The Japanese occupied Wakde Island in
April 1942 after their successful campaign in the Netherlands East Indies.
The Allies first noted an airfield being developed there in February 1943.
By June a coral landing strip 5400 feet long and coral surfaced hard-stand
aprons were observed. The Japanese Navy (3rd Fleet) published a survey of airfields
in their Southwest Area in September 1943. At that time Wakde’s condition
was described as “further construction being carried out.” Revetments
and trenches were under construction. The runway was described as 1200 by 60
meters (4000' x 200'). Officers’ quarters and four barracks for enlisted
men had a capacity of 1,000 men. There was a radio transmitting station. The
airfield was capable of accommodating both large and small type aircraft.
Allied photographic reconnaissance on 10 October
1943 noted that dispersal areas were still under construction
but that fifteen twin engine aircraft were on the field. During that
month Wakde became the base for the Type 100 model II heavy bombers (HELEN)
of the 61st Flying Regiment. These were soon joined by transports (Type
97 heavy bombers) of the 101st Air Transport Unit. A detachment of the
20th Airfield Battalion arrived to service Wakde’s air garrison.
A detachment of the 1st Air Route Department arrived to service transient
aircraft moving through Wakde. Later Wakde also hosted a detachment of
the 6th Navigational Aid Unit and 6th Mobile Air Repair Squad.
The 61st was commanded by Lt. Col. Takeshi Yagi.
The 61st flew most of its combat missions from But airfield. During
October and November 1943 the 61st seldom had more than half a dozen
bombers operational. The stay of the air transport unit at Wakde was
relatively brief but the 61st remained based there for several months.
The 20th Airfield Battalion detachment was commanded by 1Lt. Shozo
Kimoto of the battalion’s
1st Maintenance Company. The guard detachment was commanded by 2Lt. Koichi
When the 61st deployed forward to But for
combat operations it was often paired with the 7th Flying Regiment. The
two heavy bombers units were part of the 9th Flying Brigade. Operations
in October and November included bombing missions and supply dropping
operations in support of ground combat between Finschafen and Sio on New Guinea’s
north coast. Attacks were also carried against Allied air bases in the
Markham and Ramu Valleys [Nadzab]. In December American troops landed
at Arawe and Cape
Gloucester on New Britain. The Type 100 heavy bombers
suffered badly during attacks mounted against these landings. For a time
the 7th was withdrawn from combat leaving the weakened 61st Flying Regiment
as the Japanese army’s
sole heavy bomber unit in New Guinea.
By mid-January 1944 reinforcements briefly brought
the 61st up to a strength of 15 serviceable heavy bombers. Other reinforcement
plans would soon greatly increase the number of aircraft at Wakde. The
8th Flying Brigade was ordered to transfer from Southeast Asia to New
Guinea. This brigade included the 60th Flying Regiment (CO Maj. Mitsuo
Oiwa) equipped with Type 97 model II (SALLY) heavy bombers. Wakde was
designated as the forward operating base of the 60th. The 45th Flying
Regiment (CO Lt. Col. Mitsuo Yasuoka) was the first Japanese army bomber
unit to operate in New Guinea. By late 1943 it had been virtually decimated
and was returned to Japan to reorganize. It too was ordered to Wakde.
On February 10th twenty-four Type 97 heavy bombers
assembled at Singapore in preparation for their transfer to Galela on
Halmahera Island and Wakde. On the same day pilots of the 45th arrived
in Manila. There they were equipped with thirty Type 2 two-seat fighters
(NICK). Previously the 45th had flown light bombers. Their new aircraft
were to be used as fighter-bombers. They were equipped with a forward
firing 37mm cannon (15 rounds) and a 20mm cannon (60 rounds) and a flexible
7.9mm machine gun firing to the rear. Pairs of 30, 50 and 100kg bombs
could also be carried. By February 18th the first aircraft of the 60th
arrived at Galela. Sixteen fighters of the 45th staged into Babo in western
New Guinea on the following day. During the last few days of February
the main strength of both units joined the 61st at Wakde.
War Reaches Wakde
Up to this time few operations had been flown
from Wakde. It was a rear area base. On February 29th American troops
landed in the Admiralty Islands bringing Wakde much closer to the
fighting. During March, Allied raids on Wewak intensified and it
was all but abandoned as a base. In the second half of March the
Japanese army’s 6th
Flying Division fell back to Hollandia only 125 miles east of Wakde.
During early February the 61st had flown nightly patrol missions to
Dampier Straight. In the latter half of the month it stopped patrolling
and attempted to build up its strength in anticipation of possible attack
missions. On the 1st of March a Type 97 bomber of the 60th flew the Dampier
patrol. The mission was aborted due to bad weather east of Long Island.
The 45th engaged in convoy escort patrols and carried out night flying
On the morning of March
3rd four Type 100 heavy bombers joined 14 light bombers and a strong
fighter escort and sortied from Wewak to attack the landings in the
Admiralty Islands. The mission was turned back by bad weather. Later
that day heavy bombers of the 60th and 61st flew over Aitape in
route to But accompanied by five Type 3 fighters (TONY) of the 78th
American P-38 aces Richard Bong and Thomas Lynch reported
encountering four SALLYS and five TONYS claiming two SALLYS and two
fighters. One Type 97 was lost as was the Type 100 heavy bomber flown
by Sgt. Kosuke Ishikawa (aircraft commander 2Lt. Kazuo Sakai). The
P-38 pilots also shot down two of the fighters.
