ITAZUKE SONICLE

March 6, 1964

Zeros Once Operated From Itazuke

Known As Mushiroda,
Air Base Built in 1944

sonicle1.jpg
Itazuke's flight line looked like this in 1944 when the 6th Wing
of the Japanese Air Force flew fighters and reconnaissance
aircraft from the base's 3,500 foot runway.


The roar of aircraft engines will be silent at Itazuke for the first time in 20 years this summer when the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing moves to Yokota Air Base.

Construction of Itazuke Air Base, Kyushu's largest and most active airfield, was begun in late 1943 by the Japanese Army Air Force. Known to the Japanese as Mushiroda, the air strip was completed in late 1944 and had a north-south main runway approximately 3,300 feet long and 300 feet wide, plus a short supplementary northeast-southwest runway.

Mushiroda, or Itazuke, was built on farmland that once grew bumper rice crops. The base was first used by trainer aircraft. The strip soon proved unserviceable for the fledgling flyers because of the high water level of the former rice lands. Frequent rain showers flooded the runway making it unsafe for the novice aviators.

Early Mission


The Japanese Air Force's 6th Fighter Wing replaced the trainers and Mushiroda became an air defense base. The 6th Wing had 30 single engine fighters and several reconnaissance aircraft to patrol the Okinawa-Kyushu aerial invasion corridor.

In April of 1945 the Tachiarai Airfield at Kurume was destroyed by American B-29's. Tachiarai's bomber aircraft were moved to Mushiroda and the base became very active until late in the war when B-29's dealt a death blow to the Japanese forces stationed here.

Zasshonokuma Aircraft Hub


During the war the village of Zasshonokuma had an industry called the Watanabe Iron Works [April 1945 aerial photo] which manufactured aircraft parts. Late in the war the company was renamed the Kyushu Airplane Company and equipped to make complete aircraft. The factory was assigned a monthly quota of 300 planes.

The Kyushu Airplane Company experimented with a radical long range fighter called the J-7. The J-7 sported a rear mounted propeller and was supposedly capable of making sustained passes at the dreaded B-29. The new interceptor was test flown at Itazuke on August 3, 1945 in the presence of Prince Mikasa. Evidently the rear engined craft did not live up to its designed expectations. Japanese who lived in Fukuoka during the war remember frequent crashes of the J-7.

The Kyushu Airplane Company is presently known as Camp Fukuoka -- home of the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force's 4th Division.

First Americans


In October of 1945 American occupation forces arrived in Fukuoka. Lt. Col. McBride from the Army Engineers was the first American to arrive at Itazuke. He landed at Sasebo and drove a jeep to Fukuoka and took command from a Japanese Major in the Administration Annex building that now houses the JASDF Western Air Defense Sector headquarters.

When McBride arrived the only portion of the Annex in existence was the Kasuga Courts, motorpool, and BX Garage areas. The balance of the Annex was farmland.

During the war the Annex was called the Kasugabaru Branch of the Kokura Army Ordnance Depot and was a munitions arsenal. When Lt. Col. McBride visited the Strip he saw a wasteland. The runway was marked with bomb craters. The only building to survive the B-29 onslaught was a triple hangar.

Col. Hugh A. Parker (now a retired major general) was the first base commander of the Itazuke Complex. Parker's military holdings consisted of the small Annex (Base 1), Camp Fukuoka (Base 2) and the Air Base. Camp Fukuoka, the old Kyushu Airplane Company, had escaped wartime destruction.

Parker served three years at Itazuke. During his tenure he established good rapport with the Japanese and inaugurated a massive construction program. When Parker left, a grateful Japanese contractor built statues of Parker and Lt. Col. McBride. The statues still stand in a formal garden near the Kasugabaru commuter station.

315th Wing Here


The 315th Composite Wing, the first air unit assigned to Itazuke, arrived in late 1945. The Wing flew F-51 Mustangs. The only available buildings to house the Wing's people was the Kyushu Airplane Company's complex in Zasshonokuma. Designated Base Two, the aircraft company was converted to barracks, dining halls, a post exchange, and BOQ. Additional facilities and billets were housed in a tent city at the Air Base.

Land was available at Base One (Annex) and expansion was planned to alleviate the congested living areas at Camp Two and the Air Base.

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This is how the Annex looked in 1946 when the Army Engineering
Corps expanded the base. The rice paddy (No. 1) is now a housing area;
(No. 2) library; (No. 3) BX; (No. 4) Group headquarters; (No. 5)
chapel, and (No. 6) is now the Officers' Club.


First Dependents


Dependent travel was authorized to Itazuke in August of 1946. There was no base housing and families lived in Japanese houses. Only field grade officers were allowed to move their families to Japan. There were about thirty families here by Christmas, 1946.

When the Air Force moved here, the Japanese National Railway tracks were the western boundaries of the sleepy rural villages of Kasugabaru and Shirakibaru.

Route 3 -- the highway that connects the Annex with the Air Base -- was a dirt road until 1948. The conversion rate of Yen to MPC was 15 to 1 and the 100 Yen note was the largest Japanese currency in circulation. In late 1945, the Air Force opened a radio station, WLKI, later affiliated with FEN. Resort hotels at Unzen National Park and Mt. Aso were reserved for Americans.

