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    Ocean Island (Banaba)  Republic of Kiribati (Gilbert Islands)

Location
Lat 0° 51′ 34″ S Long 169° 32′ 13″ E  Ocean Island (Banaba Island) is a coral island west of the Gilbert Islands roughly 300km east of Nauru. It has an area of 6.5 km and has the highest elevation of 81 meters in the nation. Surrounded by a fringing coral reef and borders the Pacific Ocean. Today, part of the Republic of Kiribati.

on the island is also the highest point in Kiribati, at 81 meters high surrounded by a coral reef.

Prewar
Along with Nauru and Makatea (French Polynesia), was one of the important elevated phosphate islands of the Pacific. In 1900, British Phosphate Company (BPC) was established on the island to mine phosphates. Ocean Island produced roughly half as much as Nauru. Roads, a European settlement, Chinese quarters, railroad, cableway and cantilever structures were built (for loading boats).

Wartime History
During July 1941, the Australian and New Zealand Government evacuated all women and children from the island (dependents of BPC employees) evacuated aboard Australian ships Vito and Kenilworth protected by HMAS Westralia.

On December 8, 1941 a Japanese flying dropped five or six bombs on Ocean Island. There were no casualties and no damage to buildings but the next day three flying boats bombed the island and destroyed the new Residency building, the machine shop and the BPC Manager's house. The Radio Station on Ocean Island was the parent station for the Gilbert Islands Coastwatching station and it was believed that the main purpose of the attack had been to silence this Radio Station. However, the Station was undamaged and remained in operation. At the end of February 1942, Free French destroyer La Triomphant evacuated the remaining 823 Chinese and 232 Europeans. The local people were left on the island, as it was believed the Japanese would not harm them.

On August 24, nine bombers of the 24th Air Flotilla, bombed Ocean and during the night, destroyers Ariake and Yugure shelled the island. On August 26, 1942 Yugure landed troops that occupied the island.

Japanese missions against Ocean Island (Banaba)
December 8, 1941 - August 26, 1942

Later on September 1, a detachment from the 63rd Naval garrison unit replaced the Yugure force as the Ocean Island occupation unit with approximately 500 troops and 50 labourers. The phosphate mine had been sabotaged by the BPC prior to their evacuation and the Japanese did not attempt to resume mining, and simply occupied the island. During their occupation, the Japanese built fortifications but did not have a harbor or airfield to support the garrison. To relieve food shortages, islanders were shipped to other Japanese occupied islands, keeping approximately 150 of the young men as laborers.

American missions against Ocean Island (Banaba)
January 28, 1943 - September 8, 1945

During August 1945, after the Japanese surrender, all Islanders were split into nine groups, marched to the cliffs over the sea, blindfolded and shot. Japanese remained on the island until the end of the war in September 1945.

On September 8, 1945 a RNZAF PBY Catalina piloted by Wing Commander Smith and Flying Officer Regan dropped surrender leaflets to the garrison. Officially, the garrison surrendered on October 1, 1945 aboard HMAS Diamantina (K377).

Postwar
The Commanding Officer, Lt. Commander Suzuki Naoomi faced trial when war crimes trial were convened by the Australian military in Rabaul, in April 1946. Suzuki, and a Junior Officer, Lt. Nara Yoshio, were charged with the murder of two natives named, and certain natives unknown on Ocean Island on or about 20th August 1945. The Japanese Officers pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, but both were found guilty and were sentenced to death by hanging. In a petition, Suzuki accepted full responsibility for the killing and made a plea for leniency for Nara, who he claimed had only been carrying out orders. Nara had his sentence commuted to twenty-five years imprisonment; Suzuki's sentence was upheld and he was hanged.

Today
Postwar, the British relocated most of the population to Rabi Island, Fiji after 1945. Phosphate mining ended in 1979. Some have returned to the island, with approximately 200 living on the island in 2001. Despite being part of Kiribati, its municipal administration is by the Rabi Council of Leaders and Elders, which is based on Rabi Island, in Fiji.

Tabiang (Antereen)
Located on the southern coast of the island near Lilian Point.

References
Banaba and World War 2
Transcript of the Interrogation Of Lieutenant Commander Suzuki

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Last Updated
August 25, 2018

 

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