Buna Airfield was located southeast of Buna near the north coast of New Guinea in Oro Province in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Also known as "Old Strip" after the Japanese began construction of Buna Airfield "New Strip" nearby.
Built prewar as an emergency airfield. As of 1942, this airfield was in a neglected condition. By the middle of 1942, the Allies acknowledged the need for an airfield in the Buna area. Concurrently, the plans for the Japanese landing in the vicinity planned to occupy and expand the prewar airfield for military use.
World War II Pacific Theatre History
As of July 1942, Theater plan "Tulsa" called for an Allied airfield to be established for military aircraft at Buna. On July 9, 1942 a reconnaissance was planned and two days later a RAAF Catalina was used to over fly the Buna area and landed to inspect the area. Aboard were six officers including Lt. Col. Bernard L. Robinson, (ranking U.S. Army Engineer at Port Moresby), Lt. Col. Boyd D. Wagner (C.O., 8th Fighter Group), Col Yoder and three Australian officers. After examining the terrain in the Buna area, they determined that kunai plains area at Dobodura should be developed instead of Buna.
During July 21-22, 1942 Japanese landing at Buna and Gona and occupied this area. Immediately, the Japanese began expanding the prewar runway and built aircraft revetments (entai-gou) and anti-aircraft gun emplacements. By early August 1942, Buna Airfield was ready for use as a forward airfield.
On August 14, 1942 three A6M3 Model 32 Zeros from the Tainan Kokutai piloted by 2nd Shotai: Lt(jg) Takeyoshi Ono, FPO1c Sadao Yamashita, FPO3c Masami Arai landed at Buna Airfield. At 7:35 they intercepted and shot down B-17E "Chief Seattle" 41-2656. During the attack, Lt(jg) Takeyoshi Ono's
Zero was damaged by defensive fire from the bomber.
On August 22, 1942 a detachment of A6M3 Zeros from the 2nd Kokutai and Tainan Kokutai from Lakunai Airfield arrived at Buna Airfield. On August 24, 1942 eight D3A2 Val dive bombers from the 2nd Kokutai (Bomber Buntaï) led by Lt Inoue arrived at Buna Airfield.
On September 3, 1942 a Japanese troop convoy from Rabaul bound for Buna was escorted by A6M Zeros from the 2nd Kokutai and Tainan Kokutai from Buna Airfield as it neared Buna.
Japanese units based at Buna Airfield
2nd Kokutai (A6M3 Hamp buntaï) Lakunai August 22, 1942–September 8, 1942 Lae
2nd Kokutai (D3A2 Val buntaï) Lakunai August 24, 1942–August 28, 1942 Lae
Tainan Kokutai (A6M3 Hamp buntaï) Lakunai / Lae August 22 1942–September 1942 Lae
47th Anti-Aircraft Unit
Immediately, Buna Airfield was strafed and
bombed by Allied aircraft flying from Port Moresby.
Buna Airfield was used for roughly two weeks before Allied bombing and strafing made it too vulnerable and untenable. By
August 28, 1942 the remaining D3A Val dive bombers in flying condition were withdrawn. During the afternoon of September 8, 1942 the last flyable A6M Zeros from the 2nd Kokutai were withdrawn to Lae Airfield. Afterwards, only anti-aircraft guns defended Buna Airfield. The abandoned and wrecked aircraft in the vicinity were repeatedly strafed and bombed by the Allies, in the incorrect belief they were active aircraft.
against Buna Airfield
July 23, 1942 - January 23, 1943
By late 1942, the had pushed the Japanese Army back to the north coast of New Guinea. To defend the Buna area, the Japanese Army constructed fortifications around Buna Airfield, including trenches and bunkers. During the ground battle, the remaining anti-aircraft guns were used to fire against ground targets.
Buna Airfield Battlefield
During the Battle of Buna, the Buna Airfield area became a battlefield during the battle of Buna. By nightfall the Australian Army 2/10th held about
one third of Old Strip. On December 24, 1942 the 2/10th was ordered to
continue the advance along the Old Strip supported by four M3 Stuart tanks. The attack began at 9.30
am with the tanks spaced at intervals of fifty yards,
the Australians astride Old Strip and an American
battalion on the left flank.
M3 Stuart tanks and infantry advanced
steadily for half an hour until a concealed Japanese
75mm Type 88 anti-aircraft gun opened fire at short range and knocked
out the four tanks in quick succession. The infantry
came under heavy fire but at the end of the day only
500 to 700 yards had been gained. Little progress was
made on the next two days. The Australian Army 2/10th companies attacking were no larger than platoon strength due to their losses and were frequently subjected to counter attacks.
Captured Japanese aircraft at Buna Airfield
By December 27, 1942 Buna Airfield was finally captured. At Buna Airfield, at least fifteen A6M Zeros plus two G6M1-L2 Betty and at least one D3A1 Val were captured, including two relatively
intact aircraft: A6M3 Zero 3028 and A6M3 Zero 3030.
Japanese aircraft captured at Buna Airfield
Listing of aircraft captured on December 27, 1942
After the battle, the best Zeros, engines and parts were transported to the beach, loaded onto barges and shipped to Milne Bay then Brisbane for technical evaluation at Eagle
Farm Airfield. From the wreckage recovered a A6M3 Hamp (Hybrid) was restored and test flown. The other wrecks were abandoned and Allied troops cut pieces out as souvenirs.
Afterwards, Buna Airfield was never used by the Allies as a military airfield and was abandoned.
The former airfield is overgrown and disused since the war. No aircraft have used the airfield since. Many overgrown bunkers, trenches and gun pits remain in the area overgrown with kunai grass.
Type 3 (1914) 76.2 mm Naval Gun
Remains at the airfield.
Type 3 (1914) 76.2 mm Naval Gun
Recovered for Nimitz
Museum in 1973
Stuart M3 Tank Hull
76.2mm anti-aircraft gun recovered for Nimitz
Museum in 1973
AAF, SWPA Intel. Sum. No. 144, 6 Oct 43
"A total of fifteen A6M3 Zero (Hamps) in various conditions were noted at the strip: 3020, 3021, 3028, 3031, 3032, 3036, 3043, 3044 and two without numbers. Plus two [G6M1-L2] Betty bomber wrecks."
US Army in WWII: Victory in Papua, Chapter IV, page 50-53
Kodochosho, Tainan Kōkūtai, August 14, 1942
Thanks to Richard Dunn and Edward Rogers for additional information.
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October 23, 2019