Pacific Wrecks
Pacific Wrecks    
  Missing In Action (MIA) Prisoners Of War (POW) Unexploded Ordnance (UXO)  
Chronology Locations Aircraft Ships Submit Info How You Can Help Donate
 
    Rapopo Airfield (Rabaul South, South Airfield) East New Britain Province PNG
Click For Enlargement
5th CCU January 5, 1943

Click For Enlargement
5th AF Jan 21, 1943

Click For Enlargement
Click For Enlargement
Click For Enlargement
5th AF c1943

Click For Enlargement
5th AF c1944

Click For Enlargement
Click For Enlargement
AWM Sept 28, 1945

Click For Enlargement

Justin Taylan 2000

Location
Rapopo Airfield is located at Rapopo inland from Lesson Point bordering Blanche Bay, to the southeast of Rabaul. Also known as "Rapopo Drome" or "Rabaul South" or "South Airfield" or "Rabaul No. 3". The runway ran approximately north to south, with the northern most end at Lesson Point.

Prewar
Rapopo Plantation and Ulaveo Plantation were located at this location, planted with coconut palms harvesting copra.

Construction
During late January 1942, occupied by the Japanese. During December 1942, the Japanese began construction of a single runway on Rapopo and Ulaveo Plantations. Construction methods were primitive, relying on tanks to push down coconut palms into trenches dug by hand.

By early January 1943 the runway was largely complete.

first documented by the U. S. during the January 5, 1943 mission by B-17s bombing Japanese shipping.

The runway was completed by early January 1943.

Taxiways and revetments were constructed on the east and west sides of the runway plus a flyway at the northern end to the tip of Lesson Point.

By October 1, 1943 the runway measured 4,350' x 670'. At least (90) bomber sized revetments were located on the east and west sides of the runway.

World War II Pacific Theatre History
On January 5, 1943 a B-17 Flying Fortresses with a photographer and cine camera man aboard during a bombing mission took a photograph and cine footage that revealed the presence of the new runway.

Used by the Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) as a base for medium bombers and twin engine aircraft. Operationally, the runway was plagued with drainage problems, that caused the runway to often be muddy.

Rapopo was defended by 29 heavy, 21 medium and 13 light anti-aircraft guns, supported by five searchlights. During 1943, several bomber Sentai were based at this location. The airfield was also used by the Japanese Navy, with a Zero fighters based here at the height of the war.

Japanese units based at Rapopo
45th Sentai (Ki-48 Lily) Truk January 23, 1943 detachment Munda transfered Wewak
14th Sentai (36 x Ki-21 Sally) from NEI March 2, 1942 - 1943
20th Dokuritsu Hiko Chutai (Ki-21, Ki-49) from Japan May 43 - ?

During early 1943, Rapopo Airfield was detected by the Allies and repeatedly attacked by American bombers and fighters until the middle of 1944.

American missions against Rapopo Airfield
January 26, 1943 - June 23, 1944

After Japan's surrender, during September 1945 forty tanks were assembled at Rapopo and surrendered to the Australian Army. The armor included medium tanks, light tanks and amphibious tanks. Although most were destroyed, Type 97 Chi-Ha Medium Tank was transported to Australia as a war prize and is displayed at the Royal Australian Armoured Corps Museum.

Postwar
After the war, abandoned as an airfield. During the middle of the 1980s, the area was replanted with coconut palms for harvesting copra and many of the remaining wartime relics were removed or scrapped. A few relics, including a 37mm cannon from a Ki-45 were recovered for display at the Kokopo War Museum.

Brian Bennett adds:
"What I found interesting was that the Japanese must have been showing some interest in Allied aircraft as i found an electric bomb release switch installed in the bomb bay of what was left of a KI-21 at Rapopo, before the area was re-modeled."

Today
The former airfield was replanted as a coconut and coco plantation. The strip and the entire area was replanted, but revetments and tunnel entrances are still visible. Development saw most of the remaining wartime bits buried or otherwise destroyed. The Rapopo Plantation Resort owned by Brian & Beverly Martin is located to the west of the original runway.

Contribute Information
Do you have photos or additional information to add?

Last Updated
January 9, 2018

 

Map
Map
March 12, 1943

Google Earth
View in Google Earth

Photos
Photo Archive

  Discussion Forum Daily Updates Reviews Museums Interviews & Oral Histories  
 
Pacific Wrecks Inc. All rights reserved.
Donate Now Facebook Twitter YouTube Google Plus Instagram