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    Buka Airfield Autonomous Region of Bougainville (AROB) Papua New Guinea (PNG)
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USN April 2, 1942

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13th AF Dec 15, 1942

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13th AF Nov 4, 1943

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13th AF Nov 11, 1944

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13th AF c1944

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13th AF Nov 11, 1944

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Stephen Turner 1985

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Justin Taylan 2003
Location
Lat 5° 25' 20S Long 154° 40' 22E  Buka Airfield is located at an elevation of 8' above sea level to the north of Buka (Town) and Chinatown near the southern coast of Buka Island. Further to the south is Buka Passage and beyond Bonis on the northern coast of Bougainville. Prewar and during the Pacific War, part of Kieta District in the Territory of New Guinea and considered part of the North Solomons, Northern Solomons. During 1975 became Bougainville Province in Papua New Guinea (PNG). On June 25, 2002 became part of the in Buka Rural LLG in Northern Bougainville District in Autonomous Region of Bougainville (AROB).

Construction
Built prewar by the Australian administration as a single runway roughly 700 meters x 60 meters was roughly northeast to southwest.  Also, an emergency runway 500 x 60 meters off the end of the runway, forming an 'L' shape.

Wartime History
By December 1941, Australian Army soldiers built gun pits along the runway. On January 2, 1942 in anticipation of a Japanese landing, they prepared the aerodrome for demolition by blowing holes into the runway and placing logs and pipes across it to prevent aircraft from landing. The following day, orders came to prepare the field for fleeing aircraft from Rabaul and the obsticles were removed.

On January 3, 1942 a RAAF Wirraway piloted by Flight-Lieutenant Brookes landed to inspect the runway and suggested some improvements then departed. The same day, six Japanese four engined flying boats were spotted to the north. On January 21, 1942 another flying boat overflew Buka Airfield and was fired on by ground forces.

Japanese missions against Buka Airfield
January 3, 1942–January 21, 1942

During the middle of March 1942 occupied by the Japanese but not immediately put to use. On July 26, 1942, a special detachment from the Japanese Navy inspected Buka Airfield, but considered it unacceptable as a major military airfield. Instead, Buka Airfield was upgraded as a forward airfield for use by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) bombers and fighters and was also used to a limited degree by the Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF).

On October 2, 1942 A6M2 Zero pilot PO3c Mogi returning from Guadalcanal suffered a landing gear collapse while landing at Buka Airfield.

By December 1942 the runway was further improved and surfaced with bitumen and added an electrical power plant, underground fuel tanks plus pillboxes and trenches.

On January 9, 1943 Ki-43-I Oscars from 11th Hiko Sentai (11th Flying Regiment) arrive from Rabaul to support Operation KE the withdrawal of the Japanese Army from Cape Esperence on Guadalcanal. Regularly each morning a pair of G4M1 Bettys took off from Buka Airfield and flew down each coast of Bougainville on reconnaissance missions then return each afternoon.

On May 13, 1943 Allied reconnaissance observed 36 fighters and 6 bombers parked at Buka Airfield. On October 1, 1943 Allied reconnaissance observed 35 aircraft at Buka, including 19 dive bombers.

On October 22, 1943 the runway was noted as 4,200' x 420', with extensive taxiways and revetments to the north and south with the area defended by anti-aircraft guns.

Meanwhile, Allied coastwatchers were able to report activity at Buka Airfield. On January 14, 1943 the first Allied bombing missions by U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) B-17s targeted Buka Airfield. During June 1943 regular air raids commenced by heavy bombers including B-17s and B-24s. By late October 1943, Navy bombers and fighters targeted Buka Airfield to neutralize the runway before the U.S. landings at Torokina on Bougainville. On November 1, 1943 the Buka area was shelled by U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers followed by carrier planes from Task Force 39 (TF 39). On December 23, 1943 cruisers return for another bombardment. In the middle of June 1944 the last air strikes were flown against Buka Airfield.

Allied missions against Buka Airfield
January 14, 1943–June 15, 1944

Japanese units based at Buka
751 Kokutai (G4M1) middle 1943 HQ Vunakanau
705 Kokutai (G4M1) late February 1942 early March 1943 HQ Vunakanau
702 Kokutai (G4M1) September 1942 Ballale and Vunakanau
201 Kokutai (A6M2) November 1943 Rabaul

Tom Blackburn in VF-17 The Jolly Rogers recalls:
"Buka and Bonis remained serious threats to the Torokina beachhead throughout early November 1943. Although the Japanese did not regularly bas airplanes at either field, they meticulously patched runway damage after each bombing raid, and maintained heavy anti-aircraft defenses around both runways. The danger lay in the readiness of the runways, through which they could stage raids against the beachhead, and damaged aircraft had a safe haven 165 miles south of Rabaul."

Postwar
Robert Curtis adds:
"I was district agricultural officer in Bougainville 1957 to 1962,  stationed at Kubu above Buka Airstrip. Many aircraft were recovered in and around Buka Airstrip and melted down for scrap metal in a portable crucible during 1958-59."

Today
Still in use today as Buka Airport. The single runway measures 1,562m x 30m oriented 04/22. Airport codes; ICAO: AYBK and IATA: BUA. Buka Airport is served by Air Niugini and other secondary airlines and charter flights

During the 1990s Bougainville Crisis and afterwards, Buka Airport was the only airport that remained open in Bougainville Province until December 12, 2014 when Aropa Airport on Bougainville reopened.

Josh McDade adds in 1999:
"Locals tell us that supposedly two aircraft were dug up at some time parallel from the northern sides of the runway. Couldn't get more information on when or where the aircraft are now. There are definitely large excavated old craters within a hundred meters of the runway."

Justin Taylan visited in September 2003:
"I had a few hours before my flight, and walked around the airfield area. On the south side of the runway, across from the small terminal, there was a propeller and some wreckage displayed at a house. On the northern side of the strip, I searched for the Betty wreck, but believe it was scrapped or otherwise removed. All that I could find were some small pieces of Japanese aircraft wreckage, and an empty gun pit, made of empty fuel drums."

25mm Anti-Aircraft Gun Type 96 Twin Mount
Displayed at the entrance to Buka Airport

References
Japanese army operations in the South Pacific area: New Britain and Papua campaigns, 1942–43 page 125
National Airports Corporation (NAC) - Buka Airport

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November 3, 2022

 

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