Ie Shima Airfield
|Ie Shima Airfield
|Ie Shima, Ryukyu Islands, Japan|
|Aerial photo of Ie Shima Island, off the northwest coast of Okinawa, 1945 looking east over the 77th Division landing beaches, toward the Pinnacle.|
|Type||Military airfield Complex|
|Controlled by||United States Army Air Forces|
|Built||Prior to April 1945|
Ie Shima Airfield (伊江島補助飛行場 Iejima Hojo Hikōjō?) is a gunnery and training facility, managed by the United States Marine Corps and a former World War II airfield complex on Ie Shima, an island located off the northwest coast of Okinawa Island in the East China Sea. The airfield was inactivated after 1946 and largely returned to Japanese control in 1972.
Invasion and construction
The airfields on Ie Shima were built by the Japanese prior to the American invasion and subsequent Battle of Okinawa in April 1945. It was seized by elements of the United States Army 77th Infantry Division after intermittent bombardment of the island by the United States Navy Fifth Fleet from 25 March through 16 April when the invasion of the island commenced. The island was not declared secure until 24 April.
Prior to the invasion, the Japanese commander on Okinawa, believing that Ie Shima could not be held for more than a few days, ordered that the airfields on the island be destroyed by the end of March 1945. Thorough demolitions followed. The runways were ditched and blasted and the entire central area sown with mines, as defense against possible airborne attack. The airfields were also mined by unused aerial bombs and mines made from drums of gasoline.
Base development proceeded rapidly once the mopping up was completed. Although initially delayed by the large number of mines, soldiers from the 805th Engineer Aviation Battalion, 1892nd Engineer Aviation Battalion, and several other engineering units quickly repaired the enemy airfields and began the construction of new runways, along with a series of interlinking taxiways, revetments, maintenance facilities along with a containment facility for personnel. The coral foundation of the island and the rubble of the town of Ie facilitated the work. There was ample room for dispersal area, and the sloping ground on the sides and ends of the central plateau provided space for housing base personnel. Japanese civilians were evacuated to Tokashiki in the Kerama Islands. Engineers discovered a large limestone basin on the north coast which produced 100,000 gallons of fresh water. Under these conditions work proceeded rapidly and by 10 May one fighter group was based on the island. By the middle of the month three runways were ready for operational use along with taxiways. In addition, radar and air warning facilities installed, although much construction work remained.
Operational units assigned
By 14 June three fighter groups and one night fighter squadron were operating from the airfield. As expected, Ie Shima proved to be an ideal base for the support of operations on Okinawa and for preparing later attacks on the Japanese homeland.
Japanese Surrender Delegation
On August 19, 1945, two B-25Js of the 345th Bombardment Group and 80th Fighter Squadron P-38 Lightings escorted two Japanese Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bombers. The Japanese aircraft carried a delegation from Tokyo en route to Manila to meet General MacArthur's staff to work out details of the surrender.
The Betty bombers were painted white with green crosses on the wings, fuselage and vertical tail surface and use the call signs Bataan I and Bataan II. After the delegation landed at Ie Shima, they boarded a C-54 Skymaster and were flown to Manila. After the meeting, they returned to Ie Shima. One of the two Bettys crashed on its way back to Japan out of fuel, due to an incorrect conversion of liters to gallons when the bombers were refueled. The crew were helped by local fisherman, and returned to Tokyo by train.
With the end of the war, many of the units assigned to Ie Shima were reassigned or inactivated. By the end of 1946, the facility was closed and placed in reserve status. Most of the island was returned to Japanese control in 1972.
The three runways that were in use when World War II ended still exist. The United States military maintains the western runway as a small unimproved 5,000-foot (1,500 m) coral runway. It also has a simulated LHA deck, and a drop zone for parachute training, being part of a military training facility operated by the United States Marine Corps. There is a detachment of usually less than 20 Marines which operates the range.
The eastern runway is now Iejima Airport and is used by a small civilian air carrier, and the central one is now abandoned and is used as a thoroughfare for residents to get from the north to the south side of the island.
The Simulated LHA deck is used by Marine Wing Support Squadron 172 Marine Aircraft Group 36. The coral runway is also still in use for touch and go operations.
- Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
- The Battle for Ie Shima
- The True Story of the Japanese Surrender in WW2
- A Closer Look at the Japanese Betty Bombers
- The 34th Fighter Squadron on Ie Shima
- Research the Battle of Okinawa Here
- National Archives at College Park, Maryland, microfiche Roll #A0290, slides 0388 to 0532, history of the 1892nd Engineer Aviation Battalion