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    Babo Airfield West Papua Province Indonesia
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USAAF Sept 8, 1943

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USAAF June 5, 1944

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USAAF 1944

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G. A. 2007

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A. Judihardianto 2008
Location
Lat 2° 31' 56S Long 133° 26' 20E  Babo Airfield is located near Babo on the southern shore of Maccluer Gulf in an isolated low lying swamp area. Also known as "Babo Drome". Today known as "Babo Airport" or "Bandar Udara Babo". Prewar, during the Pacific War located in Dutch New Guinea (DNG) in the Netherlands East Indies (NEI). Between 1963–1973 part of West Irian (Irian Barat) and during 1973-2002 known as Irian Jaya. Today located in Teluk Bintuni Regency (Bintuni Bay Regency) in West Papua Province (Papua Barat, West Irian Jaya) in Indonesia.

Construction
Built prewar by the Dutch colonial administration as a single runway for use as a civilian airfield.

Prewar
Babo Airfield was the final stop for Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij (KLM) Royal Dutch Airlines for flights in Dutch New Guinea.

Wartime usage by Allies
In November 1941, a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) engineering party with the assistance of the Dutch personnel upgraded the airfield for military use. Known to the Australians as "Auxiliary Base at Babo".

During January 1942, three Hudsons from No. 13 Squadron were sent there to act as 'fighters', this temporary duty was regarded to be against enemy flying boats while the Dutch KNIL garrison of approximately 200 rushed to improve area defenses and build a clearing for use as a second runway.

Allied units at Babo
(RAAF) 13 Squadron (Hudson x 3) January 1942–January 25, 1942 Darwin

On December 30, 1941 bombed by Japanese H6K Emily flying boats, leaving three dead and 14 wounded, including a number of children. On January 25, 1942 RAAF 13 Squadron evacuated Babo departing aboard their Hudsons to Darwin with the airfield abandoned by the end of the month. Afterwards, the Dutch garrison withdrew with most escaping to Australia.

Japanese missions against Babo
December 30, 1941

Japanese occupation and use
On April 2, 1942 the Japanese Army 2nd Detachment landed at Babo and occupied the town and Babo Airfield. The Japanese built a second runway surfaced with concrete. Once expanded, the both divergent runways measured 4,530' and 2,660'.  Naval troops constructed 15 bomber and 24 fighter revetments with more under construction.

By 1943, Babo Airfield was developed into a major base for ferrying aircraft eastward to New Guinea or southward to the Aru and Kai Islands. Used by both the Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) 7th Air Division and Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN).

Japanese units based at Babo Airfield
Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN)
202 Kokutai (A6M Zero) early 1943-March 1944 Truk returns June 44
153 Kokutai, 311th Hikotai (A6M3 Zero / A6M5 Zero)
732 Kokutai (G4M1 Betty)
753 Kokutai (G4M1 Betty)
Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) 7th Air Division
59th Sentai (Ki-43) May 1943
61st Sentai (Ki-49 Helen)
24th Sentai, 1st Chutai (Ki-43-II Oscar) Sumatra May 1943 Dagua
34th Sentai (Ki-48) 1943
59th Sentai (Ki-43-II Oscar detachment) Malang March 1943 - April 1943 But
70th Dokuritsu Chutai (Ki-46 Dinah)
73rd Dokuritsu Chutai (Ki-51 Sonia)
45th Sentai (Ki-45 Nick) 16 arrive February 19, 1944 to Wakde
75th Sentai (Ki-48 Lily)
25th Special Base Unit (G4M Betty and Ki-57 Topsy transports)

By early 1943, Babo Airfield was targeted by Allied aircraft. By the middle of 1944, the base was in range of 5th Air Force medium bombers escorted by fighters and came under heavy aerial attack. In total, tons of Allied bombs hit the airfield area with many aircraft disabled by bombing.

Allied missions against Babo
February 7, 1943–November 5, 1944

On May 27, 1944 Japanese aircraft from Babo Airfield opposed the American landings at Biak.  While based at Babo for 30 days, the 24th Sentai lost 20 pilots and 40 planes before being withdrawn. The 202 Kokutai was temporarily withdrawn from Babo for defense of Truk, then returned to Babo in June 1944. They lost 12 planes defending Biak and were then disbanded.

