Pacific Wrecks
Pacific Wrecks   Donate Now  
Search Chronology Locations Aircraft Vessels Missing In Action (MIA)
 
    Vunakanau Airfield (Rabaul West, West Airfield, Rabaul Upper) ENB PNG

Click For Enlargement
43rd BG January 5, 1943

Click For Enlargement
5th AF c1943

Click For Enlargement
5th AF c1943

Click For Enlargement

8th PRS May 1943

Click For Enlargement
September 11, 1943

Click For Enlargement
345th BG Oct 12, 1943

Click For Enlargement
RNZAF August 1945

Click For Enlargement
Click For Enlargement
Justin Taylan 2000

Click For Enlargement
Click For Enlargement
Justin Taylan 2006

Location
Lat 152° 8' Long 4° 19'  Vunakanau Airfield is located approximately ten miles southwest of Rabaul. Known as "Vunakanau Drome". Known to the Japanese as "Rabaul West" or "West Airfield" or "Rabaul Upper Airfield" or "Rabaul No. 2".

Construction
Built prewar by the Australian administration as a single unpaved runway with a single building.

World War II Pacific Theatre History
During early 1942, Vunakanau Airfield was used by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) by 24 Squadron operating ten Wirraways and four Hudson. with some aircraft operating from Lakunai Airfield.

Australian units based at Vunakanau
24 Squadron (10 x Wirraway, 4 x Hudson)

On January 20, 1942 eight Wirraways attempted to intercept over a hundred Japanese aircraft attacking Rabaul. The defending Wirraways were shot down, damaged or abandoned afterwards. Before the base fell to the Japanese, the CO, Squadron Leader J. M. Lerew sent the message "Nos Morituri Te Salutamus" (Latin: "We who are about to die salute you") to RAAF Headquarters at Melbourne.

On January 22, 1942 last 24 Squadron Hudson loaded with wounded took off from Vunakanau bound for Port Moresby. Afterwards, Vunakanau Airfield was abandoned with several damaged Wirraway abandoned.

Japanese missions against Vunakanau Airfield
January 6-20, 1942

Japanese Usage
During late January 1942, Vunakanau Airfield was occupied by the Japanese when they occupied the Rabaul area. Immediately, construction began to repair and expand the runway for use as the main Japanese bomber airfield at Rabaul. During February 14-17, 1942 G4M1 Betty bombers from the 4th Kokutai arrived at Vunakanau Airfield.

During 1942-1943, Vunakanau Airfield was expanded and improvied by the Japanese. As of November 10, 1943 Vunakanau Airfield had two parallel runways 5,100' in length with taxiways and revetments on both sides, including 64 bomber and 81 fighter revetments. Allied intelligence noted defenses including 15 heavy anti-aircraft guns, 14 medium anti-aircraft guns and 12 light machine guns plus three searchlight batteries.

Japanese Naval units based at Vunakanau
4th Kokutai (G4M1) Feb 14-18, 1942 - ?
Misawa Kokutai (9 x G4M1) Aug 7, 1942 - Oct 1942
705 Kokutai (G4M1 formerly Misawa) Jan 1943 - April 1943
702 Kokutai (G4M1 Betty) Kisarazu via Tinian early May 1943 - December 11, 1943 disbanded crews 751 Kokutai
751 Kokutai (G4M Betty) Oct 11,  42 - May 1943
Tainan Kokutai (A6M Zero) April 1942 - November 1942 also Lakunai
251 Kokutai (former Tainan Kokutai A6M Zero / J1N1 Irving) Nov 1942 - middle 1943
Japanese Army Air Force units based at Vunakanau
1st Sentai (Ki-43 Oscar) January - August 1943
11th Sentai (Ki-43 Oscar) December 18, 1942 - June 1943 to Wewak
13th Sentai (Ki-45 Nick) May - September 1943
68th Sentai (Ki-61 Tony) April - July 1943 to Wewak
78th Sentai (Ki-61 Tony) June - July 1943 to Wewak

Allied missions against Vunakanau Airfield
January 22, 1942 - June 2, 1944

During 1942 until the end of the war, Allied aircraft attacked Vunakanau Airfield bombing raids and low level attacks. On February 14, 1944 the remaining flyable aircraft were evacuated to Truk. Anti-aircraft defenses remained active until the end of the Pacific War.

Postwar
One of the two runways was maintained until 1983, as an emergency landing strip for Rabaul. It was no longer maintained when Tokua Airfield was built.

Today
The runways are overgrown, but still visible. Not much of the Japanese airbase complex remains, except for a few tracks that follow the runway and taxiways. Much of the remaining wreckage was transported to the Kokopo Museum.

Catholic Mission
Behind the mission were radio racks from an underground communications center discovered in the 1970s at Malmaluan.

A6M? Zero Tail Number 322
635 Kokutai. Wreckage of tail with original paint and tail section.

Ki-43-I Oscar Manufacture Number 750
Located November 1945, captured as war prize

CAC Wirraway
Located in the vicinity, recovered to the Kokopo Museum

References
Memories Of New Guinea by Harry Morris

Contribute Information
Do you have photos or additional information to add?

Last Updated
May 22, 2017

 

Map
Map
May 24, 1943

Google Earth
View in Google Earth

Photos
Photo Archive

    All rights reserved.  
  Pacific Wrecks Inc. is a non-profit 501(c)(3) charity dedicated to bringing home those Missing In Action (MIA) and leveraging new technologies in the study of World War II Pacific and the Korean War.  
Facebook Twitter YouTube Google Plus Instagram
 
Forum Updates People Museums Reviews Submit Info How You Can Help