Lat 09°22′57.35″S Long 147°10′23.76″E 17 Mile Drome was located 17 miles north of Port Moresby. To the south is Waigani Swamp and to the southeast is 14 Mile Drome ((Schwimmer, Laloki) and to the southwest is Gerehu. Prior to 1942, the area was undeveloped and covered with kunai grass and swamp.
During August 1942, the U. S. Army 808th Aviation Engineering Battalion (808th Engineer Airborne Battalion, 808th EAB, 808th Engineers) commanded by Captain Andrew D. Chaffin, Jr. O-20153 (West Point Class of 1936). Over the next three weeks, the engineers began constructing an airfield at this location. Construction began on a single runway running roughly northwest to southeast.
Afterwards, Chaffin was awarded the Purple Heart: “For a singularly meritorious act of essential service at Durand Field, New Guinea, during August 1942. From a jungle swamp, unfit for foot travel or for habitation, Major Chaffin, in a period of approximately three weeks, constructed and rendered fit for aircraft operational use Durand Field. The actions of this officer have thereby set an example of courage and leadership which are worthy of the highest commendation".
To the southeast of the runway, dispersal and camp areas were built,
where revetments carved into hillsides and taxiways elevated
for proper drainage. Gun
pits built around empty 55 gallon drums filled with soil were made for anti-aircraft guns and on the surrounding hills, and concrete slabs poured for the foundation of buildings and tents. Gravel from the nearby quarry was used for surfacing the runway and taxiways.
During early September when Japanese forces were within 28 miles of Port Moresby, the 808th was ordered to cease work and take up positions as combat reserves along the Goldie River until the arrival of reinforcements.
On October 21, 1942 torrential rains, ahead of the "wet season" washed out the shale base of 7 Mile Drome and several nearby roads and bridges. The rain damaged was not repaired until late in October. During this period, two thirds of the 808th Engineer Airborne Battalion worked to expand 17 Mile to accommodate B-17 Flying Fortress bombers.
During late 1942, the airfield went into service for use by fighters and medium bombers during all of 1943, known as "17 Mile Drome" or "17 Mile" or "Waigani" or "Waigani Field". On November 10, 1942 it was officially renamed 'Durand' to honor of P-39F 41-7128 pilot 1st Lt. Edward D.
Durand Missing In Action (MIA) on April 30, 1942. By early 1944, the American units moved northward to Dobodura and Nadzab. During 1944, a RAAF Repair & Salvage Unit (RSU) operated at the airfield.
American units based at 17 Mile (Durand)
3rd BG, 13th BS (B-25) October 7, 1942 - ?
3rd BG, 90th BS (B-25) ?
BG, 71st BS (B-25) Breddan October 1, 1942 -
March 5, 1944 Nadzab
38th BG, 405th BS (B-25) October 25, 1942 - March 6, 1944 Nadzab
49th FG, 7th FS (P-40) ? - Dobodura
475th FG, 432nd FS (P-38) Amberley August 14, 1943 North Borio Airfield (Dobodura No. 15)
345th BG, 499th BS (B-25) ? - January 15,
345th BG, 500th BS (B-25) ? - January 1,
Australian units based at 17 Mile (Durand)
RAAF, RSU (Repair & Salvage Unit)
Smith, 38th Bombardment Group, 71st Bombardment Squadron recalls:
"Dense jungle surrounded this Port Moresby strip [17 Mile Drome]. One time
a crew bailed out only three miles from the base, but it took them a week to
Barnett, 38th Bombardment Group, 405th Bombardment Squadron recalls:
"We were afraid to swim in the swamp nearby, because one night some of the
guys found and killed a snake. In the morning, it proved to be 26 feet
long! Occasionally the Japanese would bomb us, mostly harassment raids of one
or a few Japanese planes.
After the Americans moved northward to Dobodura and Nadzab, Durand was turned over to the Australians and based a Repair & Salvage Unit (RSU).
During the 1960-1970 known as Durand Farm and used as a cattle ranch with barbed wire fences strung around the property. Possibly, a single brick building was established at the farm and lived at this location.
Abandoned by the 1980s, Durand has remained relatively isolated
and disused since the war. There are no permanent settlements in
the area aside from a few squatters, only occasionally do people pass through the area
searching for firewood or hunting. The former taxiways were occasionally used by rally cars for sprints, until a final race in 1987.
In the 1990s, the National Housing Corporation (NHC) and National Housing Estates Ltd., a public-private venture
announced plans to house their employees in this area. In 1993, a single bulldozer that came in on the existing road and over several hillsides, presumably marking boundaries.
The runway, revetments
and taxiway system are still present, but only clearly visible
in the dry season when the grass has been burned away.
In 2014, plans were again announced by the National Housing Corporation (NHC) to build
40,000 new homes for public servants at two sites: Durand and behind the National Research Institute (NRI) at Gerehu.
Henry Mayer adds:
"Since 1980, I have made several trips down to the other end of the airstrip
which seems to have had only a few campsites, but a lot of dugouts
going all the way up to the highest point. Apart from the Australian
tag belonging to Floyd Hammond of the 86th ordinance battalion and a pair of aircraft
manifolds lying on the lower part of the hill the place was
quite bare and seemed to have been used for a short time only.
Between the two jungle patches at the runways end is the small
stream which actually drains the lake and has a road crossing
it. The crossing is still there but was on the point
of collapse when i visited in 95 with just enough width (30cm)
remaining in the middle to ride my bike across. The road continues
around the hills along to the main road at Gerehu (Wallaby
ordinance dump then) suburb and still has dirt ordnance bays laid
out neatly alongside it, not to mention the burnt out remains
of a few stolen vehicles stippled and abandoned. I also checked
out the middle section of the runway which in the shot shows
a straight road/taxiway leading off at 90 degree on the right.
In this area there are concrete foundations hidden among raintrees
and further out in thick kunai i found quite a few metal scraps,
drums, aircraft manifolds and a section with two metal gun box
data plates attached for P-40E Warhawk."
Crashed July 8, 1943 after take off. Wreckage likely scrapped in the 1980s
Radio New Zealand International "40,000 government houses to be built in PNG capital" February 25, 2014
Engineer Aviation Units in the Southwest Pacific Theater during WWII by Natalie M. Pearson, 2005 [PDF] pages 39, 42, 44, 46.
Thanks to Henry Mayer for additional information
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September 24, 2018