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    Rapopo Airfield (Rabaul South, South Airfield, Rabaul No. 3) East New Britain Province PNG
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5th CCU January 5, 1943

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5th AF Jan 21, 1943

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5th AF c1943

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5th AF c1944

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Australian Army
September 19, 1945

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Australian Army
September 28, 1945

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Justin Taylan 2000
Location
Rapopo Airfield was located at Rapopo inland from Lesson Point on the Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain. Also known as "Rapopo Drome" or "Rabaul South" or "South Airfield" or "Rabaul No. 3". The runway ran approximately north to south, with the northern most end terminated at Lesson Point bordering Blanche Bay. Beyond to the northwest is Rabaul. 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).

Prewar
Rapopo Plantation and Ulaveo Plantation were located at this location, planted with coconut palms harvesting copra.

Construction
During late January 1942, occupied by the Japanese. During December 1942, the Japanese began construction of a single runway on Rapopo Plantation and Ulaveo Plantation. Construction methods were primitive, relying on tanks to push down coconut palm trees into trenches dug by hand. By early January 1943 a single runway was largely complete. Afterwards, taxiways and revetments were built on the east and west sides of the runway plus a flyway at the northern end to the tip of Lesson Point.

On January 5, 1943 photographed by a B-17 Flying Fortress with a photographer and cine camera man aboard took an aerial photograph and film footage during the bombing mission bombing Japanese shipping in Blanche Bay. This documentation was the first evidence of a a new runway at this location.

By October 1, 1943 the runway measured 4,350' x 670'. At least (90) bomber sized revetments were located on the east and west sides of the runway.

World War II Pacific Theatre History
On January 5, 1943 a B-17 Flying Fortresses with a photographer and cine camera man aboard during a bombing mission took a photograph and cine footage that revealed the presence of the new runway.

Used by the Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) as a base for medium bombers and twin engine aircraft. Operationally, the runway was plagued with drainage problems, that caused the runway to often be muddy.

Rapopo was defended by 29 heavy, 21 medium and 13 light anti-aircraft guns, supported by five searchlights. During 1943, several bomber Sentai were based at this location. The airfield was also used by the Japanese Navy, with a Zero fighters based here at the height of the Pacific War.

Japanese units based at Rapopo
45th Sentai (Ki-48 Lily) Truk January 23, 1943 detachment Munda transfered Wewak
14th Sentai (36 x Ki-21 Sally) from NEI March 2, 1942 - 1943
20th Dokuritsu Hiko Chutai (Ki-21, Ki-49) from Japan May 43 - ?

During early 1943, Rapopo Airfield was detected by the Allies and repeatedly attacked by American bombers and fighters until the middle of 1944.

American missions against Rapopo Airfield
January 26, 1943–June 23, 1944

On September 8, 1945 Japanese forces on New Britain officially surrendered. Afterwards surviving tanks and vehicles were assembled at Rapopo Airfield. On September 19, 1945 the Australian Army 2/4 Armoured Regiment inspected forty tanks and vehicles were parked in lines including Type 97 Chi Ha medium tanks, Type 95 Ha Go light tanks and amphibious tanks and other vehicles. On September 28, 1945 the surrendered tanks were driven from Rapopo to Rabaul by Japanese drivers with Australian commanders. Afterwards, most were destroyed or abandoned with Type 97 Chi-Ha Shinhoto and Type 97 Te-Ke Tankette transported to Australia as a war prizes and are displayed at the Royal Australian Armoured Corps Museum (RAACM).

Postwar
After the war, abandoned as an airfield. During the middle of the 1980s, the area was replanted with coconut palms for harvesting copra and many of the remaining wartime relics were removed or scrapped. A few relics, including a 37mm cannon from a Ki-45 were recovered for display at the Kokopo War Museum.

Brian Bennett adds:
"What I found interesting was that the Japanese must have been showing some interest in Allied aircraft as i found an electric bomb release switch installed in the bomb bay of what was left of a KI-21 at Rapopo, before the area was re-modeled."

Today
The former airfield was replanted as a coconut and coco plantation. The strip and the entire area was replanted, but revetments and tunnel entrances are still visible. Development saw most of the remaining wartime bits buried or otherwise destroyed. The Rapopo Plantation Resort owned by Brian & Beverly Martin is located to the west of the original runway.

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Last Updated
September 28, 2020

 

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March 12, 1943

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