Captain Alfred Parker on Jaluit Atoll, March – April 1937

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands has recently been in the news regarding the possibility that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were captured by the Japanese and taken to Jaluit Atoll in July 1937. Whether that happened or not is a matter of speculation.  We do know, however, Norwegian Alfred Parker, captain of the Panamanian-registered M. S. Fijian, was there, according to his account, from March 28 to April 24, 1937.  His ship sank after an explosion on March 25, near the island Majuro.  The captain and crew, consisting of Norwegian and Chinese nationals, were rescued by the Japanese vessel, Shinko Maru. They were taken by this vessel to Arno Atoll.  After staying at Arno for 36 hours, the Shinko Maru proceeded southwest to Jaluit Atoll. At Jaluit the captain and crew of the Fijian disembarked under police supervision. [1]

According to Parker he was questioned by the police on 21 different occasions during his stay at Jaluit. He believed that the police regarded him as a spy of some foreign nation and for that reason greatly restricted his freedom of action on Jaluit.  While on Jaluit, Parker became acquainted with missionary Rev. Carl Russell Heine[2], who has been on the islands for 48 years. Heine traveled throughout the Mandated Islands in his work and was acquainted with a number of Japanese naval officers. Heine told Parker that these officers had told him that their naval plans provided for the immediate capture of Guam in case of war between Japan and the United States. Parker later stated that Heine told him that he did not believe that the Japanese would allow him to leave the islands. [3]

Jaluit1_001

Area 22. Marshall Islands – Jaluit Atoll – General ONI #128-348; Monograph Files relating to the Pacific Ocean Areas (NAID 6850877); RG 38

Parker and his crew remained on Jaluit from March 28 to April 24, on which date they sailed on the Kasagi Maru for Yokohama. En route to Yokohama, the vessel made brief stops at the islands of Kusaie, Ponape (now known as Pohnpei), Truk, and Saipan.  The Japanese refused to allow Parker or the members of his crew to land at any of the islands visited en route to Yokohama.  At Yokohama. Parker spoke several times with an officer of the American Consulate.  He told him of his experiences and observations while stranded in Japanese Mandated Islands.  Parker stated that Jaluit had an excellent harbor which could only be entered by vessels under the guidance of pilots familiar with the reef formations in the channel. He said there were three Japanese Navy destroyers and one aircraft carrier stationed in Jaluit harbor. He reported that he saw no indications of fortifications on Jaluit.  Parker observed from the vessel on the voyage to Yokohama that a large airport was being constructed on the island of Kusaie, and that of the islands visited, radio stations were located on Jaluit, Truk and Saipan.[4]

RG208_Jaluit-JPEGwithDeclass

Memo regarding Jaluit – Administrative Center for the Japanese Governemt of the Marshalls, 12/13/1943. File: P: Marshall Islands, 0.7-C; Informational Files on the Latin American and Pacific Areas (NAID 782451), RG 208

Now contrast Parker’s time on Jaluit with that of William K. Vanderbilt II in 1928.  Vanderbilt, an heir of the Vanderbilt fortune and lieutenant commander in the United States Naval Reserve undertook a voyage around the world from October 25, 1928 to May 16, 1929, aboard his 213-foot, 867 ton, motor yacht Ara.  The Ara reached Jaluit on December 27, 1928.  Awaiting them there were 60 tons of oil that had been shipped from Yokohama in advance for the next leg of their cruise. Before leaving, Vanderbilt, according to missionary Carl Heine, gave two missionaries, George Lockwood and Jessie Hoppin, each $100 to carry on their work.  Heine missed seeing Vanderbilt as he was teaching at a school on an islet a short distance from Jaluit. The Vanderbilt spent several uneventful days at Jaluit before heading for the Caroline Islands.[5]

Jaluit2_002

Area 22. Marshall Islands – Jaluit Atoll – Jaluit Island – Jabor ONI 168-891. Monograph Files relating to the Pacific Ocean Area (NAID 6850877), RG 38

So what explains the different treatment received by Parker and Vanderbilt?  The answer lies in the change of status of Jaluit and the Marshall Islands between 1928 and 1937.  In 1899, Spain had sold the Carolines, Marianas (less Guam), and Marshalls to Germany for $4 million dollars and Germany took formal possession.  Japan in 1914, ostensibly acting as an ally of Great Britain, moved in occupation forces. The League of Nations in 1920 recognized Japan’s de facto sovereignty by giving that nation a mandate over the Marshalls, a mandate (under the terms of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations) which specifically prohibited military and naval installations.  The neutralization of other Japanese-held islands was guaranteed by the Washington Naval Limitations Treaty of 1922, signed by the United States and Japan, as well as by the British Empire, France, and Italy.  The Japanese administered the Marshall Islands (except for Eniwetok and Ujelang) by the Jaluit Branch Bureau of the South Seas Administration (Nanyo-Cho). [6]

