a course of 329 degrees
true and headed for Nauru. Eight of the twelve B-25s on this particular
flight were the G model of which only 200 were built, making it a rare
bird even in those days. These Gs were the most heavily armed plane
ever built for their size because of the 76mm M1 howitzer gun installed
in the nose.
The remaining armament consisted of four 0.50 inch
machine guns in two pods on either side or both sides of the nose, (the
configuration varied) twin 0.50s in the Martin mid-upper power turret
and a single 0.50 in a tail mounting. The main gun was sighted by firing
the nose machine guns. When hits were observed on the target, the 76mm
gun was triggered, sending a 20lb high explosive shell into the target.
The B-25G was eventually withdrawn from service after a number of losses
due to unexplained mid-air explosions occurred during low level attacks.
One of the aircraft (#051) heading for Nauru had to
turn back after more than an hour and a half into the mission and return
to Butaritari after experiencing trouble with both engines. The remaining
eleven B-25s continued on and shortly before reaching Nauru the formation
split up into its four individual groups and approached different targets
at around 10,000 feet altitude on the western side of the island from
four different directions.
The guns at Cliff Lodge, the guns on Command Ridge,
the guns at the rubbish dump and the guns at both ends of the airfield
were the targets for the four groups that day. The bomb load for each
plane was 1200lbs of general purpose high explosive 100 pounders. B-25
#977 approached the airfield targets on a course of 239 degrees at 195
knots at 10,500 feet at around 10:20am and was flying through accurate
and intense flak with the bomb doors open. Five seconds before the due
bomb release, a 127mm shell exploded directly under the plane causing
an immediate fire.
The plane then went up and over the lead aircraft and
entered into a spin dive. The rear third of the fuselage and tail separated
from the aircraft soon after and then the left wing came away as the
plane continued to fall. The B-25 Mitchell continued to break up all
the way down to impact point just east of the Gongosan in the middle
of worked out diggings. The tail section came down near where Lesi Olsen's
place is now. An eight foot long elevator section off the tail was still
near there in 1983 with a tree growing through it. This part is now
with the Canberra War Museum.
B-25 "Coral Princess"
Some of the B-25 "Coral Princess"
wreckage in the pinnacles at Nauru. Other crew members of the
Bomb Group saw the plane hit the ground, explode and burn. As
the rest of the planes headed for home another explosion was observed
at the crash site, giving off white smoke. No parachutes were
sighted and most probably there were no survivors.
Two other aircraft were hit by flak during this raid,
Mission No. M-283, plane #147 was hit twice and #595 was hit once in
the centre of the fuselage. Fourty Nine years later, number #977 is
still lying were it fell, mostly all there but somewhat scattered due
to various activities over the years by different groups. The main disturbance
made to the wreck was apparently by the Japanese who for some reason
tried to recover the engines and wings. They used the overhead cableway
that ran across from the Ridge to where the railway line runs now and
succeeded in raising these objects out of the crash site and then put
these bits up on the central then-un-mined area. The BPC people when
they resumed mining here after the war dropped these remains into the
pinnacles again after moving them about fifty metres.
The nose gun was dumped a little way up north of the
main wreck and was found upright inside a circular hollow pinnacle.
I saw it in there before Bob Gormley recovered this gun supposedly for
the NPC Staff Club back in 1983 by means of flying fox. It was at the
Field Workshops for a while undergoing restoration. The boys up there
even got the breech block working at the time. There was no shell in
it. This gun then disappeared for about six years and then was found
one day in a certain person's garage. It was then recovered and has
been on display outside Tony Adao's place facing the airfield ever since.
After having followed the B-25 Mitchell #977 on it's
last flight to Nauru and the fiery end it met over the island, it was
an amazing co-incidence to meet a photographer, Colin Thornton, from
Australia who has done a lot of research into this incident, on the
same day as the flight story was published. As a result, my own knowledge
on this subject has been greatly expanded and I will take this opportunity
to pass some of this information on to readers. This particular B-25G
of the 42st Bomb Group had been named "Coral Princess" and
Colin showed me a photo of the nose of this plane taken in Butaritari
during the war. The nose art on the left side just forward of the cockpit
comprised of a fairly well clad island lady in a dancing pose with the
name across the top in bold letters. There were also 25 bombs indicating
25 completed missions painted close to the figure. This plane had also
done many raids over the Marshall Islands and on one occasion had sunk
a Japanese destroyer in Wotje lagoon with bombs and it's big 75mm gun.
