Operation Umpteen

'Umpteen' was the US occupation of Howland island of the Phoenix islands group in the central Pacific (11 August 1943).

With an area of 1.7 sq miles (4.5 km˛), Howland is a small island, in effect little more than a sandbar 2 miles (3.2 km) long, lying just to the north of Baker island and about 1,600 miles (2600 km) to the south-west of the Hawaiian islands group. The island is shaped like a shallow saucer, with its highest elevation of 10 ft (3.1 m) on the western rim, and it is heavily vegetated. The island was mined for guano in the later part of the 19th century, but the guano deposits had been exhausted by 1890.

A small airstrip, 2,400 ft (730 m) long, had been built here to support aviatrix Amelia Earhart’s attempt at a round-the-world flight in the late 1930s, but she disappeared somewhere near the island. Howland island also had a lighthouse on its western rim.

The island was heavily bombed by 18 Mitsubishi G3N 'Nell' long-range bombers of the Imperial Japanese navy air force from Kwajalein atoll on 8 December 1941, killing two of the island’s small group of young colonists, and damaged the three runways of the island’s Kamakaiwi Field. Two days later a Japanese submarine shelled and destroyed what was left of the colony’s few buildings. A single bomber returned twice during the following weeks and dropped more bombs on the rubble, and the two surviving colonists were finally evacuated by the US destroyer Helm on 31 January 1942.

Howland island was later reoccupied by a US Marine Corps' battalion on 11 August 1943. By September the airfield had been rebuilt, but then saw little in the way of operational use.