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Guinea Airways, c1931
Amelia Earhart departs
July 2, 1937
USN March 10, 1942
3rd BG c1942
22nd BG Jan 8, 1943
5th AF June 1943
US Army September 1943
Irving October 11, 1943
5th AF January 23, 1944
Justin Taylan 2003
Phil Bradley 1997
Justin Taylan 2003
Lae Airfield is located at Lae on the north coast of New Guinea. The single runway runs east to west, with the eastern end facing Huon Gulf and the western end terminating into hills. Also known as Lae Drome or Lae Aerodrome.
During 1927 a single runway was built at this location by Australian Cecil Levien using 250 native laborers. That same year, de Havilland DH-4 piloted by Ray Parer took off from Rabaul and made the first landing at Lae Airfield. On April 19, 1927 de Havilland DH-37 owned by Guinea Gold piloted by Lt. Ernest "Pard" Mustar took off from Lae Airfield and made the first landing at Wau Airfield.
Between 1927 until the start of the Pacific War, Lae Airfield was the staging base and important link for air service between Lae Airfield and Bulolo Airfield and Wau Airfield near the gold fields. During this period, Guinea Airways operated four Junkers G.31 Tri-Motors based at Lae for the Bulolo Gold Dredging Company. Also, several Ford Trimotors and Junkers W34 operated from Lae. By the late 1930s, the facilities included several hangers and a large crane for loading cargo into aircraft.
Lae Airfield is most famous for its distinction as being the last airfield Amelia Earhart took off from during her attempt to fly around the world. On July 2, 1937, Model 10 Electra 1055 piloted by aviatrix Amelia Earhart and navigator Frederick Noonnan took off from Lae Airfield bound for Kamakaiwi Airfield on Howland Island as part of her around the world flight.
World War II Pacific Theatre History
By early 1942, the single runway was 1350 x 25 x 25 yards with good approaches, surfaced with crushed stone.
On March 8, 1942 occupied by the Japanese and immediately put to use by Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft. On March 10, 1942 US Navy Task Force 11 (TF-11) SBD Dauntless dive bombers sank Tenyo Maru into Huon Gulf with the bow of the shipwreck above the surface and clearly visible from the southern end of Lae Airfield.
During April 1942, the Tainan Kokutai arrived with A6M2 Zero fighters. Description of Lae Airfield on April 5, 1942 by Saburo Sakai. The 22nd Airfield Battalion supported flight operations at the airfield.
Japanese units based at Lae Airfield
Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN)
Tainan Kokutai (A6M2 Zero) Lakunai April 1942–July 1942
Mihoro Kokutai (G3M Nell)
Genzan Kokutai (G3M Nell)
582 Kokutai (D3A Val & A6M2 Zero) Lakunai middle November 1942 - ?
Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF)
1st Sentai (Ki-43 Oscar) March 1943
11th Sentai (Ki-43 Oscar) early 1943
83rd Dokuritsu Chutai / 83rd Independent Air Chutai (Ki-51A Sonia) Wewak / Madang May 13 - September 1943
During 1942 until liberated in the middle of September 1943 Lae Airfield was heavily bombed and strafed by Allied aircraft. In total, hundreds of missions were flown against Lae and Lae Airfield over this one and a half year period.
Japanese and Allied missions against Lae
February 5, 1942–September 28, 1943
During late September 1943, the Australian Army occupied Lae and Lae Airfield. Many derelict Japanese aircraft were abandoned at Lae Airfield in various states. The wreckage was examined Allied Technical Air Intelligence Unit (TAIU) for technical intelligence about Japanese aircraft. At least one captured aircraft, Ki-43-I Oscar XJ002 was shipped to Australia and was repaired to airworthy status. Afterwards, the remaining aircraft were moved into a pile and abandoned and many Allied personnel took pieces as souvenirs.
Japanese aircraft wreckage captured at Lae
List of Japanese aircraft captured at Lae Airfield
September 27, 1943 B-25 Mitchell #320 Richard H. "Red" Davis 3rd BG, 90th BS damaged over Wewak land at Lae Airfield on one engine. Afterwards, repaired and flown back to Dobodura.
On October 1, 1943 a B-25 Mitchell from the 3rd BG, 90th BS landed at Lae Airfield with three pilots including 1st Lt. Clifford L. Wonderly who inspected and photographed the wrecked Japanese aircraft.
Hardships: An Airman's Sketchbook by Robert Pierce American Heritage vol. 42 no. 8 (December 1991)
"...later in the month [circa September 1943] some of us actually landed at Lae and had a look around. From the time we had arrived in New Guinea, Lae had been like Tokyo to us, a fearful place to be avoided. By the time we got there, it was a depressing and desolate scene. Wrecked planes were everywhere, lying in the ruined state that only a piece of machinery as refined and immaculate as an airplane can achieve. Over everything hung a horrible stench that had to come from newly buried bodies. I sat in a Zero and poked into the devastated interior of the officers' quarters. Everything was in a shambles; clothing, blankets, rice bowls were strewn in the unmistakable signs of a hurried departure, along with a game of Chinese checkers, a broken phonograph record ("Palais Glide"). We picked our way around, afraid to touch anything, feeling very much like scavenging ghouls."
During the remainder of the war, the Allies used Lae Airfield for smaller aircraft, with the larger types using Nadzab Airfield, the main American base in the area.
Allied units based at Lae
71st TRG, 25th Liaison Squadron (L-5, F-5) Brisbane Jan 23 - Feb 16, 44 Nadzab (det Gusap)
6th Photo Recon Group, 25th Photo Recon Squadron (F5) Brisbane Feb 3-7, 1944 Nadzab
512th Photographic Wing (L-5) Jan 23, 1944
HQ 309th Bombardment Wing (B-24) activated Feb 1 - March 1, 1944 to Saidor
Lae Airfield continued to be used by civilian aircraft from TAA and Air Niugini. The largest passenger aircraft to use Lae was a Lockheed Turboprop Electra.
183 Reconnaissance Flight (2 x Porters and 4 x Bell 47 G3B1's Sioux) July 1968 - January 1971
Lae Airfield was closed during October 1987, in favor of Nadzab Airfield, which was able to accommodate larger aircraft. When the airport closed, there were three derelict DC-3's (formally C-47s with RAAF and/or USAAF service) at Lae Airfield.
After closure, the former runway and airport facilities still remained, but was slowly built over. Today, a road crosses over the center of the former runway.
Japanese 76.2mm Anti-Aircraft Gun Type 3 (1914)
Displayed at the side of the strip. This is the only wartime relic present at the former airfield that is easily accessible.
C-47B Dakota 43-49376 (DC-3 P2-006)
After force landing near Nadzab, transported to Lae Airfield in late 1981 and stripped for usable parts.
C-47 Dakota VH-SBI
Displayed at Lae Airfield from April 20, 1975 ultimate fate unknown.
Amelia Earhart Memorial
There is a small Amelia Earhart memorial at Lae Airfield. The plaque reads: "Amelia Earhart Memorial unveiled by his excellency Sir Kingsford Dibela Governor-General of Papua New Guinea on 2nd July 1997 In honor of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonnan whose historic flight departed Lae for Howland Island on 2nd July 1937 memorial donated by Air Niugini" By 2003, the memorial plaque was stolen.
Notes about New Guinea airfields, recorded circa May - July, 1942 by Oliver C. Doan via Jean Doan research Edward Rogers
The Battle for Wau pages 1-2
Samurai! pages 77-79 includes description of Lae Airfield on April 5, 1942
Thanks to Richard Leahy, Phil Bradley, Edward Rogers and Richard Dunn for additional information
September 30, 1942
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