To mark this victory a small ship silhouette was also included with
the 25 bombs and the "Coral Princess".
In 1983 I had picked up a piece of panelling in the
wreckage and it had "...awa Doll" ("Tarawa Doll"?)
scribbled on the inside in pencil together with a name "Mike Spurling".
This piece is now with the Australian War Museum in Canberra. Mike Spurling
had been one of the original crew members of #977 and had been aboard
another aircraft during the Nauru raid and saw his plane go down. He
passed away in October 1993. An expedition was mounted to have a look
at the plane wreck with Colin. The wreck is about half way from the
second big double gun mount and the NPC railway line and the main wreck
site is in two localised areas not far apart but separated by pinnacles.
The rocks are pretty high in this area with a probable average depth
of about 30 feet and this is now fairly heavily overgrown making negotiating
this terrain fairly treachourous. We reached the impact site where the
main undercarriage legs and forward fuselage and cockpit fragments are
located. There are a lot of small pieces comprising engine parts, radio
parts, fittings, hoses and all sorts of things that make up an aeroplane.
There are sections of sheet skin and fuselage that are compressed and
One large piece had survived fairly intact, this is
the nose fairing with the opening for the 75mm gun muzzle with parts
of the left side skin intact. Close examination showed the edges of
a large painting and the feet of the Coral Princess were matched up
from the nose photograph. We continued on through the pinnacles and
came upon a large wing flap section and a radio set. Further on was
a piece of heavy fuselage section and then the second main impact site.
The impact sites are full of thousands of fragments of all components,
engine parts and so on, and this second site has a heavy concentration
of big and small pieces. It is obvious that the engines had come down
here because of the large number of engine parts mixed up with the other
debris. This is an area that would probably yield a lot of interesting
artifacts if it was properly excavated and sieved. Some distance further
on towards the railway line is the area where the tow wings, engines
and propeller hubs lie.
When this area was inspected, the layout of the wreckage
began to make sense. I had long maintained that all the parts located
here had been brought in from the main wreck site, probably via the
then existing cable-way by the Japanese for some unknown reason. The
contemporary reports record that the left wing broke away from the plane
as it fell and here at this site the left wing is impacted and firmly
wedged into the pinnacles. This wing has the Star and Bars on the underside
and has a lot of Kanji characters scratched into the paint. The other
wing by contrast is just sitting inside the pinnacles with no wreck
debris associated with it. The engines likewise are perched high up
on top of the rocks and the propeller hubs are down in the crevices
with the blades sawn off.
All the prop blades are missing but one can be seen
concreted into a slab at the Batching Plant turn-off. The other blade
is off a Zero fighter. Lying alongside the left wing was a large nose
section up-side down together with the nose landing gear and the retracting
mechanism. A section of the cockpit flooring was attached together with
the crumpled side skin of the fuselage. When this nose section was cleared
of rocks and rubble and turned over and examined, two rows of small
yellow bombs and the small ship silhouette could be discerned. These
marking are clearly visible in a photo of the nose of the bomber taken
in Tarawa in December 1943. The nose gun port fairing does match up
with the nose floor and side section. This was recovered in 1994 with
the idea of creating an interesting exhibit of WW2 nose art and a rare
exhibit of Nauruan aviation history.
The little Orenstein and Koppel steam loco that
used to sit by the NPC Engineering office and then at the Boulevard
has been moved. It was taken to the Boilermaker's Shop for restoration
Why am I going on about old train's when I'm supposed to be writing
about Nauru war history? Because these old trains were built before
both world wars and they are about ninety years old and were built in
Germany by Arthur Koppel and his mate Orenstein. When we moved the train
we reckoned that we were going to put a couple of original railcars
behind it for better effect. There are plenty of these old side tipping
railcars and hoppers, didn't you know? Just go along the railway line
above Buota and you will see plenty of them. So off we went with all
the salvage gear and a jolly old expedition it was too, to go and pick
up a couple of these railcars. You know, a bit of a clean, and a splash
of paint and presto! you have a "restored" bit of history.
The trouble was that nobody told us that all the old tipper railcars
are of the same track gauge as the current railcars being used today.
