Lat 9° 25' 41S 160° 3' 17E Henderson Field is located inland from the north coast of Guadalcanal between the Lunga River to the west and Ilu River to the east. To the south is Bloody Ridge (Edson's Ridge, Raider Ridge) and further inland is Mount Austen (Grassy Knoll). Known to the Japanese as "Lunga Point Airfield". Known to the Americans as "Henderson Field" and later "Bomber 1". Today known as "Honiara Airport" or "Honiara International Airport" with Honiara further to the west.
Known to the Japanese as as "Lunga Point Airfield", "Runga Point Airfield" with code named RXI. In May 1942 occupied by the Japanese and surveyed as an airfield. Once operation, this airfield
would allow Japanese aircraft to patrol the southern Solomons, shipping
lanes to Australia and
flank of New Guinea.
There were two major construction units involved in building the airfield. The Hama Construction Unit had 1,379 men and 1,145 men in another unit, arriving on July 6, 1942. This team was originally scheduled to work on Midway Airfield, but it failed to be captured due to the Japanese defeat during the Battle of Midway. After July 9, 1942 work commenced on the airfield. The construction activity was observed and reported by coastwatcher to the Allies and the development spawned American plans to capture this airfield before it could become operational.
During the middle of July 1942, roughly 250 additional civilians from the Hama Construction Unit arrived under the command of Inouree Hama, who had had 50 men on Gavutu previously. Also specialists from the 14th Encampment Corps that had established the radio stations on Tulagi and Gavutu and Guadalcanal plus installation of a search radar. Local Guadalcanal laborers were used to provide manpower during the construction.
The Japanese construction proceeded rapidly including a single runway, taxiway and dispersal area plus structure (later dubbed "The Pagoda" by the Americans). During the night of August 6, 1942 prior to the American landing at Beach Red, the construction personnel were given an extra sake ration for completing construction ahead of schedule. No Japanese aircraft are known to have ever landed on the runway. If used, this airfield would allow Japanese aircraft to patrol far to the south menacing the surrounding Pacific Ocean area.
American missions against Lunga Point Airfield
July 31, 1942 - August 7, 1942
On August 7, 1942 Lunga Point Airfield was the
objective of the US Marine Corps (USMC) amphibious landing at Beach Red (Red Beach) on Guadalcanal. Caught by surprise, the Japanese did not demolish the radio station, food stocks or construction equipment before they fled westward. Advancing from Beach Read, the 5th Marines advanced along the north coast while the 1st Marines moved inland advancing along the Tenaru River. By 4:00pm, the Marines captured the airfield area.
Over the next five days, American personnel worked to repair the runway and used captured construction equipment including a Japanese steam roller. On August 12, 1942 PBY Catalina piloted by William S. Sampson, USN, personal aide to Admiral
John McCain was the first American aircraft to land at Lunga Point Airfield. Simpson had been instructed to land in the sea off shore,
but feigned an engine failure to become the first American aircraft to land at the captured airfield. After landing a survey team, the Catalina took off with two wounded Americans aboard including Lt. James "Pug" Southerland.
During the middle of August 1942 Lunga Point Airfield was renamed "Henderson Field" in honor of Major Lofton Henderson pilot of SBD-2 Dauntless 2129 Missing In Action (MIA) June 4, 1942 during the Battle of Midway. Later, when the American built other airfields on Guadalcanal, it also became known as "Bomber 1".
During the Guadalcanal campaign, the Japanese failed to recapture the airfield during the Battle of the Tenaru (Alligator Creek) on August 21-22, 1942 and Battle of Bloody Ridge (Edson's Ridge) during September 12-14, 1942. During the Guadalcanal campaign, Japanese aircraft bombed from the air and Japanese Navy vessels bombarded from Iron Bottom Sound.
Japanese missions against Henderson Field
Expanded and completed by
US Navy 6th Naval Construction Battalion (Seabees), the first
aircraft, a PBY Catalina
landed on the airfield on August 20, to evacuate two wounded
soldiers. On August 22, 1942 after the Battle of the Tenaru, fighter aircraft operating from the new airfield strafed surviving Japanese on the east bank of the river.
Stocks of aviation fuel began arriving at Henderson Field by the middle of October 1942 by ship and aircraft. Later, a second strip, Fighter
2 (Kukum Field) was built to
the west. Later, other strips were built including Fighter 1 (Lunga Field) parallel to the the east and Crash Strip (The Grassy Strip) and Fighter 3 (Emergency Field).
Allied units based at Henderson
United States Navy (USN)
VF-5 (F4F) September 1942
VC-40 (SBD, TBF)
VMSB-131 (Avenger) 1943
VF-26 (F4F) Mar 10 - April 25 & June 26 - Aug 5, 1943
VF-27 (F4F) Mar 10 - April 25 & June 26 - Aug 5, 1943
VF-28 (F4F) Mar 10 - April 25 & June 26 - Aug 5, 1943
Carrier Air Group 11 (CAG 11)
VF-11 (VB-11) 1943
VB-21 (SBD) 1943
VT-11 (TBF Avenger) 1943
CASU-11 (Carrier Aircraft Service Unit 11) Feb 1943 -
VS-54 (SBD, OS2U) June 11, 1943 - August 3, 1944
U. S. Marine Corps (USMC)
VMTB-132 (SBD) Oct 30 - Dec 24, 1942
VMTB-233 (SBD / TBF) August 1943 -
October 29, 1943
VMF-121 (F4F) October 1942
VMF-122 "Wolf Pack" (F4U) May 1943 - July 28,
1943 - 3rd tour
VMF-122 (F4U) June 1943 - July 23, 1943 - 1st MAW
VMF-124 (F4U) April 4, 1943 - ?
