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USN August 7, 1942
USMC August 1942
USN August 12, 1942
USMC October 1942
USN October 14, 1942
USN April 11, 1943
USN October 1943
July 24, 1947
David Paulley 1982
Peter Flahavin 1999
Justin Taylan 2003
John Laird 2003
Peter Flahavin 1999
Justin Taylan 2003
Lat 9° 25' 41S 160° 3' 17E Henderson Field is located at 28' above sea level inland from Lunga Point on the north coast of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Located 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". Prewar and during the Pacific War part of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate (BSIP). Still in use today as Honiara International Airport or Honiara Airport in Guadalcanal Province in the Solomon Islands. Further to the west is Honiara.
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 the eastern flank of New Guinea.
There were two major construction units involved in building the airfield. The Hama Construction Unit command of Inouree Hama had 1,379 men plus 1,145 men from another unit arrived from Gavutu on July 6, 1942. This team was originally scheduled to land on Midway Airfield, but when the Japanese were defeated during the Battle of Midway, the unit was diverted to this location.
On July 9, 1942 the Kotoku Maru lands 250 personnel from the Hara Construction Force and security troops on Guadalcanal and commence airfield construction at this location.
Japanese construction commenced at this location. The Japanese used local laborers from Guadalcanal to provide additional manpower. The construction activity was observed and reported by coastwatcher to the Allies and the development spurred American plans to capture the airfield before it could become operational.
The Japanese construction proceeded rapidly building a single runway, taxiway and dispersal area and a wooden structure (later nicknamed "The Pagoda" by the Americans). Specialists from the 14th Encampment Corps established a radio stations on Guadalcanal and a search radar on the ridge behind the runway. Previously they had built radio stations at Gavutu and Guadalcanal. Emplaced were 75mm anti-aircraft guns to defend the airspace.
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) 1st Marine Division (1st MAR DIV) amphibious landing at Beach Red (Red Beach) on Guadalcanal. Caught by surprise, the Japanese did not fled to the west without demolishing the radio station, food stocks or construction. Advancing from Beach Read, the 5th Marines advanced along the north coast while the 1st Marines moved inland advancing to the edge of the Ilu 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 plane to land at Lunga Point Airfield. Simpson had been instructed to land in the sea off shore, but feigned an engine failure for the honor of becoming the first plane to land on the captured runway. After landing a survey team, the Catalina took off with two wounded aboard including pilot 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 aircraft bombed the airfield and warships conducted shore bombardments to knock it out of operation. On the ground, the Japanese Army offensives failed to breech the U.S. perimeter to capture Henderson Field. The first attempt was the Battle of the Tenaru (Alligator Creek) between August 21-22, 1942. Next was the Battle of Bloody Ridge (Edson's Ridge) between September 12-14, 1942.
Japanese missions against Henderson Field
August 25, 1942–June 16, 1943
On October 14, 1942 at 1:37am a Japanese battleships Kongō and Haruna commenced a shore bombardment of Henderson Field firing a total of 918 shells including High Explosive (HE) and San Shiki (Sanshikidan) then switched to less effective Armor Piercing (AP). During the bombardment, Isuzu and destroyers provides cover firing on shore gun batteries. The force steams eastward passing Lunga Point firing to starboard, then made a 180 degree turn and fires to port while departing. On the ground, the shelling damaged the two runways, burned fuel and destroyed 48 parked planes and resulted in 41 Killed In Action (KIA).
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)
VF-26 (F4F) March 10, 1943–April 25, 1943 returns June 26, 1943–August 5, 1943
VF-27 (F4F) March 10, 1943–April 25, 1943 returns June 26, 1943–August 5, 1943
VF-28 (F4F) March 10, 1943–April 25, 1943 returns June 26, 1943–August 5, 1943
Carrier Air Group 11 (CAG 11)
VF-11 (VB-11) 1943
VT-11 (TBF Avenger) 1943
VB-21 (SBD) 1943
CASU-11 (Carrier Aircraft Service Unit 11) Feb 1943 - July 1944
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) February 1943
VMSB-131 (TBF) 1943
VMSB-132 (SBD 3rd tour) June 23, 1943–Aug 2, 1943
VMSB-143 (TBF) November 12, 1942 - ? Munda
VMSB-144 (SBD-3) arrives June 13, 1943–June 26, 1943 then to Russells
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
347th FG, 67th FS (P-39) New Caledonia Aug 22, 42 - June 43
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) 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" on Pagoda Hill
During July 1942, this structure built by the Japanese on a small rise to the north of the runway. On August 7, 1942 captured by USMC and nicknamed "The Pagoda". The building was used as a flight operations hut. Nearby was a flagpole.
Henderson Field Control Tower (1943)
This tower is not the 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 Henderson Field after "The Pagoda" was demolished on October 14, 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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