They run on a track 34 inches wide and the old O &
K locos were 24 inch. The original railcars are also quite a bit smaller
and the hoppers probably held less than half of what the bigger ones
would carry. This is where our problems began on obtaining an original
railcar to suit the steam loco, there appeared to be none left. A few
years back there used to be a yellow painted railcar attached to the
rear of the old loco when it was in its previous position but it seems
that was a non-original "big" railcar and was removed. Eventually,
a railcar basic frame without fittings was found complete with wheels
half buried at the foot of the cliffs at the golf course. Then a number
of very rusty hoppers were found in the pinnacles near the running track
at the place where a lot of the war-damaged cantilever sections were
dumped in the '50s.
Restoration and rebuild of one railcar was then undertaken
by the Topside Boilermakers Shop and with some clever substitution a
nice hopper began to take shape, but it would have been better if the
chassis had been in better condition..... Now we get back to the wartime
bit. One day I decided to have a look in the area opposite the new office
at the dump near where there is a track that leads to two 6 inch naval
guns emplaced above the airport.
I'll bet most of you didn't know that this area had
been mined out before the War (WW2 that is). It all looked a bit too
recent but there are bunkers in there built into pinnacle formations
that could not have been there before mining.
So I went into this area with a bush knife just to
see what is in there and pretty soon I found a low hand-built stone
wall amongst the diggings. Following this wall led me straight to an
underground bunker entrance. This is a two room bunker with chimneys
poking out of the ground to provide ventilation for the occupants. And
obscuring this entrance and partially suspended across it was a nice
and complete miniature railcar minus the hopper only! Just what we were
looking for and found when needed.
This railcar was recovered the very next day and taken to topside for
immediate repairs and fitting up with the hopper. This little railcar
is now hooked up to it's loco right outside the Nauru Museum. The next
loco is going to need a railcar as well. Does anybody out there know
where there are any old miniature railcars?....... Near where I found
the old railcar chassis for the Boulevard steam loco the other day,
are to found a couple of single mounted six inch naval guns that were
originally mounted on the decks of some of the first cruisers of the
Imperial Japanese Navy.
These are of British manufacture and are part of the
big arms deal made between the Japanese Navy and Armstrong Whitworth
before the Great War of 1914-18. These particular guns were both made
in 1910 and one has Japanese characters stamped on the breech. These
guns are the same as the one on the hill below Cliff Lodge. What puts
these gun emplacements apart from the other ones to be found around
the island is that both of these positions are intact to a remarkable
To get there you have to take the dirt road to the
Topside area. Just past the rubbish dump is a large stock-pile of empty
asphalt drums on the left. Here on the right is an overgrown turn-off.
This track goes in through pre-WW2 diggings for about 60-70 metres and
then branches left and right. This area is the top of the ridge above
the airport terminal buildings. Almost opposite the branch-off is one
of the guns. By taking the right branch and exploring along a little
the other gun emplacement is easily found.
The big prickly cactus seem to be taking over this
region and trying to move through here results in one being repeatedly
stabbed by the hidden quills of these horrible plants. I usually take
a bush knife into here and deliberately slash the points off if they're
in my way but even this operation gets hazardous sometimes.
A visitor into here will notice large circular and rectangular structures
amongst the undergrowth. The purpose of these I do not know but they
may have housed a twin barreled 25mm gun for anti-aircraft protection
and possibly the range-finders for the big guns. Also in the area are
a number of underground bunkers and bomb-proof shelters.
The approaches to the guns themselves are by well made
trenches with stone walls. Some parts of this look as though it was
covered over but the roof(s) have fallen in long ago. The guns are mounted
on a single pedestal that could swivel horizontally. There was also
an elevating mechanism. These guns do not appear to have had the heavy
two inch armoured shielded turrets like the two above Kayser College.
From photos I've seen taken in September 1945, these guns had a temporary
roof covering the top of the emplacements with camouflage netting for
concealment from the air. The steel posts that still stand either side
of the guns were roof supports and some bits and pieces of steel mesh
that held the camo netting are also still there. The gun emplacements
have concrete floors but these are covered with rocks, dirt etc. Have
a dig and you will see that the floor is there!
Although the guns were both destroyed by the Australian
by blowing the ends off the barrels, both of the muzzle ends are still
nearby. The other fittings are also lying about in the gun pits and
I believe that a bit of cleaning and re-fitting would have both these
gun emplacements looking very much like they were fifty years ago. Visitors
to Nauru would love to have a look at something like that!