On March 27, 1933, Japan gave the required two years’ notice of her intention to withdraw from the League of Nations, and officially withdrew on March 27, 1935.  The Japanese did not return the Marshalls to the League of Nations, but instead proclaimed absolute sovereignty over them. This action, however, did not relieve Japan of her obligation not to fortify the mandated islands under the terms of the Covenant. But the League of Nations was powerless to enforce the Covenant.  In Tokyo, on November 6, 1934, a spokesman of the Japanese Foreign Office, commenting on “suspicions” expressed at Geneva that islands administered under a mandate were being fortified, denied the accusations as groundless.  He added that Japan was observing faithfully the terms of the mandate and that “all suspicions and accusations are without foundation.”[7]  Then, on December 29, 1934, the Japanese government gave formal notice that it intended to terminate the Washington Naval Limitations Treaty of 1922, effective December 31, 1936. [8]  A New York Times correspondent, Hugh Byas, in March 1935, a few days after Japan left the League of Nations, wrote “The mandated islands give Japan a long salient into the central Pacific. They form a screen between the United States and the Philippines. Their innumerable islets and protected waterways make ideal hiding places for submarines which could cut America’s communications with the Philippines in case of war.” He added that the possession of the Marshall Islands brought Japan 2,000 miles nearer to Pearl Harbor.  Byas quoted Japanese Admiral Nobumasa Suyetsugu’s recently published article in the Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shimbun, in which he observed “The mandated islands are Japanese’s first line of marine defense…As long as Japan is able to hold these isles her national safety is secured….Japan’s possession of the isles does not menace any power, the isles being too far away from other countries.”  Suyetsugu also had written that the islands were “naturally built aircraft carriers” and were “apparently made to order for Japan,” and that “Pacific equilibrium can be maintained only when Japan holds them.” [9]

Jaluit3_003

PL-Marshall Islands, Jaluit Atoll, Jaluit Island. Jaluit Harbor. ONI# 14378. Monograph Files relating to the Pacific Ocean Area (NAID 6850877), RG 38

From 1935 onwards the nature and extent of Japanese activities in the mandated islands remained cloaked in secrecy and mystery. Foreigners had never been encouraged to travel within the mandated islands, and with formal annexation, the Japanese, for the most part, excluded them. In the latter half of 1936 and early 1937, when the United States Government requested permission for the United States Navy auxiliary ship USS Gold Star (AG-12) to visit Truk, Palau and Saipan, the Japanese refused.  This, and other actions the Japanese took with regard to the mandated islands, gave rise to suspicions among the Western powers that Japan was fortifying the islands contrary to her commitments stipulated under the terms of the League Covenant. [10]

What became of Alfred Parker is unknown to me. William K. Vanderbilt continued his sailing adventures and remained in the Naval Reserve until he was transferred to the Honorary Retired List on January 1, 1941 for physical disability. United States liberty ship SS William K. Vanderbilt, named in his honor in 1942, was, on May 16, 1943, torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine southwest of Suva, Fiji Islands. As for Carl Heine, a granddaughter recalled that after 1940, the Japanese removed him from Jaluit to the islet of Imiej (part of the Jaluit Atoll), the headquarters for the Japanese Navy garrison and major seaplane base.[11] This observation seems consistent with the United States Navy report of January 1944, that it had been reported in February 1941, the Japanese removed the natives and 17 foreigners from Jaluit. [12] One author maintains that the Japanese beheaded Heine in April 1944.[13] 


This post has been updated to include photographs from Record Group 38.

n.b. The three photographs used with this blog are from File 601-400 Area M Marshalls, the POA Monograph Files, Office of Naval Intelligence (Entry UD-74, NAID 6850877, declassification authority NND 907002), Records of the Chief of Naval Operations, Record Group 38. The Jaluit Atoll photographs in the file date from 1900 to at least December 1928, and perhaps later. Many are undated. Some of the prints were included in a United States Navy Bureau of Yards and Docks study entitled “Geographical Data for the Guidance of Seabee Units in the Event of Assignment to Certain Areas Part II-Marshall Islands,” printed on January 4, 1944. A copy of this study is included in the above mentioned file. It is interesting to note the photograph of the ship (not Vanderbilt’s) in late December 1928 Vanderbilt was about a mile away at the pier at Jaluit harbor.  He did have photographers with him and it is quite possible this photograph (as well as another one in the file dated late December 1928) were furnished by him to the United States Navy.[14]


[1] Despatch, No. 315, Richard F. Boyce, The Consul at Yokohama  to the Secretary of State, June 25, 1937, File: 862i.01/329, Central Decimal File, 1930-1939, General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59; “The loss of the Fijian,” The Times (47646), London. March 31, 1937.p. 20.

