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    Ballale Airfield Western Province Solomons

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13th AF January 16, 1943

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USN January 29, 1943


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USAAF February 26, 1943


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8th PRS Feb 27, 1943


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USN March 5, 1943


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USN March 30, 1943


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USN October 11, 1943


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USAAF October 18, 1943


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VD-1 December 6, 1943

Location
Lat 6° 59' 27S Long 155° 53' 12E  Located on Ballale Island. Also known as "Ballalae" or "Ballalai" (Solomon spelling) or "Ballale" (American spelling).

Construction
he Japanese Navy 18th Construction Battalion arrived on the island on November 3, 1942 to begin building an airstrip with a contingent of 370 people, assisted by locals and later British POWs. The Japanese code named Ballale Isaland "RXZ".

They built a single runway running the length of the island, surfaced with crushed coral running roughly north-east to south-west, completed in January 1943. Landing mat (steel planks) were used on taxiways, and entaigo (revetments) for fighters and bombers.

The first aircraft landing at the strip, was a G3M2 Nell on January 9, 1943 piloted by Iwasaki. The airfield was developed into a forward airbase for both fighters and bombers, used by the Japanese Navy, Army and Army Air Force.

(IJN) Japanese Naval Units Based at Ballale
2nd Carrier Division (Vice-Admiral Kakuji Kakuda) HQ Rabaul, staging base on Ballale for Guadalcanal raids
Zuiho Sentouki-tai (18 A6M Zero detachment) thru April 6, 1943 Rabaul
204 Kokutai (A6M Zero detachment)
251 Kokutai (J1N1 Irving detachment) June 30 to Oct 12, 1943
702 Kokutai (G4M1 Betty detachment) middle May 1943 - June 30, 1943 Vunakanau
705 Kokutai (G4M1 Betty detachment)
(JAAF) Japanese Naval Units Based at Ballale
11th Sentai (Ki-43-I Oscar detachment) January 27, 1943 raid to Guadalcanal
Base Defense Units (January 1943)
18th Construction Group
6th Kure Chinjufu (Talahashi Group - 3 x 12cm Guns, Kanehara Group)
7th Yokosuka Chinjufu Miyake (4 x 7cm Guns)
13th Anti-Aircraft Group (Imoo Group)

POW Labor
A contingent of 517 British Royal Artillery Regiment POWs that surrendered in Singapore in February 1942. The contingent was selected from prisoners at Chengi POW Camp and shipped to Rabaul where some remained on Watom Island. The remaining 517 were shipped to Ballale where they labored for the Japanese, without medicine or air raid shelters. Many died from harsh treatment and Allied bombing raids. The remainder were all killed around March 1943 when the Japanese feared an Allied landing in the area. In addition, Chinese and Solomon Island laborers were employed to work on the island.

Height of Ballale
The airfield's height of operations was early 1943, when it was used for bombers and fighter detachments (Southern Area Fleet Nanha Momen Kantai).  During Operation I-Go, Allied intelligence reported 95 aircraft on the island on April 6, 1943. Also on May 13, intelligence observed 96 fighters and one bomber, according to USMC records.

Allied Aerial Assault
Discovered by the Allies in the middle of January 1943, hundreds of bombing missions and fighter sweeps targeted the airfield. After the Allied landing at Torokina, the island was bypassed and left to 'wither on a vine'.

Allied missions against Ballale
January 16, 1943 - May 28, 1944

Destination Yamamoto Never Arrived
After departing Rabaul, Admiral Yamamoto was scheduled to arrival at Ballale Airfield on April 18, 1943 at 11:35am. His visit was an inspection of forward airfields and to boost morale boost, after the loss of the Guadalcanal campaign. Instead, his G4M1 Betty 2656 was shot down over Bougainville.

Tom Blackburn in VF-17 The Jolly Rogers recalls the accuracy of AA:
"Dubbed 'Ballale Postgraduate School for Frustrated Anti-Aircraft gunners'. On the way home from missions we would strafe Ballale. I was never convinced that we did enough damage to warrant the risks, but I am certain our on going efforts inflicted psychological damage. Still I am not sure that it was worth the deaths sustained at the hands of their anti-aircraft gunners."

Fear of Invasion
In middle 1943, the Japanese feared an American invasion of the island, due to increased bombing raids and sea bombardments. Around the middle of 1943, the remaining Solomon Islander laborers were sent away, and the Japanese executed the remaining British POWs. They buried their bodies in a mass grave, so as not to attract attention from cremation smoke. Later garrisons were made to believe or lied, saying they believed the graves were Japanese.

Neutralization
The island was neutralized by the middle of October 1943. Accurate anti-aircraft batteries were still a threat, any flyable aircraft were withdrawn. Some of the Japanese fled, by attempting to swimming on empty fuel drums to Bougainville to join Japanese forces. At the end of the war, 480 Japanese remained on the island, survivors from the 6th Kure (321) and 7th Yokosuka (159) defenders.

