1920's Marines with a giant snake -Click on the photos for a better view. These guys were real swamp people. This was taken in the Philippines.
Guam University Professor of Micronesian Studies Dirk Anthony Balendorf and Merrill L. Bartlett have written a book about the Marine officer who along with Air Corps General Billy Mitchell realized the threat of Imperial Japan's naval ambitions in the Pacific. While Mitchell argued for an Air Corps separate from the United States Army
and capable of bombing ships from on high, Earl Hancock "Pete" Ellis articulated a strategy and the tactics for dealing with island warfare across the vast Pacific. This book, Pete Ellis: An Amphibious Warfare Prophet, 1880-1923 is based on the papers prepared by Prof. Balendorf in Micronesian JOURNAL OF THE HUMANITIES AND SOCIAL SCIENCES Vol. 1, nº 1–2 December 2002 linked directly to my post title.
Balendorf's thesis holds that while the death of the Marine/spy in 1923 casts suspicion on Japan for it, the study of the extant records present a case that is purely circumstantial against Japan and moreso at Ellis' love of the bottle.
In any case, Baledorf's scholarly paper reads like a Raymond Chandler novel. Click my post title and read the whole paper.
1920 China Marine's view of his world.
Here below is a summary presented on a website dedicated to the death and subsequent inquiry concerning Pete Ellis:
Lieutenant Colonel Earl Hancock Ellis U.S. Marine Corps, was the author of Advance Base Operations in Micronesia, which formed the basis for Marine Corps Operations Plan 712H for war against Japan. Disguised as a trader, he smuggled himself into Micronesia in November 1922 in order to make a field study of his operations plan.However, half a year later, on 12 May 1923, his delirium tremens from alcoholism grew worse and he died, refusing a Japanese physician's medication. Immediately after his death, and also during the Pacific War, there were suggestions that he was poisoned by the Japanese. Even after the war the whole story still was not cleared up.This paper draws on some of the historical sources kept at the National Institute for Defense Studies of Japan, the Japanese Diplomatic Record Office, and the U.S. Marine Corps Historical Division to clear up the facts. Why did the argument that Ellis was poisoned arise in the United States, and why did the Colonel become a hero ?
Infiltration into Micronesia
Major General John Archer Lejune, U.S Marine Corps, Ellis' superior in his Philippines and European days, was appointed Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps on 30 June 1920. On 20 August Ellis sent a letter to the new Commandant emphasizing the need to collect information in the Pacific in order to prepare for future war. Ellis proposed to make the reconnaissance himself, and to take every measure to ensure that the United States would not be embarrassed by his operations.１ Probably as the result of this action, Ellis was assigned to the Marine Corps Headquarters, Operations and Training Division in December 1920. In April of the next year, he completed his study Advance Base Operations in Micronesia, which was adapted as Marine Corps Operations Plan 712H in July, and then incorporated into the Joint Army and Navy War“Plan Orange" in 1924, the first U.S. Joint Army-Navy war plan against Japan.２
After the completion of his study, Ellis requested of General Lejeune a three month leave in order to determine places suitable for landing operations and investigate Japanese defenses in Micronesia. His departure was delayed by hospitalization for alcoholism, but he left San Francisco in August bound for Australia by way of Samoa and Fiji３.In Sydney, he asked the Japanese Consulate General for a visa for entry into Micronesia, disguising himself as a representative of Hughes Trading Co, headquartered in New York City and operated by a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer４. However, finding no ship available for the passage from Australia to Micronesia, he left for Japan and reached Yokohama via the Philippines in early August, 1922. On 12 August his chronic nephritis grew worse as a result of heavy drinking, and he was hospitalized at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokohama, then operating in support of the U.S Siberian expedition of WW Ⅰ. Although he left the hospital temporarily, he was forcibly returned by ambulance from the Yokohama Grand Hotel on 20 September.
