Ie Shima Airfield
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|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 Marine Corps|
|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, the 1902nd and the 1903rd Engineer Aviation Battalions, 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 19 August 1945, two B-25Js of the 345th Bombardment Group and 80th Fighter Squadron P-38 Lightnings 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 a 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.
In the late 1950s the air station was used as a bomb gunnery range. Relations between the U.S. military and local civilian authorities were at an all-time low. This was a result of many locals being injured when they went into the range area to pick up spent cartridges left by aircraft performing gunnery practice. Relations improved once the practice of picking up spent cartridges ceased.
There were two Air Force units stationed on the island in the early 1960s. One was Detachment 1, 1962nd Communications Group which operated a radio receiver site. The other was a unit responsible for operating the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing's bomb gunnery range on the island. Although small, the base looked much like a full-fledged base which included barracks, mess hall, fire department, security guards and guard dogs, a small motor pool and even a Non-Commissioned Officers Club. Although the air force station had a usable runway which was occasionally used, transport of personnel and supplies to the island was on the local civilian ferry from Motobu Port on Okinawa.
In 1963 the island experienced a severe drought. For a while all the water wells on the island except for one dried up. That one well was on airfield property controlled by the U.S. Air Force. The officer in charge dispatched his fire department personnel to use the station's pumper truck to pick up water at the well and to distribute the water to several locations on the island. That was greatly appreciated by the local population. As a result, Air Force officials on Ie Shima and Okinawa received several letters of appreciation from local officials.
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