BY JINGO - Colonial History & Wargames Page



Leon Kriser

Edited by Andrew Preziosi

In the late 19th century both America and Imperial Germany were on the move. They had many run-ins over Haiti (twice), Santo Domingo, Manila Bay, China, Venezuela (twice), and Baja Mexico but Samoa was the only place that shots were actually fired.

It was in Samoa that the U S and Britain put a century of hostility behind them to face a common foe. This article deals with four very real little wars that took place in the South Pacific between the United States, Great Britain and Imperial Germany from 1880 and 1899 over Samoa.

Between 1847 and 1861 the United States, Great Britain and Germany all established diplomatic missions on Samoa. Germany's interest in the South Seas was started by Hanseatic trading houses that set up huge plantations to grow coconuts for their oil. By the 1860s 70% of the commerce in the region was under German control.

Armed and advised by foreigners, the Samoan paramount chiefs fought bitter wars for supremacy (1848-73) until U.S. special agent Colonel A.B. Steinberger helped negotiate a peace (1873). Steinberger helped draft a European-style constitution (1875) and, as premier, became virtual dictator until his arrest and deportation by the British in 1876.

On Jan16 1878, the United States obtained the use of Pago-Pago as a naval coaling station, which led to friction with Britain and Germany. On Jan 24 1879 Germany signed a commercial treaty with Samoa. On Mar 24 1880 the three principal powers interested in Samoa recognized Malietoa Talavou as King in exchange for trading rights. Malietoa then spent several months fighting off rivals; when he died later that year he was seceded by Malietoa Laupepe, (Laupepa?) after several more months of tribal warfare.

In 1886 Germany landed, with Britain's consent, naval forces in Western Samoa and attempted to establish German rule over the islands. The Samoans on that island rebelled after years of German heavy handedness and harsh taxes. Germany landed marines and supported a local chief, Tamasese, who was proclaimed King of all Samoa, also with Britain's consent; the rightful king Malietoa Laupepe was driven from His capital Apia and eventually made prisoner on a German ship. King Malietoa Laupepe appealed to the Americans for assistance and the American Consul in May 1886 on his own proclaimed an American protectorate over Samoa.

A local chief Mataafa of Saana rebelled and fought against Tamasese and the Germans destroying their coconut plantations. German officers under the Consul led Tamasse's warriors against Mataafa but he continued to destroy their plantations and defeated a force of Germans sent out against him. Eventually the Germans were forced back to within the protection of their naval guns.

The German consul now declared martial law on the island, garrisoned Apia and called in the Imperial navy to bombard villages loyal to Mataafa, but his request to send in more marines was turned down because it was feared that the Americans might intervene.

The America Secretary of State, Thomas Bayard, disavowed the protectorate, recalled the American Consul to Samoa, in early June 1887 and convened a conference in

Washington DC on June 25 with the three powers which ended in July by solving nothing over Berlin's demand for unilateral control over Samoa. The US now landed forces to protect the Consulate and American citizens and their property from Nov 14 1888 to Mar 20 1889.

German aggression and intrigue led to the American public talking of war with Germany. President Grover Cleveland ordered part of the Pacific fleet to Apia, the USS Nipsic, the USS Vandalia and the flagship of the Pacific Fleet the USS Trenton under Rear Admiral L. A. Kimberly. There he encountered three German ships, Adler, Eber, Olga and one British ship, HMS Calliope. The atmosphere was tense as the ships glowered at each other through open gun ports. In March a hurricane blew in and destroyed the American and German warships plus ten merchant ships, only the Calliope escaped; the storm probably averted the war, though 142 American and German sailors died. In London critics to Britain's policy forced the Government to observe it's original treaty over Samoa.

After two years of haggling on June 14th 1889 the US agreed to sign the Act of Berlin forming a three-power protectorate over Samoa with Great Britain and Germany. The Act also restored Malietoa Laupepe as King.

