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    Ballale Airfield (Ballalae, Ballalai) Western Province Solomon Islands
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13th AF January 16, 1943

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USN January 29, 1943


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USAAF February 26, 1943


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8th PRS Feb 27, 1943


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USN March 5, 1943


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USN March 30, 1943


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USN October 11, 1943


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USAAF October 18, 1943


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VD-1 December 6, 1943
Location
Lat 6° 59' 27S Long 155° 53' 12E  Ballale Airfield spans the length of Ballale Island. Prewar and during the Pacific War part of the North Solomons in British Solomon Islands Protectorate (BSIP). Today located in Western Province in Solomon Islands. Still in use today, spelled Ballalae Airport. Also spelled "Ballalae" or "Ballalai" (both present day Solomon Islands spelling) or "Ballale" (World War II Allied spelling).

Prewar
In 1901, Englishman Sam Atkinson purchased the island as free-hold owner. He established a coconut palm plantation harvesting copra that eventually encompassed a total of 307 acres. When Sam Atkinson died in 1931, his wife Edith continued to manage the plantation to was less profitable due to the Great Depression and drop in the price of copra as a commodity. In early 1942, the British Solomon Islands Protectorate (BSIP) government ordered all Europeans evacuated from the Solomons Islands. Edith left the plantation and released the laborers, she hurriedly departed by boat then aboard a ship to Australia. Although she hoped to return quickly, she remained in Australia until the end of World War II.

Construction
On November 3, 1942 the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), 18th Construction Battalion landed on Ballale Island to begin building an airfield with a contingent of 370 personnel later augmented by local people augmented by 517 British Prisoners Of War (British POWs) were transported to Ballale Island as laborers.

The Japanese built a single runway that spanned the length of the island oriented roughly northeast to southwest surfaced with crushed coral. Since most of the island was planted with rows of coconut palms, the palm trees were simply cut down at the base and the logs removed. Drainage ditches from the plantation were expanded to remove rain water from rain storms. By January 1943, the runway was completed. Taxiway loops and plus revetments (entaigo) for fighters and bombers were added to each side of the runway. Landing mat were added to taxiways and revetments and to provide extra traction in wet areas.

Wartime History
The Japanese code named Ballale Island and Ballale Airfield with the three letter signifier "RXZ". On January 9, 1943 the first aircraft to land on the new runway was G3M2 Nell piloted by Iwasaki. During 1943, Ballale Airfield was further developed and used as a forward airfield for Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) bombers and fighters. Later, Ballale Airfield was also used by Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) fighters and bombers.

Ballale Airfield and the garrison defending Ballale Island were both Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) personnel. The construction and anti-aircraft defenses were Navy personnel.

Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) units based at Ballale
2nd Carrier Division (Vice-Admiral Kakuji Kakuda) HQ Rabaul forward base Ballale for missions over Guadalcanal
Zuiho Sentouki-tai (18 x A6M Zero detachment) I-Operation on April 6, 1943 Rabaul
Hiyo Sentouki-tai (A6M Zero detachment) I-Operation April 7, 1943 Rabaul
204 Kokutai (A6M Zero detachment)
251 Kokutai (J1N1 Irving detachment) June 30, 1943–Oct 12, 1943
702 Kokutai (G4M1 Betty detachment) middle May 1943 - June 30, 1943 Vunakanau
705 Kokutai (G4M1 Betty detachment)
Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) units based at Ballale
11th Sentai (Ki-43-I Oscar detachment) January 27, 1943 raid to Guadalcanal
Japanese base defense units
18th Construction Battalion November 3, 1942–January 1943
6th Kure Chinjufu (3 x 12cm Naval Guns: Talahashi Group, Kanehara Group)
7th Yokosuka Chinjufu Miyake (4 x 7cm anti-aircraft guns)
13th Anti-Aircraft Group (Imoo Group)

British Prisoner Of War (POWs)
A contingent of 517 British Prisoners Of War (British POWs) that surrendered in February 1942 in Singapore detained at Changi POW Camp then shipped to Rabaul were transported to Ballale where they performed manual labor for the Japanese without medicine and were forbidden from digging air raid shelters. Many died from harsh treatment or during Allied bombing raids. The remainder were all killed around March 1943 when the airfield was completed and Japanese feared an Allied landing in the area. In addition, Chinese and Solomon Islander from the surrounding area labored for the Japanese on Ballale.

