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
swamp area. Also known as Babo Drome.
Built by the Dutch prewar, it was the final stop for
KLM airlines route in Dutch New Guinea.
usage by Allies
During November 1941, a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) engineering party with the assistance of
the Dutch personnel upgraded the airfield for military use. Known to the Australians as "Auxiliary Base at Babo". During January 1942, three Hudsons from RAAF 13 Squadron 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 build a clearing for use as a second runway.
units at Babo
(RAAF) 13 Squadron (Hudson x 3) January 1942 - January 25, 1942 Darwin
On December 30, 1941 bombed by Japanese H6K Emily flying boats, leaving three dead and 14 wounded, including a number of children. On January 25, 1942 RAAF 13 Squadron evacuated Babo departing aboard their Hudsons to Darwin with the airfield abandoned by the end of the month.
December 30, 1941
occupation and use
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.
During the Japanese occupation, the airfield was repaired and expanded. The Japanese built a second 'hardtop' runway. The two runways measured 4,530' and 2,660'. Naval
troops constructed 15 bomber and 24 fighter revetments with more
Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) based at Babo
202 Kokutai (formally 3rd Kokutai - A6M Zero) early 1943 - March 1944 Truk, returns June 44
311th Hikotai of the 153 Kokutai - (A6M3 Zero / A6M5 Zero)
732 Kokutai (G4M1 Betty)
753 Kokutai (G4M1 Betty)
Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF), 7th Air Division based at Babo
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)
February 7, 1943 - 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."
Japanese aircraft wreckage at Babo Airfield
Listing of aircraft abandoned and salvaged from Babo
Still in use today 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."
A-20G Havoc 43-21430
Pilot Van crashed July 9, 1944 into taxiway after being hit by anti-aircraft fire
RAAF Form A.50 No. 13 Squadron, RAAF - January 1942
"January 25, 1942: Auxiliary Base at Babo in Dutch New Guinea evacuated and personnel manning base returned to Darwin by air. 11 ground personnel affected. Abandonment of this base due to enemy action by terrific bombing attacks and through the lack of fighter protection."
"January 28, 1942: Evacuation ordered due to approach of convoy of enemy ships and lack of fighter protection. An umbrella of enemy fighters were over base most day making operations from this base extremely hazardous. Base for week or ten days prior to this date used only at night, aircraft dispersing during the day to Koepang, Namlea, Babo and other bases."
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
Do you have photos or additional information to add?
January 9, 2018