Post War Occupation
First occupied by Australian Army 7 Infantry Battalion on November 10, 1945. The party included Lt. General V.A.H Sturdee (1st Army) and Brigadier A.W. Potts (23 Infantry Brigade). Australians immediately located the bodies of 57 prisoners killed on the island, and buried in shallow trenches. An atrocities commission was carried out on the island, that eventually led to the discovery of a mass grave of 436 bodies were exhumed with artifacts identifying them as British artillerymen, brought to Ballale from Singapore, where they surrendered in February 1942. They were re-interred in individual graves at the Bomama War Cemetery in Port Moresby, PNG. The remainder of the 517 British POWs have never been found.

Reopening By British Government
After the war, the strip was abandoned until 1973 when it was reopened by a grant from the British Colonial government. School children from the nearby Nila Catholic church were used to first clear the runway of bush and move live ordinance. Later, British engineers completed the work, and built a small terminal at the southern end of the strip and dock (now broken) for small boats.

Michael Claringbould visited Ballale in 1977:
"The Japanese workshops still had tools hanging on the walls. Bulldozers, steamrollers, aircraft everywhere, you would not have believed it - frozen in time."

Allan Dickes (grandson of Sam Atkinson) recalls:
"The most ironic memento of failed imperial ambition was a 'Betty" bomber on whose canopy a ficus had seeded, Its roots had wrapped around the fuselage and now lift the plane skyward once again! Nearby is the up tilted carcass of a 'Zero'. Half the fuselage is buried by soil thrown up by a nearby crater, the 'Rising Sun' emblem, still faintly discernible, is neatly bisected by the soil. The sun had surely set on that one!"

Today
Ballalae Airport is in limited use today by Solomon Airlines with bi-weekly flights providing air service to the Shortland area. Airport codes: IATA: BAS, ICAO: AGGE. The runway is 5' above sea level. Aside from passengers on the bi-weekly flights, no one lives on Ballale, and the rest of the island has reverted to dense jungle. Full of swamp and dense jungle, Ballale is notorious for scrub typhus, and other varieties of insects, diseases and dangers. Two anthologist that stayed overnight on the island, and died soon afterwards from the tropical aliments. Others report strange rashes, bites and infections from insects of the island.

References
Ballale Naval Engineering Group by Kotaro Sato

Mass Grave of British POW & Memorial
When Australian forces arrived on the island in November 1945, 436 bodies were exhumed with artifacts that identified them as British artillerymen. They were exhumed and temporarily buried at the nearest Allied War Cemetery at Torokina. Later, they were permanently re-interred at Bomama War Cemetery outside Port Moresby, and are also memorialized on MIA Tablets at Singapore. In July 2003, relatives of the POWs visited the island and erected a memorial to them next to the terminal.

List of British Prisoners Killed on Ballale
Are you a relative? Contact Us to add name

Aircraft Salvaged from Ballale
In the late 1960s, Canadian Robert Diemert recovered four aircraft (D3A2 Val 3178 and three Zeros) plus other parts from the island, before the Solomon Islands gain independence and laws were enacted to protect war wrecks. During the late 1990s, more was salvaged by American Patrick Murphy and loggers from nearby camps.

During December 2005, many aircraft wrecks were moved from the island to to the beach area by Australian Craig Turner / Solomon National Museum Project where they remained due to a dispute with locals. Turner returned on November 6, 2007 with Gary Spoors / GJD Services Ltd. These aircraft were removed on November 8, 2007 aboard the barge MV Tina. Transported to Honiara, the aircraft were presumably shipped overseas to either Australia or the United Kingdom.

Aircraft Recovered From Ballale
Read complete recovery profile [Broken Wings of Ballale].

D3A2 Val Manufacture Number 3178
Remained in situ until 1968, recovered by Robert Diemert, restored, today static display

A6M2 Zero Manufacture Number 5356 Tail EII-102
Recovered by Robert Diemert, restored to fly with the CAF

A6M2 Zero Manufacture Number 5450 Tail EII-140
Recovered by Robert Diemert, static restored at NMNA

A6M3 Zero Manufacture Number 3471
Recovered by Robert Diemert in 1969

A6M3 Zero Manufacture Number 3285 Tail 3-174 (?-134)
Tail pieces only, recovered by Robert Diemert

A6M3 Model 22 Zero
Remained in situ, possibly parts salvaged in 1968, salvaged by Craig Turner Nov 6, 2007

References
OneNews "Shortland & Ballalae Aircraft Salvage" November 20, 2007
GJD Services - Solomon's (accessed via WaybackMachine.org) circa February 2008

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Last Updated
May 22, 2017

 

Map
October 25, 1943

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Photos
Memorial Dedication

Link
COFEPOW
The Ballale Island Gunners

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