The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia
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Canton Island (171.689W
2.782S) is a small atoll
located near the equator 1600 miles (2570 km) southwest of Pearl Harbor, 800 miles (1300
km) south of Palmyra, and
960 miles (1540 km) from Makin. It
is triangular in shape, about 11 miles (18 km) from northwest to
southeast and 5 miles (8 km) across its west coast. It surrounds a
lagoon with just two narrow entrances on the west side. Most of the
lagoon is shallow and foul, but the southeast portion is deep enough
for seaplanes to operate.
The island is flat and covered with grass and scrub with few trees and
no fresh water supply. The reef is located just off the coast, except
for a shelf providing a
for deepwater vessels
entrance to the lagoon. However, this had no breakwater. The islands
have few resources other than small phosphate
deposits and a few coconut palms.
under joint British and American administration in
1941 under a condominium negotiated in April 1939. A seaplane
built by Pan Am well before war broke out, and the lagoon was dredged
seaplanes. U.S. Army engineers
were close to completing a 5000 foot (1520 meter) runway when war broke out, and the
78 engineers and a handful of Navy PBY Catalinas were the only garrison until 10 February 1942. On that
date an 1100-man defense force was landed with some coastal artillery and antiaircraft guns, and a fighter and a light bomber squadron soon
followed. Eventually the airfield was expanded to three runways.
largely passed it by, although the island was shelled by cruiser Tone
in early 1943 as a diversion from the Japanese evacuation of Guadalcanal.
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