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WWII Madness. Million Dollar Point. Santo, Vanuatu

Like most of Vanuatu, Espirutu Santo in the northern chain of islands, was occupied by the Americans during WWII to launch their attacks on the Japanese in the Pacific. On their departure from the island they left behind infrastructure like roads and runways, and even buildings, with army built Quonset huts still standing around Santo. The biggest legacy is Million Dollar Point, both historically fascinating, but environmentally destructive, and a monument to greed and stupidity.

The Condominium of the New Hebrides (as Vanuatu was then called) run by Britain and France thought they had the Americans over a barrel as the time for their departure neared at the and of the war. The American bases were full of vehicles, furniture, clothing, food, drink and all that had been required to sustain the troops. A decision had been taken that this was not going to be repatriated, and that the Condominium could buy it all at rock bottom prices. Unfortunately the British and French got greedy, refusing an offer to pay 6 cents in the dollar for everything, thinking they would eventually get it for nothing.

The Americans were none too impressed with this, and came up with another option in a moment of madness. They took all the vehicles, food, clothing and other equipment to a wharf on the south side of Santo. The army drove the vehicles into the sea, and then used bulldozers to dump the rest over the end of the wharf, before they also were driven into the sea. Millions of dollars of goods were destroyed over a period of two days, contaminating the sea with fuel, rubber, metal and Coca Cola. What the locals would have thought watching this wasteful destruction would be hard to understand, although quite rightly they looted what they could when the Americans had left.

Today you can take a 10 minute taxi from Luganville to Million Dollar Point and snorkel over entire rusting vehicles, from tanks to cranes, or go at low tide and pick your way, carefully, over the remains. Steering wheels remain embedded in the reef, unbroken coke bottles lie on the sea bed, alongside cutlery, plates and a huge amount of twisted rusted metal. We had a great time scavenging for souvenirs, and managed to avoid getting cut as we walked though the incredible historical junkyard.

There are now discussions, sixty years late, of the American military returning to clean up the area. This obviously is a good thing, but Million Dollar Point is one of the most amazing places I have been to, a memorial to political madness, but a historical treasure trove.



Profile photo of Simon Proudman

Has a travel addiction, loves history, geology, punk, and sampling local food and beer. A bottle of wine and fresh bread & cheese on a beach is luxury travel.

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