Ellis was returned to the hospital because the American Naval Attache in Tokyo, Captain Lyman H. Cotten, USN, feared that Japanese counter-intelligence might become aware of Ellis and his mission. Ellis was seen frequently in bars and shabby Geisha houses in Yokohama and had been reported to be saying that he was selected by Washington to spy on treaty violations by the Japanese goverment in Micronesia. Captain Cotten conferred with Commander Ulysses R. Webb, Medical Corps, USN, Commanding Officer of the U.S. Naval Hospital, Yokohama and decided to hospitalize and quarantine Ellis for security reasons before forcibly returning him to the United States.
Captain Cotten had desired Ellis's immediate departure for the United States, but Commander Webb thought that Ellis was in extremely poor physical condition and needed to regain at least some of his strength. Cotten and Webb agreed to keep Ellis hospitalized for some time. However, Ellis became aware of the plans for his coercive return, and fled the hospital on the night of 6 October, evading the surveillance of Chief Pharmacist Lieutenant Lawrence Zembsch, USN.５ Post-war investigations revealed that he boarded the Kasuga Maru of the Nanyo Boeki Kaisha(South Sea Trading Co)line at Kobe, and after calling at Saipan, Yap, Jaluit, Truk and other islands, Ellis arrived at Koror in the Palau Islands in mid-March 1923.
(2)Japan-U.S. Contacts in Tokyo After Ellis's Death
The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo was notified of the death of Ellis by the Japanese South Sea Islands Government Office. At 0620 on 21 May 1923, the following cablegram reached the State Department from U.S. Embassy Tokyo.A copy of the cablegram was passed to the Commandant of the Marine Corps Major General Lejeune via Captain Luke McNamee, the Director of Naval Intelligence.
“I AM INFORMED BY GOVERNOR GENERAL OF JAPANESE SOUTH SEA ISLANDS THAT R.H.ELLIS, REPRESENTATIVE OF HUGHES TRADING COMPANY, #2 RECTOR ST., NEW YORK CITY, HOLDER OF DEPARTMENT PASSPORT NO.40249, DIED AT PARAO(sic), CAROLINE ISLANDS ON MAY 12TH. REMAINS AND EFFECTS IN POSSESSION OF GOVERNMENT AWAITING INSTRUCTIONS, WILSON ".６
Captain Cotten was informed by Washington of the death of Ellis and instructed to receive his remains and effects.７ He immediately sent Assistant Naval Attache Lieutnant Garnet Hulings, USN to the Ministry of Marine. On 26 May, Lieutnant Hulings visited Commander Yasuo Ko, aide to the Minister of Marines, and notified him that Ellis was not a trader but a naval officer(sic) on active service, and he explained that he was instructed by Washington to receive Ellis' “body and effects" for confirmation purposes and to transport them to the U.S. Naval Hospital, Yokohama.８ Commander Ko informed Hulings that “although the South Sea Islands Government Office is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Marine, it has been entirely independent of the Navy since April of last year. Therefore, it is considered appropriate for you to conduct future negotiations with the South Sea Islands Government Office through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs". And he also replied to Hulings ; “ We wish to give notification to the local office of the South Sea Island Government Office for your convenience. However, as regards the matter of sending Ellis' body to Yokohama as you want, we are unable to answer you forthwith because it has been interred temporarily and the situation there is unknown. Therefore, we shall inform Palau by cable of the gist of your request and the fact that Mr Ellis is not a trader as stated in his passport but a United States Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel on active service".９
Two days later, on 28 May, Hulings formally submitted the above request in writing.１０After Hulings' visit at the Ministry of Marine, the Japanese Navy informed the European and American Affairs Bureau of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs how the matter had developed, and what had been done about it by the Navy.１１ The Navy also asked the Bureau to resolve the matter. Probably for this reason, there is no further record of nogotiations between the American Embassy in Tokyo and the Japanese Navy. Upon obtaining Japanese consent, Captain Cotten decided to send Yokohama Naval Hospital's Chief Pharmacist Lieutnant Zembsch,USN, to Palau and gave him careful instructions on how to gather information.１２ Zembsch left Yokohama on 5 July aboard SS Tango Maru of the Nanyo Boeki Kaisha Line, he exhumed the remains of Ellis, cremated them, and started back with Ellis' ashes in a plain wooden box.
