National Geographic : 1955 Apr
573 Navy Neptunes from Okinawa G CHRISTIAN missionaries on Formosa tell of an old superstition among the island's tattooed aborigines. On the trail, these tribesmen watched the birds. If the birds flew ahead, it was safe to proceed; if to the rear, it was best to turn back; and if they flew across the trail, the only thing to do was sit and wait. For nearly five years mechanical birds like this United States Navy P2V-together with ships of the Seventh Fleet-have exercised a deterrent effect upon the Chinese Communists, who covet Formosa and the near-by Pesca dores (map, page 575). Gunners sit alert against attack. A powerful searchlight on the right wing tip identifies vessels in the dark. Shaped like a tobacco leaf, Formosa is a land of cloud-topped mountains, plains, and valleys. Mountains thrust 12,000-foot peaks into the sky and descend to the sea on the east coast in tremendous cliffs (page 588). To pilots cruising over Formosa, the island seems a green paradise. Both of its names reflect impressions of the beholder. Taiwan, its Chinese name, means "Bay of Terraces." Formosa, as Portuguese explorers christened it, means "Beautiful." But this is an uneasy Eden. The islands National Geographic Photographer J. Baylor Roberts uard Formosa 24 Hours a Day teem with Formosan Chinese, Nationalist troops and civilians from the mainland, and some 170,000 aborigines. Formosa's population of 8,500,000 almost matches that of Australia, a continent more than 200 times as large. Two hundred forty miles long and 85 miles wide, the island has about the same area as The Netherlands. Crowded Formosa suggests a heavily loaded lifeboat. Or it may be likened to a beautiful woman beset by determined suitors. Long a part of China, it was Japan's from 1895 until the close of World War II. In 1949, Formosa, the Pescadores, and several small coastal islands became the last toeholds of Nationalist forces driven from the mainland. In Communist hands, Formosa would threaten United States bases in Okinawa, 365 miles to the northeast, and the Philippines, a scant 225 miles to the south. Formosa was the springboard that launched the Japanese invasion of Luzon in 1941. Red China lies less than 100 miles away. For other background articles on Formosa, see, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Our Navy in the Far East," by Adm. Arthur W. Radford, October, 1953; "Formosa-Hot Spot of the East," by Frederick G. Vosburgh, February, 1950; and "I Lived on For mosa," by Joseph W. Ballentine, January, 1945.