The German Seizure of Tobi & Helen Reef by Germany in 1901
Taken from Trust Territory Archives Microfilm
Vol I. Ref. CRS G1 Item 4 Document 27 Page 114 - 127

From: Foreign Office, Colonial Division, Berlin
To: Mr. von Bennigsen, Governor of Germany, Herbertshoehe
Date: December 6, 1900 through April 17, 1901
Subject: Secret message – taking possession of Reef Islands: Reef – Palau – Tobi & Helen Reef – Sansarol – Pul – Merir
Summarization: Urgent request to take possession of reef for purpose of German cable to the Pacific.  S.S. STEPHAN to be made available.


December 6, 1900  SECRET order from Foreign Office, Berlin to Governor von Bennigsen dated .   K.A. 29688.  J. No. 11877

March 17, 1901 from R. v. Bennigsen,Yap, to Foreign Office

April 17, 1901, from Senfft to Governor v. Bennigsen,  Reporting on Seizure

May 6, 1901 telegram from R. v. Bennigsen to Foreign Office

SECRET order from Foreign Office, Berlin to Governor von Bennigsen dated December 6, 1900.   K.A. 29688.  J. No. 11877.

Following order No. 156 of June 27 of this year:

The immediate seizure of the designated island mentioned in the above order, inclusive of reef in the same area, is certainly recommended in the interest of securing a German cable route through that part of the Pacific Ocean following confidential messages from the Imperial Post Office.

Disposition to extend the journey of H.M.S. CORMORAN to the Palau Islands could not be arranged as per competent verbal information by a spokesman of the Navy’s Admiralty staff; only the government’s steamer STEPHAN would be available for the seizure.

I request therefore, your Excellency, to hoist the flag on the specified islands on board the STEPHAN with all due speed and certainly before the beginning of your leave in Australia, or to delegate District Administrator Senfft, in case and against all expectations, the warship could not be made available.

Request to report on the matter.

Foreign Office, Colonial Division

March 17, 1901 from R. v. Bennigsen, Yap,  to Foreign Office

I have the honor to submit to the command for information attached copy of a secret order of the Foreign Office concerning the seizure of some small islands and reefs with the most humble request to execute the seizure of the island Tobi and Helen Reef while present in Yap. I have effected the seizure of the island Sonsorol, Pul, and Merir. It was impossible to reach also Tobi and Helen Reef during my journey, as the STEPHAN cannot store sufficient coal. The journey would be of great difficulty for the small STEPHAN and could only be carried out by proceeding there and returning immediately to Yap. Seizure of others than Helen Reef are to be included in case they are located above sea level in this area.

I request reports about these events.

R. v. Bennigsen

April 17, 1901, from District Administrator Senfft to Governor v. Bennigsen, 
Reporting on Seizure

Imperial District Administration, Yap Yap, April 17, 1901

No. 29 To Order of March 24, 1901, No. 177

To the Imperial Governor Mr. v. Bennigsen

F. No. 276.01 Transfer of the Carolines to the Empire

I used the time of the absence of the steamer WONG KOI to fulfill the order to hoist the German flag on the island Tobi and the Helen Reef.

I left Yap on the 9th of the month with the Government steamer STEPHAN and arrived dearly on the 12th of the same month in Tobi. As anchorage is not available there, the STEPHAN had to put in and out while I transferred by boat to land. Already at quite a distance a great number of large and small canoes, densely occupied, swarmed around us and came to our encounter to greet us with loud shouting and repeating "Very good Capitan, allright Capitan." I had taken from Yap a Tobi native with me, allegedly the son of the local chief, to use him as an interpreter. Subsequently, however, it turned out that I had to do with a complete idiot. As it happened to be high tide, we succeeded to traverse the Reef and landed without damage. The chief could only be determined with difficulty from a large and shouting (?) mass of Tobi people. The chief was acquainted with the reason of the visit. He was very delighted about the intended hoisting of the flag, and led me to one of his two houses in front of which the seizure took place in the manner of the attached original protocol. The two policemen, Surelen and Tileman from Yap, both of them sufficiently fluent in Tobi language, were used as interpreters.

Tobi is a small island, densely planted with coconut palms. It is well populated with comparatively well-nourished, tall, and powerful men. The women are pretty and well proportioned; numerous children witness a healthy race. I estimate approximately 500 to 600 inhabitants. By and large they speak the same language as the inhabitants of the east and south islands of my district, however with great differentiation of dialects. The Malayan police sergeant asserts that the inhabitants of the large neighboring Moluccan island, Elmaheira (Gilolo), are quite similar in appearance as well as behavior. A comparatively large proportion of the Tobi people were clothed. The others’ clothing consisted of a narrow loin cloth for men, and the short stiff blanket for women. Houses are built in the same casual construction as those on the islands Merir, Pul, and Sonsorol, consisting only of palm frond-covered gables. Fireplaces are located inside the huts. Apart from the dwellings there are many shelters on land protecting the numerous solidly built canoes from rain and sun. The people of Tobi make excellent rope, wooden bowls, and boxes. I exchanged tobacco, for which they have a lively desire, for some of these.

I have taken some people to Yap. Should they succeed with the work, Tobi would be a fruitful field for acquisition and thereby in this direction significant. Purchase of copra can however not be considered, even though densely stocked as already mentioned before. the large population consumes all nuts for food, thus only a few are offered for sale.

The Helen Reef is widely scattered and is situated in some areas under water; it rises in others above and into small sand islands which are supposed to change in number and size according to sand movement. Supposedly the strong breakers are usu ally the rule. We struck it favorably as the traverse with necessary materials offered no difficulty.

On the return journey we passed by the islands Pul, Sonsorol, and Ngulu/Matelotas. I landed on all islands for a short time. I found the recently implanted pillars in order, and left a flag with the chief of Pul. Ngulu is an atoll with two inhabited islands. The few inhabitants are the same as on Yap, and also belong politically to it. They pay tribute to the chief of Gorror on Yap. Their houses are singled out by their careful and sturdy construction with stone base with layered plant walls. The surroundings of the houses are exceedingly clean and closely planted with palm trees. I was informed that the (off page) has taken a heavy toll. I have seen (off page) children.

I have taken with me some people from Pul and Sansorol as laborers.

May 6, 1901 telegram from R. v. Bennigsen to Foreign Office

Telegram Foreign Berlin Herbertshoehe 5/7/1901

Hoisting of flag on Tobi and Helen Reef executed by Senfft on STEPHAN.