Height of Ballale
The height of Ballale Airfield was during early 943, when it was used for bombers and fighter detachments (Southern Area Fleet Nanha Momen Kantai).  During early April 1943 during Operation I-Go, Allied intelligence reported 95 aircraft on the island on April 6, 1943. Also on May 13, intelligence observed 96 fighters and one bomber, according to USMC records.

Destination Admiral Yamamoto Never Reached
After Operation I-Go, Admiral Yamamoto and his staff planned to inspect forward airfields to boost morale and praise the Army-Navy cooperation. On April 18, 1943 at 6:00am, two bombers: G4M1 Betty 2656 and G4M1 Tail 326 took off from Lakunai Airfield near Rabaul on a flight scheduled to arrive at Ballale Airfield at 8:00am. Instead, both bombers were shot down by P-38 Lightnings. G4M1 Betty 2656 with Admiral Yamamoto aboard was shot down over Bougainville. The other G4M1 Tail 326 with Admiral Ugaki aboard was shot down in the sea off Moila Point on Bougainville.

Allied Aerial Assault
Discovered by the Allies in the middle of January 1943, hundreds of bombing missions and fighter sweeps targeted the airfield. After the November 1, 1944 U. S. amphibious landing at Torokina on Bougainville, Ballale was was bypassed and left to 'wither on a vine'.

American missions against Ballale
January 15, 1943–October 19, 1944

Tom Blackburn in VF-17 The Jolly Rogers recalls the accuracy of AA:
"Dubbed 'Ballale Postgraduate School for Frustrated Anti-Aircraft gunners'. On the way home from missions we would strafe Ballale. I was never convinced that we did enough damage to warrant the risks, but I am certain our on going efforts inflicted psychological damage. Still I am not sure that it was worth the deaths sustained at the hands of their anti-aircraft gunners."

By the middle 1943, the Japanese feared an American invasion of the island, due to increased bombing raids and sea bombardments. Around the middle of 1943, the remaining Solomon Islander laborers were sent away, and the Japanese executed the remaining British POWs. They buried their bodies in a mass grave, so as not to attract attention from cremation smoke. Later garrisons were made to believe or lied, saying they believed the graves were Japanese.

Neutralization
By the middle of October 1943, Ballale Airfield was neutralized as a forward airfield by American bombing and strafing and the remaining aircraft in flyable condition were withdrawn northward. Although neutralized as an active airfield, anti-aircraft guns were still a threat.

Cut off from resupply or reinforcement, the remaining garrison began cultivate crops to sustain themselves. Some Japanese attempted to swim northward on empty fuel drums to join Japanese forces on southern Bougainville. At the end of the Pacific War, the island's garrison was 480 Japanese defenders manning the remaining guns (321 from the 6th Kure SNLF and 159 from the 7th Yokosuka SNLF).

Postwar
On November 10, 1945 the first Allied troops to visit the island were elements of the Australian Army 7 Infantry Battalion. The landing party included Lt. General V. A. H. Sturdee (1st Army) and Brigadier A. W. Potts (23 Infantry Brigade). Ashore, the Australians immediately located the bodies of 57 prisoners killed on the island, and buried in shallow trenches. An atrocities commission was carried out on the island, that eventually led to the discovery of a mass grave of 436 bodies were exhumed with artifacts identifying them as British artillerymen, brought to Ballale from Singapore, where they surrendered in February 1942. They were re-interred in individual graves at the Bomama War Cemetery near Port Moresby, PNG. The remainder of the 517 British POWs have never been found.