Later a bomber of
the 60th flying from But claimed hits on a medium transport at Hyane
in the Admiralties. According to U.S. reports this attack was ineffective.
The next attack mission came on the 8th when three
Type 97 heavy bombers staged through Wewak to bomb ships and harbor installations
at Gumbi [Saidor]
claiming hits on the latter. Two LCTs and two bulldozers were slightly
damaged and one man was killed. On the following day a Type 97 heavy
bomber flying a patrol mission from Wewak reported escaping an attack
by two enemy fighters.
On March 13th Allied air reconnaissance obtained
good aerial photographs of Wakde. Forty-seven aircraft were spotted.
These were identified as 38 medium bombers, six light bombers and three
fighters. The medium bombers were identified as six probable HELENS and
the remainder SALLYS although some of the medium bombers might be transports.
Just prior to this observation the 45th had twelve serviceable Type 2
two-seat fighters, the 60th had 15 operational Type 97 heavy bombers
and 61st had five operational Type 100 heavy bombers. A few days after
this on March 16th the 61st lost a bomber in an accident. A heavy bomber
took off because of a false raid warning and turned into a coconut grove
before gaining altitude. The pilot W.O. Keizo Minami and the entire crew
were killed. During the month aircraft at Wakde were occasionally dispersed
to Kamiri Airfield on Noemfoor
as protection against possible air attack.
of Aerial Activity
Records of the 20th Airfield Battalion
show the numbers of aircraft they serviced during the month of
March. This is of interest because the numbers probably approximate
the number aircraft flights that took place from Wakde during the
month. Type 2 two-seat fighters of the 45th were serviced 196 times
on 28 days. The highest number serviced on a single day was fourteen.
For the 60th the total was 169 on 29 days with a high of twelve.
The 61st was active every day of the month with 158 aircraft serviced
and a high of fourteen in a single day. The 20th also provided
service to aircraft of other units (total/number of days/highest
number per day) as follows: Type 100 heavy bomber (26/12/5), Type
97 heavy bombers (54/20/13), Type 100 recon (6/3/4), Type 99 Assault
(14/9/5), Type 99 light bomber (24/7/8), Type 3 fighter (21/5/7), Type
1 fighter (67/10/47), MC transport (5/2/3), and others (3/3/1). The “heavy
bombers” are probably aircraft of that type used as transports.
These figures do not include aircraft serviced by the 1st Air Route Department.
Other records of the 20th Battalion also provide
interesting insights into operations at Wakde. Although 135 300-liter
barrels of 100 octane fuel were on hand none was distributed during the
month. All 1,480 200-liter barrels of 91 octane fuel was distributed.
In addition 1,176 barrels of 92 octane fuel was distributed leaving a
stock of over 3,000 barrels. Ordnance distributed included eight 250kg
bombs, 140 100kg bombs and 537 50kg bombs. A considerable amount of 20mm
and machine gun ammunition was distributed but no 37mm ammunition was
The 61st Flying Regiment
was ordered to drop supplies to the Japanese garrison in the Admiralties
with three bombers on March 29th. This plan was apparently abandoned
when a report of an enemy invasion convoy was received. This proved
to be a false alarm. On the 30th the airfield battalion was informed
that in future aircraft at Hollandia would use Wakde as a dispersal
field. On the following day orders for the withdrawal of the 45th and
61st were received. The 45th was to go to Moemi and the 61st to Galela.
During the last two days of March Hollandia received heavy air attacks
that greatly depleted Japanese army air strength in New Guinea. This
disrupted the Japanese aircraft supply route. One of the last reinforcement
missions to Hollandia was planned for the 7th Flying Unit for March 29th
to April 1st. This involved eight Type 3 model II fighters (nos. 772,
802, 814, 827, 861, 884, 890, and 901) escorted by a Type 97 heavy bomber
(no. 6447). The outbound route was Clark-Davao-Galela on the 29th and
Galela-Kamiri-Hollandia on the 30th. The escort bomber with ferry pilots
on board was to fly to Wakde the same day before proceeding to Davao
and Clark on the following day.
During the first days of April fighters
operating from Hollandia often completed their missions by landing at
Wakde. Only when the air over Hollandia was safe did they return to their
base. For a short period Wakde became the terminus of the air supply
route. On April 5th two Type 3 fighters (nos. 739 and 906) destined for
the 68th Flying Regiment landed at Wakde as did three others (nos. 917,
993, and 995) destined for the 78th Flying Regiment. On the following
day Wakde received a heavy air attack. More attacks followed and though
casualties were generally light almost all of the installations were
damaged. According to a 60th Flying Regiment flight crewman who was later
captured, the 60th stayed at Wakde during the initial raids and by the
time it withdrew to Biak in mid-April had lost all but five or six of