Forum logo Why didn’t the Navy put searchers ashore on Nikumaroro in 1937?

Try to put yourself in the shoes of the captain of the USS Colorado (size 10½, brown). This is your final trip as captain of the battleship. It’s the annual ROTC training cruise and you started from the West Coast with 196 college kids and 4 university VIPs. You sailed to Hawai’i and stopped at Hilo where they threw a big farewell party for you. Your next job will be at Pearl Harbor as assistant to the admiral who is in charge of the 14th Naval District. (There’s a rumor that Pearl will soon be made the home of the Pacific Fleet.) At the Lahaina Roads firing range you let the kids fire the ship’s big guns and you had just tied up at Pier 2 in Honolulu for four days of liberty when the word came down that Amelia Earhart had gotten herself lost someplace 2,000 miles to the south and the Navy was going to try find her and – guess what? – yours is the only capital ship in the Pacific. Swell.

You round up your people, call your airplanes back from scheduled maintenance at Fleet Air Base, and move the ship over to Pearl for fueling. Meanwhile, you get together with other senior officers and try to figure out where you should look. Everybody agrees that she should be somewhere on the line of position she said she was on. Next day you head south at flank speed, slamming through heavy seas and taking water over the number two turret. Most of the college kids are sick as dogs.

For the next couple of days, as you travel south, half the world seems to be hearing unintelligible distress calls from the lost airplane. At one point, the Navy in Hawai’i interprets one message to mean that the Electra is floating in the ocean 281 miles north of Howland. The Itasca and a British steamer are sent to check it out but find nothing. Then Lockheed says that if the plane is transmitting it has to be on land. Pan Am says that some of the signals seem to be coming from the Phoenix Islands. This reinforces your original opinion that the plane is on the line of position but now you decide that it makes the most sense to search land areas rather than the ocean. After about six days at sea you finally reach the area of the first possible land to be searched. Something called Winslow Reef is supposed to be right over that way a few miles. You don’t get too close because you don’t want to risk putting this battleship aground on a reef ....

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