When Zembsch visited Palau, the Japanese officials gathered all persons concerned with Ellis, including the immigration officer William Gibbons, Ellis's native wife Matauie, and the native police chief Jose Tellei, and others, and explained the situation to Zembsch. However, Zembsch, who had had no health problems before his departure, was attacked by diarrhea and high fever. He grew so weak in a month that by 14 August he could no longer recognize the people who came to meet him in Yokohama. Upon his return to Japan, he was immediately hospitalized in the U.S Naval Hospital in Yokohama. With medical care, Zembsch's memory had begun to return gradually when the great Kanto earthquake of 1 September 1923 struck, and Zembsch was killed in the collapse of the hospital building.
(3)Reactions in the American Press
Because the cause of Ellis' death was not made known by the Japanese side, the American press, particularly the Hearst papers and the local press in his home state of Kansas, reported his death with imagination and malice. Such newspaper reports１３ can be summed up as follows:Ellis joined the Marine Corps as a private, and he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel as a “most prominent" or “distinguished" Marine officer. During the First World War, in particular, he was awarded the Legion of Honor, the Croix de Guerre from France,and the Navy Cross from the U.S. Navy for his meritorious wartime services.While touring the Orient on a vacation (or on a special mission,according to some newspapers), Ellis died on 21 May 1923 in the Caroline Islands, then under the mandate of Japan. The first newspapers said that the Japanese Navy's notification of his death came only two weeks after his death, and the cause of his death had not yet been given. The newspapers described his death as “unexplained" or “mysterious", or referred to the rumor that Ellis was “accidentally killed".
It was also reported that the Caroline where Ellis died constituted a militarily very important strategic point,lying between the Philippines-Guam combination and the United States mainland. Washington had received numerous reports that Japan had built a submarine base there. The newspaper also said that foreigners were not welcomed in the Carolines Islands because Japan had built a naval base and fortifications there in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. In August, two months after Ellis' death, it was reported again that the Japanese side had given no explanation about his death, under a sensational headline to the effect that the fine Marine Corps officer would be buried on a Japanese island with no light shed on the cause of his death. In addition, his forced hospitalization by Captain Cotten was reported in a different version: Ellis had been arrested in Tokyo by the Japanese Army authorities.
2 Arguments and Evidence Against the Poisoning Charge
(1)Why poison was suspected
Why was the Japanese Navy suspected of poisoning Ellis in the United States, until just recently ？ It is presumably because American researchers did not refer to Japanese historical sources, but rather believed and drew their conclusions from Hearst papers and Arthur V.Herrman's account before the war, and Secret Mission and LCOL W.W.Worden USMC's report after the war.Before the war,besides the Hearst papers,Herrman's report were added. Arthur V. Herrman, an American trader of German ancestry,paid a visit on 23 May 1923 to Major General George Barnett at Headquarters, U.S Marine Corps Department of the Pacific, and informed Barnett that１４:
（1) He saw Ellis on Kusaie, Eastern Caroline Islands, on 16 April 1923 and found him in good health. Ellis told him that the Japanese were talking of the possibility of war between the United States and Japan.
（2) A great many of the Japanese were drunk, and it was their intention to put Colonel Ellis in jail.
（3) The Japanese wanted no foreigners on the island, and they were “very anxious" to get rid of Ellis.
After the war, U.S.Navy Captain,Zacharias's inaccurate memoirs “Secret Mission" added to the confusion. In his book,he expressed suspicion of the Japanese Navy's behavior for the following reasons１５:
（1) The Japanese Navy's notification of Ellis' critical condition came on the day before his death. When Captain Cotten requested Ellis be returned as soon as possible, the Japanese Navy answered that a concrete response would be given within 24 hours.It was quite unusual for the Japanese Navy to answer so quickly and positively. Captain Cotten suspected the presence of some evil design behind it. He told Zacharias that Ellis would not come back alive.
（2) The next day a notice of Ellis' death came,together with the notification that his remains had been cremated.(Ibn fact,Ellis's body not been cremated and no such notification had been recieved)
Cotten concluded that the cremation immediately following death must have been intended to preclude the possibility of poison being detected by an American autopsy,and strengthened his suspicion that Ellis' death was a Japanese Navy plot.
