The South Pacific World War II Museum

A five year project to build a world class museum in Luganville, Espiritu Santo. The largest Island of Vanuatu.

F4U-1 of VMF-214 is on the ground at Turtle Bay fighter strip on Espiritu Santo island in the 1940s, in colonial New Hebrides (present day Vanuatu) during WWII. Image via Wikipedia
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The modern Vanuatu archipelago, which consists of around 83 islands, received its name only after becoming independent from the British and French Condominium in 1980. Until then, and during WWII, it was called the New Hebrides. This is the place where in 1942, the Base Button production started – the greatest Vanuatu island – Espiritu Santo (which is mostly called just Santo). In Santo’s principal settlement – Luganville, one of the most unique museums, The South Pacific WWII Museum, was founded by the chairperson Bradley Wood.

Espiritu Santo Naval Base dock in 1943. Image via Wikipedia

Bradley Wood, the chairman, and founder is the project’s primary driving force. He was a builder by profession when, some 30 years ago, he traveled to Vanuatu from Australia with his toolkit to aid with the reconstruction of Port Vila following a tropical cyclone’s devastation. He persisted and eventually settled in Vanuatu. He now owns Santo Hardware, the biggest company in Luganville, and is a well-known entrepreneur there. He continues to devote a lot of his time to helping those in need and volunteering all across Santo.

Peter Sakita, the ruling governor of Luganville, said the town required something to attract tourists to Santo in 2012. Even though it already possessed some of Vanuatu’s most stunning beaches, it wasn’t really a “destination.” Bradley and Peter met, and Peter advised that the community needed something to make it famous. Bradley fully concurred and declared right away that the community deserved World War II exhibits that would benefit from the past.

Peter was convinced of the concept and asked Bradley if he would be willing to lead the group in putting it into action. You can probably predict Bradley’s answer given his love for World War II history and his knowledge that Santo was sitting on a wealth of artifacts, wrecks, and fascinating history that was just waiting to be brought to life. He embraced the concept with great zeal and an unrestrained passion for carrying the project through to completion. Since then, he hasn’t slowed down.

The Luganville governing council already expected the requirement for a sizable territory when the project was only in the very first stages. The Museum only had to choose a suitable spot because the Vanuatu government strived to aid the concept of presenting the required land.

Fortunately, space that had once been used by the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 2 of the United States Naval Forces in the course of World War II was still accessible. The place where the MTBRONs would connect on the Sarakata River still has some cement blocks on top of which the Quonset cabins for the service and weapons facilities were constructed. It is even more meaningful for the SPWWII Museum to take place since it strengthens its connection to Luganville’s past.

Espiritu Santo base boat repair dock in World War 2. Image via Wikipedia

Powerful American military reinforcement facilities were established on the Efate and Espiritu Santo islands in the course of WWII. The Base Button’s (which was actually its name-code) implantation Santo, was clearly the more massive. It actually grew to become the biggest American South Pacific Fleet.

The base’s area was close to 38 sq miles. Additionally, almost all of the region was originally either undeveloped jungle or coconut plantations managed by French landowners. U.S. Navy Seabee engineering divisions had to start from scratch and create everything. The Seabees built five hospitals that could shelter more than 1000 patients, as well as a sizable seaplane base. Some of the worldwide most extensive float dockyards were built at Santo to maintain any vessel in the US Pacific fleet.

Storage was critical to maintaining the fleet supplied, refueled, and rearmed because Base Button basically served as a sizable service and supply base. Quonset huts started to become popular, and hundreds of them were constructed in and near Santo. On Santo and the neighboring Aore Island in September 1944, 38,000 tons of naval ammunition were kept. In addition, Aore had a sizable tank farm that could store roughly 23 million gallons of petroleum.

Various operations in the South Pacific were staged in Santo. As an example, Guadalcanal was crucial to the Allies’ strategy in 1942. Nevertheless, in those days, B-17 bombers from the U.S. Army Air Forces couldn’t reach it. On Santo, it was planned to construct an aerodrome (the initial of four) that could house the aircraft. A 6,000-foot-long airstrip was carved out of the jungle in just 20 days, allowing B-17s to land and fuel up before making their last squeeze to Guadalcanal. It was a remarkable accomplishment for a tiny crew of men who lived in huts in harsh tropical surroundings with very little equipment.

