Thursday, November 25, 2010

Lost American Airfields of the North Pacific

The North Pacific Ocean is littered with abandoned airfields and other military installations. Many sit atop tiny atolls and despite being shortlived, played a critical role in history. Today, most of the infrastructure has gone, but the runways and dispersals stand as a silent reminder to the battles that once raged there.

Midway Eastern Island

Midway Atoll is essentially two tiny islands swallowed up by military air bases, both of which still exist today. After a turbulent wartime history that culminated in the bloody Battle of Midway, the larger of the two bases (Henderson Field on Sand Island) remains in use today as a public airport subsidized by Boeing. The original airfield on Eastern Island was a strategic American base during World War Two, and became abandoned shortly after.

The images above depict the conflict in full swing. The Battle of Midway, fought between 4-7 June 1942, is widely regarded as the most important naval battle of the Pacific Campaign during World War Two. Six months after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy defeated an Imperial Japanese Navy attack against Midway Atoll, crippling the Japanese fleet irrepairably and turning the tide of battle.

More than six decades later, what was once the scene of intense fighting is now a haven for birds and other wildlife, although marine debris and problems caused by lead based paints used on the buildings continue to present environmental challenges.

Palmyra Atoll

Once privately owned by American citizens, including Hawaiians, the U.S. Navy set about building an air base in 1941 after Palmyra Atoll was placed in its charge. Three large runways were built, with Palmyra used primarily as a staging post for aircraft flying between Hawaii and Australia during World War Two. Many of the original buildings remain overgrown in the jungle, while the main runway is still used to ferry scientists to Palmyra Atoll - now a research centre in the study of global warming.

Tern Island, French Frigate Shoals

In terms of appearance, Tern Island in the French Frigate Shoals is one of the most amazing island airfields in the world. From the air, it resembles an aircraft carrier, with almost every acre of land taken up by runway. The base was built in 1943 as a reserve landing ground for Naval Air Station Pearl Harbor, but was swept clean by a tidal wave in 1946. It has since been used by the U.S. Coast Guard, and is now a wildlife reserve.

Guam Northwest Field

Construction began on Guam Northwest Field in 1944 to support the massive B-29 bomber. The base had two large runways (still relatively intact today), although taxiways were not initially completed and aircraft had to be towed to their parking spaces over rough coral. Guam Northwest Field was abandoned after 1958, but is difficult to access since it comes under the jurisdiction of nearby North Field, now Anderson Air Force Base (below).

Since its constuction during World War Two, Anderson Air Force Base continued to play a key role as a strategic bomber base throughout the Vietnam War and upto the present day. Today it is home to regular detachments of the sinister B-2 Spirit bomber, as well as the mighty B-52.

Johnston Atoll

Johnston Atoll is perhaps the most impressive looking of the remaining island airfields. The island's military days are now over, and nature has reclaimed the land under the auspices of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

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