Fernandina Island, Galapagos

Islands on the equator

The Phoenix Islands group in the mid-1930s was uninhabited. Consisting of the islands of Canton, Enderbury, Phoenix, Birnie, McKean, Garner, Hull, Sydney and the Carondelet Reef, they are now referred to as: Kanton or Canton, Enderbury, Phoenix, Birnie, Orona, Nikumaroro, Manra, and Carondelet Reef, and are part of the nation of Kiritbati. Geographically, these islands straddle the dry/wet boundary of rainfall located near the equator, so some islands appear to be lush with vegetation, whereas others hardly have any groundcover at all.

By the late 1920s, the US and British governments independently were considering many of the mid-Pacific islands as possible stepping stones for commercial, and possibly military, purposes. With Pan American Airways undertaking cross-Pacific air travel and mail service in 1935, more serious consideration by various parties began. Probably spurred by the president of PAA, Juan Trippe, the US Navy began to consider occupying many of the mid-Pacific Islands by the end of 1934, as PAA needed stops from Honolulu if it was to seriously garner the American /Australian/ New Zealand air mail routes it was coveting. PAA managed to sign a contract with New Zealand for air mail services, despite not having plane equipment available. There was just one problem with that contract: New Zealand wanted reciprocal rights for British airlines to land in the US, as they were most interested in connections to Canada. Clearly, Hawaii was a necessary key to any cross-Pacific air routes, but the US government was adamant that no foreign government be allowed to land any planes in Hawaii, due to the large military bases located there.

Based upon national security reasons, the US government blocked any attempts by Great Britain for reciprocal landing rights. Britain, of course, resented this, and attempted to leverage the US into ceding landing rights in Hawaii. Having already gained sovereignty over most of the islands between Hawaii and the Australian region, Britain began to gather in any other islands that it possibly could claim rights to. If Britain could claim an island essential for PAA to stop at while en route to New Zealand, perhaps that could convince the US to cede reciprocal landing rights in Hawaii. Similarly, the US began the same practice of claiming islands, as utilization of islands by PAA could also be used militarily, if necessary, as advance bases for Hawaii. Thus, the great island grab race was on.

Source: tighar.org
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