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    Ballale Island (Ballalae, Ballalai) Western Province Solomon Islands
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17th PRS
February 27, 1943

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USN October 11, 1943
Location
Lat 6° 58' 60S Long 155° 52' 60E  Ballale Island is located in the northern Solomon Islands. To the south is the Shortland Island Group (Shortland Islands). To the north is the southern coast of Bougainville. Today, Ballale is located near the international border between the Solomon Islands and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (Bougainville Province) of Papua New Guinea (PNG).

The island has at least five different spellings, all pronounced "Bal-a-lai". In the Alu language spoken in the Shortland Islands, phonetically spelled "Ballalai" or "Balalai". When the first European explorers arrived in the 1880s the island's name of the island was incorrectly recorded with the spelling "Ballalei". During the British colonial era and until at least 1956, the island was spelled "Ballalae". During World War II, the island was spelled "Ballale" by the Allies. The Japanese spelled the island's name pronounced the island's name phonetically as "Ba-la-lai".

Prewar History
Ballale means border place in the local Alu language. As long as the people of the Shortland Islands can remember, this island was uninhabited. According to local legend, a strange blue light was often observed over the island. Therefore, the island was avoided and traditionally, no one lived there. Traditionally, war parties from Buka Island would used this uninhabited island to cannibalize their victims after successful tribal warfare and headhunting raids to Choiseul Island. To the people of the Shortland Islands, Ballale was considered "sacu-sacu" (haunted).

In 1901, Englishman Sam Atkinson purchased the island as free-hold owner. He established a plantation with coconut palms harvesting copra that eventually encompassed a total of 307 acres. Atkinson and his wife Edith lived in a European style home and worked on the island. The labor force was comprised of islanders from the Shortland Islands and laborers from as far away as Choiseul Island that worked to collect coconuts, harvest and dry the copra and maintain the plantation. The plantation included the Atkinson family home, copra drying sheds and living quarters for laborers and a wharf for loading dried copra onto boats to export the finished product.

When Sam Atkinson died in 1931, 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. Even when the threat of the Pacific War approached, she opted to remain on on Ballale Island. In early 1942, the British Solomon Islands Protectorate (BSIP) government ordered all Europeans evacuated from the Solomon Islands. Edith released the laborers to return to their homes and 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.

During early 1942, the Europeans living in the vicinity were evacuated just before the Japanese arrived to occupy Faisi Island and the Shortland Islands.

Wartime History
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 517 British Prisoners Of War (POWs)) and local people as laborers. The Japanese code named Ballale Island and Ballale Airfield "RXZ".

Ballale Airfield (Ballale, Ballalai)
Located on Ballale Island spanning the length of the island

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.

Japanese vessels at Ballale Island
1942-1943

The Allies first detected Ballale Airfield in late 1942. Starting in January 1943, the island was the target of hundreds of Allied bombing missions, fighter sweeps and strafing runs. The island was also the target of U.S. Naval bombardments by Allied cruisers and destroyers. By the middle of October 1943, Ballale Airfield was neutralized as a forward airfield and the remaining aircraft in flyable condition were withdrawn northward. Although neutralized as an airfield, the island's anti-aircraft guns and defenses remained a threat to aircraft and ships until the end of the Pacific War.

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

Bypassed
After the November 1, 1943 U.S. landing at Torokina the northern Solomon Islands including Ballale was was bypassed and left to "wither on a vine". Cut off from resupply or reinforcement, the remaining garrison began to cultivate crops to sustain themselves. Some Japanese attempted to swim northward to Bougainville using empty fuel drums for flotation.

At the end of the Pacific War, the island's garrison was 480 Japanese defenders manning the remaining guns including 321 personnel from 6th Kure SNLF and 159 from 7th Yokosuka SNLF. The Japanese garrison remaind on the island until the official surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945 then awaited the arrival of Allied forces.

Postwar
On November 10, 1945 the Australian Army 7th Infantry Battalion, including Lt. General V. A. H. Sturdee (1st Army) and Brigadier A. W. Potts (23 Infantry Brigade) toured the island. Australians immediately located the grave of 57 POWs buried in shallow trenches. An atrocities commission was carried out on the island, that led to the discovery of a mass grave of 436 bodies were exhumed with artifacts identifying them as British POWs based on personnel effects found in the grave. These remains were later interred at Bomama War Cemetery near Port Moresby. The bodis of the other 81 British POWs have never been found. Their remains may have been disposed at sea or destroyed by bombing.

F4U-1A Corsair Bureau Number 17527
Pilot Ewing MIA September 16, 1943 pilot missing

TBF-1 Avenger Bureau Number 06452
Pilot Croker MIA September 16, 1943 pilot POW crew missing

TBF-1 Avenger Bureau Number 23909
Pilot Hahn MIA September 16, 1943 crew missing

SBD-5 Dauntless Bureau Number 35976
Pilot Whitely MIA December 1, 1943 crew missing

SBD-5 Dauntless Bureau Number 11002
Pilot Paris crashed December 1, 1943 crew rescued

References
Ballale Naval Engineering Group (1994) by Kotaro Sato
COFEPOW - "The Gunners 600"
COFEPOW - The Ballale Island Gunners via WayBackMachine January 15, 2017
OneNews "Shortland & Ballalae Aircraft Salvage" November 20, 2007
GJD Services - Solomon's via WaybackMachine February 28, 2008

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Last Updated
February 27, 2022

 

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