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December 11, 1942
Justin Taylan 2003
Buna Airfield was located southeast of Buna near the north coast of New Guinea. Also known as "Old Strip" after the Japanese began construction of Buna Airfield "New Strip" nearby. Prewar and during the Pacific War located in the Northern District of Territory of Papua. Today located in Oro Bay Rural LLG, Ijivitari District of Oro Province in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Built prewar as a single runway surfaced with grass for use as an emergency airfield. By 1942, this runway was in a neglected condition. By the middle of 1942, the Allies acknowledged the need for an airfield in the Buna area. Concurrently, the plans for the Japanese landing in the vicinity planned to occupy and expand the prewar airfield for military use.
As of July 1942, Theater plan "Tulsa" called for an Allied airfield to be established for military aircraft at Buna. On July 9, 1942 an Allied reconnaissance was scheduled of the area. Two days later on July 11, 1942 a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) PBY Catalina overflew area. Aboard were six officers including Lt. Col. Bernard L. Robinson, ranking U.S. Army engineering officer at Port Moresby, Lt. Col. Boyd D. Wagner, C.O., 8th Fighter Group (8th FG), Colonel Yoder and three Australian officers. Examining the terrain of the entire area, they determined that kunai plains area at Dobodura should developed instead of Buna Airfield.
On July 21, 1942 the Japanese Army landed at Gona and occupied the Buna area. Immediately, the Japanese began expanding the prewar runway for military use. They constructed aircraft revetments (entai-gou) and anti-aircraft gun emplacements. By early August 1942, Buna Airfield was ready for use as a forward airfield.
On August 14, 1942 three A6M3 Model 32 Zeros from the Tainan Kōkūtai (Tainan Air Group) piloted by 2nd Shotai: Lt(jg) Takeyoshi Ono, FPO1c Sadao Yamashita, FPO3c Masami Arai landed at Buna Airfield. At 7:35 they took off to intercept and shot down B-17E "Chief Seattle" 41-2656. During the attack, Lt(jg) Takeyoshi Ono's Zero was damaged by defensive fire from the bomber.
On August 22, 1942 a detachment of A6M3 Zeros from the 2nd Kōkūtai (2nd Air Group) and Tainan Kōkūtai based at Lakunai Airfield land at Buna Airfield. On August 24, 1942 eight D3A1 Val dive bombers from the 2nd Kōkūtai Bomber Buntai led by Lt Fumito Inoue arrived at Buna Airfield.
On September 3, 1942 A6M3 Zeros from the 2nd Kōkūtai and Tainan Kōkūtai took off from Buna Airfield escort a Japanese convoy from Rabaul bound for Buna as it nears the north coast of New Guinea.
Japanese units based at Buna Airfield
2nd Kōkūtai (A6M3 Zero buntaï) Lakunai arrives August 22, 1942–September 8, 1942 departs Lae
2nd Kōkūtai (D3A2 Val buntai) Lakunai arrives August 24, 1942–August 28, 1942 departs Lae
Tainan Kokutai (A6M3 Zero buntaï) Lakunai / Lae arrives August 22 1942–September 1942 departs Lae
47th Anti-Aircraft Unit
After the Japanese occupied the area, Buna Airfield was targeted by Allied bombers and fighters from Port Moresby. Buna Airfield was only used for roughly two weeks in late August 1942 before Allied bombing and strafing made it untenable and too vulnerable to base aircraft.
By August 28, 1942 the remaining D3A Val dive bombers were withdrawn. In the afternoon of September 8, 1942 the remaining A6M3 Zeros from the 2nd Kōkūtai were withdrawn to Lae Airfield. Afterwards, Japanese anti-aircraft guns continued to defend the airspace around Buna Airfield. Abandoned and wrecked aircraft along the runway repeatedly strafed and bombed by the Allies, believing they were active aircraft.
Allied missions against Buna Airfield
July 23, 1942–January 23, 1943
By late 1942, the had pushed the Japanese Army back to the north coast of New Guinea. To defend the Buna area, the Japanese Army constructed fortifications around Buna Airfield, including trenches and bunkers. During the ground battle, the remaining anti-aircraft guns were used to fire against ground targets.
Buna Airfield Battlefield
During the Battle of Buna, the Buna Airfield area became a battlefield during the battle of Buna. By nightfall the Australian Army 2/10th held about one third of Old Strip. On December 24, 1942 the 2/10th was ordered to continue the advance along the Old Strip supported by four M3 Stuart tanks. The attack began at 9.30 am with the tanks spaced at intervals of fifty yards, the Australians astride Old Strip and an American battalion on the left flank.
M3 Stuart tanks and infantry advanced steadily for half an hour until a concealed Japanese 75mm Type 88 anti-aircraft gun opened fire at short range and knocked out the four tanks in quick succession. The infantry came under heavy fire but at the end of the day only 500 to 700 yards had been gained. Little progress was made on the next two days. The Australian Army 2/10th companies attacking were no larger than platoon strength due to their losses and were frequently subjected to counter attacks.
Captured Japanese aircraft at Buna Airfield
By December 27, 1942 Buna Airfield was finally captured. At Buna Airfield, at least fifteen A6M Zeros plus two G6M1-L2 Betty and at least one D3A1 Val were captured, including two relatively intact aircraft: A6M3 Zero 3028 and A6M3 Zero 3030.
Japanese aircraft captured at Buna Airfield
Listing of aircraft captured on December 27, 1942
After the battle, the best Zeros, engines and parts were transported to the beach, loaded onto barges and shipped to Milne Bay then Brisbane for technical evaluation at Eagle Farm Airfield. From the wreckage recovered a A6M3 Hamp (Hybrid) was restored and test flown. The other wrecks were abandoned and Allied troops cut pieces out as souvenirs.
Afterwards, Buna Airfield was never used by the Allies as a military airfield and was abandoned.
The former airfield is overgrown and disused since the war. No aircraft have used the airfield since. Many overgrown bunkers, trenches and gun pits remain in the area overgrown with kunai grass.
Japanese Type 3 (1914) 76.2 mm Naval Gun
Remains at the airfield.
Japanese Type 3 (1914) 76.2 mm Naval Gun
Recovered for Nimitz Museum in 1973
General Stuart M3 Tank Hull Number 2017
Hit by 76.2mm anti-aircraft gun recovered for Nimitz Museum in 1973
Kodochosho, Tainan Kōkūtai, August 14, 1942
AAF, SWPA Intel. Sum. No. 144, 6 Oct 43
"A total of fifteen A6M3 Zero (Hamps) in various conditions were noted at the strip: 3020, 3021, 3028, 3031, 3032, 3036, 3043, 3044 and two without numbers. Plus two [G6M1-L2] Betty bomber wrecks."
US Army in WWII: Victory in Papua, Chapter IV, pages 50-53
Thanks to Richard Dunn and Edward Rogers for additional information
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