2° 31' 56S Long 133° 26' 20E Babo Airfield is located near Babo on the southern
shore of Maccluer Gulf in an isolated low lying
Built by the Dutch prewar, it was the final stop for
KLM airlines route in Dutch New Guinea. During November 1941, a RAAF engineering party with the assistance of
the Dutch upgraded the airstrip for military use.
Usage by Allies
Attacked by Japanese H6K Emily flying boats on December
30, 1941, leaving three dead and 14 wounded, including a number of children. Three RAAF 13th Squadron Hudson bombers were sent
there to act as 'fighters', this temporary duty was regarded
to be against enemy flying boats while the Dutch KNIL garrison
of approximately 200 rushed to improve area defenses and create
a clearing for a second runway.
units at Babo
(RAAF) 13th Squadron (Hudson x 3) January 1942
occupation and use during WWII
A Japanese Army 2nd Detachment landed at Babo on April
2, 1942 and occupied the town and airfield. Most of the Dutch soldiers escaped
to Australia. The airfield
was developed into a major base used by both Japanese Army
aircraft from the 7th Air Division and land based Navy units as a staging point to southern
airfields on Aru and Kai to the south or New
Guinea to the east.
The Japanese expanded the airfield, building a second 'hardtop' runway with
two strips: 4,530' and 2,660'. Naval
troops constructed 15 bomber and 24 fighter revetments with more
units based at Babo
Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN)
202 Kokutai (formally 3rd Kokutai - Zeros) early 1943 - March 1944 Truk, returns June 44
311th Hikotai of the 153 Kokutai - (A6M3-5 Zeros)
753rd & 732nd Kokutai - Betty (possibly based)
Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF), 7th Air Division
59th Sentai (Ki-43) May 1943
61st Sentai (Ki-49 Helen)
24th Sentai, 1st Chutai (Ki-43-II Oscar) Sumatra May 1943 to Dagua
34th Sentai (Ki-48) 1943
59th Sentai (Ki-43-II Oscar detachment) Malang March 1943 - April 1943 But
Chutai (Ki-46 Dinah)
Chutai (Ki-51 Sonia)
45th Sentai (Ki-45 Nick) 16 arrive February 19, 1944 to Wakde
75th Sentai (Ki-48 Lily)
25th Special Base Unit (G4M Betty and Topsy Transports)
Japanese and Allied missions
December 30, 1941 - November 5, 1944
Frontline airfield and neutralization
During the middle of 1943, the airfield became a regular target for Allied aircraft. By
mid-1944, the base was in range of medium bombers and
strafers from the 5th Air Force, and came under heavy attack. After the American landing at Biak on May 27, 1944, aircraft from Babo opposed the American landings
but suffered heavy losses. The
24th Sentai lost 20 pilots and 40 planes while
based at Babo in only 30 days before being withdrawn. The 202nd Kokutai was temporarily
withdrawn from Babo for defense of Truk, then returned
to Babo in June 1944. They lost 12 planes defending Biak,
and were then disbanded.
Tons of American and Australian bombs hit the
airfield. Many of its aircraft were destroyed by parafrag
bombs. Japanese ground crews even sawed off the engines
from wrecked planes, in a desperate attempt to ward off further
attacks, and used hulks to fill in bomb craters. The base was neutralized
from the air around October 1944. Isolated
from resupply or rescue, the remaining Japanese remained at the base until the end of the war.
The airfield remained relatively undisturbed after the war, with limited flights flying to this remote location. Until the late 1970's many aircraft survived in remarkably intact condition.
