ASCENSION ISLAND AND THE SECOND WORLD WAR

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ASCENSION ISLAND,SECOND WORLD WAR,DAVID FONTAINE MITCHELL. HP ROLOGUE H, In March of 1942 one of the most remote islands in the world received a visit. from the United States military Situated in the South Atlantic the island s ex. istence was largely unknown and both the U S and Britain wanted to keep it. that way A secret airfield was constructed by the 38th Engineers within the first. 90 days of their arrival and from thereafter aircraft taking off from Brazil had. a place to refuel on their way to Africa the Middle East and the China Burma. India CBI Theater of operations The island also contributed greatly to anti. submarine patrols in the South Atlantic deterring U boat activity across the. region Sadly overlooked by most history books and documentaries this tiny. landmass proved vital to the Allied campaign throughout the Second World War. This is the story of Ascension truly one of the strangest places on the face of the earth. THE ISLAND S EARLY HISTORY 1501 1815, Ascension Island is located in the middle of the to record his discovery of Ascension which was. Atlantic Ocean at 7 57 south latitude and 14 22 subsequently re discovered two years later by the. west longitude almost halfway between the continents Portuguese naval officer Afonso de Albuquerque. of South America and Africa The 35 square mile In April 1503 King Manuel I had dispatched. landmass lies roughly 500 miles south of the equator Albuquerque and his fleet to provide defense for. 750 miles north west of St Helena 1 400 miles east ongoing Portuguese expeditions in India Albuquerque. of Brazil 1 000 miles south west of Liberia and 2 400 spotted the island on Ascension Day the Christian. miles north west of South Africa The island is an holiday celebrated on the 40th day after Easter to. above water volcanic peak of the longest submarine commemorate Christ s ascendance to heaven and. mountain range in the world the Mid Atlantic unaware of de Nova s visit two years prior renamed. Ridge which runs north to south down the middle it accordingly In doing so Albuquerque followed. of the Atlantic Ocean from Jan Mayen Island to the common practice of the time as indeed had de. Bouvet Island First settled in 1815 by the British Nova of naming a previously unknown land after. Ascension has no indigenous population and houses the feast day on which it was discovered Easter. approximately 1 100 people today Island Christmas Island and St Helena are other. The Portuguese navigator Juan de Nova initially examples of this custom As was also customary at. discovered the island in 1501 during an expedition the time the Portuguese released several goats on. to India giving it the name Ilha de Nossa Se ora de the island to be used as a future food supply by ships. Concei ao The Island of Our Lady of the Conception passing through the area Shortly thereafter Ascension. otherwise referred to simply as Conception Island developed into an oceanic post office of sorts where. During his voyage home a year later de Nova discovered messages left by southbound ships would be taken. the island of St Helena which he believed to be much aboard northbound ships for delivery to European. better suited for colonization The navigator neglected ports Sailors would also frequent the island in. journeys and writings of Dampier and Dampier s, wreck on Ascension may have played a role in inspiring. the novel Robinson Crusoe,Perhaps the most legendary story of the island.
is that of Leendert Hasenbosch a Dutch castaway, confined to Ascension in isolation for five months. until his death in 1725 Hasenbosch an officer in,the VOC Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie the. Dutch East India Company was serving as a book,keeper aboard the Dutch ship Prattenburg when he. was convicted of the crime of sodomy most likely,for engaging in homosexual acts on 11 April 1725. As punishment on 5 May he was marooned on,Ascension where he kept a journal of his daily.
activities until he presumably died of dehydration. five months later in mid October Hasenbosch s,journal was discovered by the crew of the English. East India ship Compton on 19 January 1726 during a. return voyage to England It was subsequently trans. lated from Dutch to English and then published in, 1728 under the title An Authentick Relation According. to the ship s log the members of the Compton were,Captain William Dampier. unable to discover the body of Hasenbosch leading, to speculation regarding the journal s authenticity. search of turtle meat both for sustenance and to Some historians have suspected that the translator. battle scurvy a common disease at the time resulting may have added or modified entries to increase the. from a lack of Vitamin C 1 book s resale value and a handful even suggest that. On 22 February 1701 the English buccaneer Defoe himself may have played a role in the journal s. William Dampier landed on the island after his ship alteration The original copy of Hasenbosch s manu. the HMS Roebuck sprung a leak and began to take script has yet to be located further enhancing the. on water Dampier was returning from a two year legend of the Dutchman s short stay on Ascension 2. expedition to New Holland now Australia and New In 1775 the English explorer Captain James Cook. Guinea after a breakout of scurvy infected his crew landed on the island during his second exploratory. and forced him to turn back prematurely All of the voyage around the world Cook who had recently. Roebuck s men made it safely to shore however the discovered South Georgia and the South Sandwich. vessel ultimately sank the following morning Islands was searching for the phantom island of St. Dampier and his crew were stranded on the unin Matthew in the South Atlantic He reached Ascension. habited island until 3 April when three Royal Navy on 28 May in search of turtle meat and finding noth. ships spotted and rescued the men The author ing else of use on the island continued onward on. Daniel Defoe was most certainly influenced by the 31 May toward the Fernando de Noronha archipelago. Ascension s turtles have thrived on the island for generations predominately due to its isolated location and lack of predators The. massive 400 plus pound creatures miraculously travel well over a thousand miles from Brazil to Ascension annually to lay their eggs prior. to returning home In the past turtle meat was a common dish associated with Ascension however today the turtles are strictly protected. For those interested in learning more about contemporary research being conducted on Ascension s turtles see Sergio Ghione s Turtle Island. A Journey to the World s Most Remote Island, For a detailed analysis of the life and journal of Leendert Hasenbosch see Alex Ritsema s A Dutch Castaway on Ascension Island in 1725.
