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:

Battle of Manila: Softening Corregidor

In the weeks before the Battle of Manila began on February 3, 1945, ground troop commanders requested the help of heavy bombers to knock out some of the Japanese defenses built on Corregidor and Grande Islands. The two islands would be of strategic import in the coming battle, particularly Corregidor, which sits at the mouth of Manila Bay. General MacArthur approved of this on January 22nd, causing the 22nd Bomb Group to spare the Japanese airfields and give some attention to Luzon.

Liberators from the Group took off on the 24th, each loaded with five 1000-pound bombs. Many targets were marked out, including two large coastal defense guns and ammo installations scattered about Grande Island. Results were excellent, with several bombs hitting a powder magazine and and ammunition storage area. They flew back to base without incident.

On the 26th, the 22nd was scheduled to hit Corregidor Island. Approximately 6000 Japanese men were estimated to be occupying the island at the time. This was a more difficult target from 10,000 feet, as the men, along with two coastal defense guns, were hidden in buried concrete bunkers and underground tunnels. The crews did what they could to hit the guns, but to no avail. Taking out the guns would have to wait until another time.

Corregidor Island

The 22nd Bomb Group repeatedly bombed Corregidor Island in Manila Bay to soften it up for a combined airborne and sea invasion on February 16, 1945.

 

The next day, the Group went back to Grande Island to focus down two coastal defense guns on the southeast corner of the island. Planes from the 2nd Squadron successfully destroyed the guns by dropping their bombs between the gun emplacements.

January 28th brought another mission to Grande Island. The 22nd were hoping to repeat their success on the two coastal defense guns on the southwest corner of the island. Due to all the secondary explosions and fires, the Group couldn’t quite tell if they had knocked the guns out of commission. This was the final mission for the 22nd during January 1945.

On the ground, Gen. Krueger’s 37th Division reached the east side of Clark Field. They seized it from the Japanese and moved into Fort Stotsenburg. To Krueger’s north, the Eighth Army (there to reinforce the Sixth Army) landed at Lingayen on the 27th. With the extra men available to him, Krueger began the march towards Manila.