[2] Heine, born in Singleton, New South Wales, came to the Marshall Islands in 1890.  He was ordained as a minister in 1906, and became an associate missionary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. John Garrett, Where Nets Were Cast: Christianity in Oceania Since World War II (Suva and Geneva: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific in association with World Council of Churches, 1997), p. 127, John Garrett, Footsteps in the Sea: Christianity in Oceania to World War II (Suva and Geneva: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific in association with World Council of Churches, 1992), pp. 281, 441.

[3] Despatch, No. 315, Richard F. Boyce, The Consul at Yokohama  to the Secretary of State, June 25, 1937, File: 862i.01/329, Central Decimal File, 1930-1939, General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59.

[4] Despatch, No. 315, Richard F. Boyce, The Consul at Yokohama  to the Secretary of State, June 25, 1937, File: 862i.01/329, Central Decimal File, 1930-1939, General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59.

[5] Steven H. Gittelman, Willie K. Vanderbilt II: A Biography (Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2010), p. 175; “Book by Vanderbilt Depicts World Trip,” The New York Times, December 20, 1930, p. 37;  John Garrett, Footsteps in the Sea: Christianity in Oceania to World War II (Suva and Geneva: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific in association with World Council of Churches, 1992), pp. 441-442.

[6] Philip A. Crowl and Edmund G. Love, Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls,  The War in the Pacific, United States Army in World War II (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1955), p. 206; Lt. Col. Robert D. Heinl, Jr., USMC and Lt. Col. John A. Crown, USMC, The Marshalls: Increasing the Tempo (Washington, D.C.: Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1954), pp. 1, 2.

[7] Associated Press, “Tokyo Terms Fears Groundless,” The New York Times, November 6, 1934, p. 4.

[8] “Texts of the Statements on End of the Naval Treaty,” The New York Times, December 30, 1934, p. 14.

[9] Hugh Byas, “Japan’s Mandate a Naval Asset,” The New York Times, March 31, 1935, p. E5.

[10] Telegram, No. 177, The Chargé in Japan (Neville) to the Secretary of State, September 4, 1936, File: 811.3394/239: Telegram, Central Decimal File, 1930-1939, General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59; Telegram, No. 210, The Chargé in Japan (Dickover) to the Secretary of State, October 13, 1936, File: 811.3394/243: Telegram, ibid.; Telegram, No. 54, The Ambassador in Japan (Grew) to the Secretary of State, February 12, 1937, File: 811.3394/251: Telegram, ibid.; Philip A. Crowl and Edmund G. Love, Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls,  The War in the Pacific, United States Army in World War II (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1955), p. 206; Lt. Col. Robert D. Heinl, Jr., USMC and Lt. Col. John A. Crown, USMC, The Marshalls: Increasing the Tempo (Washington, D.C.: Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1954), p. 2.

[11] Anono Lieom Loeak, Veronica C. Kiluwe, Linda Crowl, eds., Life in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (University of the South Pacific Centre, Majuro and Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific, 2004), p. 107..

[12] Geographical Data for the Guidance of Seabee Units in the Event of Assignment to Certain Areas Part II-Marshall Islands,” January 4, 1944, p. J-1, File 601-400 Area M Marshalls, the POA Monograph Files, Office of Naval Intelligence (Entry UD-74, NAID  6850877), Records of the Chief of Naval Operations, Record Group 38.

[13] John Garrett, Where Nets Were Cast: Christianity in Oceania Since World War II (Suva and Geneva: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific in association with World Council of Churches, 1997), p. 128; John Garrett, Footsteps in the Sea: Christianity in Oceania to World War II (Suva and Geneva: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific in association with World Council of Churches, 1992), p. 442.

[14] Vanderbilt, Pierre C. Merillon, Charles H. Thompson, and William E. Belanske took photographs on the trip. “Book by Vanderbilt Depicts World Trip,” The New York Times, December 20, 1930, p. 37.

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One Response to Captain Alfred Parker on Jaluit Atoll, March – April 1937

  1. Nom says:

    I noticed the last pic is ONI #14378, and the “Amelia” pic is #14381. They appear to be from the same camera etc. Any chance you could post #14379, 14380, any others in the sequence/file? I don’t believe the Amelia story, but it would be great to view more images for comparison. Thank you for your post, and for the valuable work of the National Archives!

    Like

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