In 1893 Mataafa, now backed by the Germans, rebelled against Malietoa Laupepe but after some tribal warfare Mataafa was forced to withdraw to the Island of Manono. British and German warships arrived in time to stop the fighting. Eventually Mataafa was talked into surrendering and was taken to the German Marshall Islands with some of his supporters. In the summer of 1898 Malietoa Laupepe died and Mataafa returned on a German ship to claim the throne. He was elected King by the Germans, but America and

Britain rejected him in favor of Malietoa's son, Malietoa Tanu. In January 1899 fighting broke out with Mataafa attacking Malietoa Tanu's camp, He routed Malietoa's forces taking many heads. The Germans backed Mataafa's forces and the US and Britain backed Malietoa Tanus'. The city of Apia was the scene of some of the worst fighting with Mataafa eventually retaining control. In early March the USS Philadelphia arrived under Rear-Admiral Kautz joining one German and two British warships. Admiral Kautz declared that Malietoa Tanu was the rightful King under the previously treaty signed by the three powers, which Germany was now rejecting, He also declared Mataafa and all his followers rebels and that the Americans and British would use force to put down the rebellion. Mataafa operating from Apia, also the home of the German naval coaling station, began to gain the upper hand so on March 15th the American and British warships shelled Apia, accidentally hitting the German Consulate, and villages on the seacoast loyal to Mataafa. Berlin then proposed to London that they should jointly ask the United States to withdraw from the islands stating that unless a settlement favorable to Germany was found Berlin would recall it's ambassador from Britain. London, needing German neutrality, as they were heading for the Boer War, but not wanting to end the growing rapprochement with America after a century of hostile relations, proposed that Germany drop it's claim to Samoa for additional territory around Togo. This was very favorable to Germany but by now the jingoist element, although not knowing if Samoa was a person, place or thing, demanded that it remain as much a part of Germany as Munich. Admiral von Tirpitz wanted it for a naval station and Kaiser Wilhelm used it to promote the building of the Imperial Navy. The tension between Germany and America had been growing sense the last encounter over Samoa, along with Germany's use of gunboat diplomacy in Haiti and the attempt to establish coaling stations and colonies in the Caribbean. Both were also in a naval arms race to be the second largest navy after Britain. The German colonial program included the purchase of the Carolines and the Marianas from Spain. Negotiations having begun during the Spanish-American War, the cruiser USS Charleston was diverted from the Asiatic Squadron to capture Guam, the largest island in the Marianas. The conflict over the Philippines and Samoa led to Germany replacing Britain as America's most likely enemy.

The Battle of Tagalii

On April 1 America and Britain landed forces near Apia: 20 marines and 36 sailors from the USS Philadelphia and 62 British marines and sailors from the HMS Tauranga under the command of Lieutenant Freeman RN and Lieutenant P.V. Lansdale USN. They marched for the German plantation Vailele east of Apia to disperse a large force of Mataafa's warriors. Just outside the plantation some 800 warriors ambushed them.

Lt Freeman was killed almost immediately from the many snipers in the palm and banana trees, the Colt machinegun from the Philadelphia jammed and while trying to fix it Lt Lansdale had his thighbone shattered by a bullet. With both officers down the morale of the allied troops collapsed and they began to retire. Ensign Monaghan USN tried to rally the men but it was hopeless. Monaghan then moved to protect the fallen Lt Lansdale. Lansdale called for Monaghan to flee but Monaghan just shook his head and aimed his

revolver at the oncoming Samoans. This was the last time the two were seen alive.

Shamed by seeing their officers killed, some of the US marines and sailors attempted to rally the men long enough to recover the bodies of their fallen officers. But by now the fire coming from the Samoans was too much and they hotfooted back to the beach with their fellows. That night French missionaries brought into Apia the heads of Lt Freeman, Lt Lansdale, Ensign Monaghan, two sailors from the Philadelphia and one sailor from the Tauranga recovered from the Samoans. Four Americans received the Medal of Honor for this action; oddly the brave Ensign Monaghan wasn't among them. The Anglo-Americans were able to take control of the Samoan roads but could not defeat the German-Mataafan forces in the bush. A commission was set up and on November 8, 1899 and by mutual agreement the monarchy was abolished and the islands were partitioned; the Germans receiving Western Samoa, the Americans eastern or American Samoa and Britain withdrawing in exchange for Tonga and part of the German Solomons.

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