First American spy in Micronesia

E EllisEarl Hancock “Pete” Ellis, was a US Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and was the first American spy to penetrate Japanese-held Micronesia in 1923. A great military tactician and planner, Ellis was stationed on Guam when he was a captain, and was the police chief and also head of the Guam Insular Patrol. In 1915 he and a small group of Marines took a three-inch gun across the reef at Orote Point and thus demonstrated for the first time that artillery could be landed from boats.

In 1920 Ellis went to Marine headquarters in Washington, DC, to work on war plans, and there completed his now famous 30,000 word report, “Advance Base Operations in Micronesia,” a prophetic document which predicted World War II and which outlined step-by-step the island bases that would have to be seized in order to take American sea power within striking distance of Japan. Ellis was able to see that Japanese control of Micronesia would make war with the US inevitable, and twenty-three years later the navy followed every essential of Ellis’s plan.

In 1921 Ellis came to the Pacific under the guise of a commercial traveler and set out to spy and reconnoiter the best sites for American advance bases. He visited Australia, Samoa, Fiji, the Philippines, and went on to Japan where he became ill from chronic alcoholism. He was then ordered home but instead pushed on through the Marshalls and Carolines making detailed maps and charts. At Koror, Palau, he became gravely ill from his continued drinking and died on 12 May 1923.

Colonel Ellis was one of the most brilliant Marine officers of his day, and his untimely death was a great loss for the American military authorities at the time.

By Dirk A. Ballendorf, PhD

For further reading

Arlington National Cemetery “Earl H. Ellis, Lieutenant Colonel, United States Marine Corps.” (accessed August 9, 2010).

Ballendorf, Dirk A. “Earl Hancock Ellis: A Marine in Micronesia.” Micronesian Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences 1, no. 1-2 (December 2002): 9-17. Also available online at Micronesian Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences (accessed August 9, 2010).

Ellis, “Pete” Earl. Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia, US Marine Corps, 1921.