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North Field (Ushi Point Airfield)

20th usaaf.png

Part of Twentieth Air Force
Northfield-tinian-1945-2.jpg
Oblique airphoto of North Field, Tinian, 1945. Note the massive runway system and number of hardstands, each hardstand where a B-29 was parked and maintained.
Type Military Airfield
Coordinates 15°04′19.36″N 145°38′18.13″E / 15.0720444°N 145.6383694°E / 15.0720444; 145.6383694
Built 1944
In use 1944-1946
Controlled by United States Army Air Forces

North Field is a former World War II airfield on Tinian in the Mariana Islands. Abandoned after the war, today North Field is a tourist attraction.

North Field is probably the most historically significant airfield used by the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. It was a Twentieth Air Force base for B-29 Superfortress operations against the Japanese Home Islands in 1944 and 1945, however the airfield was also the base for the 509th Composite Group which flew the two Atomic Bomb missions against Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, which led to the unconditional surrender of Imperial Japan on September 2, 1945, and the end of the Pacific War.

Contents

History

See also: Battle of Tinian

Tinian, with its sister islands of the Marianas, had passed through Spanish and German hands prior to becoming a Protectorate of Japan following World War I. Under Japanese administration, Tinian was largely a sugar plantation. In 1939, large-scale military construction began on Tinian by the Japanese Military. 1,200 prisoners were sent to the island from Japan for the construction of airfields as part of the defense of the Mariana Islands, By 1944, the island had three military airfields with a fourth under construction. What would become North Field was a Japanese fighter airstrip 4,380' in length, built being known as Ushi Point Airfield.

By mid-1944, the Americans had advanced inside the Japanese ring of defense in the Pacific Theater. On Tinian, the United States Army Air Forces could establish bases to conduct long-range strategic offensive air operations over the Japanese Home Islands with the new B-29 Superfortress, which, during early 1944, was operating ineffectively from bases in China. Bringing the superfortresses into the Central Pacific and stationing them in the Marianas would bring Japan within the range of the B-29, as well as provide the Twentieth Air Force with reliable means of support from the western ports of the United States. Assaulted on July 24, 1944 by United States Marines from Saipan, which had just been taken the previous month. After a fierce bombardment, the 4th Marine division landed. The Japanese were taken by surprise, and the offensive was regarded as one of the best-executed amphibious operation of the war.

Once under American control, a massive construction project was begun on the north end of Tinian, and nearly the entire northern end of the island was occupied by the runways, nearly 11 miles of taxiways and the airfield area, along with the various support facilities and containment areas. The Ushi Point Airfield had been expanded with three 8000' runways involving the movement of nearly 1,000,000 cubic yards of earth and coral while 900,000 truck miles were absorbed. A fourth runway was constructed in May 1945. Hardstands built for 265 B-29 bombers. The four parallel 8,000 foot runways are oriented nearly east-west. North Field was, at the time, the largest airfield in the world.

North Field came under the command of Twentieth Air Force XXI Bomber Command, with the 313th Bombardment Wing being the host unit at the expansive station. Its operational groups, the 6th (Circle R), 9th (Circle X), 504th (Circle E) and 505th Bombardment Groups (Circle W) arrived in December 1944.

The four runways at North Field were lettered "A", "B", "C" and "D" from north to south. The 6th Group was parked on the south-side of Runway D, then going north the 9th Group was parked between C and D. The 504th between C and B, and the 505th on the south side of runway A. In addition, the B-29s were assigned specific hardstands for each aircraft so the ground crew could store spares and other items for each aircraft on them. The groups used the runway to the north side of their parking area hardstands, but this was not fast and firm, because if there was an accident and the runway was closed, the aircraft shifted to another runway.

Once in place, the groups of the 313th began flying missions, initially against Iwo Jima, the Truk Islands, and other Japanese held areas. Later, they flew low-level night incendiary raids on area targets in Japan; participated in mining operations in the Shimonoseki Strait, and contributed to the blockade of the Japanese Empire by mining harbors in Japan and Korea. In Apr 1945 the 313th assisted the invasion of Okinawa by bombing Japanese airfields used by kamikaze pilots.

A fifth group, the 509th Composite Group, was assigned to the wing in May 1945 from Wendover AAF, Utah. The 509th, although assigned to the 313th Bomb Wing, was operationally controlled by Headquarters, Twentieth Air Force. The 509th was given a base area near the airfield on the north tip of the island, several miles from the main installations in the center part of the island where the other groups were assigned. The 509th aircraft almost always used runway "A" and the aircraft were parked away from the other groups on the north side of the runway. Also unlike the other groups in the wing, the 509th used a wide variety of tail codes from various XXI Bomber Command groups, instead of using its own, so that the group's planes could not be identified by the Japanese. The 509th was also self contained, and drew little in resources from the 313th Wing or its other groups.

In early August, the mission of the 509th was revealed when the group flew the two Atomic Bomb missions to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In November, the 509th was relieved from assignment to the 313th Bomb Wing and was reassigned to Roswell AAF, New Mexico.

After the Japanese surrender in August, 313th Bomb Wing units dropped food and supplies to Allied prisoners and participated in show-of-force flights over Japan. The units of the 313th Bombardment Wing were either reassigned or inactivated within a few months after the end of the Pacific War. The last USAAF unit, the 505th Bombardment Group, left North Field on June 30, 1946, ending its use as an operational airfield, and the airfield being closed on 30 March 1947.

With the withdrawal of American forces after the war, North Field was abandoned, and it has been disused since the war. Some abandoned B-29 hulks were left at the airfield after the war, but were melted down for scrap in the 1950s. Today, the crushed coral runways are grayish and weathered-looking, but very drivable with an SUV, with only some weedy growth crawling out onto it here and there. These runways are still visible today.

The airfield is abandoned and overgrown, and easily accessible a few miles traveling north of "San Jose" on "Broadway". Other than the runways, nothing is left of the old facilities. No buildings are to be seen. The forest has grown right up to the edges of the runways and taxiways.

See also

References

PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  • Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0892010924.
  • Dorr, Robert F. B-29 Units of World War II. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2002. ISBN 1-84176-285-7
  • Rust, Kenn C. Twentieth Air Force Story...in World War II. Temple City, California: Historical Aviation Album, 1979. ISBN 0-911852-85-9.
  • www.pacificwrecks.com

External links

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