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    Lakunai Airfield (Rabaul East, East Airfield, Rabaul No. 1) East New Britain Province PNG
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IJN February 1942

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Hajime Yoshida c1942

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IJN February 8, 1943

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USAAF c1943

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IJN April 1943

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345th BG Nov 2, 1943

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3rd BG c1943

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8th PRS c1943

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Nippon News Jan 16, 1944

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Ray Fairfield 1966

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David Paulley 1982

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John Douglas 1991

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Justin Taylan 2000
Lakunai Airfield is located to the south of Rabaul on the Gazelle Peninsula at the northeast tip of New Britain. To the north is Sulpher Creek and beyond Rabaul. To the east is Matupi Harbor and further to the east is Tavurvur (Matupi Tavurvur). To the west is Simpson Harbor and to the south is Matupi Island. Also known as "Lakunai Airfield", "Lakunai Drome", "Lakunai Airdrome", "East Airfield", "Rabinjikku" (Rabaul Lower) or "Rabaul No. 1". Between 1884 until September 1914 part of Deutsch Neu Guinea (German New Guinea). Prewar and during the Pacific War part of the Territory of New Guinea. Today located in East New Britain Province in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Built prewar by the Australian administration as a single runway 4,700' in length, surfaced with sand and volcanic ash for use by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and civilian aircraft.

Wartime History
On January 23, 1942 occupied by the Japanese during the invasion of Rabaul. Immediately, the 7th Construction Unit began working to expand and improve the airfield. Know by the Japanese as Rabinjikku (Rabaul Lower).

On February 17, 1942 six A6M2 Zero from Shoho land at Lakunai Airfield and were assigned to the 4th Kōkūtai (4th Ku). These six Zeros were the first Zero land based Rabaul.

By the end of January 1942 two groups of A5M4 Claude fighters arrived to fly Combat Air Patrols (CAP) and missions. Lakunai was expanded with revetments to the north and south of the strip, and taxiways with Tetsuban (landing mat). Volcanic ash from Tavurvur often coated the area with a layer of ash. This airfield was the primary Japanese fighter airstrip at Rabaul until Rapopo Airfield and Tobera Airfield were constructed.

The base had a large compliment of anti-aircraft guns around the strip, and supported by guns emplaced around the airfield and at nearby Matupi Island to the south, and the ridge line at Sulphur Creek to the north. The aerodrome was primarily used by the Japanese Navy. During early 1943, Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) aircraft were also based at this location until August 1943 when most were transferred to Wewak.

Japanese Naval (IJN) units based at Lakunai
4th Kokutai / Chitose Kokutai (A5M4, A6M2) January 31, 1942–February 10, 1942
2nd Kokutai (A6M3 and D3A1) delivered Yawata Maru (Unyō) August 6-22, 1942 Buna / November 1942 Lae
Tainan Kokutai (A6M2) April 1942 detachment to Lae–November 1942
6th Kokutai (A6M2 Zero) Japan via Truk September 1942
501st Kokutai (D4Y Judy) Japan via Truk October 1943
Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) units based at Lakunai
1st Sentai (Ki-43) Truk January 9, 1943
68th Sentai (Ki-61) Truk April 1943
78th Sentai (Ki-61) Truk June 1943
81st Sentai (Ki-46 and Ki-21) 1943

Starting in early 1942, Lakunai was bombed by Allied bombers. Used by the Japanese as an airfield until the remaining aircraft were withdrawn to Truk during February 1944. Afterwards, anti-aircraft defenses remained active at Lakunai until the end of the war. By the end of the war, hundreds of bombing missions were flown against the airfield. At the end of the war, Lakunai Airfield was littered with wrecked aircraft.

American missions against Lakunai
April 11, 1942–June 17, 1944

During September 1945, occupied by Australian forces. Afterwards, repaired for Allied use during September and October.

On November 1, 1945, USMC PBJ Mitchell 35214 took off from Manus and landed at Lakunai Airfield, the first Allied aircraft to land at on the runway since the start of the Pacific War. On October 30, 1945 a RAAF Dakota landed on with a mail for Australian servicemen and fully returned to service by late 1945, and briefly based RAAF No. 8 Squadron Beauforts.

During 1945 until 1994, Lakunai Airfield was used as the main airport for Rabaul. During 1994, the volcanic eruption covered the airport and runway with ash, covering the buildings and rendering the airport unservicable. In anticipation of this, Tokua Airport (New Rabaul Airport) at Tokua was placed into service as the new airport servicing the Rabaul area.

The runway is covered by a layer of ash. Beside the runway is some wreckage of Japanese aircraft, including a well known Ki-21 Sally, and the remains of another Sally and a Ki-43. Although the area was coated in ash the wrecks are still accessible and undamaged, cleared to allow visitors to view them.

Ki-21 Sally
Abandoned at Lakunai, popular tourist site

Ki-48 Lily Manufacture Number 12??
Abandoned at Lakunai, center section only

Ki-43 Oscar
Abandoned at Lakunai, center section only abandoned near Sally

P-39 Airacobra
Pilot Collins MIA March 21, 1944

TDR-1 Attack Drone
Crashed circa October 1944, wreckage destroyed by locals after discovery

Type 89 127mm Anti-Aircraft Gun
Located at the western edge of Lakunai Airfield, overlooking Sulpher Creek

Nippon News "Rabaul Kokutai" January 16, 1944 [film footage]

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Last Updated
December 19, 2022


March 18, 1943

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