Battle Fortress: South Pacific

Bora Bora, Society Islands, French Polynesia

Well, welcome to the only other island out here that you’ve probably ever actually heard of!  Just because, again, we know that you’re wondering, Bora Bora is right here:

Did you know that long before Bora Bora was known as the honeymoon capital of the world its first role in the international community was to serve as Battle Fortress: South Pacific?!? Totally serious here! Due to Bora Bora’s strategic position half way between the Americas and Australia and its uniquely defensible geography, the island was chosen by the United States to be a resupply base during WW II. What do we mean by “uniquely defensible geography”? Simple, look:

Much like Tahiti, Moorea and the other islands in the Society chain, Bora Bora displays the characteristics of phase 2 of Darwin’s theory of atoll formation.  What sets Bora Bora apart from the other Society Islands is that there’s exactly one way in or out of the reef, which makes it really easy to secure. All you have to do is stick a bunch of heavy artillery pieces on the main island and point them at the channel. Enemy ship rolls up the channel and you blast it to kingdom come.

“But wait, what if they take over the islands of the reef” you ask? Greg posed this question as well. Remember how the reef islands are really narrow? So in the time it takes the enemy to take that tiny spit of land, the Americans could turn the artillery pieces and proceed to shell the motu into the Stone Age. The enemy has no place to hide because it’s a coral reef they’re standing on…not like they can dig in or anything. They have no place to run because they are surrounded by water. So as long as you’re willing to destroy the motu, the main island is extremely difficult to take.

Which is why, as we showed you in the last entry, they built the airstrip on one of the motu. Hey, it wasn’t a perfect plan ok?

Paratrooper drop could have been problematic but Bora Bora is a little out of the way for a trooper plane and the island had about 5000 entrenched US troops. Overall, a really defensible location.

Also, the lagoon could serve as a safe shallow water harbor for up to 100 military supply ships. So Battle Fortress: South Pacific (yes, Greg just likes writing that) served three purposes:

  • Resupply port for trans-Pacific planes and ships
  • Secured the South Pacific from Japanese invasion
  • Protected our Allies’ backs (New Zealand and Australia, specifically)

Despite the fact that there was never an actual attack on Bora Bora, the base had a lasting impact and left a mixed legacy with the people of Polynesia.

  • The air strip created by the American troops became French Polynesia’s first and only international airport for many years. This greatly opened the South Pacific, and especially Bora Bora, to commercial tourism.  Kinda a big deal for them as tourism is one of their main economic drivers and all.
  • The US soldiers based in Bora Bora for 5 years begat about 130 babies with the locals. About 40% of those babies died when the United States closed the base in 1946 and the kids lost access to the American baby formula they were raised on.
  • Bora Bora got to keep the artillery pieces, so that’s cool.

On a somewhat related note, it’s a little known fact that French Polynesian soldiers fought with the Allies in World War II under the banner of the Free French. Stop and think about that for a second. After everything that gets done to them, after all the islanders the Europeans killed offthe Polynesians saddled-up (canoe’d-up? Whatever, you get the point) what few remaining living men they still had left and shipped them off to the Allied war effort… in Europe…

…wow. Respect.

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