War in the Pacific
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First American Period 1898-1941

As a result of the Spanish American War, Spain relinquished possession of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam to the United States at the December 10, 1898 Treaty of Paris. Thus began the first period of American presence that would last until the Japanese captured Guam after they bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 (December 8, 1941 in Guam, across the International Date Line) (DOT 1967:9).

Pre-war Asan and Agat were small, lively villages with a scattering of homes with gardens and a road curving through each. The coast was lined with coconut trees which produced copra (coconut meat). During World War I, Guam's copra production rose to 1 million pounds per year (Rogers 1995:137). These villages also supported farming, ranching and fishing. Rice paddies were grown on the coastal flats as well as the flat inland portions of Asan and Agat.

Pre-war U.S. Military fortification of Guam was minimal, comprising of a naval base on the Orote Peninsula, military commissary, naval hospital in Agana, detention camp at Asan Beach, naval communication facilities, and a quartermaster depot at Asan Point.

The Sinking of the German Navy Ship Cormoran

During World War T, Japan declared war on Germany in early August of 1914, and the Japanese Navy then quickly seized all of Germany's holdings in Micronesia, Western Samoa, and Melanesia. A German ship, the Cormoran, fleeing the Japanese, was anchored and interned at Apra Harbor (located south of Asan Beach Unit) on December 14, 1914. The crewmembers were non-restricted and moved about freely on Guam until April 7, 1917, when President Wilson declared war on Germany. In a last attempt at patriotism, the German captain ordered his men to abandon the ship and threw the switch to blow it up. The enlisted crew was held at the Asan Beach detention facility from April 7 until April 29, 1917, when they were sent to the United States. After World War T, the crew were repatriated. The Cormoran remains sunken, 120-feet below the surface, in Apra Harbor (Rogers 1995:134-40).

Early Tensions with Japan in Micronesia

In 1917, Japan initiated a secret treaty with Britain, France and Russia to support Japan's claims in Micronesia in return for Britain, Australia, and New Zealand's retention of German colonies in the Pacific, south of the equator. The U.S. Navy learned of this treaty only at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. In response to the U.S. Navy's objections, the British proposed that former German colonies be administered by the new international organization established by the peace treaty, called the League of Nations. President Wilson reluctantly agreed and this became known as the Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 22, 1919. Although the Micronesian Islands were wards of the League of Nations, in reality, they were still possessions of Japan. Japan's presence and holdings in Micronesia solidified when the United States Senate refused to ratify the Versailles Treaty and consequently kept the United States out of the League of Nations (Rogers 1995:146).

To prevent a naval arms race that may have seen Japan become dominant in Asia, the new Harding Administration called a landmark Washington conference. On February 2, 1922, the Five Power Naval Treaty limited the numbers and tonnage of battleships and aircraft carriers that could be built by the five super-powers. In addition, the United States agreed to not fortify any Pacific island holdings west of Hawaii, for the next ten years. Therefore, no military fortifications and military airfields would be constructed on Guam (Rogers 1995:147). In 1932 a disarmament program, spurred by the Depression initiated the dismantling of fortifications and guns, the withdrawal of U.S. Marines, and the abandonment of military bases on Guam.

In 1936, Japan reneged on all previous arms treaties and began to fortify all of its holdings throughout Micronesia. Appeals from the U.S. Navy on Guam, recommending that Guam be developed as a major air and submarine base were rejected, and Congress would not authorize funding. The only action taken was to close Apra Harbor to all foreign vessels.

Once World War II broke out in Europe on September 1, 1939, all U.S. Military attention was directed there. Guam was placed in a Category F status, the lowest defense category of a United States territory that could not be defended. In 1940, President Roosevelt imposed a trade embargo against Japan in response to their aggressions in China. In 1941, Roosevelt finally froze all Japanese assets in the U.S. in response to their aggressions in French Indo-China. From that point on, war between the U.S. and Japan was inevitable.

In 1940 and again in 1944, the U.S. Navy engineers used the outer edge of Asan Point to quarry limestone. Pre and post-war Asan Beach was the site of a detention camp for foreign nationals and others who refused to swear allegiance to the United States flag.

In 1941, the U.S. Military just began to develop and construct roads on the island. Only one road that circled the entire island had been graded. Other roads had been extended and improved, particularly the western section near U.S. Navy facilities on the Orote Peninsula. Prewar Asan was a scattering of houses along a single coconut lined road that curved through the village. The road was a primary circulation route linking Agana (the capital city) to the east, and Piti, to the southwest, and was therefore known as the Agana-Piti Road. Just south of Adelup Point, the road curved closely to the beach before turning inland and entering the village of Asan. This was the foundation for Marine Drive. Historically, a short road branched from this road accessing a reef limestone quarry located at the outer end of Asan Point (ONI 1944:99). This quarry road is no longer there. Only two primary roads are shown near the Asan Beach area on 1940s military maps. One road runs along the beachfront extending north from Agana, south to the village of Agat. This is now Marine Drive. The other leads up over the ridges to Mt. Tenjo. This road was constructed in 1911 from Agana to Libugon (near Nimitz Hill) where a new Naval Radio Antenna was located and was later extended (1915) to Mount Tenjo. It overlooks Asan Beach (Olmo 1995:21). The Mt. Tenjo road now leads to the Mt. Tenjo and Mt. Chachao units of the park. Although these roads are outside the study area, they would have been major supply routes used by American and Japanese forces. A 1939 map shows three primary roads extending from the Agat Battlefield at the time of the American invasion: Old Agat Road, Agat-Sumay Road, and Harmon Road. Old Agat Road ran northeast out of Agat village towards Cabras Island and Asan Point. The Agat-Sumay Road branched north off of Old Agat Road and ran along the shore towards Orote Peninsula and Sumay. Harmon Road ran east from Agat inland towards Mt. Alifan. These three roads are still in use today.

Early in 1941, Japanese military aircraft and ships stationed in Saipan began military reconnaissance of Guam. They took aerial photographs and began dispatching naval forces to the island. On December 4, Naval Governor Captain George J. McMillin received orders to destroy all secret and classified material held on Guam as well as military facilities, stores, and installations. The outbreak of war and invasion of Guam was expected, but still the United States and Chamorros believed the Japanese would be easily defeated. Major General Tomitara Hori was the commander of the South Seas Detached Force which was the main army assault unit during the capture of Guam.

At 0927, only hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, aerial bombings on Guam became part of the overall attack on American forces in the Pacific. A force of 5,000 Japanese troops invaded Guam on December 10, 1941. Primary targets were the Marine headquarters at Sumay and the Piti Navy Yard. Japanese naval planes, under the command of Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Inouye, were stationed on Saipan, 110 miles from Guam (Olmo 1995:22). Apra Harbor fell into Japanese hands without a fight. Less than six hours after Japanese troops landed, Guam was theirs. Within a few hours, Governor McMillin surrendered the island to the Japanese naval commander. The entire island was captured virtually intact due to the failure of McMillin to give orders as planned, to destroy all secured and classified material as well as military facilities, stores, and installations to prevent their use by the Japanese. Overall, sixty-eight Americans and Chamorros were killed in the take-over (Rogers 1995:1658).

Asan Village
Historic photo of pre-war Asan Village (photo courtesy of War in the Pacific National Historical Park Archives, n.d.).

Asan Beach
Historic photo of pre-war Asan Beach (courtesy of the War in the Pacific National Historical Park archies n.d.)

Asan Beach Stockade
Historic photo of Asan Beach Stockade circa 1917 (courtesy of the War in the Pacific National Historical Park archives, circa 1917).

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Last Updated: 03-may-2004