The island of Zalagi had been one of many taken by Japan from Germany during the First World War, but other than performing coastal surveys it was largely left to its own devices, having negligible strategic value. The Japanese governor-general would send supplies by boat, and occasionally by air, once per month. This was necessary as the civilian population of nearby Vutagu had been expelled to Zalagi to make way for the construction of a seaplane base and submarine pen.

During the course of Operation Boilermaker in 1943-44, Zalagi and Vutagu were cut off by the Allied “island hopping” campaign and left to wither on the vine. Around this time, the islanders on Zalagi received a radio message informing them that supply deliveries would continue. They assumed that the message was from Col. Kenji Hashimoto on Vutagu, commander of the small Japanese garrison there, and true to its word supplies continued to arrive. They were not delivered by boat or by air, but simply left on the beach, and were generally in the form of fish or native fruits. Nevertheless, it was enough for the islanders to avoid starvation.

It was only after Allied troops arrived in autumn 1945 that the islanders on Zalagi learned that Col. Hashimoto had died in 1942, and that the Vutagu garrison had endured intense starvation, with a third of the men there dying and the remainder surviving extreme deprivation with accusations of cannibalism. There was no way that the message could have come from Vutagu, no supplies on Vutagu to spare, and the officer responsible was already dead.

Analysis of the radio set used by the islanders, a pre-war Nippon Broadcasting Company model 221-b, showed that it had been damaged and incorrectly repaired following the impact of Typhoon Hera in late 1942. The outgoing signal was so weak that it would have taken a transceiver of [Redacted] power to receive any transmission, and incoming transmissions would have been impossible to receive unless they originated from a 12º arc in the sky formed by the constellation [Redacted].

Further analysis of the remaining cocoanut husks and fish bones left over from the supplies were also inconclusive. While both were native to Zalagi, the cocoanuts recovered were of a variety only found on [Redacted], while the fish were a subspecies found only in the [Redacted] Sea. It would have been impossible for either to have reached Zalagi without a major logistical effort, one which Japan in 1943-44 was incapable of providing to its own troops, much less the islanders of Zalagi.

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