Randy Ogg visited in 1976:
"I spent most of 1976 in the area near Babo. I was flying for an Indonesian company. We were contracted to Sun Oil Company to support their drilling rig and geophysical exploration in the area, and operated from the tiny island of Tugumawa in Arguni Bay. Sun Oil drilled three dry holes there and abandoned their lease. I would like to visit the area again. We had a base camp at the Kaimana Airstrip. I was able to spend a half day visiting Babo Airfield. I still have 32 color prints and negatives that I took during my visit to Babo late in 1976. Some of the aircraft were still sitting up on their wheels. Those are probably the ones that have been removed by collectors. I can remember that there was an extensive grassy area to the west of Babo that was not rain forest. From the air we could distinctly see the outlines of 2 or 3 other airfields out there. I don't remember seeing any aircraft or other equipment on those airfields. The area was a fascinating place to work, but was infamous for its virulent malaria. The airstrip had recently been repaved. The only WWII junk we found around there was an artillery piece on the shoreline. I examined it and saw that it was of American manufacture, so the airfield probably changed hands later in the war."
Word quickly circulated about the aircraft wrecks including a series of photos by Roy Worcester taken circa 1972 that were included Charles Darby's famous book Pacific Aircraft Wrecks.
During the 1980s, the Indonesian
Air Force Museum recovered the most intact Ki-48 Lilly, A6M5 Zero, Ki-51 Sonia and Ki-43 Oscar for their museum.
In 1991 Bruce Fenstermaker salvaged the following aircraft: G4M1
Betty 1208 and A6M3 Zero 3869, A6M2 Zero Tail 33, D4Y1 Judy and Ki-61 Tony plus
pieces of other aircraft. These were containered and exported to California.
Bas Kereger reports:
"Max Ammer was very sad [after visiting], as what he had seen in 1995 was
completely demolished in the enlargement of the airfield for BP. What is
left is just a junk yard. There are several interesting pieces in that junk yard."
The airstrip is still in use as Babo Airport. Airport codes: ICAO: WASO, IATA: BXB. The single runway is oriented 20/02 and measures 4.280' x 98' surfaced with asphalt. Serviced by Mapita Airlines.
During late 2002 British Petroleum (BP) began
upgrading the airfield and clearing WWII ordinance to build a gas drill rig
just off the airstrip. This resulted in the discovery of a mixture of 1000, 500, 250
and 100 pound bombs. This new development and increased development in the
Babo area will undoubtedly lead to more discoveries in the area.
Friar participated in the bomb cleanup:
"[The bombs we discovered were fitted
with a] British lifting lug, they were also fitted
with two lifting lugs at 180 degrees to the British
one. This indicates that they were modified to be
dropped by American aircraft that all use the two
lifting lug system. This is confirmed by the fact
that most of the fuses fitted were American. Two
of the 250 pound bombs were fitted with a very
early design British fuse, dating to
very early 30s."
Aeroplane Monthly "A Shadow of the Rising Sun" by John Hooper January 1974
Pacific Aircraft Wrecks pages 14-15, 65-67, 80
Thanks to Bruce Fenstermaker and Richard Dunn for additional information
Aircraft at Babo, Status Unknown
A6M3 Zero (Twisted Tail)
Remained at the airfield until at least 1991
A6M5 Zero (Cowl Removed)
Remained at the airfield until at least 1991
Remained at the airfield until at least 1976
A-20G Havoc 43-21430
Pilot Van crashed July 9, 1944 into taxiway after being hit by anti-aircraft fire
Aircraft Salvaged from Babo
Recovered to Biak by Indonesian
military, then to Indonesian Air Force Museum
Recovered in the 1980s, static restored in Indonesian Markings
Recovered, static restoration in Indonesian Markings at Indonesian Air Force Museum
Recovered from Babo Airfield, static restored in Indonesian Markings
A6M2 Model 21 Zero Tail '33'
Recovered in 1990, used in restoration in Russia
Model 22 Zero Manufacture
Wreckage at Babo, salvaged in 1991
Ki-61 Tony Manufacture Number 7??
Front half in dump. Recovered
in 1991 to California then to Russia
G4M1 Betty Manufacture
Recovered in 1991 displayed at Planes of Fame Museum
D4Y1 Judy Manufacture Number ??83
from Babo, displayed at Planes of Fame,
Do you have photos or additional information to add?
May 11, 2016