A war airfield not much known

Weekender

By CLETUS NGAFFKIN
I FIRST went to Hula village in the Hood Point area in 2006.
The fish market is awesome as fishermen return in the early mornings with fresh marine products from their ever successful night fishing trips. The vegetables and betelnut markets are always lively with vendors and villagers who gather around the market to meet and greet.
Before Hula village is the Rakili beach on the Babaka side and Irupara village along what is commonly known as “Hood Point” where I have been to, and enjoyed, so many times over the years.
Nevertheless, I didn’t know about a significantly important secret kept hidden for 75 years in the Hood Point area, until a friend pointed it out to me in January 2018. He showed me a photograph of a war plane that landed in an emergency in 1942 that stretches from Rakili to Iruiru point in 1942. I was so intrigued that I decided to do more research on that plane. To my surprise I unearthed a major piece of history about Hood Point and the Hula Airfield.
I discovered that little known Hula Airfield also played a pivotal role in the Allied Forces’ success during the Second World War’s “Battle of the Coral Sea.” It was used by the United States of America Air Force (USAAF) and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) as an emergency runway during the war.
The airfield is located on the western shore of Hood Point (Lat 10° 4’ 60S Long 147° 43’ 0E) which is on the southern coast of Papua New Guinea to the west of Port Moresby in the Central Province. Hood Point has several villages; Hula, Alewai, Irupara, Makerupu, Kamali and Babaka.
Hula village borders Beagle Bay to the Northwest and Hood Bay to the East. The mouth of the Kemp Welch River empties into Hood Bay to the east of Hood Point.
Another milestone event that took place at Hula village was the arrival of the first Anglican Missionary in 1876. Today, Dr. Lawes Memorial Stone Memorial can be seen inside a fenced enclosure with white and red tiles forming a cross and a plaque that reads: “This stone was dedicated on 23rd June 1976 to commemorate the arrival in Hula of the Christian missionary Dr. W. G. Lawes on 23rd June 1876. Man who has hazard his life for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”
Until the 1970s, Hula village was built over the sea on huts atop stilts. In 2018, Hula is comprised mostly of homes on Hood Point, although a few are still on stilts over the sea. Many pieces of Marston Matting (PSP) remain in the village, used as fences or other purposes.
During the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese army occupied many areas of Papua New Guinea. These included the offshore islands of New Britain, New Ireland and Bougainville, the Solomon Islands to the East and Papua Province of Indonesia to the West.
An estimated one million Americans, 75,000 Japanese and 50,000 Australians served in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Papua Province. The Papuan people were instrumental in the war, serving on the side of both the Japanese and Allied Forces as guides, labourers, carriers, spotters and soldiers.
On April 30, 1942 one of eleven Airacobra war planes led by Lt. Col Boyd D. “Buzz” Wagner on a strafing mission against Lae Airfield, the 8th Fighter Group’s first combat mission took off from the 7-Mile Drome (now Jacksons Airport) near Port Moresby at 13:00. The Airacobras strafed the airfield at 14:37, hitting parked aircrafts and seaplanes, then departed. During the flight a Japanese A6M2 Zeros of the Tainan Kōkūtai scrambled, and attacked the Airacobras while they were near Salamaua. Returning from the mission, this damaged Airacobra force landed on the Rakili beach near Hood Point. The aircraft was officially condemned by the USAAF on October 31, 1944.
The pilot, Captain Brown was taken to Abau where he met Japanese prisoner of war Yoshimitsu Maeda, pilot of the A6M2 Zero 1575 who force landed on April 28 in the same area. Both were transported aboard the MV Matoma to Port Moresby. Captain Brown later returned to duty with his squadron during early May.
When it force landed, this Airacobra bent its propeller and suffered broken oil coolers, bent flaps and cowling damage. In early October, 1942 a US Army salvage team, departed Port Moresby aboard a small ship bound for Hood Point to repair this Airacobra. Their ship floundered on the reef near their destination, forcing salvage tools and fuel to be dumped overboard, yet the ship still half capsized. Later, some of the salvage equipment and parts were located with the help of native divers from Hula village.
An improvised hoist made of coconut palms was used to lift the wreck, as the original ‘A- frame’ was lost in the sea. About 100 natives were used to tow the Airacobra to a clearing and mark an improvised runway on the beach. On October 15, 1942 this aircraft was flown back to Port Moresby, without flaps or landing gear operative.
This Airacobra’s service afterwards is unknown.
Two other aircrafts that force landed at Kalo village near Hood Point was a P-40E 41-24821, piloted by a Lieutenant Finberg and a P-40 Kittyhawk 41-5620 piloted by 1st Lt. William F. Haning Jr on November 17, 1942. This P-40 was operating from Darwin, Port Moresby and Milne Bay.
Lt Finberg took off on an escort mission protecting C-47 transports flying to Pogani Airfield and on the return flight, bad weather forced him to ditch the P-40E Warhawks 41-24821 into the sea near Hula.
Haning had been escorting Australian Beaufighters on a mission to Zaka near Morobe when bad weather caused him to become lost on the return flight, subsequently running out of gasoline and making a safe crash-landing near Hood Point. On the ground, Haning fired his guns to keep the locals away from the aircraft, because he feared it might catch fire after the landing. Haning was unhurt in the landing and was later transported to Port Moresby and returned to his squadron on Nov 22, 1942.
Today, continued rising sea levels have claimed what was the Hula Airfield near Hood Point. But the long and straight stretch of beach from Rakili to Iruiru Point will always remind me of the once busy and noisy area during the Second World War.

  • Cletus Ngaffkin is a freelance writer.

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