Torokina Airfield with VMF-216 Corsairs lined along the Marston matting. Note the dense inland jungle.
Tower view of Torokina
Photo of Torokina similar to Sherrod's picture #63
The new Torokina Airfield proved to be fraught with perils. Insect infestation and sanitation problems was compounded with
nightly shelling from the Japanese. Rumbling from an active volcano on Bougainville was frequently mistaken as an enemy attack.
Lt. "Doc" Marker
"On 10 December, Morrell with two divisions left the Russells before daylight to move the first unit of the 216 flight echelon to the Torokina airstrip on Bougainville.
I was Morrell's 2nd section leader and so I was the third plane to land on Bougainville. More of our aircraft came up later in the day but once we had landed and refueled we
launched again and were flying combat air patrol when the others arrived.
Picture #63 in Sherrod's book (History of Marine Corps Aviation In World War II) gives you a good idea of how undeveloped the area was when we moved in. I know for
the first day and maybe into the second after our arrival, the Seabees helped the pilots refuel and start the aircraft. Tents for us were set up quite a ways inland so if
the Japanese started shelling the airstrip we would be out of the impact area."
"Life on Bougainville was a little rugged but it is taming down now. The men were sure glad to see us. The Japs
occasionally came over at night and dropped a few bombs (daisy cutters) or shelled us with artillery. They rarely hit anything and lots of the shells were duds. .... You
may see me in the newsreel because they took a lot of motion pictures of us the first day we landed."
Lt. Robert Anderson
Doc Marker continues:
"In the middle of the afternoon a report was received that three destroyers were headed down the slot from Rabaul to Bougainville.
Eight or 12 F4U 's and 6 SBD's were launched for the intercept. (All of this is as best I remember) About an hour out, the ships were sighted just at dusk. The attack plan
was for the F4U's to provide fighter cover for the SBD's and if no fighters were encountered, to strafe the ships prior to the bombing runs by the SBD's. We were about ten
or twelve thousand feet and moved into position to attack when one of the ships started showing a blinker light. Not one of the fighters had the code of the day and I doubt
if any of the pilots could read blinker anyway since we hadn't practiced since flight school. Fortunately, one of the gunner/radio operators in the SBD's could read the
blinker and the ships were friendly. We all turned for home just as darkness settled in.
Torokina airstrip was built almost right on the beach. The Seabees had cleared the vegatation, compacted the soil and sand, and then laid steel Marston matting to
prepare a runway. The runway was about 50' wide and 5000' long, more than adequate for combat operations. There were two problems; the sand at the edge of the runway would
not support the wheel of any combat aircraft and the lighting for night operations was flare pots. If a pilot put a wheel in the sand on takeoff or landing it meant the loss
of the aircraft and most likely the pilot as well.
Check Guy's log book. If he flew to Torokina on 10 December and then had a flight of about 2.3 hours then he was on this mission. (He was).
VMF-216 F4U Corsairs #53 and #16 on landing day, December 10th on Torokina.
A Hazardous Landing The last part of the mission still gives me chills thinking about it. There was a small control tower at the Torokina but I don't recall
hearing any instructions being given about landing direction. Standard procedure was for the flight leader, Morrell for the fighters, to bring the flight over the strip at
about 1000', break up into divisions, and then the division leaders would take an interval on the lead decision. The individual division leaders would then bring their
division down the center of the runway at about 500', break the division into individual aircraft and take a safe interval for landing and land. Remember it's war time and
we're flying without running lights. All should have worked out well as the fighters being faster than the bombers should have gotten back to Torokina at least 10 minutes
before the bombers and to this day I can't fathom what happened but we arrived at about the same time and the SBD's landed in one direction and the F4U's in the opposite
I followed Morrell and his wing man into the landing pattern and they both landed safely. We did have landing lights on the Corsair and as I turned on the
final approach and at about 50' in the air ready for touch down the landing lights picked up the SBD on the runway just going under me. Dumb-ass me, I continued my landing
and as I was rolling out another SBD came right over my canopy and landed behind me. By this time the radio was filled with cussing and screaming and flares were going off
from the tower. My wing man got in safely, how, I'll never know. As I turned off the runway and headed back to the parking area I saw a orange glow in the area of the tower.
I knew that some kind of crash had occurred and I later learned that one of the SBD's had run off the runway about mid-field and crashed into the tower. I can't recall the
fate of the SBD crew but I do remember hearing that the personnel in the tower had to jump to escape the flames that partially destroyed the wooden Tower.