An American ship was wrecked on Ascension in in his log the disappearance of one of his own men. 1799 leaving 15 men stranded until a passing ship on the island After searching for the sailor with. the HMS Endymion came to their rescue The men no luck the Endymion set sail and continued on its. were discovered on 8 September when Sir Thomas voyage A short time after this tragedy it became. Williams captain of the Endymion sent boats ashore customary for passing ships to fire a cannon shot. while passing through the area It is not certain how to alert possible castaways of their presence This. long the sailors had been marooned but Williams practice continued until the island s formal occupa. managed to board all of them onto his vessel tion in 1815. Although the rescue was a success Williams recorded. BRITISH SETTLEMENT 1815 1939, On 22 October 1815 the British rear admiral George patrols Britain ultimately decided to retain their. Cockburn officially annexed Ascension following his presence on Ascension at this time due to the island s. escort of Napoleon Bonaparte to the nearby island close proximity to West Africa and its strategic. of St Helena located roughly 750 miles to the south placement on the south east trade winds In this era. east Cockburn wanted to ensure that Ascension was before the construction of the Panama and Suez. not to be used as a staging base by the French or canals the island was also utilized as a base for. other adversaries who might have been planning British ships sailing long distances around the globe. Napoleon s escape He therefore instructed his men The Royal Marines took command of the island in. to establish a garrison and a lookout post to survey 1823 with the arrival of Lt Colonel Edward Nicolls. each vessel that approached the island in order to who oversaw the construction of numerous public. avoid another Return from Elba Tristan da Cunha works projects during his five year stint Command. located to the south of St Helena was annexed in of the island was officially transferred back to the. 1816 to serve a similar purpose During the first year Navy in 1844 only to return to the Marines again. of inhabitation the Royal Navy instituted a system in 1905 Nicolls continued the practice of housing. of gutters and pipes to transport fresh water began sick sailors on the island so that they could recuperate. the construction of a road and started work on the In a letter to the governor of Sierra Leone the com. island s first pier The island s first communication mandant stated the following. system semaphores placed atop mountain summits,It is with sincere regret that I have heard. was also established at this time,of the death of some of your most valued. By the 1830s merely one decade following the,officers and think it is my duty to inform. death of Napoleon in 1821 Ascension had become you that if you require the bracing cool. a sanatorium for men of the West Africa Squadron air of mountains I have a humble but. who fell ill with various diseases during anti slaving. official successor Captain Roger Tinklar passed,away in 1839 after only one year on Ascension and.
Tinklar s replacement Captain Henry Bennett,survived there a mere seven months By this time. there were two hospitals on the island and one was. reserved specifically for those with severe fevers. Ships with sick men had been quarantined from the,populace in a section of the island known as Com. fortless Cove since 1823 after a visit by the infected. HMS Bann resulted in the deaths of several men,stationed at the garrison. Charles Darwin visited the island from 19 23,July 1836 during his global expedition aboard the. Beagle He noted,The settlement is near the beach it con.
sists of several houses and barracks placed,irregularly but well built of white. freestone The only inhabitants are ma,rines and some negroes liberated from. slave ships who are paid and victualled,by government There is not a private. person on the island Many of the marines,appeared well contented with their situation. they think it better to serve their one and,George Cockburn.
twenty years on shore let it be what it,may than in a ship in this choice if I were. clean and to me a very comfortable and a marine I should most heartily agree. healthy abode much at your service We, have plenty of good vegetables mutton He described the terrain of the island as being. beef poultry fish tea coffee milk and, entirely without trees in which and in every other. eggs to all which I will give an old soldier s, respect it is very far inferior to St Helena I saw the. hearty welcome to any of your officers or,island not smiling with beauty but staring with.
friends that you may entrust to my care,naked hideousness Darwin was overlooking Ascen. Nicolls was replaced by Captain William Bate in sion s barren landscape one void of vegetation with. 1828 who served for 10 years on Ascension until scattered basaltic lava flows and numerous reddish. his abrupt death in 1838 after contracting an illness brown craters A later observer would describe the. brought in by a visiting ship During Bate s tenure territory as being almost lunar in nature Darwin s. he oversaw the development of an intricate water assistant Syms Covington observed the British. system the island s first official barracks and a outpost in his journal as follows. hospital that is still used to this day The steadily. The soldiers HERE appear well satisfied, growing garrison town was officially coined George although there is scarcely anything green on. town by the captain on 3 April 1829 in honor of the whole island as for their work they get. King George IV By 1830 there were roughly 200 their food and of course their full pay as. people living on Ascension including 86 Africans usual The different departments are all built. and ships were calling at the island s port with of sandstone ARE uncommonly clean and. regularity commodious and indeed every thing appears. Bate wasn t the only commandant to fall victim as if done for the common comfort of all. to the various illnesses brought to the island His. Although numerous guns had been positioned for roughly 100 000 miles of submarine cables The. at various locations throughout the island since island was to become a relay station and on 15 De. the start of the British occupation these were rarely cember 1899 the first cable was established between. maintained and highly deficient Had an adversary Ascension and St Helena The network linking from. truly wanted to seize Ascension from the British St Helena to Cape Town was established in early. during the 1800s they most likely would have suc 1900 followed by another cable to Freetown in 1901. ASCENSION ISLAND AND THE SECOND WORLD WAR David Fontaine Mitchell 2010 DAVID FONTAINE MITCHELL ASCENSION ISLAND AND THE SECOND WORLD WAR In March of 1942 one of the most remote islands in the world received a visit from the United States military Situated in the South Atlantic the island s ex istence was largely unknown and both the U S and Britain wanted to keep it that way A

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