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    Buna Airfield (Old Strip) Oro Province Papua New Guinea (PNG)
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22nd BG August 1942

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38th BG Dec 11, 1942

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Justin Taylan 2003

Location
Buna Airfield was located south east of Buna. Also known as "Old Strip" after the Japanese began construction of Buna Airfield "New Strip" nearby.

Construction
Built prewar as an emergency airfield. As of 1942, this airfield was in a neglected condition. The Allies acknowledged the need for an airfield in the Buna area.

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 building a single runway at this location. Aircraft revetments (Entai-Gou) and anti-aircraft gun emplacements. By early August 1942, Buna Airfield was ready for use as a forward airfield and was used by the Japanese until September 8, 1942.

On August 14, 1942 three A6M3 Model 32 Zeros from the Tainan Kokutai, 2nd Shotai: Lt(jg) Takeyoshi Ono, FPO1c Sadao Yamashita, FPO3c Masami Arai landed at Buna Airfield. At 7:35 they intercepted 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 en route from Rabaul to 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 - September 8, 1942
2nd Kokutai (D3A2 Val buntaï) Lakunai August 24 - 28, 1942
Tainan Kokutai (A6M3 Hamp buntaï) Lakunai August 22 1942
47th Anti-Aircraft Unit

Immediately, Buna Airfield was strafed and bombed by Allied aircraft flying from Port Moresby, making the airfield too vulnerable for flight operations. Buna Airfield was used for roughly two weeks before being neutralized by Allied bombing and strafing 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 remaining A6M Zeros from the 2nd Kokutai were withdrew.

Allied missions against Buna Airfield
July 23, 1942 - January 23, 1943

Although no aircraft remained, anti-aircraft guns continued to defend Buna Airfield against attacking aircraft. The wrecked aircraft on the ground were repeatedly strafed and bombed, in the incorrect belief they were active aircraft. Many abandoned Japanese aircraft were disabled by low level strafing and bombing attacks and were left abandoned along the runway.

As the Allies began to advance over the Owen Stanley Mountains, the Japanese Army constructed extensive fortifications around Buna Airfield, including trenches, bunkers and a battery of 75mm Type 88 anti-aircraft guns to the west of the runway.

Buna Airfield Battlefield
Buna Airfield itself 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 souvineered by Allied troops in the area.

Afterwards, Buna Airfield was never used by the Allies as a military airfield and was abandoned.

Today
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.

Japanese Type 3 (1914) 76.2 mm Naval Gun
Remains at the airfield.

Japanese Type 3 (1914) 76.2 mm Naval Gun
Recovered for Nimitz Museum in 1973

General Stuart M3 Tank Hull Number 2017
Hit by 76.2mm anti-aircraft gun recovered for Nimitz Museum in 1973

References
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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Last Updated
February 4, 2018

 

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