Lat 152° 8' Long 4° 19' Vunakanau Airfield is located approximately ten miles southwest of Rabaul. Known as "Vunakanau Drome". Known to the Japanese as "Rabaul West" or "West Airfield" or "Rabaul Upper Airfield" or "Rabaul No. 2".
Built prewar by the Australian administration as a single unpaved runway with a single building.
World War II Pacific Theatre History
During early 1942, Vunakanau Airfield was used by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) by 24 Squadron operating ten Wirraways and four Hudson. with some aircraft operating from Lakunai Airfield.
Australian units based at Vunakanau
24 Squadron (10 x Wirraway, 4 x Hudson)
On January 20, 1942
eight Wirraways attempted to intercept over
a hundred Japanese aircraft attacking Rabaul. The defending Wirraways were shot down, damaged or abandoned afterwards. Before the base fell
to the Japanese, the CO, Squadron Leader J. M. Lerew sent
the message "Nos Morituri Te Salutamus" (Latin: "We who are about to die salute you") to RAAF Headquarters at Melbourne.
On January 22, 1942 last 24 Squadron Hudson loaded with wounded took off from Vunakanau bound for Port Moresby. Afterwards, Vunakanau Airfield was abandoned with several damaged Wirraway abandoned.
Japanese missions against Vunakanau Airfield
January 6-20, 1942
During late January 1942, Vunakanau Airfield was occupied by the Japanese when they occupied the Rabaul area. Immediately, construction began to repair and expand the runway for use as the main Japanese bomber airfield at Rabaul. During February 14-17, 1942 G4M1 Betty bombers from the 4th Kokutai arrived at Vunakanau Airfield.
During 1942-1943, Vunakanau Airfield was expanded and improvied by the Japanese. As of November 10, 1943 Vunakanau Airfield had two parallel runways 5,100' in length with taxiways and revetments on both sides, including 64 bomber and 81 fighter
revetments. Allied intelligence noted defenses including 15 heavy anti-aircraft guns, 14 medium anti-aircraft guns and 12 light machine guns plus three searchlight
Japanese Naval units based at Vunakanau
4th Kokutai (G4M1) Feb 14-18, 1942 - ?
Misawa Kokutai (9 x G4M1) Aug 7, 1942
705 Kokutai (G4M1 formerly Misawa) Jan 1943 - April
702 Kokutai (G4M1 Betty) Kisarazu via Tinian early May 1943 - December 11, 1943 disbanded crews 751 Kokutai
751 Kokutai (G4M Betty) Oct 11, 42 - May 1943
Tainan Kokutai (A6M Zero) April 1942 - November 1942 also Lakunai
251 Kokutai (former
Tainan Kokutai A6M Zero / J1N1 Irving) Nov 1942 - middle 1943
Japanese Army Air Force units based at
1st Sentai (Ki-43 Oscar) January - August 1943
11th Sentai (Ki-43 Oscar) December 18, 1942 - June 1943 to
13th Sentai (Ki-45 Nick) May - September 1943
68th Sentai (Ki-61 Tony) April - July 1943 to Wewak
78th Sentai (Ki-61 Tony) June - July 1943 to Wewak
Allied missions against Vunakanau Airfield
January 22, 1942 - June 2, 1944
During 1942 until the end of the war, Allied aircraft attacked Vunakanau Airfield bombing raids and low level attacks. On February 14, 1944 the remaining flyable aircraft were evacuated to Truk. Anti-aircraft defenses remained active until the end of the Pacific War.
One of the two runways was maintained until 1983, as an emergency landing strip for Rabaul. It was no longer maintained when Tokua Airfield was built.
The runways are overgrown, but still visible. Not much
of the Japanese airbase complex remains, except for
a few tracks that follow the runway and taxiways. Much
of the remaining wreckage was transported to the Kokopo
the mission were radio racks from an underground communications
center discovered in the 1970s at Malmaluan.
A6M? Zero Tail Number 322
635 Kokutai. Wreckage of tail with original paint and tail section.
Ki-43-I Oscar Manufacture
Located November 1945, captured as war prize
Located in the vicinity, recovered to the Kokopo Museum
Memories Of New Guinea by Harry Morris
Do you have photos or additional information to add?
March 31, 2017