How Phosphorus was Used in the Pacific Theater During World War II

In last week’s post, we mentioned the use of white phosphorus bombs by the Japanese. We wanted to take a closer look at this weapon that really gained notoriety during the Vietnam War, what it is and how it was used during World War II. White phosphorus bombs have been in use since World War I. The element phosphorus is highly flammable and toxic, and most notable for spontaneous combustion, meaning it will catch fire if it’s left out in the open. As such, any burning bits of phosphorus are very difficult to fully extinguish. For a visual demonstration of its flammability, take a look at the video below.

 

The U.S. Army Air Force used white phosphorus a couple of different ways. Because this element reacts when it comes in contact with oxygen, it made an excellent smoke screen for disguising troop movements. Another use was as an incendiary against enemies, especially those dug out in foxholes or gun emplacements. On contact with human skin, white phosphorus has been known to burn all the way to the bone. Fifth Air Force created something that became known as “Kenney’s Cocktails,” 100-pound bombs with their main explosive charge replaced with phosphorus. Dramatic images of these “cocktails” in use can be seen in photos from the November 2, 1943 raid on Rabaul.

White phosphorus bombs were also used as air-to-air bombs by the Japanese against Allied air raids, but these were far less effective than ordinary flak bursts. Some of the more famous photos of exploding phosphorus bombs are from 1944 and 1945. Thanks to someone shooting a video of these explosions, we can show you several examples of phosphorus bomb bursts as seen from the air.

As we were digging up videos for this post, we found a video from 1943 of a test to see if phosphorus or standard explosives created more casualties in the field. Watch that video here. At the time, incendiary weapons were a regular part of warfare, but excessive civilian casualties due to fire-bombing during and after World War II led to a ban on any incendiary device used in any region near civilians (cities, for example) in 1980. Despite this, white phosphorus is still used to this day, primarily to create smokescreens. Whether or not the chemical should be banned altogether is still a matter of international debate.

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Repost: The Same Places, 70+ Years Apart—Six More WWII Bases Then and Now

This week, we wanted to bring back one of our posts that looked at the changes of a given location over 70 years. You might remember this one, which was first published in September 2016.

 

Rabaul, New Britain

Located on the coast of a natural harbor on the eastern coast of New Britain, an island in the Southwest Pacific, Rabaul was a German colony in the 1900s that was captured by the Australians in World War I. Two nearby volcanoes, Vulcan and Tavurvur, erupted violently in 1937, destroying most of the city. After World War II started, it was captured by the Japanese in January 1942, after which it was transformed into a major stronghold with approximately 97,000 troops that would easily fend off Allied attacks until October and November 1943. While the Allies continued to advance towards Japan, they cut off Japanese supply routes to Rabaul and continued to bomb the city and surrounding area. It was officially surrendered at the end of the war. After the war was over, the city became a trading hub until Tavurvur erupted in 1994, once again destroying a large part of the city. Developments closest to the volcano were never rebuilt.

Rabaul then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I, is Rabaul and Simpson Harbor as they appeared in September 1943. At right is Rabaul today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Langley Air Force Base

Established in 1917 near Hampton, Virginia, Langley Field (named after American aviation pioneer Samuel Pierpoint Langley) remains one of the oldest air bases in continuous operation in the U.S. Its small airfield was expanded in the 1930s and continued to develop as World War II began. At the time the left image was taken, Langley was used as a training ground for new units, such as the 43rd Bomb Group, established in the U.S. military build-up before they entered the war.

Langley then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I, is Langley Field in 1941. At right is Langley today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Boram Airdrome

On the northern coast of Papua New Guinea, Boram (referred to as East Wewak by the Japanese) was one of the four airdromes that made up the Wewak Complex built by the Japanese during World War II. The other three in the complex were Wewak, Dagua, and But. It was repeatedly attacked by the Allies between 1942 and 1945, and finally ended with the Australians securing Boram on May 22, 1945. These days Boram is the home of the Wewak Airport, also sometimes known as Boram Airport.

Boram then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is Boram Airdrome after it was attacked by the 312th Bomb Group during the spring of 1944. At right is Boram today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Morotai Island

Approximately two years after the Japanese invaded Morotai Island, off Halmahera Island in east Indonesia, the 31st Infantry Division of the U.S. Army landed on Morotai on September 15, 1944. Two airstrips were built and Morotai grew into a major staging base for attacks on Japanese territory in the Philippine Islands. Almost a year later on September 9, 1945, the island became the site of the formal surrender of the 126,000 Japanese still in the Netherlands East Indies [now Indonesia]. The base became a large aircraft and vehicle graveyard after the war was over. Scrapping and smelting lasted until 1988.

