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

This week, we wanted to take a look at how much several World War II bases from the Pacific Theater (as well as one from the U.S.) have changed since the war ended.

 

Hunter Army Airfield
Located in Savannah, Georgia, Hunter Field was originally a municipal airport built in 1929. It was named Hunter Municipal Airfield in May 1940 after a World War I flying ace from Savannah, Lt. Col. Frank O’Driscoll Hunter. Soon afterwards, an Army Air Corps base was built and several units, the 3rd and 27th Bomb Groups as well as the 35th Air Base Group, would call it home for a short time. The 312th Bomb Group was another unit that did their aircraft training at Hunter Air Base (so renamed on February 19, 1941). Today, there are about 5000 soldiers at Hunter Army Airfield, including the Coast Guard’s Air Station Savannah.

Hunter Army Airfield Then and Now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left,  taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is the base where bomb groups such as the 312th were activated. At right is Hunter Army Airfield today, taken from Google Maps.

 

RAAF Base Amberley
What is now the Royal Australian Air Force’s largest base was under construction during most of World War II. Amberley, located southwest of Brisbane, was named by an immigrant farmer in the 1850s after his hometown in England. Airport construction began in 1939 and continued through 1944. During the war, the base briefly housed many Australian and U.S. units, including the 22nd and 38th Bomb Groups.

RAAF Base Amberley: Then and Now

Click to enlarge. At left is airfield at Amberley during the early part of WWII, taken from Revenge of the Red Raiders. The image on the right is a current view of RAAF Base Amberley, taken from Google Maps.

 

Corregidor Island
Originally Spanish territory, the island of Corregidor was incorporated into U.S. territory after the Spanish-American War. It stayed that way until Japanese forces invaded the island in 1942, leading to the unconditional surrender of the Allies in the Philippines on May 6, 1942. Finally, in early 1945, the Allies took back the island. These days, Corregidor is part of the Philippines National Park, with several historic landmarks scattered about the island.

Corregidor Island Then and Now

Click to enlarge. (Left) A 43rd Bomb Group strike photo of Corregidor after it was bombed by the Group, taken from the IHRA archives. (Right) This satellite image of the island shows how it has changed since World War II. Image taken from Google Maps.

 

Manila, Philippines
Manila was also a Spanish territory that was given to the U.S. after the Spanish-American War. From 1935-1941, it was Gen. MacArthur’s base during his time as a military advisor. The city was attacked by Japanese on December 8, 1941, and, after repeated bombings, it fell into Japanese hands in January 1942. Three years later, the U.S. returned to Manila and fought a bloody month-long battle to recapture it, destroying much of the city in the process. This picture was taken at the tail end of the conflict. The city has since recovered and is now a major urban center in the Pacific, the capital of the Philippines, and has a population of over 1.5 million people.

Manila Then and Now

Click to enlarge. The photo on the left, taken from the IHRA archives, shows the destruction after Manila was bombed. At right is a satellite image of a rebuilt Manila taken from Google Earth.

 

Wakde Island
Before the Japanese set foot on Wakde Island in April 1942, it may have been inhabited by a small native population. Over the next year, much of the foliage on the island was cut down to make space for a runway that was 5400 feet long and 390 feet wide. The Japanese leveled more of the island to build 100 pillboxes, bunkers and other defenses. On May 15, 1944, the fight over Wakde began. All but four Japanese soldiers stationed there fought to the death. Wakde was further expanded by the Allies, almost completely clearing the island of vegetation in the process.  Today, the island is uninhabited.

Wakde Island Then and Now

Click to enlarge. The photo on the left,  from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, shows Wakde Island after its development as an Allied base. The image on the right is from Google Earth.

 

Nadzab
This base, located north of Lae, started out as a tiny native village that was eventually populated by German Lutherans of the Gabmatzung Mission in 1910. A small airfield was later established. The Japanese captured Nadzab in 1942 and occupied it until early September 1943 when Gen. MacArthur ordered Operation Postern to be carried out. Once Nadzab was in Allied hands, it was expanded into a huge airbase with five airstrips. As the war wound down, Nadzab was redesigned as an aircraft boneyard. Today, it serves as a small regional airport.

Nadzab Then and Now

Click to enlarge. At left, four of Nadzab’s five airstrips can be seen in this photo from IHRA. Today, the only sign of this former base is the single runway seen slightly left of center. The satellite image is from Google Earth.

 

 

Sources and additional information about these WWII sites:

The Early Days of the 312th Bomb Group

Sixty-seven years ago, the newly formed 312th Bomb Group was stationed at Hunter Field in Georgia. Hunter Field was a new Army post with comfortable barracks, a chapel, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, and clubs for the enlisted men and officers. In the relative comfort of this base, the 312th men learned what they needed to do to function as a bomb group. Everybody from maintenance to the parachute department was kept busy fine-tuning their various skills.
Hunter Field

An aerial view of Hunter Field in January 1943.

The Group started training on the Vultee A-35 Vengeance dive-bomber, a very troublesome aircraft for pilots and mechanics alike. The A-35 was a single-engine plane that held a pilot and rear gunner, six .50-caliber wing-mounted machine guns and a single .50-caliber machine gun in the rear. It could carry a bomb load of up to 2000 pounds, but the aiming system was terrible and caused the crews to miss their targets by as much as 100 yards. A-35

The A-35 Vengeance dive-bomber: a troublesome but easy-to-fly aircraft.

When pilots went to land their planes, they hoped that the landing gear wouldn’t collapse on them because it was so poorly designed. As problematic as the plane was, it was easy to fly and fairly stable. The maintenance crews also benefited from the challenges of this aircraft by gaining substantial experience dealing with all the problems. The men worked on and soon perfected their navigation skills and flying in formation.

The 312th BG flew the A-35s until they received the A-36 Apache dive-bomber in late November. This plane was a version of the P-51 Mustang with lattice-type dive brakes in the wings and would not exceed 300mph with the dive brakes extended in a vertical dive. Unlike the A-35, pilots actually enjoyed flying this aircraft. Not long after they started training on these planes, the 311th Bomb Group took them to India. The 312th then flew the Douglas A-24 Dauntless dive-bomber, a slower plane that allowed the crews to train for providing closer support to Army ground forces.

A-36 A-24

(Left) The A-36 was used by the 312th for a short time. (Right) Once the 311th Bomb Group was sent to India, the 312th started flying the A-24.

November 23, 1943 was a tragic day for the Group. While returning to Hunter Field from Little Rock, Arkansas, two members of the 388th Squadron, 1/Lt. Reynolds H. Middleton and M/Sgt. David L. Dean, crashed near Macon, Georgia when they flew into a severe thunderstorm. They were the Group’s first fatalities.
The 312th rotated to Statesboro, Georgia for ten days to practice maneuvers and experience life in the field. Working and sleeping in tents at Statesboro was the first taste of Army life for many men. As the months progressed, the Group continued and finished their training at Hunter Field by the middle of February 1943. From there, they moved to De Ridder Army Air Base and later Rice and Salinas air bases in California, where they transitioned to the P-40. Salinas was the final Stateside training base for the Group.