In 1949, a ten acre base farm was established and produced 35 tons of fresh vegetables during its first year. The produce production covered everything from strawberries to corn. Poultry was a sideline of the farm officer. Despite aircraft noise, the chickens layed an average of 1,500 eggs per day in 1949.

Major construction for enlarging the Annex was started in 1946 and completed in 1947. Most of the buildings south of the river that once divided troop housing and dependent housing were constructed during this period. The present 700 housing area was once a hilly orange grove.

The dependent school was started in January of 1947. The student body was 11 boys and 4 girls with two dependent wives as faculty.

In March of 1949, the 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing returned from Ashiya and replaced the 315th Composite Wing. The 8th was flying the F-51 Mustang but started converting to jet F-80 Shooting Stars in December.

The dependent housing area behind Group Headquarters was built in 1950. The swimming pool opened the following year.

Camp Fukuoka (Base Two) was returned to the Japanese when permanent facilities were completed at the Annex.

Korea


Unknown to most Americans, Itazuke played a key role in the Korean War and the defense of the Pusan perimeter in 1950.

The announcement of the violation of South Korean territory on June 25, 1950, was a signal for mass evacuation of U.S. civilians from the troubled Republic.

The 68th Fighter Interceptor Sq. provided aerial cover for both the Norwegian freighter Heinholdt, evacuating Americans from Inchon, and Air Force transports that were airlifting diplomatic representatives from Seoul.

The evacuees were sped to Itazuke where they received their first food in many hours.

On June 27, American air units were ordered into action against the invading Communists. Itazuke's proximity to Pusan made the base the center of all air operations in Korea. At one time there were four tactical wings flying sorties from Itazuke.

The 8th Wing moved to Korea in late Fall of 1950. With the move the support element that remained here was redesignated the 6160th Air Base Wing.

In 1954 the Eighth returned to Fukuoka. The base settled down to another era of peace to become the key base in the defense of Western Japan.




Interesting related article:

http://www.usc.edu/libraries/archives/dsjp/summaries/1999/April/Sm990430.htm

TOKYO SHIMBUN (Page 27) (Abridged)

April 27, 1999

On the evening of March 26, a U.S. Air Force C-141 transport plane landed at Fukuoka Airport. It was on a training mission to airlift U.S. military personnel's families from South Korea in anticipation of a crisis on the Korean peninsula. The mission had two meanings. For one thing, U.S. forces used a Japanese civilian airport for the first time in carrying out this kind of training. For another, Fukuoka Airport was on the list of private-sector facilities informally requested by the U.S. government for the U.S. military's use in the event of regional contingencies.

Fukuoka Airport used to be the U.S. Forces Japan's Itazuke airbase before its 1972 reversion. Itazuke was one of the USFJ bases for attack operations in the Korean War that broke out in June 1950. Four days after the outbreak of the Korean War, the local airbase and its environs were alarmed with "unidentified airplanes" approaching Japan's airspace. It was the first air-raid alert there in five years after Japan's defeat in the [Pacific] War, and the Fukuoka prefectural government conducted even an anti-air raid drill in anticipation of an aerial attack on the locality.

"I don't want to see such a scene—never again. And, I don't want GIs to come over here any more," says Yutaka Ishinoda, a 79-year-old resident of Onojo City in Fukuoka Prefecture. Ishinoda was a locally hired security guard with the Itazuke base in and after 1951—the year after the Korean War broke out. There were some ammunition depots on the hills situated southeast of the runway, and one of those storage areas was off-limits to even American soldiers. Ishinoda says, "I know GIs who used to guard there, and I often heard them talking about 'Fatman' (i.e., an atomic bomb of the Nagasaki type). One of my colleagues also saw large bombs looking like the Fatman. Those bombs were carried on a trailer into the base late at night." Ishinoda has also seen casualties being carried in. He recalls, "They were carried over here in a large transport plane, and always arrived late at night. The base area used to be thrown into an uproar with the red lights of ambulances and other lights crossing across the night sky." In the occupation days, the city of Fukuoka and its neighborhood were compelled to serve in "rear support" of a United Nations force.

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In 1998, U.S. warplanes made 162 flights in total to Fukuoka Airport under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and 309 flights to Nagasaki Airport. The U.S. military has usually made use of Nagasaki Airport to carry personnel to the Sasebo base in the prefecture of Nagasaki, and Fukuoka Airport to transport supplies.

Chujiro Matsumoto, a 63-year-old local citizen, retired from a major airline company in the spring of 1996. He has now joined a pacifist group in Fukuoka City and has since been watching Fukuoka Airport. He says, "There have been conspicuous moves in anticipation of the guidelines." In February, the USS John S. McCain, an Aegis destroyer home-ported at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, entered port at Hakata. The municipal government of Fukuoka City first rejected the battleship's port call, reasoning that the port would be crowded with many merchant ships. But the city later admitted the U.S. naval vessel into port for five days as desired by the U.S. Navy.

"Fukuoka has port-harbor facilities as well as airport, and also has medical institutions and amusement quarters. I think this is probably the right location for the U.S. military's scenario to deal with a possible emergency on the Korean peninsula. U.S. forces would make use of this location for their convenience to make in into a fait accompli." With this in mind, Matsumoto is worried about the possibility of his locality being gradually turned into a military base.