Santo became also the home of the famed  VMF-214 ‘Blacksheep Squadron.’ The unit was originally commissioned as Marine Fighter Squadron 214 (VMF-214) on July 1, 1942, at Marine Corps Air Station Ewa on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Initially called the “Swashbucklers,” the squadron was moved to Turtle Bay Airfield on Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides in August. There Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington (Medal of Honor, Navy Cross) took command of the 27 pilots that became the original “Blacksheep” of VMF-214. From Espiritu Santo the squadron was moved forward to Guadalcanal and Henderson Airfield in the Solomon Islands.

Marine Attack Squadron Two Hundred and Fourteen – VMF 214 (Black Sheep Squadron) on Turtle Bay Fighter Strip, Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, September 11, 1943. Report after flight. Note Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, (center). Image via South Pacific WWII Museum

If you had to choose a location in the South Pacific to build an exhibition of this kind, Santo would be deserving of the attention the Museum initiative aims to give it, considering the significance of Base Button to the Allied conflict in the Pacific Theatre.

As new artifacts are uncovered, contributed to, bought, passed, or simply obtained in any other way, they are continually added to the acquisition. “Putting the wagon before the horse” is one of the major problems they face. That means that not only do they require the Museum to store the acquisitions, but it is also required a collection to display. They are limited in how much can be collected and kept in climate-controlled environments.

Despite this, we are blessed with a fantastic selection of records, belongings, artifacts, pictures, and more, the majority of which may be seen in the temporary Museum at the location where the main one will be established. All of the things on the exhibition are relics from World War II’s Pacific Theater, some of them from Santo alone.

The gallery of images has grown thanks to some beautiful contributions from the relatives of military veterans who operated on Santo in the course of wartime. The administration is going to give those exhibit names in recognition of the people who served on the island and relocate them across the Museum over time.

The Higgins landing craft is likewise currently in preservation as it waits for rehabilitation. That’s a primary job that requires significant finance. Therefore it’s currently on hold. They do, though, have a recently renovated Jeep that they have intermittently displayed over the past six months, and there is a Jeep in the U. S. that is in “showroom condition” that is going to transport at some point along the way.

Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP)

A P-38 Lightning wreck that was given to the Museum by a nearby plantation owner is also kept in storage. He refused very lucrative offers from hobbyists who wanted the impact of its parts and instead gave it to the Museum. When timing, finances, and room allow, other items that are now in Australia and the United States will be brought to the Museum.

The collective is made up of an incredibly varied team of folks who are all passionate about bringing something absolutely special to the island of Espiritu Santo. In order to achieve beneficial outcomes for the residents of Luganville, Espiritu Santo, and Vanuatu as a whole, Ni-Vanuatu natives and ex-pats from New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and Japan—the majority of whom call Luganville home—met. Meanwhile, they consider it crucial to remember and honor those who fought in the Pacific during World War II.

The Museum project’s goal is to design something iconic that will figuratively place Luganville on the map. Imagine if Vanuatu became well-known for having one of the “great museums of the world” instead of just being renowned for its beaches on tropical islands and unquestionably lovely residents.

Although this is a lofty goal, the team at the Museum is confident that they can produce something indeed magnificent. Something that will entice visitors to the South Pacific not only for the beaches, palm palms, and exotic cocktails but also so they can check out the rumored “great museum.” They are confident in their abilities. They simply need to locate backers and admirers who share their perspectives.

Regarding the Museum’s location, Vanuatu is admirably positioned halfway between New Caledonia and Fiji; it takes less than three hours to fly there from Australia and slightly longer from New Zealand. Its location in the center of the South Pacific region makes it simple to reach by flight from a variety of nations.

From an internal perspective, the Museum crew truly recognizes a portion of their responsibility as educators for the neighborhood. Regular school visits are always welcomed at the mini-museum. Via history talks and research trips, however, they intend to extend that to the larger community.

Few people, outside history lovers, soldiers’ relatives, and World War II experts, are aware of Espiritu Santo’s contribution to the Pacific War. In order to show gratitude to those who gave so freely of themselves to guarantee liberty in the Pacific, it is crucial that people learn about and understand this history.

There is a common misconception that during World War II, warships simply sailed from important ports like Pearl Harbor, engaged the enemy for a few weeks or months, then sailed back to port for resupply. That is somewhat accurate, but they probably have no idea that there are enormous bases spread out around the South Pacific that keep the ships equipped, fueled, and restocked. Visit the island their ancestors once called home for the best opportunity to understand what they endured.

You may experience being right in the middle of all this great history when you travel to Santo. You have the opportunity to interact with it, feel it, and see it while also experiencing a museum that extends well beyond the boundaries of the soon-to-be-erected walls.