（3) When Captain Cotten told the Japanese Navy that he wanted to send Chief Pharmacist Zembsch to receive Ellis' remains, the Japanese Navy took a long time before approval in contrast with its previous quick response.
Cotten considered this delay in response attributable to the Japanese Navy's bewilderment by an unexpected American request.
（4) After being kept waiting for a long time, Cotten received permisson and Zembsch departed. Before his departure from Yokohama, many notifications came from the Japanese Navy, but stopped after departure.
Cotten was notified of Zembsch's return only one day in advance, and was given no information whatsoever concerning his mental and physical deterioration.
（5) Upon arrival,Zembsch was only able to murmur incoherently. The Commanding Officer of the Naval Hospital suggested that Zembsch's condition resulted from the addition to his food of a powerful narcotic such as morphine or opium.
These were the points which according to Zacharaias,aroused Cotten's suspicion, and Zacharaias concluded: the Japanese,who knew of Ellis' secret objectives, helped him to enter Micronesia. During the voyage, the captain of the Japanese freighter induced Ellis to drink a great deal. In Micronesia, Japanese there held drinking parties for Ellis, serving him sake containing a narcotic which killed him.Then in 1950,the U.S. Marine Corps sent Lieutenant Colonel Waite W. Worden, USMC to Palau to investigate. Worden interviewed survivors and obtained the following statements from those involved in the case.１６
☆ Statement of Ngerdako Gibbons the widow of immigration officer William Gibbons, half caste son of Jamaican Negro.
Upon his arrival in Palau, Ellis stayed for a week at the home of Gibbons, the one of only English speaking persons on Koror at that time. Gibbons had, at Ellis' request, obtained for him a house in the native district and introduced him to a 25-year-old native girl,Metauie, who became Ellis' Palauan wife. Ellis went out every day under the pretext of taking a stroll, but his activities were constantly under the watch of the Japanese or native police.Ellis drank all the sake, whisky or beer that he could lay his hands on. Once, when he asked Gibbons for more drink and was told that there was no more. Ellis destroyed a wall of Gibbons's house, suspecting that some might be hidden there.On the day of his death, Ellis was “crazy drunk" from the morning and died at about five o'clock in the afternoon. Gibbons made a coffin and buried Ellis at the native graveyard the next day.
☆Statement of Ellis' native wife,Metauie
She lived with Ellis for six weeks until his death. He told her that he was a civilian. She did not know that he was a Marine Corps officer.He always went out, saying that he would take a stroll. She did not know what he actually did. Ellis always drank, and particularly in the two weeks preceding his death his drinking increased. She "believed" that “too much sake" killed him.
☆Statement of native police senior officer Jose Tellei
Ellis arived in Koror in April 1923, but nobody suspected he was a spy. However, the police chief, a Japanese, apparently considered him suspicious, for he ordered a plainclothesman to tail and watch Ellis constantly.
These contents were essentially correct, but finally Worden concluded by his own comment that “Ellis was suspected by the Japs as being a spy, and to the extent that they constantly shadowed him, it may be that he was poisoned. With Ellis'apparent unquenchable thirst, and his frantic searches at times for something to drink, it would not have been too difficult to poison him"
(2)Counter-evidence in Japanese Materials
The Tokyo Embassy's cablegram of 21 May to the U.S. State Department contained the expression the “Remains and Effects", Lieutenant Hulings said “Body and Belongings" on the 26th, and he used words “Body and Effects" in the memorandum of 28th May. All this indicates that both Washington and the American Embassy in Tokyo knew that Ellis' body had not been cremated.