Repair by British Government
After the war, the strip was abandoned until 1973 when it was reopened by a grant from the British Colonial government. School children from the nearby Nila Catholic church were used to first clear the runway of bush and move live ordinance. Later, British engineers completed the work, and built a small terminal at the southern end of the strip and dock (now broken) for small boats.

Michael Claringbould visited Ballale in 1977:
"The Japanese workshops still had tools hanging on the walls. Bulldozers, steamrollers, aircraft everywhere, you would not have believed it - frozen in time."

Allan Dickes (grandson of Sam Atkinson) recalls:
"The most ironic memento of failed imperial ambition was a 'Betty" bomber on whose canopy a ficus had seeded, Its roots had wrapped around the fuselage and now lift the plane skyward once again! Nearby is the up tilted carcass of a 'Zero'. Half the fuselage is buried by soil thrown up by a nearby crater, the 'Rising Sun' emblem, still faintly discernible, is neatly bisected by the soil. The sun had surely set on that one!"

Today
Ballalae Airport is in limited use today by Solomon Airlines with bi-weekly flights providing air service to the Shortland area. Airport codes: IATA: BAS, ICAO: AGGE. The runway is 5' above sea level. Aside from passengers on the bi-weekly flights, no one lives on Ballale, and the rest of the island has reverted to dense jungle. Full of swamp and dense jungle, Ballale is notorious for scrub typhus, and other varieties of insects, diseases and dangers. Two anthologist that stayed overnight on the island, and died soon afterwards from the tropical aliments. Others report strange rashes, bites and infections from insects of the island.

On April 2, 2007, an 8.1 earthquake caused a tsunami tidal wave that impacted many areas of Western Province. Ballale Island's northeastern coast was hit by a tidal wave of undetermined size or strength that knocked over trees. caused flooding and impacted several wrecks in that portion of the island.

Mass Grave of British POW & Memorial
When Australian forces arrived on the island in November 1945, 436 bodies were exhumed with artifacts that identified them as British artillerymen. They were exhumed and temporarily buried at the nearest Allied War Cemetery at Torokina. Later, they were permanently re-interred at Bomama War Cemetery outside Port Moresby, and are also memorialized on MIA Tablets at Singapore. In July 2003, relatives of the POWs visited the island and erected a memorial to them next to the terminal.

List of British Prisoners Killed on Ballale
Are you a relative? Contact Us to add name

Aircraft Salvaged from Ballale
Robert Diemert 1968, Patrick Murphy 1990s, Craig Turner 2005 and Warbird Restoration Pty Ltd 2018
Broken Wings of Ballale - The Tragic Salvage History of the Last Undisturbed World War II Airfield

D3A2 Val Manufacture Number 3178
Salvaged by Robert Diemert in 1968, restored to flying condition in storage at Planes of Fame

A6M2 Zero Manufacture Number 5356 Tail EII-102
Salvaged by Robert Diemert in 1968 restored to fly with the CAF

A6M2 Zero Manufacture Number 5450 Tail EII-140
Salvaged by Robert Diemert in 1968 static restored at NMNA

A6M3 Zero Manufacture Number 3471
Salvaged by Robert Diemert in 1968

A6M3 Zero Manufacture Number 3285 Tail 3-174 (?-134)
Tail pieces salvaged by Robert Diemert in 1968

A6M3 Model 22 Zero
Remained in situ possibly parts salvaged in 1968 rest salvaged by Craig Turner November 6, 2007

References
Ballale Naval Engineering Group by Kotaro Sato
OneNews "Shortland & Ballalae Aircraft Salvage" November 20, 2007
GJD Services - Solomon's via WaybackMachine February 28, 2008
COFEPOW - "The Gunners 600"
COFEPOW - The Ballale Island Gunners via WayBackMachine January 15, 2017

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Last Updated
June 20, 2020

 

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October 25, 1943

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