U.S. Navy Grumman F6F-3 Hellcats of Fighting Squadron 40 (VF-40) on the ground at Turtle Bay fighter strip on Espiritu Santo island in February 1944. In colonial New Hebrides (present day Vanuatu) during the Solomon Islands Campaign of WWII. Image via Wikipedia

The Museum team is off to a great start with their present Museum and Project Office, which gives people a sense of the project’s direction. An abandoned structure on the edge of the site on the Sarakata River was repaired and furnished thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the board members and neighborhood businesses. Since its debut in 2014, it has served as the team’s personal Museum.

The building itself has undergone a significant change and now includes offices, a kitchen, storage, and display areas for larger things, in addition to museum-quality display cabinets with integrated lighting. It’s a charming tiny museum that is currently Luganville’s most popular tourist attraction.

Of course, the fundamental goal of the concept is to turn the area into a significantly much bigger dedicated museum. The price is currently estimated at $20 million, which paradoxically makes it the greatest building development in Vanuatu since Base Button back in the Second World War.

Therefore, in 2020, they considered how the program would unfold in stages, significantly lowering the original funding goals. They intend to construct one central museum section with a renovated and reworked historic World War II Quonset hut as part of its architecture. It’s an aim that is undoubtedly more attainable for an approximated $300,000 US.

The Museum’s collection has significantly benefited from the expressions of interest and gifts of photos and other things during the previous five years. And one-way individuals can keep supporting the initiative is in this way.

Donations of photos, documents, and other artifacts with a connection to Santo or the Pacific War are always greatly appreciated, and the Museum would be happy to accept them. On the other hand, something as straightforward as signing up for their newsletter (which is entirely free) demonstrates a level of support for what they’re attempting to accomplish.

Naturally, a new home is required for those donated objects. It is not an easy undertaking for a non-profit organization headquartered on a tropical island in the South Pacific that many people have never heard of to raise the money they need, even for Phase 1, even though it is not a large figure.

Finding grants that they might qualify for is complex, and Cyclone Harold and Covid-19 have undoubtedly made things more difficult for the Museum. However, they won’t give up easily. The team only needs to make an appeal to those with like minds who can understand the significance of this initiative and what it can represent for the Vanuatuan people. And if anyone has any advice on how to contact Elon Musk, that would be very appreciated. The Museum crew would love to present him with their fantastic project!

If you could help the Museum in any way, please get in touch with them. Email James Carter, the project manager, at or visit

To place a donation online, click HERE.


  1. At least something positive is happening in Vanuatu. I spent 10 years developing the basics of a similar museum in Papua New Guinea. We succeeded in transferring a Wirraway that had been resting outside the Civil Aviation Training College, the recovery of a Ford Tr-Motor VH-UBI from Lake Myola, a P-38F Lightning from a seasonal swamp north-west of Port Moresby, a fully restored 1942 Willys Jeep, 1942 Dodge Weapons Carrier, 1942 6×6 GMC truck, Japanese Long-lance torpedo, and numerous other historical items, established the fundamentals of an excellent research facility, books, microfilm, official photographs from government sources, and the list goes on. In 1986 we were fortunate to obtain the support of the 5th Air Force Memorial Foundation with the construction of an excellent facility for both display, research and restoration. Plans were prepared and cost estimates provided. However, on my premature departure in 1988 things started falling off the rails and the proposed facility was cancelled by those who were committed to funding some or all. Where once these items were held, on display and in a suitable shed for protection, plus a small public gallery, all this has been moved and the land is now a road. Some major items on “show” behind a chain wire fence in front of the modern National Museum and Art Gallery, and most of the P-38 has gone to Australia for restoration with the centre section and nose remaining in Port Moresby and looking very forlorn and sad (despite its rich wartime history that deserves to remain totally intact). Two modern historical items appear to have appeared to have disappeared, a 1976 Daimler Sovereign (used by PNG’s first Prime Minister, and the last Daimler Limousine used by the last Australian Administrator and the first PNG Governor-General. In Australia is a fully restored A-20 and a Kawasaki Ki-61 Hein, but these will remain in Australia until a proper, secure facility is provided by the PNG Government.

    • Bruce,
      I hear your cry and fortunately the crew in Luganville appear very switched on and committed.
      So, did you ever have any thing recovered and/or stored and/or archived of 75 Squadron RAAF’s time at Seven Mile Strip?? …now Jackson International Airport, with my interest being my father also ex-RAAF (112 RAAF in The Western Desert) was a younger cousin of Sqn. Ldr. John F Jackson DFC
      John Carson

Graphic Design, Branding and Aviation Art

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