The war in the pacific was a huge conflict spread over a massive area. The fluid nature of the battlefield
made it a difficult war to wage. Strategy and logistics played a critical factor in each success and failure. The US was stinging from the attack on Pearl Harbor and they decided to set up a new base for operations in the Pacific. They selected the island of Espiritu Santo for this facility.
From the documentation it appears that there was never any intention to make Santo a permanent base but from the early days of the war it was established as the primary logistical supply base and the headquarters for major navy and army units operating in the Pacific.
|The first major occurrence in Santo was the sinking of the luxury cruise ship turned troop ship, the US President Coolidge. This disaster was caused by friendly mines and poor communication.|
The ship carried 5,000 fully equipped fighting men and, though only 2 lives were lost in the tragedy, all of the equipment went to the bottom and these men were effectively taken out of the war for several months right when Guadalcanal was being brutally attacked by the Japanese.
|All of the men successfully departed the ship but left there gear on deck and all of their supplies in the hold. |
The fact that they all got off when the ship sank in 45 minutes was credit to the captain and crew but there was also some questions about the accident and the procedures followed and this tainted the reputation of the captain. He was, however, acquitted of negligence charges.
The ship now lies in 20 to 70 meters of water and is a famous dive wreck.
|Santo grew into the second largest US base in the Pacific after Hawaii and had over 40,000 troops stationed permanently on base.|
There were 2 bomber and 2 fighter airbases and massive aircraft and ship repair facilities.
James Michener wrote Tales of the South Pacific while stationed in Santo and Pappy Boyington joined up with the Black Sheep Squadron operating from Santo.
Bomber missions operated from Santo through much of the war but the major fronts moved north, away from Santo and the focus switched to maintenance and repair as well as a base for strategic command.
Not everyone stationed in Santo liked it. Pappy Boyington (pictured right briefing the squadron) was not very complementary in his book. Many servicemen became ill with malaria and this did not improve their impression.
But Santo was a supply base and this meant that there was always plenty of good food and warm beer. Bloody Mary was a real person and a hero of the enlisted men. She supplied local women and cheap booze for Yankee dollars. She was Tonkinese or Vietnamese and lived in Santo until the 90's.
The importance of Santo during the war can still be seen in the infrastructure that is left behind. Many buildings and facilities built during the war are still used today. The airplanes pictured above were parked at Pekoa airport, used today as the Santo airport.
|Eleanor Roosevelt visited Santo in her role as ambassador for the Commander and Chief. |
She toured all of the facilities and presented medals and honors to wounded soldiers at the many hospitals.
She gave a speech at the R & R facility on Aore Island.
R & R was a big part of the mission of the base in Santo. The US Navy maintained a large R & R facility on Aore island near Aore Island Resort and it was considered the finest in the Pacific.
Most servicemen that visited have the clearest recollection of the 2 warm beers each were issued while at the facility.
Now the beer is really cold at the locals hangout, Hotel Santo.
|Recreation was where you found it. This swimming spot was located at the end of the runway of one of the fighter strips. |
A blue hole at the other end of the strip was visited by Bing Crosby during his USO tour.
Recreation is still big in Santo and with the addition of diving and sport fishing we are a more inviting destination.