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    Tobera Airfield (South Airfield) East New Britain Province Papua New Guinea (PNG)
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5th AF c1943

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5th AF Dec 24, 1943

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17th PRS June 18, 1943

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USAAF c1945

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1948

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1952

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Justin Taylan 2000

Location
Tobera Airfield was located on Tobera plantation to the south of Rabaul. Prewar, this area was a coconut plantation harvesting copra. The Japanese referred to this location as "South Airfield" or "Rabaul No. 4".

Construction
During July 1943, the Japanese began construction of a single concrete runway measuring 3,600' x 100' that was completed during August 1943. Several taxiways were constructed to the side of the runway with revetments for fighter aircraft. This was the shortest runway of all the Rabaul area airfields, and used primarily by fighter aircraft.

World War II Pacific Theatre History
Tobera Airfield was used by the Imperial Japanese Navy primarily as a fighter airfield. Three letter coded: OFI. Around the airfield were encampment areas for Japanese troops.

Japanese units based at Tobera Airfield (South Airfield)
201 Kokutai (A6M Zero) withdrawn to Saipan
253 Kokutai (A6M Zero) September 1943 - February 17, 1944 Truk
Zuikaku Detachment (A6M Zero replacements from 2nd Carrier Division) January 1944
105th Naval Base Air Unit (A6M Zero) C.O. Yomoyoshi Hori June 44 - August 45
28th Construction Unit (Civilian, convict labor) C.O. Goro Enari

Beginning on October 24, 1943 Tobera Airfield came under aerial attack from U. S. aircraft. During this period, 253 Kokutai Zeros from Tobera intercepted nearly every air raid. To patch the runway after Allied bombing, the Japanese built a 610mm narrow gauge rail road line, with a Kato tractor to pull carts full of dirt to fill the craters. By late January 1944 they had sustained heavy losses in both pilots and aircraft. By the middle of February 1944 less than 20 Zeros remained flyable and were withdrawn. Tobera continued to be bombed until the end of June 1944.

American missions against Tobera
October 24, 1943 - June 30, 1944

On February 25, 1944 photographic reconnaissance revealed 33 aircraft at Tobera, although most of these were decoys or hulks. The few remaining fighters in flying condition or under repair were carefully hidden.

The 105th Naval Base Air Unit was instructed to keep Tobera Airfield serviceable and maintain the few remaining Zeros in flying condition. By March 1945, the 105th Naval Base Air Unit had 2,000 personnel and two construction units attached including the 28th Construction Unit (Civilian, convict labor with roughly 200 men).

Tobera mysterious USA in Kunai grass
Brian Bennett adds: "A 17th Photo Squadron photograph photographed the letters "USA" clearly cut into the kunai grass near Tobera Airstrip. Was this created by a downed Allied pilot, or a trick by the Japanese?"

By 1945, anti-aircraft shells and fuel stocks were very low and carefully dispersed. Most Japanese were involved with gardening to grow crops for subsistence. Personnel were quartered in tunnels with 50 men in each three miles north of the airfield.

Post War
After the war, Tobera Airfield area was so heavily bombed that the water table was upset and poor for planting.  Many bomb craters, revetments, trenches and tunnel entrances are still visible, as the plantation has simply planted around them. Reclaiming of Former Airfield Aerial Photo Study

During the early 1950s, Douglas Joycey purchased half of the former Tobera Plantation and renamed it "Vimy Plantation" and began replanting and growing copra.

Jim Joycey (son of Douglas Joycey) recalls:
"We moved onto our half of Tobera in the early 1950s, before the scrap merchants went through it. As a young lad I recall sitting in my 'zero' that was intact, except for bullet holes, and still had loaded guns."

Today
During the early 1980s, a Type 10 120mm anti-aircraft gun and search light were recovered from Vimy Plantation using a crane and transported to the Kokopo Museum for display.

During the early 1990s, Australian Rick Ray bought Vimy Plantation, and renamed it "Golden Dolphin 3". Ray built his home at roughly the center point of the old runway, on a hardstand area.

Kato Rail Tractor
Used at the airfield on a 610mm gauge track alongside the runway

PBJ-1D Mitchell Bureau Number 35143
Pilot Smith shot down May 5, 1944 wreckage discovered 1996, recovered 1999-2000

P-38G Lightning Serial Number 42-12848
Pilot Love MIA November 2, 1943 investigated by US Army CILHI in 1999

SBD-5 Dauntless Serial Number NZ5050
Pilot Cray MIA April 17, 1944 possibly MIA in Tobera area

SBD-5 Dauntless Bureau Number 54383
Pilot Becker MIA July 3, 1944

B-25C Mitchell 42-32319
Pilot Thompson crashed January 12, 1944

Aircraft Wreckage Pile
Collection of Japanese aircraft wreckage collected from Tobera Airfield and elsewhere at roughly the center of the former runway.

A6M3 Zero Manufacture Number 3650
Abandoned at Tobera, moved to Tobera wreckage pile

Ki-43-II Oscar
Abandoned at Vunakanu. During the 1980s moved to Tobera wreckage

A6M3 Zero
Abandoned at Vunakanu. During the 1980s moved to Tobera wreckage

G4M1 Betty
Abandoned at Vunakanu. During the 1980s moved to Tobera wreckage

References
The Siege of Rabaul page 77-78
Thanks to Brian Bennett, Rick Ray, Henry Sakaida and Jim Joycey for additional information

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Last Updated
January 9, 2018

 

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January 9, 1944

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