If the turn-off to the right is followed for about
50 metres another branch-off to the left is discerned. This is just
past the overhead power lines. If a walk is taken along the top of the
hill in a northly direction, it will be seen that the hillside has been
divided up into terraces all neatly retained with stone walls. Here
and there along the terraces are concrete floor slabs. Bits of iron
and asbestos, bricks and other rubble are all that remain of the Japanese
living quarters but the lay-out of this little settlement is fairly
plain to see.
The hot baths that Japanese (officers) seemed to favour
are still there, damaged but two of the places for the tubs are intact
together with cement water tank nearby. There is a similar one at Bauda
that I'll describe one day. There are also lots of smashed Japanese
beer bottles (Dai Nippon and Kirrin Beer) around this area. This is
another place that would be a boon with the tourists if some cleaning
and development was undertaken. An exercise like this would probably
uncover a lot of interesting bits and pieces as well. It is not hard
to stop here and imagine how this area must have been during the height
of the Japanese occupation during the Second World War.
Japanese porcelain cup
With Navy insignia from Nauru
Existing Pacific War Relics in Nauru
There are few reminders of Nauru's early historic past
remaining on the island today. From the pre-European days there is virtually
nothing and of the early European days there is also very little, the
main relics being diaries and photographic records dating back not much
more than 100 years. Phosphate mining commenced in the early 1900's
with the first shipment going out in something like 1903 under German
The main evidence of these early days can be seen in
the mined out area behind MQ1 and north and south of this area. If an
exploration is to be undertaken on foot in this wild and overgrown area
many relics can be found in amongst the old diggings. Items like shovels,
picks and similar gear have been left behind. Also to be seen in this
region are odd bits and pieces from the second world war with bits of
Japanese gear and parts of bombs and naval shells from the American
bombardments are commonly seen on the surface.
Apart from the actual phosphate mining evidence and
associated equipment, the other main items of historical interest to
be seen today on Nauru are Japanese war relics from the period 1942
If a visitor was to arrive by boat, then upon entry
into the boat harbour the south wall of the entrance is heavily marked
from aerial machine gun fire from the American planes during low level
bombing attacks on the harbour/workshop area.
A walk along the north wall will show the position
where the Japanese had an anti-aircraft gun situated. Further in from
this wall just north of the hardware store building can be seen the
large circular ring where a large artillery piece had been situated.
A careful inspection of the cooling tower at the power station will
reveal many marks from machine gun bullets in the concrete. The existing
workshops such as the electrical through to the joinery shop were operating
workshops during the war under Japanese rule and were badly damaged
during air raids and rebuilt after the war.
The NPC head office was the Japanese Headquarters during
the war and this building was only superficially damaged during air
and sea attacks and an inspection of the outside walls will show many
places where cement patches were applied to repair the damage and then
No.1 Cantilever still bears many bullet and shell holes
throughout its structure and this damage can be seen today if a walk
is taken along it. The calcine storage bin close to the cantilever was
also heavily damaged and some shell and bullet holes still remain in
the non-vital parts of the structure that was not replaced during post-war
work. Proceeding north along the main road and just before the entrance
to Location but on the opposite side can be seen a bunker built into
the cliff top. In the course of a drive around the island there can
be seen many large concrete bunkers mainly on the ocean side of the
road. But a careful search on the inland side of the road will reveal
many similar bunker positions on the hillsides, for instance, opposite
the NGH, Kayser College, Cappelles and so on.
There are a number of interesting bunkers in the airport area including
bomb-proof shelters. A climb along the hillside almost anywhere above
the airstrip will reveal many hidden bunkers some of which have more
than two rooms. Immediately above the main airport terminal on the crest
of the ridge are two single mounted six inch naval guns still on their
The bunkers and the earthworks associated with these
guns such as tunnels and bunkers are still in existence and sometimes
virtually intact, which is amazing to see now that some 50 years have
One bunker in this area still has the heavy machine
gun mount in place and the angle numbers still painted on the inside
walls. Part of the concrete roof still retains part of the wooden formwork
made out of Japanese packing crates with the writing still discernible.
Back on the main road and just clearing the southern end of the airfield
on the left mainly but also in places on the right can be seen parts
of the original Japanese concrete runway with sections of the perimeter
drains for collecting rainwater still in place. These would have led
to central collection points and the water was probably stored in large
underground tanks which is the same system to be seen today on Taroa
island in the Maloelap Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
Betty wreckage near the airfield at Nauru. Fuselage splice joint can
be seen and some tail cone parts. Now in the Nauru museum.
