- Del Monte Airfield
Del Monte Airfield Part of Fifth Air Force Mindanao, Philippines Type Military airfield Coordinates (Approximate) Built November 1941 In use 1941-1942 Controlled by United States Air Force Battles/wars Battle of the Philippines (1941–42)
Construction began secretly on November 27, 1941. It was a part of Far East Air Force's plans to expand air capability in the Philippines. Two runways were built: No. 1 (main runway) and No. 2 (pursuit). A golf course was used as a third auxiliary strip. The airfield was created because bombers at Clark Field, on Luzon, were within range of land-based aircraft on Taiwan (then Formosa). There were additional auxiliary airstrips at Malaybalay (Maramag), Dalirig, and Valencia.
On the morning of December 6, 1941, two squadrons of 19th Bombardment Group B-17 Flying Fortresses stationed at Clark (16 of its 35 bombers) were sent down to Del Monte No. 1, just completed the day before, although no maintenance facilities existed and the materiel to support them was not scheduled to be moved until December 10. The decision to move only two squadrons from Clark Field was based on the expected arrival from the United States of the 7th Bombardment Group, which was en route; Del Monte had room for only six squadrons. On December 8, most of those remaining at Clark were destroyed on the ground by Japanese aircraft.
During the Battle of the Philippines (1942) and the destruction of Clark and Nichols Fields on Luzon in the first days of the war, the Japanese were flying extensive reconnaissance missions in an effort to discover the remaining American aircraft in the Philippines. They had been unable to find the Del Monte field, but it was only a question of time before this last haven would be discovered and destroyed as were the airfields on Luzon. Moreover, it was becoming increasingly difficult to service the B-17s with the inadequate facilities at Del Monte. There were no spare parts, engines, or propellers for the B-17s in the Philippines; damaged B-17s had to be cannibalized to keep the bombers flying. The only tools were those in the possession of the crews. The men who worked on the planes all night often got no rest the next day because of air alerts. On some days the heavy bombers had to remain aloft during the daylight hours to avoid destruction on the ground. They dodged back and forth between Mindanao and Luzon, playing a game of hide-and-seek that wore out men as well as planes.
B-17s flying from Del Monte Airfield became the first United States aircraft to engage in offensive action against the Japanese. On December 14, 1941, the American Air Force reacted to the Japanese invasion of the Philippines at Legaspi, Luzon by sending 3 of a group of 6 Del Monte-based B-17s, ordered to attack the landing force. They attacked a Japanese minesweeper and a transport, thought to be a destroyer, with meager results, and 9 naval aircraft based on the Legaspi strip. The unescorted bombers were no match for the Japanese fighters and soon beat a hasty retreat. Only one of the B-17s was able to make its way back to Del Monte; the others had to crash-land short of their base. The Japanese lost at most 4 fighters.
Under these conditions, it was evident that the remaining heavy bombers could not operate efficiently in the Philippines. General Brereton therefore requested authority on December 15 to move the B-17s to Darwin in northwest Australia, 1,500 miles away, where they could be based safely and serviced properly. His intention was to operate from fields near Darwin, using Del Monte as an advance base from which to strike enemy targets in the Philippines. The planes were immediately prepared for the long flight southward, and on December 15 the first group of B-17s left Del Monte airfield. By the following evening ten of the bombers had reached Batchelor Field outside Darwin. They had left Mindanao none too soon, as the complex of airfields was discovered by the Japanese on December 18, 1941 and attacked the following day by Japanese planes based on the carrier Ryujo.
On December 22, 1941, 9 B-17's from Batchelor Field near Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, attacked shipping in Davao Bay, Mindanao Island and landed at Del Monte. The next day 4 B-17s took off from Del Monte after midnight and bombed enemy shipping in Lingayen Gulf. On the 24th, 3 B-17's based at Del Monte bombed the airfield and shipping at Davao on the southeast coast of Mindanao before flying to Australia.
Del Monte was later used to evacuate General MacArthur, his family and senior staff from the Philippines, in March 1942. When the evacuation party arrived by PT boat from Corregidor on March 16, four B-17 Flying Fortresses from Australia flew up to Del Monte: B-17E 41-2408, B-17E 41-2429, B-17E 41-2434 and B-17E 41-2447 and evacuated them to Batchelor Field.
On April 8, 1942, the air echelons of the 24th Pursuit Group along with the remaining Army Air Corps flying operations in the Philippines were withdrawn from Luzon and transferred to Del Monte with whatever aircraft were left to carry on the fight.
In April 1942, a group of 7 B-25s and 3 B-17s from Australia returned to Del Monte for the Royce Mission, to attack the Japanese on three bombing missions. On April 12, B-25s hit the harbor and shipping at Cebu, Cebu Island while B-17s carried out single-bomber strikes against Cebu harbor and Nichols Field on Luzon. On 13 April B-25s hit targets in the Philippines for the second consecutive day. The B-25s took off just after midnight and bombed shipping at Cebu on Cebu Island and installations at Davao on Mindanao. Later in the day the B-25s again attacked Davao, bombing the dock area.
The advancing Japanese forced their return to Australia without loss. In addition to the raids, they brought out a number of important military and diplomatic personnel who had gathered at Del Monte to await evacuation. The last of the 24th Pursuit Group's aircraft were captured or destroyed by enemy forces on or about May 1, 1942 when the airfield was abandoned by the United States, leaving its facilities to the Japanese invaders.
Del Monte Airfield today
The complex was not used by the joint United States and Philippine Commonwealth armed forces during the Philippines Campaign (1944–45), and the airfields were returned to the Del Monte Pineapple Corporation. The present-day airstrip of the Del Monte company, built for their light aircraft, is about two miles east of the wartime airfield. Both #1 (Main) and #2 (Fighter) fields have become rice and corn fields with a dirt road being the only remaining evidence of their wartime existence.
- United States Army Air Forces in the South West Pacific Theatre
- Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
- United States Army in World War II The Fall of the Philippines
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