Bora Bora

Relief map of Bora Bora

Photograph of Bora Bora

National Archives #80-G-K-1117

Bora Bora (151.752W 16.507S) is an island in the Society Islands group in French Polynesia, 140 miles (225 km) northwest of Tahiti, 2700 miles (4350 km) south-southeast of Pearl Harbor, and 1420 miles (2290 km) east of American Samoa. The island is surrounded by a barrier reef some 8 miles north to south and 6 miles east to west. This reef is very wide to the south and west and is rimmed with barrier islands to the east, north, and northwest. There is only one pass through the reef, Teavanui Pass to the west, but this is deep and leads directly into the excellent natural anchorage of Teavanui Harbor southwest of the central island. This is protected to seaward by hilly Tupua Island. A second smaller anchorage is located at Fanui Bay on the northwest coast of the central island. The climate is pleasant at about 80F (27C) year-round with moderate precipitation. These features made the island a good site for a naval base, the one significant liability being a shortage of fresh water. However, there was not a single pier in the harbor when war broke out.

The U.S. Navy began developing a refueling station here even before the outbreak of war.  On December 30, 1941, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the island was identified as a strategic point along the sea lanes to Australia, and on 4 January 1942 the first orders for Operation BOBCAT were issued. Task Force 5614 with six transports and cargo ships sailed on 27 January and arrived on February 17, landing 4400 men from 102 Regiment (minus a battalion), 198 Coast Artillery Regiment (Antiaircraft), and 1 Naval Construction Battalion with 20,000 tons of supplies on the island. Such rapid organization of the expedition was possible only because most of the men and equipment in the expedition were already earmarked for a program to set up naval bases in Britain. This first attempt at a significant overseas expedition took 52 days to unload but taught the U.S. services many lessons in logistics, such as the need for adequate cargo nets and slings for unloading at undeveloped ports and the need for proper loading of cargo ships. There were also difficulties with provisions for fresh water and in the command arrangements.

Eventually the garrison had 8 155mm coastal defense guns, and by early 1943 an airfield and aircraft assembly facility with a 5000' (1520 meter) runway was constructed on Motu Maue on the northern tip of the ring of barrier islands. However, the Allied victory at Midway ensured that the Japanese would never seriously threaten the island.


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