Of the nine Tuvalu atolls, only Nukufetau with an estimated population of 796 and Funafuti have passages through their coral rings large enough to allow ships and yachts to enter the lagoon. That alone should put Nukufetau on the itinerary of visiting yachtsmen. During World War 2, the United States forces recognized the value of the atoll by building a wharf and an X-shaped airfield on Motulalo Island. Some war wreckages are still scattered around the island.

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Nukufetau photograph
taken 16th January 2000 from Space Shuttle Flight STS99

The American base on Nukufetau was built to provide an alternative to the other two bases (Nanumea and Funafuti) on Tuvalu to allow for further dispersal of American aircraft as protection against Japanese bombing. A large, long strip of land at Motulalo islet, on the south-eastern side of the atoll, was the only suitable site for the construction of airships. No enemy attacks were ever made against the island and the people were largely undisturbed in their village on Savave islet. 

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Wartime photograph of Nukufetau
with the now-abandoned airfield drawn in.


The Rickenbacker Web site is about a bomber that went down in the central Pacific ocean on its way from Hawaii to Port Moresby, New Guinea, (yes, New Guinea, as it was in those days) via Canton (Kanton, Phoenix Group, Republic of Kiribati). The first part of the journey should have ended on Canton, however, the B-17 carrying Eddie Rickenbacker, his aide Col. Hans Adamson, and their flight crew, overshot Canton Island by at least 100 miles to the southwest. Out of fuel and hundreds of miles off-course, the pilot ditched his plane in the central Pacific ocean. The survivors were finally located on Nukufetau, Ellice Islands (Tuvalu), some 500 miles away from Canton.

The search for the missing plane was mounted because aboard it was a VIP from the United States of America, Eddie Rickenbacker, a WW1 ace, who was on an important mission from USA to General MacArthur. Because the reference material was written and published during WW2, the names of the islands were removed. But it was established in the 1980s that Nukufetau was the island where the survivors were found. That confirmation led to a reunion of the US personnel who were involved. The survivors were taken from Nukufetau to Funafuti, capital of Tuvalu.

The reference material for this site were Rickenbacker's book "Seven Came Through" and a book by James C. Whittaker, one of the survivors, entitled "We Thought We Heard The Angels Sing" and primarily a series published in "Life Magazine" in three parts in 1943. The people of Nukufetau played an important part in the rescue of Eddie Rickenbacker and the crew of this bomber. First cast adrift in three life rafts, these rafts were tied together for about twenty days until they separated and the raft containing Whittaker went ashore off Nukufetau. They were subsequently rescued by the people of Nukufetau who radioed through to Funafuti to enable the rescue of the inhabitants of the other two rafts by the American servicemen. It is a story that has never been told before from a Tuvalu perspective and I would recommend this site to all Tuvaluans and to anyone interested in Tuvaluan history. I should mention that the Web site is still incomplete but nevertheless does give an outline of this significant event in Tuvaluan history.    ....  Jane Resture

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The lives of the Nukufetau people were significantly less affected by the presence of the Americans on their atoll than those of either Funafuti or Nanumea. Their village on the south-western islet on Savave was untouched and was separated from the American base at Motulalo by eight kilometres of lagoon. In addition, the larger atoll of Nukufetau had a passage allowing landing ships to enter into its lagoon.

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Nukufetau lagoon and beaches

More images of Nukufetau Island

More Nukufetau Images ...

Nukufetau today is little changed from the Nukufetau of yesterday. Like all the islands of Tuvalu, the people are friendly and hospitable and the beautiful Nukufetau lagoon is an ideal stopping-off point for yachts, ships and all forms of leisure craft.  

Nukufetau is 85 kilometres northwest of Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu.

( For further information about Nukufetau,
please click on Myths and Legends and Tuvaluan Genealogy )


Click on the map above for a detailed map

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(E-mail: -- Rev. 26th November 2012)  

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