Morotai then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, are the two airstrips at Morotai on October 15, 1944. At right is Morotai today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Ie Shima

Ie Shima was part of the Ryukyu Island chain, a trail of islands southwest of Japan. It was just west of Okinawa, and was captured by the Allies as part of the Battle of Okinawa. Before American units took over the base, the Japanese destroyed the runways and buried mines throughout the island to deter Allied attacks. Once it was under U.S. control, various engineer aviation battalions were hard at work to make the island habitable for units that were due to move to the island in June. In August, Ie Shima was a stop for the Japanese surrender delegation on their way to Manila. These days, the U.S. Marine Corps operates a military training facility on part of the island, while civilians reside on the rest of it.

Ie Shima then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Warpath Across the Pacific, is the 345th Bomb Group’s camp area at Ie Shima in the summer of 1945. At right is Ie Shima today, taken from Google Maps.

Buka Island
Buka Island is part of the Solomon Island chain in the southwest Pacific, on the opposite end of the chain from Guadalcanal. After being claimed by the Germans in 1885, Buka was turned over to Australia in 1920. The Japanese seized Buka on March 9, 1942 and built an air base that grabbed Allied attention in June 1943 when preparations for Operation Cartwheel were in the works. A small canal separated Buka from the island of Bougainville, which was to be the site of a major invasion, and up-to-date reconnaissance of the two islands was required beforehand. That reconnaissance mission turned into one of the most dramatic moments of the Pacific war when Capt. Jay Zeamer, Jr. and his crew were attacked during their photomapping mission on June 16, 1943. In the end, Zeamer and his bombardier, 2/Lt. Joseph R. Sarnoski, were awarded the Medal of Honor (Sarnoski’s was posthumously awarded) and the rest of the crew was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for getting those photos while under fire. Contrary to internet lore, this photo was not taken during that mission. Buka remained under Japanese control until September 1945. It later gained independence from Papua New Guinea in 2005.

Buka then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from the Naval Aviation Museum, the Buka airfield in August 1943. At right is Buka today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Sources and additional reading:

Flying the A-24

In late December 1941, 40 graduates from the 41-H Flight Class arrived in Australia after being diverted from their planned destination in the Philippines. They were soon enrolled in the 27th Bomb Group’s A-24 Dive Bomber School. The core of experienced 27th BG pilots trained the fledgling pilots on the basics of flying the Douglas dive bomber and how to make a dive bombing attack. The aircraft was not a favorite of the 27th’s pilots, who complained that the aircraft handled like a truck compared to their preferred plane, the speedy twin-engined A-20 Havoc low level attack bomber. A silver lining of the A-24 was that its low speed kept the number of crashes amongst the new pilots to a minimum. Despite the plane’s poor reputation with the Army Air Force pilots, the plane would be used by the Navy to sink more Japanese ships than any other U.S. aircraft.

The new pilots learned how to fly the A-24 at “Little Randolph,” (so named after Randolph Field, TX) located at Archerfield, Brisbane. After four or five weeks of training, the graduates of the school were assigned to the three 27th Bomb Group Squadrons, the 16th, 17th and 91st. They were promptly ordered to fly their bombers from Brisbane to Darwin, which would be the starting point for a move to Java. While they were initially supposed to fly up to the Philippines, the rapid Japanese advance forced a change in plans.

A-24

This photo, taken while the 27th Bomb Group A-24s were being assembled in the Brisbane area, shows an A-24 from behind with a clear view of the perforated dive brakes. (27th Bomb Group Collection)

One of the A-24 instructors was 2/Lt. James H. “Harry” Mangan of the 27th Bomb Group, who wrote about his time as a flight school instructor in his personal diary.

January 1, 1942
Our school starts tomorrow or the next day. Harry Galusha is C.O., Zeke Summers, Asst off., J.R. Smith operations, Tubb – Supply and myself Engineering off. We will also act as flight instructors. I don’t know how it’s going to be flying from the rear seat of an A-24 with just a throttle stick and rudder but I’ll soon find out.

January 2, 1942
School has started and “Tim” [2/Lt. Francis E. Timlin] and “Gus” [1/Lt. Gustave H. Heiss] are to be added to the instructors here. . . . My students aren’t bad. I rode ‘em around today and let ‘em feel the ship out from the rear. Tomorrow or so will try to solo ‘em.

January 3, 1942
I shot a few landings with my students and then soloed ‘em. Meant to mention their names: Hayden, Anderson, and Wilkins. All of whom are not bad. Hayden’s the hottest to date – Wilkins the weakest. [Note that Wilkins later became commander of the 8th Bomb Squadron and would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions over Rabaul Harbor on November 2, 1943.]
I’ve enjoyed the last few days of instruction. I wanted it back in the States but they wouldn’t listen to me. Instead I went to a hell-bent-for-leather outfit of attack and perhaps I’d not be sorry. Instructing I guess does get terribly “old”.