G4M Betty Bomber Wreckage
A few hundred yards past this on the left
in heavy bush at the base of the ridge is the remains of a Japanese
Betty bomber which used to sit at the end of the airfield until
the early 1970s but was bulldozed into the bush and destroyed.
The port wing and other pieces of this (or similar)
aircraft can be found in the bush high up on the ridge behind
Civic Centre. These parts were probably dumped there after the
6 Inch Naval Guns
A few hundred yards further south of the Betty
wreckage right up on the ridge in the old diggings are two more 6 inch
naval guns which were pulled up during phosphate mining and then dumped
into the pinnacles. One gun is dated 1899.
All these six inch guns are of British manufacture and were originally
mounted as deck guns on some of the Japanese Navy's first battleships
in the early 1900's. The British firm of Armstrong Whitworth supplied
most of the armament to the Japanese navy during those early days. After
WW1 most of the ships were scrapped but the guns were retained in storage
and during WW2 were used as coastal defence guns on many of the Japanese
held Pacific islands. Identical guns have been seen by the author in Tarawa and the Marshall
islands and photographs of similar gun positions in Rabaul in PNG. In
all there are eight British made 6" Japanese coastal defence guns
on Nauru. The other mountings exist at Ijuw and two more (including
the best example) are on the ridge above Kayser College.
Japanese Power Station
Also here is the remains of the Japanese power
station and the underground hospital bunker (partial access only). Nearby
are the remains of the old railway workshops and near that again is
the crash site of an American navy F6F Hellcat fighter from the carrier
Bunker Hill that was shot down on the 8th December 1944. A track from
Buta leads up to Command Ridge which is the main area of relics dating
from the Japanese occupation days.
The top of the ridge is dotted with many bunkers of
varying shapes and sizes. Some had big guns mounted inside them such
as 75mm dual purpose naval guns and others had heavy and light machine
guns. There is a command bunker complex and various other bomb-proof
shelters. There are also two sets of double mounted 127mm dual purpose
naval guns. These were semi-automatic in operation and were the main
anti-aircraft defence guns.
One of these guns was responsible for the loss of the
B-25G Mitchell bomber, discussed in an early part of this account. There
are four sets of the 127mm guns on Nauru, the other two sets are near
the rubbish tip near the top of a hill to the right of the tip. Nearby
is a stone and concrete structure which looks like a large bunker but
is in reality a wall that housed the range finder and probably the predictors
for the anti-aircraft batteries. The tower for the range finder still
stands inside the walled structure.
127mm AA Gun
One of the Jap Type 29 127mm AA guns on Command
Ridge in Nauru in 1983. There are four sets of these there and
they look exactly the same today. All the guns were damaged by
the Australian occupation forces at the end of the war but these
guns are still some of the best surviving examples in the Pacific.
127mm AA Gun
This is the best gun there, at the south end of
Command Ridge. Some partial dismantling
has taken place but most of the removed bits can be found still
in the near vicinity of these guns.
Search Light Battery
Also at Command Ridge can be found an area which
housed a search-light battery. This is a rectangular area protected
by earth filled fuel drums. Bits of the search-light carbon rods can
still be found within this enclosed area.On the ridge there are three
twin mounts for the 13mm heavy machine guns. All are damaged but one
working mounting could be built using parts from all three. If two guns
could be found then this would make a fine display piece.
Trenches and barbed wire can still be discerned along
the ridge in many places and small items of Japanese kit can still be
picked up here and there. There are still other guns to be found around
Nauru. One is a 25mm twin mount anti-aircraft gun which was removed
from Command Ridge in 1982 and is in a private yard near Chris Quadina's
place. This example is now part of the outdoor display at the Nauru
The main bunker complex would be an interesting display area for visitors
if it was cleaned up and properly developed. The 127mm guns could be
restored to a substantial degree and preserved together with the amazingly
intact fortifications. These areas would be of major interest to visitors.
Ewa is on the NW side of Nauru and the cave is near
the gun with the shield. On Saturday 21st December 1996 I was told by
Vaiuli Amoe about a cave at Ewa that he claimed contained human bones
and that he thought that these bones might be from people executed by
the Japanese during the war or even bones of Japanese soldiers. On the
morning of Monday 23rd December, Vaiuli took me to Ewa and led me to
the cave containing the alleged bones.
