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

RAN c1945


RAN Oct 2, 1945



RAN c1945
Location
Lat 0° 51′ 34″ S Long 169° 32′ 13″ E  Ocean Island is a coral island with a land area of 6.5 kilometers surrounded by a fringing coral reef in the South Pacific Ocean. Also known as Banaba Island. The southern coast between Lilian Point and Sydney Point borders Home Bay. The highest elevation on the island is a point 81m above sea level and is the highest point in the Republic of Kiribati. To the west roughly 300km away is Nauru Island in the Republic of Nauru.

Prewar
Ocean Island was one of three major phosphate islands in the Pacific along with Nauru Island and Makatea Island in French Polynesia were the main phosphate islands in 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 single Japanese flyingboat dropped five or six bombs on Ocean Island. There were no casualties and no damage. On December 9, 1941 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 coastwatcher station and it was believed that the main purpose of the attack had been to silence this radio link but was undamaged and remained in operation. Before their evacuation, BPC sabotaged the phosphate mine to prevent further mining. During late February 1942, Free French destroyer Le Triomphant evacuated the remaining 232 Europeans and 823 Chinese civilians. The local people were left on the island because the Allies believed the Japanese would not harm them.

On August 24, 1942 nine bombers of the 24th Air Flotilla, bombed Ocean Island. During the night, destroyers Ariake and Yugure shelled Ocean Island. On August 26, 1942 Yugure lands troops on Ocean Island. On September 1, 1942 a detachment from the 63rd Naval garrison unit arrives with roughly 500 troops and 50 laborers.

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

During the Japanese occupation, they did not attempt to resume phosphate mining. During their occupation, the Japanese garrison built fortifications and defenses including three 6" Naval guns emplaced in fortifications to defend Home Bay. On January 28, 1943 a B-24 Liberator flew the first photographic reconnaissance over Ocean Island but did not mount a bombing campaign. As a remote island garrison without a large harbor or any landing ground, the garrison was difficult to support. As the Pacific War began to worsen for the Japanese, the local population were shipped to other islands to relieve food shortages, but retained approximately 150 natives as laborers. During August 1945, after Japan surrender, the remaining native people were split into nine groups, marched to the cliffs bordering the sea, blindfolded and shot. Only one named Kabunare survived the massacre. Another laborer named Nabetari escaped by canoe and was at sea for seven months at sea.

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

On September 8, 1945 a RNZAF PBY Catalina piloted by Wing Commander Smith and Flying Officer Regan dropped surrender leaflets to the garrison. On September 30, 1945 HMAS Diamantina (K377) and embarks a Japanese envoy to negotiate the surrender of the island's garrison of roughly 530 personnel.

On October 1, 1945 during a surrender ceremony on the quarterdeck of HMAS Diamantina (K377), Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) Lieutenant Commander Naoomi Suzuki and senior staff officer Lieutenant Sukuma surrender the Japanese garrison on Ocean Island to Australian Army Brigadier J. R. Stevenson, Commanding Officer (C. O.) 11th Infantry Brigade. Afterwards, an Australian Army 31/51 Infantry Battalion, B Company lands to occupy the island. Ashore, the Union Jack was raised in a ceremony that included Major R. S. Bastin, chief wireless officer of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, Mr. G. Bridges, Sir Albert Albert Ellis, representative of BFC, Mr. W. V. Bott and Lt. G. H. Lording, Naval Intelligence Officer.

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 via Wayback Machine November 11, 2019
Transcript of the Interrogation Of Lieutenant Commander Suzuki via Wayback Machine September 25, 2016

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Last Updated
October 1, 2020

 

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