When the United States military abandoned the Vanuatuan island of Espiritu Santo after occupying it as a base during World War II, it left behind infrastructure works such as roads, buildings and runways. But its oddest legacy might be the millions of dollars of goods it dumped into the ocean—just so the French and British couldn’t have them.
Today, off the shore of what’s been dubbed “Million Dollar Point” in the Pacific Ocean, snorkelers and scuba divers encounter a surprising sight: a fortune’s worth of military tanks, guns and jeeps resting beneath the waves.
Espiritu Santo, an island in the Vanuatu archipelago, was established as a military supply base, naval harbor and airfield after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when the U.S. used it as the launch site for its attack on the Japanese in the Pacific. At the time, parts of Vanuatu were still under British and French colonization.
When America left the military base after the war, the remaining goods—everything from weaponry to bottles of Coca-Cola—were offered to the French and British at a very low price, 6 cents to the dollar. However, the colonizers were going on the assumption that should they refuse to buy the items, the U.S. military would be forced to simply leave them behind for free.
The Americans were having none of this. To spite the British and French, the military made the rash decision to drive all of the vehicles, food, clothing, drinks, and other equipment to a wharf on the southern coast of the island. The army then drove all of the vehicles into the sea, used bulldozers to dump the rest of the supplies over the wharf, before also driving the bulldozers into the sea, ensuring that the European countries would not be able to get their hands on the items at all, free or otherwise.
Millions of dollars worth of goods were completely destroyed over the period of those two days, rendered unusable at the bottom of the ocean. As a result of the dumping, the waters were contaminated with fuel, rubber, metal and other waste, leaving the local Vanuatuans shocked at the carnage, though they salvaged what they could once the Americans had finally departed.
Today, you can make your way to Million Dollar Point and take a snorkel or scuba dive through the wreckage, should you desire to swim through this odd memorial to political spite.
The Atlas Obscura Podcast is a short, daily celebration of all the world’s strange and wondrous places. Check out this episode about Million Dollar Point.