By October 1944, Babo Airfield was neutralized by Allied attacks, isolated from resupply and the remaining Japanese languished until the official surrender of Japan in September 1945.

Post War
After the war, the Dutch repaired Babo Airfield and resumed using it for civilian flights. Until the late 1970s, many Japanese aircraft remained in situ in remarkable condition. Word quickly circulated about the aircraft wrecks including a series of photos taken by Roy Worcester circa 1972 were published in the book Pacific Aircraft Wrecks (1979) by Charles Darby.

Randy Ogg visited in 1976:
"I spent most of 1976 in the area near Babo. I was flying for an Indonesian company. We were contracted to Sun Oil Company to support their drilling rig and geophysical exploration in the area, and operated from the tiny island of Tugumawa in Arguni Bay. Sun Oil drilled three dry holes there and abandoned their lease. I would like to visit the area again. We had a base camp at the Kaimana Airstrip. I was able to spend a half day visiting Babo Airfield. I still have 32 color prints and negatives that I took during my visit to Babo late in 1976. Some of the aircraft were still sitting up on their wheels. Those are probably the ones that have been removed by collectors. I can remember that there was an extensive grassy area to the west of Babo that was not rain forest. From the air we could distinctly see the outlines of 2 or 3 other airfields out there. I don't remember seeing any aircraft or other equipment on those airfields. The area was a fascinating place to work, but was infamous for its virulent malaria. The airstrip had recently been repaved. The only WWII junk we found around there was an artillery piece on the shoreline. I examined it and saw that it was of American manufacture, so the airfield probably changed hands later in the war."

In the 1980s, the Indonesian Air Force recovered the most intact Ki-48 Lilly, A6M5 Zero, Ki-51 Sonia and Ki-43 Oscar for the Indonesian Air Force Museum.

During 1991, Bruce Fenstermaker salvaged more aircraft including: G4M1 Betty 1208 and A6M3 Zero 3869, A6M2 Zero Tail 33, D4Y1 Judy 7483 and Ki-61 Tony 7?? plus other aircraft wreckage that were placed into shipping containers and exported to Los Angeles.

Bas Kereger reports:
"Max Ammer was very sad [after visiting], as what he had seen in 1995 was completely demolished in the enlargement of the airfield for BP. What is left is just a junk yard. There are several interesting pieces in that junk yard."

Japanese aircraft wreckage at Babo Airfield
Listing of aircraft abandoned and salvaged from Babo

Today
Still in use today as Babo Airport. Airport codes: ICAO: WASO, IATA: BXB. The single runway is oriented 20/02 and measures 4.280' x 98' surfaced with asphalt. Serviced by Mapita Airlines.

During late 2002 British Petroleum (BP) began upgrading the airfield and clearing WWII ordinance to build a gas drill rig just off the airstrip. This resulted in the discovery of a mixture of 1000, 500, 250 and 100 pound bombs. This new development and increased development in the Babo area will undoubtedly lead to more discoveries in the area.

John Friar participated in the bomb cleanup:
"[The bombs we discovered were fitted with a] British lifting lug, they were also fitted with two lifting lugs at 180 degrees to the British one. This indicates that they were modified to be dropped by American aircraft that all use the two lifting lug system. This is confirmed by the fact that most of the fuses fitted were American. Two of the 250 pound bombs were fitted with a very early design British fuse, dating to very early 30s."

A-20G Havoc 43-21430
Pilot Van crashed July 9, 1944 into taxiway after being hit by anti-aircraft fire

References
RAAF Form A.50 No. 13 Squadron, RAAF - January 1942
"January 25, 1942: Auxiliary Base at Babo in Dutch New Guinea evacuated and personnel manning base returned to Darwin by air. 11 ground personnel affected. Abandonment of this base due to enemy action by terrific bombing attacks and through the lack of fighter protection."
"January 28, 1942: Evacuation ordered due to approach of convoy of enemy ships and lack of fighter protection. An umbrella of enemy fighters were over base most day making operations from this base extremely hazardous. Base for week or ten days prior to this date used only at night, aircraft dispersing during the day to Koepang, Namlea, Babo and other bases."
Aeroplane Monthly "A Shadow of the Rising Sun" by John Hooper January 1974
Pacific Aircraft Wrecks pages 14-15, 65-67, 80
Thanks to Bruce Fenstermaker and Richard Dunn for additional information

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Last Updated
October 23, 2019

 

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