January 10, 1942
The days have become pretty much of a routine now. We’ve a few spare men of the 8th Material [Squadron] for a ground crew and our school’s going great. It’s the first decent deal we’ve pulled since we left Manila and I’m enjoying it. So far we work on the school during the day, assemble ships as we train then clean up for dinner and occasionally grab a Jeep or car & go into Brisbane.

January 23, 1942
We moved from Archerfield today to Amberly field and I hated to move. Good bye to freedom and order, hello wheel-spin. Good bye to the decent mess the Aussies shared with us, good bye to table cloths, waitresses (WAAF), cold beer and cokes before dinner. Oh well I’m used to that stuff. Have some pleasant memories of lifting gas for our Southport trip, going out with Les Jackson, Hill, and others.

The 91st has formed now at Archerfield with Harry Galusha, Zeke, J.R. Smith, Tubbs and some of the trainees. “Gus”, “Tim” and myself are joining our 17th here at Amberly. Oh yes, add Salvatore and Ed Backus to the 91st. Think Ed Backus got tired of the flub dubbing here and the Lennon’s Hotel life so took over the 91st Squadron. I personally believe they now have more spirit than in 17th but – we shall see how they fare. They are due to go to Java within a few days. The P.I. deal is out and we are now destined to help the Dutch. Right now I’m trying to sort out ships and get them equipped with the better jobs.

Looking them over today I had to smile disgustedly at the way the planes were originally shipped and how much additional work we’ve had to put on them to make them somewhere near fit for combat. We are using truck tires for the wheels – we’ve no replacements. We lacked hand triggers for the guns until frantic wires to General Marshall brought a B-24 out with electric solenoids etc(?) Oh yes, and even then brought the wrong stuff and not enough!

The Same Places, 70+ Years Apart—Another Six WWII Bases Then and Now

We’re back with more comparisons of bases then and now. It’s fascinating seeing what has changed in a particular area affected by World War II. For those of you who haven’t seen the previous installments of this series, read here and here. Today, let’s take a look at a few of the lesser known bases in the Pacific Theater.

Kaoe II

Built by the Japanese during World War II, Kaoe consisted of two runways, Kaoe I and Kaoe II. Today, Kaoe II is still in use as an airstrip.

Kaoe Then and Now

 

 

Miti Airfield

This airfield was used by the Japanese during the war. It has since been converted into a road with houses lining the former runway.
Miti Then and Now

 

Guiuan Airfield

A crushed coral runway constructed by the Seabees, this airfield was used heavily by U.S. fighters and bombers. Today, the coral has been replaced by asphalt and the runway is occasionally used.

Guiuan Then and Now

 

Nabire Airport

Also built by the Japanese during World War II when Nabire was part of Dutch New Guinea, this runway is still being used today. Due to the conditions of the land, the runway can’t be extended and there is a bigger airport under construction nearby.

Nabire Then and Now

 

Haroekoe Airdrome

This airfield was built by prisoners of war from the Haroekoe and Tantoei POW Camps. After the war, it was abandoned, leaving hardly any trace of its existence today.

Haroekoe Then and Now

 

Garbutt Field

Located in Townsville, Australia, Garbutt Field was built prior to World War II and owned by the Townsville city council. It became a major airfield during the war that was used by the RAAF, U.S. and Dutch. Now known as Townsville Airport, it is used for civilian flights as well as an RAAF base.

Garbutt Then and Now

 

Sources:

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/indonesia/kaoe/index.html

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/indonesia/miti/index.html

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/philippines/guiuan/index.html

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/indonesia/nabire/index.html

https://centreforaviation.com/data/profiles/newairports/new-nabire-airport

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/indonesia/harakoe/index.html

http://www.ozatwar.com/garbutt.htm

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/australia/garbutt/index.html

“People of the Philippines, I Have Returned”

It had been more than two years since General Douglas MacArthur was ordered to leave the Philippines as the Japanese captured the islands. At the time, he promised to return, and he fulfilled his word on October 20, 1944 when he waded to the shore of Leyte. Back on New Guinea, the 312th Bomb Group and other units began receiving lectures and booklets about the Philippines. It wouldn’t be long before they would pack up and move to the islands.

Below is some footage from the landing as well as Gen. MacArthur’s speech to the Filipino residents.