We approached the cliffs at a point in from the main
road about 100 metres south of the Capelle store complex where there
is a break in the cliff line. We climbed up the cliff face on the north
side of the break and near the top we came across a stone machine-gun
emplacement, a bunker and a concreted recess in the rocks.
Just north of the recess is a cave opening that is
partly lined with horizontal fuel drums cemented together that made
up a blast shelter for the Japanese in the cave opening. Upon entering
this blast shelter a vertical hole could be seen at the rear of the
cave that extended down maybe eight or ten metres.
From the top of the hole it could be seen that considerable
activity had taken place recently at the bottom of the vertical cave
and many bone fragments were visible. Vaiuli and myself then climbed
down the rock walls to the bottom of this cave and I commenced my inspection.
The bottom of this vertical cave is approximately level
and was about four metres long and about two metres wide and is oriented
approximately north-south. The bottom is uneven and is full of different
sized stones and boulders. At the northern side of this cave in the
roof there is a round hole open to the weather about a metre in diameter
and this hole allows debris to enter from the outside and fall to the
bottom of the cave. Over the years a mound of about a metre in height
has built up below the hole.
Vaiuli stated that his brother had climbed to the bottom
of the hole last August just looking around and had spotted a small
skull fragment in the surface of the debris mound. A little digging
had uncovered more (finger) bones and fragments that were unmistakably
human jaw bones with teeth.
Because these bones were below an old Japanese wartime
emplacement, Vaiuli and the brother thought that the bones might be
Japanese remains and that there may be bayonets and rifles buried with
the bones. They went back with digging equipment and began moving stones
and earth in the search for war relics.
Many bones were uncovered by these two men but no war
relics of the kind they were reaching for were found. Some fired 6.5mm
rifle cases were found, a cartridge stripper clip, a brass trigger guard
from an old muzzle-loading rifle and some modern iron and aluminium
junk were recovered. Also a curious stone object, about 50mm in diameter
with a round hole in the centre and being about 20mm thick with a segment
broken out of it was also recovered (in August).
I was shown these items just before we set off to the
cave on the morning of the 23rd. Also shown were about twenty human
teeth, nearly all being molars, some of which showed considerable wear
indicating they had come from older mature people and three fragments
of lower human jawbones, none matching.
The teeth were all but for one free of dental decay.
This would be consistent with pre-colonial islander people who rarely
had tooth trouble when subsisting on their natural diet. The jaw bones
were unusually thick-boned which made them unlikely to be of Japanese
or European origin and were probably Nauruan.
At the floor of the cave I could see several piles
of bones placed on rock shelves and recesses that the relic hunters
had placed during their excavations. The most notable feature of all
these bones was that there were no intact major bones, all the bones
appeared to have been deliberately broken or smashed a very long time
Vaiuli stated that all the bones were recovered from
within the debris mound that was immediately below the opening in the
roof of the cave. This mound has not been fully excavated and is perhaps
still 60% intact. The relic hunters had begun their searching by lifting
and moving stones and other material near the south end of the cave
floor and had worked their way up into the edge of the debris mound.
Also their digging has not extended down the bottom
level of the debris mound, but the rock shifting and removal up to the
mound had been to bed-rock, but nothing significant had been uncovered.
A large number of bone fragments had been placed on
top of the mound just above the last digging area and an inspection
in the open face of the mound revealed many more bone fragments still
embedded in the soil.
By looking at the human jaw bone remains, these ranged
in appearance from those of a child up to those of old people, and it
could be seen that so far there was evidence of the remains of maybe
eight bodies. Further investigation could lead to uncovering the remains
of even more people.
The situation in this cave appears to me to be of an
ancient Nauruan burial cave that has not been used as such for a very
long time. The soil covering the bones in the debris mound indicates
this. For some reason all the bones had been deliberately smashed also
a long time ago, this may have been a custom to release the spirits
according to some ancient belief.
If the remains were of Japanese soldiers or their victims,
the bones would have been more or less intact and on or near the surface,
and would be unlikely to include the remains of small children. Therefore
it is my belief that the cave inspected by Vaiuli and myself is an old
Nauruan burial cave similar to the caves described by visitors to the
island early in the 20th century.
A proper excavation should be carried out and all the
excavated material needs to be sieved. This would most likely uncover
a number of ancient stone and shell artefacts that would be suitable
for cultural display purposes. The human remains could also be relocated.
Action of this kind would be dependant entirely on the wishes of the
land-owner and of the inhabitants of nearby areas.
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