VMSB-132 (SBD) June 23, 1943 - Aug 2, 1943 - 3rd tour
VMSB-143 (TBF) November 12, 1942 - ? Munda
VMSB-144 (SBD-3) June 13, 1943 - June 26, 1943 then to
VMSB-236 (SBD) Espiritu Santo Nov 43 - Nov 25, 1943 to Munda
MABS-1 (Marine Air Base Squad-1) Feb 1, 1943 - Nov 43 to Ondonga
U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF)
11th BG, 26th BS (B-17 forward echelon) Bauer Field (Port Vila) September 1, 1942
15th FG, 44th FS (P-40)
38th BG, 70th BS (B-26) Fiji January - Feb 4, 1943 Fiji
42nd BG, 69th BS (B-26, B-25) Bauer Field (Port Vila) January - October 1943 Plaine Des Gaiacs
42nd BG, 75th BS (B-25) ? - Oct 21, 1943 Renard
38th BG, 70th BS (B-25) Fiji ? -
Oct 22, 43 Russells
67th FS (P-39) New Caledonia Aug 22, 42 - June
42nd BG, 390th BS (B-25) Fiji May 11 - Oct 22, 1943 Renard
403rd TCG, 64th TCS (C-47) Espiritu Santo November 1, 1943 - September 16, 1944 Biak
Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF)
3 Squadron (6 x Hudson) from Espiritu Santo Nov 23, 1942
1 Squadron (PV-1) replaced 3 Squadron
Henderson Field was abandoned after the
war, and only Kukum Airfield (Fighter 2) remained in use.
The field was modernized and reopened in 1969 as the
main airport for Guadalcanal and as the point of entry for the Solomon Islands. In the late 1970's the runway
was expanded and lengthened.
In 2003, there
was rumors that the name "Henderson Field" would be changed
to "Honiara International Airport" and this resulted in
a petition to Keep
Guadalcanal's Henderson Field Name. During 2004, the name was officially changed to "Honiara International Airport / Henderson Field".
Today, Honiara Airport has a single runway oriented 24/06 measuring 7,218' x 148' surfaced with asphalt. Airport codes: ICAO: AGGH, IATA: HIR. Used by Solomon Airlines for daily regional flights around the Solomons Islands plus international flights by Solomon Airlines, Virgin Australia and Air Niugini.
75mm Type 88 Anti-Aircraft Gun Serial 1252
Displayed outside the International Terminal
The Pagoda (Pagoda Hill)
During July 1942, this structure was built by the Japanese on a small rise to the north of the runway. Captured by USMC and nicknamed 'The Pagoda'. The building was used as a flight operations hut. Nearby was a flagpole.
signals recalls 1942:
"At the time everyone, regardless of rank
or rate was expected to do everything in one's power to
rescue any who needed such, to drain fuel from damaged aircraft for use in flyable
craft, to drag damaged equipment out of the way of aircraft seeking to land or
take off from Henderson Field, to help Seabees fill in bomb or shell holes
on the strip itself, to aid in replacement of mars ton matting
or anything else that desperately need to be done."
In early October, its radio equipment was moved into the newly dug radio tunnel. After the Japanese bombardment on October 13-14, 1942 General Geiger concluded that the roof was reflecting the flares and it was being used as a registration point, so ordered it be bulldozed over the side of the hill. Later, this area was developed with other buildings to support the airfield.
Henderson Field Control Tower (1943)
tower is not
one from the initial Guadalcanal campaign, that was made of wood and was torn down during the war. This tower was built in 1943 and made of metal beams with wooden guard rails around the top. In 1998, only one wooden rail remained in place. This control tower is still standing to this day. At the base is a small memorial pillar dedicated to the 6th Seabees Memorial.
Henderson Field Radio Tunnel
Excavated by the Americans and used as the signals and radio station for the airfield, after "The Pagoda" was demolished in middle October, 1942.
Hotel de Gink
A term applied to transient quarters used by air crews or individuals required to stay over for some reason, not permanently assigned. I think it was a generic term applicable to locations other than Guadalcanal as well. Robert Porter adds: "'Gink' is a somewhat derogatory slang term for a vagabond person so the whole thing was a humorous commentary on the very basic accommodations provided for the hapless travelers concerned. Leaky tents, muddy floors, and bad chow were the norm."
Solomon Islands Memorial Garden
Near the airport terminal, 500 Carilla trees were planted in rows dedicated as the "Solomon Islands Memorial" to commemorate World War II. Carilla tree was chosen as their drooping branches represent soldiers standing to attention.
Marine Corps Chevron, Volume 2, Number 51, 25 December 1943 "Betio Airfield Named For Hero Of Bloody Fight"
"Henderson Field on Guadalcanal was named for Maj. Lofton R. Henderson, commanding officer of a dive bomber squadron."
U. S. Marine Corps in World War II page 77 (footnote 7)
South Pacific Tourism Organization "APTC Solomon Islands Alumni assist with cleaning of memorial garden" June 7, 2017
Thanks to John Innes, Peter Flahavin,
Ewan Stevenson and Stan Jersey for additional information.
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October 21, 2018