 

 

The Same Places, 70+ Years Apart—Five More WWII Bases Then and Now

Port Moresby

The town that would later become the capital city of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby, was a major staging base for the Allies during World War II. Port Moresby’s air fields, named for their distance from the city, included: 3 Mile (Kila Kila), 5 Mile (Ward), 7 Mile (Jackson), 12 Mile (Berry), 14 Mile (Schwimmer), and 17 Mile (Durand). It was crucial for the Allies to hold onto this territory, as it was the last piece of land between the Japanese to the north and Australia to the south. The city’s occupants were subject to many Japanese bombing raids until September 1943. Postwar, Port Moresby transformed from an Australian territory to the Papua New Guinea capital in 1975. Today, all that remains of World War II are artifacts and steel matting from the runways.

Port Moresby then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is the Port Moresby complex as it appeared in December 1942. At right is Port Moresby today, taken from Google Maps.

Floridablanca

Translated from Spanish as “white flower,” Floridablanca was settled as a Spanish mission in 1823. Not much is known about the area’s history, but it was taken over by the Japanese during World War II, then liberated once the Allies moved that far north. The 312th Bomb Group and 348th Fighter Group both used the air base on Floridablanca for a short time. The Philippine Air Force now uses the base and it has been renamed Basa Air Base.

Floridablanca

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is Floridablanca as it appeared in 1946. At right is Floridablanca today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Owi Island

Owi’s only inhabitants before World War II consisted of two families, one at each end of the small island. Shortly after the arrival of Allied forces in 1944, the natives left. It took about three weeks to build the airstrip, which consisted of coral, a difficult surface to land on when it was wet. Owi was used between June and November 1944, then abandoned as U.S. forces pushed north. Traces of the runway can still be seen today.

Owi then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo at the top, taken from an upcoming book, is Owi Island as it appeared in August 1944. Above is Owi Island today, taken from Google Maps.

Finschhafen

In 1885, Finschhafen was settled by the German New Guinea Company. About 15 years later, it was abandoned after disease spread rapidly among the settlers and resulted in the failure of two different colonization attempts. At some point before World War II started, Lutherans built a mission station on Finschhafen. The Japanese took over the area on March 10, 1942 and held it until Australian forces moved in and captured Finschhafen on October 2, 1943. Allied forces expanded the base and used it until the end of the war. After the war ended, a huge hole was dug and much of the leftover equipment was buried. These days, Finschhafen is a quiet location.

Finschhafen then and now

Click to enlarge. In the undated photo at the top is Finschhafen sometime around World War II. Above is Finschhafen today, taken from Google Maps.

Gusap

Previously uninhabited, Gusap was built up into an eight-runway airfield by U.S. Army engineers. It was used from October 1943 to July 1944 by several units that included the 49th Fighter Group and 312th Bomb Group. This location was ideal for staging missions by fighters and light bombers. After the war was over, remaining aircraft were scrapped. Today, only one of the eight strips is still being used by aircraft and is noted by the balloon in the right image. The rest of the area has been turned into a cattle ranch. With the radical transformation of Gusap, the exact location of the airfields seen in the left image has become unknowable.

Gusap then and now

Click to enlarge. In the top photo, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is part of Gusap’s airfields as they appeared in December 1943. Above is Gusap today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Sources and additional reading:

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/provinces/png_port_moresby.html

https://www.britannica.com/place/Port-Moresby

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/philippines/floridablanca/index.html

http://en.wikipilipinas.org/index.php/Floridablanca,_Pampanga

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owi_Airfield

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/indonesia/owi/index.html

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/provinces/png_finschafen.html

http://engineersvietnam.com/engineers/WWII/owi.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finschhafen

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/papua-new-guinea/morobe-and-madang-provinces/finschhafen-area/introduction

https://www.britannica.com/place/Finschhafen

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/png/gusap/index.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gusap_Airport

75th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway

Next week marks 75 years since the decisive battle at the tiny island of Midway. We came across a great post by the U.S. National Archives about John Ford’s movies on this battle and recommend you head over there for some interesting information on the films. Take some time to watch the films while you’re there. Here’s an excerpt to get you started:

The Battle of Midway and Torpedo Squadron 8:

A Memorial to a Fallen Unit

On June 4, 1942, the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked United States forces on the island of Midway. With four Japanese aircraft carriers sunk by the conclusion of the conflict, the battle was the first major victory for the US in the Pacific. But victory did not come without cost. More than 300 Americans lost their lives during the Battle of Midway, including all but one member of the bomber group Torpedo Squadron 8. Two films made by Oscar-winning director John Ford, now preserved at the National Archives, tell the story of triumph and sacrifice at Midway.

The Battle of Midway

Two years into John Ford’s war service, the Hollywood director had produced Sex Hygiene, the military’s frontline weapon against venereal disease—a threat to military readiness—and established the Navy’s Field Photo Unit. When Ford was asked to find a few cameramen for an assignment in the Pacific, he put his own name forward and headed to Midway, a strategically important island halfway between mainland America and Japan…

Continue reading at The Unwritten Record