As was typical in the South Pacific, rain showers moved through Bougainville frequently. Sometime during the day the pilots were taken by truck to the camp area to
set up our sleeping quarters in the tents that were provided. I can still remember the ride to the camp. The road was a sea of mud so fluid that it seemed to be flowing down
toward the sea. The truck, operating in fourwheel drive and compound low, barely made headway in the muck. When we arrived at the tents where the Seabees had drilled a well
and attached a hose, someone decided to take a shower and it wasn't long before we were all in the buff and cavorting like a bunch of kids on a summer day.
Nightly Bombings Unknown to any of us, a 155mm gun battery was set up nearby. After returning from the Destroyer mission I just mentioned, the pilots got some
food in a little mess hall the Seabees had established and then went on to the tents. We bedded down on the canvas cots with sleeping bags and mosquito netting and I know I
was soon asleep. It had been a long day. It didn't last. Sirens and gunfire announced the arrival of the nightly bombing from "Washing machine Charley"
Unfortunately no one had bothered to let us know that this was a nightly occurrence and consequently few of us knew where the fox holes were located. I rolled out of my cot
onto the dirt floor grabbing my steel helmet on the way down and proceeded to start my own foxhole right there. About this time the 155's started a fire mission and it seemed
like all hell was breaking loose right in our little camp. I heard folks hollering get in the foxholes and I knew mine wasn't near deep enough yet so after grabbing my shoes
I ran out of the tent and followed someone into a nearby foxhole. You've got to remember only Morrell and Faulkner had been in such a situation before and just the noise of
war for the first time makes a man's guts churn and stark fear is just under the surface, held in check by the desire not to do anything that would look bad in front of your
A couple of bombs had dropped nearby but I think the only damage that was done was to the jungle. Shortly, we came out of the foxholes,one by one, and
watched the search lights and anti-aircraft fire until Charley was out of the area and the "All clear" sounded. We went back to our tents and tried to get some
rest for the coming day. It was then that I learned one of the great lessons of jungle living; never let any part of your bedding touch the ground. I slipped my leg into
the sleeping bag and it was immediately attacked by a small scorpion leaving me in great pain for a while but with no permanent damage.
Sanitation Sanitary conditions are one of the major problems in jungle warware. Human waste disposal is of the primary concerns even in the first phases of an
operation. The Seabees had built one man latrines that provided a place to sit but the covers were rarely used and they were not screened. Disentary is the bane of pilots.
Sometimes a three or four hour mission is too long and more than one of the 216 pilots was affected. I can remember more than one pilot gingerly getting out of his plane
running for the nearest latrine; some never even made in time to land. I know it happened to me even after Dr. Ulrich had given me a full hand full of Sulfa tablets the
night before when I woke up vomiting. The situation eased after a pilot's mess hall, all screened-in, was completed.
Torokina Airfield Tower in the foreground with Crown Prince Range on the horizon
The visibility problem on the ground was most dangerous because on a narrow runway just getting the aircraft lined up correctly parallel to the center line of the runway was
difficult to check and there was little room for error. The Corsair accelerated rapidly and on the runway at Torokina if you didn't get the tail of the aircraft up quickly
on takeoff so you could make any correction necessary you could be in the sand in a heartbeat. Pre-dawn in a rain was really exciting.
New Aircraft Although
my log book doesn't show it, I think the newer model F4U's were designated 1D's. Sometime before we were to move to Bougainville, Morrell sent Faulkner and several pilots, I
was one of them, over to Cactus (Guadacanal) to pick up new aircraft. Many of the problems of the old aircraft had been fixed in the newer versions. The biggest improvement
was the new cockpit and canopy arrangement which provided a bubble, one piece canopy and the whole cockpit was raised 4-6 inches allowing much better visability. I believe
by the end of the first week on Bougainville we had all new aircraft."
"Things are as pleasant out here as I expected. We have adequate tents, plenty of fox-holes, as much food as one could
expect for we don't go hungry. Of course - the insect situation is rather acute. I never saw so many flies, mosquitoes, bugs, ants, scorpions, etc. Everything's covered with them - food, clothes, bunks. When you get ready to go to bed at night you have to rake some of them out of your bunk before you can find room to lie down. Then - as though that didn't bother our sleep enough - we get shelled and bombed in the middle of the night. But you soon get fairly used to it. What we're fighting for is certainly worth any of these miscomforts.
This is a pretty messy letter I'll admit, but we have no tables and I'm not so good at writing on my lap. Then, too - I have to bat off the flies and mosquitoes between
Anderson: "I sure heard a lot of tall tales from the Marine Raiders who came down to look at our planes. They are
a rugged bunch of boys and the best fighters in the world."