Yontan Airfield is located near Sobe, north of Kadena Airfield on the western coast of Okinawa in Okinawa Prefecture in southern Japan. Also known as Yomitan or Yonzan.
Built by Japanese.
On April 1, 1945 after the American invasion of Okinawa, U. S. Marine Corps and U. S. Army troops captured Yontan Airfield the same day as the amphibious landing.
At Yontan Airfield, American forces captured five MXY7 Ohka rocket
propelled suicide aircraft including: Ohka 1018
I-13, Ohka 1049 I-18 plus three others.
Immediately, repairs were begun and it was developed into a major American airfield used by fighters, bombers and transports from the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF), U. S. Marine Corps (USMC) and U. S. Navy (USN). During the U. S. occupation, Yontan Airfield was US Army APO 903 or APO 337 (Okinawa).
Don Huebner recalls:
"On the main airfield, Yontan, we had expected enormous
amounts of casualties before capturing the important spot. We found
one dead enemy soldier there who was chained to his machine
gun. He had been ordered to stay at his gun till death and they weren't
taking any chances of his not doing as told."
Giretsu Raid: May 24-25, 1945
During the night of May 24, 1945, between 8:00pm to 10:00pm roughly 50 Japanese Navy and Army aircraft bombed the Yontan area as a diversionary raid to cover twin engine bombers transporting Giretsu Special Attack Unit commandos that would attempt to crash land on Yontan Airfield and Kadena Airfield.
The commando force were aboard twelve Ki-21 Sallys of the
3rd Dokuritsu Chutai commanded by Captain Chuichi Suwabe, each with eight to twelve commandos aboard that would attempt to crash land at the American airfields to destroy parked aircraft and fuel dumps until they were killed. Eight attempted to land at Yontan Airfield and four at Kadena Airfield. Four aircraft aborted the mission with engine problems, and three were shot down before reaching the airfields.
Around 10:30pm, five bombers managed to crash and at Yontan Airfield including Ki-21 Sally Tail 546. On the ground at Yontan, roughly 8-12 commandos used explosives to destroy parked aircraft and set fire to 70,000 gallons of fuel before they were all located and killed. On the bodies of some of the raiders, detailed maps were found, that included the most recent constructions. In total, the attackers destroyed 9 aircraft (including PB4Y-2 Privateer from VPB-109 and and another damaged beyond repair)
plus damaged 29. One commando survived and around June 12, 1945 managed to join the Japanese 32nd Army on Okinawa.
Porter recounts the attack in his book, Ace!
"Over a dozen Japanese
giretsu commandos survived the suicide landing, and succeeded
in destroying a large fuel dump (a total of 70,000 gallons)
and planting magnetic grenades to aircraft on the flight line.
Three F4U's, two PB4Y's and four transports were destroyed.
In addition, 22 other F4U's, 3 F6F's, 2 B-24's and 2 transports
were damaged. Only
three Americans died in the raid, 18 Marines wounded. Japanese
losses were 69 pilots, aircrews and raiders."
Joseph Alexander, The Final Campaign Marines Victory on Okinawa
"Another bizarre Japanese suicide mission proved more effective. On the night of 24-25 May, a half-dozen transport planes loaded with Giretsu, Japanese commandos, approached the U.S. airbase at Yontan. Alert antiaircraft gunners flamed five. The surviving plane made a wheels-up belly landing on the air strip, discharging troops as she slid in sparks and flames along the surface. The commandos blew up eight U.S. planes, damaged twice as many more, set fire to 70,000 gallons of aviation gasoline, and generally created havoc throughout the night. Jittery aviation and security troops fired at shadows, injuring their own men more than the Japanese. It took 12 hours to hunt down and kill the last raider."
Veterans, did you witness this attack?
American units based at Yontan
United States Army Air Force (USAAF), Far East Air Force (FEAF)
494th BG, 864th BS (B-24) June 24, 1945 Angaur until the end of the Pacific War
494th BG, 865th BS (B-24) June 24, 1945 Angaur until the end of the Pacific War
494th BG, 866th BS (B-24) June 24, 1945 Angaur until the end of the Pacific War
494th BG, 867th BS (B-24) June 24, 1945 Angaur until the end of the Pacific War
35th FG, 41st FS (P-51D) Clark Field June 30 - Oct 10, 1945 Irumagawa
308th BG, 373rd BS (B-25) July 21, 1945 Luliang until the end of the Pacific War
38th BG, 405th BS (B-25) July 21, 1945 Lingayen until the end of the Pacific War
312th BG, HQ August 13, 1945 Floridablanca until the end of the Pacific War
312th BG, 389th BS (B-32)
August 13, 1945 Floridablanca until the end of the Pacific War
US Navy (USN)
VP-13 (PB4Y-2 Privateer)
After the Pacific War, this airfield remained servicable but had no units permenantly assigned and was used as auxiliary for Kadena AFB.
