Samoa is one of those places that sounds so peaceful you almost think that surely we can’t have invaded it, but we have been involved in at least two wars here. And we didn’t even take control of Samoa at the end of them.
In 1722, Dutchman Jacob Roggeveen became the first European to set eyes on the islands. By the late nineteenth century, Britain, Germany and the US all had trading posts and were locked in a struggle for power here, a struggle which expressed itself by the different Western powers backing different local factions fighting each other.
The First Samoan Civil War took place between about 1886 and 1894. In March 1889, Britain, Germany and the US all sent warships to Apia harbour and there seemed a likelihood of serious trouble until on, 15 March, a massive storm hit and left the crews of the warships with even more serious problems to deal with.
In the Second Samoan Civil War, the Germans were backing the Mataafans. The British and the Americans were backing Prince Tainu. In January 1899, the Mataafans forced Tainu out of Apia and in March we and the Americans landed in Apia. The Cruiser HMS Porpoise and the Corvette HMS Royalist landed sailors and marines.
While land forces skirmished in Apia, our ships shelled boats and the outskirts of Apia. Eventually, the cruiser HMS Tauranga arrived to assist and we advanced south out of Apia to attack and defeat a rebel force there. Finally, after a series of battles at Vailele, hostilities were brought to an end and the Samoa Tripartite Convention was signed which split the islands between Germany and the US. In return for Britain giving up our claims to Samoa, the Germans gave us control of territory elsewhere.
It probably wasn’t the best of bargains for the Germans in the sense that, in August 1914, a New Zealand expeditionary force captured the German-controlled part of Samoa without a fight. The German cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst (confusingly, Germany in the Second World War also had major ships called Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, but they were different ones) turned up shortly afterwards and could, no doubt, have recaptured the islands, but Admiral Von Spee decided he wouldn’t be able to hold them if he did take them then. He didn’t get much of a chance later because by the end of 1914 he was dead and the First World War versions of the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst had been sunk at the Battle of the Falkland Islands (yes, there’s been one of those before as well). New Zealand then administered the territory until it became independent in 1962.