There is another relevant record, a cablegram of 31 May from the Resident Naval Officer in the South Sea Islands.１７
It reads as follows:
TO AIDE TO MINISTER OF MARINE AND NAVY GENERAL STAFF
FROM RESIDENT NAVAL OFFICER, SOUTH SEA ISLANDS
DATE 31 MAY 1923
ELLIS, AMERICAN ALLEGEDLY ON COMMERCIAL INSPECTION TOUR, DIED FROM ALCOHOLISM ON KOROR ON TWELTH MAY. NO MILITARY PAPERS FOUND IN HIS EFFECTS.HE IS SAID TO BE COMMANDER ON ACTIVE SERVICE. IF TRUE, HE IS CONSIDERED TO HAVE OBTAINED TRAVEL PERMIT BY FALSIFYING HIS OCCUPATION. IS IT ALL RIGHT TO TURN HIS EFFECTS OVER TO AMERICAN AUTHORITIES？URGENTLY AWAITING YOUR INSTRUCTION.
It is considered normal in the case of a premeditated design to make an immediate report on its success to a limited number of people.The above cablegram is remarkable in that:
（1) It was sent three weeks after the death of Ellis and ten days after the Japanese Navy's receipt of information on the death from the South Sea Island Goverment Office.
（2) It was addressed to both the Aide to the Naval Minister and to the Chief of the Naval General Staff.
In addition, the Bureau of General Affairs official who recieved the cablegram (whose identity is unknown because this seal is undecipherable) wrote a note in the margin of the cablegram : “An improper action, but overlook it so we can use it as a countercharge,in case we are blamed for doing the same thing". Is it not possible to understand from this that the Japanese Navy was not involved in the affair？ When Zembsch visited Palau, the Resident Naval Officer in the South Seas reported as follows :１８
TO AIDE FOR NAVY MINISTER AND CHIEF OF NAVAL GENERAL STAFF
FROM RESIDENT NAVAL OFFICER, SOUTH SEA ISLANDS
DATE 29 JULY, 1923
CHIEF PHARMACIST OF U.S.NAVAL HOSPITAL,YOKOHAMA,ARRIVED HERE ON 21 JULY. BRANCH OFFICE CHIEF DELIVERY OF ELLIS' BODY AND EFFECTS TO ZEMBSCH AND OTHER DISPOSALS COMPLETED.
CREMATION SCHEDULED FOR TWENTY SEVEN JULY WITHOUT OPENING COFFIN TO
EXAMINE DEAD BODY.１９ IT APPEARS AS IF CAUSE OF DEATH IS FULLY UNDERSTOOD.
The above cablegram suggests a sense of relief that American understanding was obtained and that any suspicions were cleared up. The Japanese Navy transferred the matter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and in the process the Aide to the Minister of Marine forgot to answer the 31 May cablegram from the Resident South Sea Naval Officer urgently requesting instructions. So on the 14th of June, the Resident South Seas Naval Officer once again sent a cablegram saying that he was waiting for an urgent reply on the matter of the Ellis, as cabled on 29 May.２０ Is it not possible to interpret this to show that the Japanese Navy thought so lightly of the matter that the Aide for the Naval Minister forgot to answer？
3 Who Falsified the Truth ?
Why did the case arouse suspicion in the United States and within its Navy？ Probably because neither the South Sea Islands Government Office nor the Japanese Navy did, or rather could tell the American the cause of Ellis's death or the name of his disease.The cablegram２１ received by the Japanese Navy from the South Sea Islands Government Office reads:
R.H.ELLIS 43, REPRESENTATIVE OF HUGHES & CO., RECTOR ST. 2 NEW YORK, PASSPORT NO.40249, LANDED HERE ABOARD TAIAN MARU AFTER TOUR ON ISLANDS. BUT WHILE WAITING FOR SHIP BOUND FOR MENADO, HE DIED FROM SHINSHINSENMOSHO AT SIX PM ON TWELFTH MAY.
DEAD BODY WAS BURIED TEMPORARILY AND HIS EFFECTS ARE KEPT IN CUSTODAY.
The Japanese Navy couldn't understand what the disease name “SHINSHINSENMOSHO" meant, because there is no such name medically. In the margin of the cablegram is the note “A kind of dementia". On 30 May, four days after Hulings' visit to the Japanese Navy Ministry, the Resident Naval Officer in the South Seas Islands reported that Ellis died from alcoholism. But there is no trace that the report was made to the U.S. Naval Attache in Tokyo. Why was the report not made known to the American side？ Because just as Zacharaias and Cotten could not believe, in view of Ellis' behavior in Yokohama, that he was going to Micronesia under secret orders from Washington,２０the Japanese Navy must have found it hard to accept the fact that a U.S. Naval Commander (misidentified as such by the Japanese Navy) could have died from alcoholism. Particulary because the honor of an individual and the United States Navy was involved, the Japanese Navy may well have hesitated to conclude from a single report of the Resident Naval Officer in the South Sea Islands that Ellis was an alcoholic.