During June 1948, 170th Airway and Air Communications Service (AACS) Squadron was activated at Yontan, to provide air traffic control and communications support for USAF units in Okinawa. Shortly after arrival, redesignated as 1962d AACS Squadron then transfered to Kadena AFB and redesignated as 1962d AACS Group (later, Communications Group).
By 1950, Yontan was redesignated as a parachute drop training facility due to its runways not feasible for large/jet aircraft operations and the airfield was placed into auxiliary reserve status. Okinawa residenents were allowed to begin farming in the airfield area as there was no perimeter fence.
During 1969 until the early 1970s, the airfield was used as Air Force Aeroclub training with six Cessna 150s and one Aeronca Champion for flying.
In 1972 reverted to Japanese control and redesignated Yomitan Auxiliary Airfield (FAC 6027). On July 19, 1996 the last parachute drop training was conducted over Yomitan, future training was conducted at Ie Jima Auxiliary Airfield (FAC 6005).
The Earthmovers 1943-1945 pages 263-279
History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II pages 404-406
(Page 404) Such suicidal stabs at the pickets occurred almost daily, but the Japanese saved up for two weeks before staging their seventh mass attack on 24-25 May . The attacks began shortly after 2000 of the 24th, as two planes of VMR-353 from Ie Shima were in the landing circle, and seven raids were staged in the next four hours. At 2110 an enemy plane dropped six bombs northeast of Yontan. Seven bombs were dropped north and west of MAG-31 headquarters at 2204. Two or three bogeys at a time were reported continuously.
At 2225 a Sally approached Yontan much lower than any others, and was...
(Page 405) "...shot down by AA protecting the field.
About 2230 three more enemy aircraft, which were unmistakably and audaciously trying to land on Yontan, were shot down or crashed near the field - here was no ordinary kamikaze, but a giretsu which brought on the first airborne attack in the Central Pacific! MAG-31 personnel thought they could hear Japanese screaming as the flaming aircraft passed over their quarters. At least two of the occupants survived the crash, still others may have been responsible for firing two small gas dumps east of the field. The two were shot near their crashed plane. Another of the enemy planes crashed south of the field, its wing shearing an AA mount so as to bury eight marines, two of whom suffocated.
A fifth plane [Ki-21 Sally Tail 546] belly-landed on the NE-SW runway about 250 feet from the tower. n estimated dozen Japanese soldiers survived and gave a practical demonstration of what a few determined men can accomplish.
Almost immediately demolition charges started destroying aircraft parted about the field. Three Corsairs, tow Navy Privateers of Fleet Air Wing One and four transports were destroyed (including that of Major General James T. Moore, CG AirFMPac, who had flown in from Pearl on a special mission for Admiral Nimitz). Damaged were 29 other planes: 22 F4U's, 3 F6F's, 2 B-24's and 2 transports. Seventy thousand gallons of gasoline went up in flames.
The confusion which accompanied this weird gambit can hardly be imagined. Indiscriminate rifle and machine gun fire laced the airfield and vicinity, possibly accounting for most of the U. S. casualties - the tower duty officer, Lieut. Maynard C. Kelley of VMF(N)-533, died of wounds. Eighteen were wounded, including two enlisted men of the crash crew of MAG-31 who each had a leg blown off. Japanese hiding in a damaged R5C set off grenades which wounded four others of the 18.
The last Japanese was killed at 1255 on 25 May a quarter mile behind HqSq-31 as he tried to crawl from the road into the underbrush. In all, 69 Japanese bodies were counted and buried by the Seabees; none was taken prisoner. Some had committed suicide.
All in all, the Japanese could count their giretsu successful. They had destroyed 9 planes and damaged 29, at a cost of only 5.
It can be assumed that not much concern was felt in Tokyo over the loss of 69 more men at this stage of the war."
Do you have photos or additional information to add?
February 4, 2018