Also because the matter had been transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Navy may have let the matter drop. As mentioned above, the suspicion that Ellis was poisoned is considered to have arisen from the fact that all relevant writings on the American side were based on contemporary newspaper and Zacharaias' writings which were entirely different from the truth. What caused Zacharaias' misunderstanding？ At that time, Zacharaias was a junior officer and language student. Did he misunderstand because he was not directly concerned with the case？ However, he writes that he was a “witnessed" the case. Careful perusal of his memoirs reveals that he discussed delicate matters with the Naval Attache while gathering information in Japan.In September 1921, he was ordered to get the Japanese Navy's intentions of the Washington Naval Conference, and dined with Captain Kichisaburou Nomura and Osami Nagano. In consequence, Zacharaias writes, he successfully obtained the information that the Japanese Navy would agree to the American proposal for Naval limitations.２２
As can be seen, Zacharaias was somewhat involved in intelligence work in Japan. But the next point must be considered that, at that time Captain Nagano was in Washington as the Japanese Naval Attache. According to Zacharaias' memoirs, Cotten often consulted him and informed him about Ellis' behavior, forced hospitalization, and escape from hospital. Why does Zacharaias' memoirs differ so markedly from the truth？ Forethermore,while the English edition of his memoirs contains a chapter on Ellis, as The Strange Case of “Colonel X", but the Japanese edition omits this chapter so closely related to Japan, saying “Several chapters in the original which are not particularly related to Japan are omitted, partly in compliance with the author's request.２３ Why？
Japanese authorities may have placed Ellis under surveillance because he was a foreigner, but Japan did not know he was a Marine Corps Officer on active service, until the receipt of Hulings' memorandum. If Captain Cotten or the United States Navy had not attempted to get information on Micronesia by turning Ellis' death to good account,２４ the Ellis case would have been dealt with simply as the unfortunate case of an American traveler's death. Ellis's accident happened just three months after the Washington Naval Conference, and his mission and behavior were embarrassments to the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. In order to cover up Ellis's “improper action"２５, and to protect the U.S. Marine Corps, Ellis must be a hero.
So probably, facts were gradually confused because the circumstances of Ellis' death were not clear. The suspicion regarding his death was amplified by Zembsch's death. Ellis served for many years under Lejeune,Commandant of the Marine Corps for thirteen years under three U.S. Presidents, and he acted with Lejeune's understanding. Ellis' adventurous and tragic actions were to the liking of the Americans. From an American point of view, he was a hero who smuggled himself into Micronesia, after long travels to Australia, Philippines and Japan in spite of his illness. He took a native Palauan girl to wife. And finally, he was poisoned by the Japanese Navy while engaging in espionage for the Marine Corps.
The case of Ellis increased the American distrust and suspicion of Japan with regard to Micronesia. The growing distrust and suspicion were capitalized upon by advocates of racial discrimination and those fearful of a perceived military menace. In particular, the Marine Corps felt threatened postwar armament and manning reductions, and they were urging re-expansion,the developmenmt of amphibious operations,and improved amphious landing capability against Japan. Today the Amphibious Training building at the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia, is named Ellis Hall.
Earl Hancock Ellis
Lieutenant Colonel United States Marine Corps
Pioneer Amphibious Prophet - War Planner
Born At Iuka,Kansas, 19 Dec 1880
He Forecast The Eventual Amphibious Struggle For the Pacific
And Gave His Life For His Country As An Intelligence Officer
At Koror Town In The Japanese Palau Islands 12 May 1923
His Character Was A Most Lovable One And His Heart Was
Dauntless And Full Of Courage
John A Lejeune
Great sources on Ellis: