Shot from the cockpit of a F6F-3 Hellcat flown by Edward W. Simpson Jr. of the VF-35, this incredible set of images depicts the opening few hours of the infamous Invasion of Guam. Simpson carried his Kodak 35mm camera loaded with color film during many of the key battles of the Pacific, and PortraitsofWar has been lucky enough to acquire the entire collection. In this installment, I’ve scanned a series of shots taken during the Guam invasion. Many are identified as to location and were verbally described on a cassette tape that accompanied the collection.
Located the western shore of Guam on the Orote Peninsula, bordering Apra Harbor to the north and Sumay to the west, and Agat Bay to the south. Orote was known as Guamu Dai Ichi (Guam No. 1) by the Japanese.
Built prior to the war, by the US Marine Corps detachment of 10 officers and 90 enlisted men when they arrived in Guam on March 17, 1921. The Marine unit constructed an air station near the water at Sumay village, including a hangar for their amphibious aircraft. In 1926, a new administration office was constructed which housed the squadron offices, sick bay, dental office, aerological office and guardhouse. In early 1927, the squadron departed for Olongapo. Only a handful of men remained here until September 23, 1928, when Patrol Squadron 3-M, consisting of 85 enlisted men and 4 to 6 officers, was assigned to Guam. Shortly thereafter, the naval air station was closed on February 24, 1931, as a cost-saving measure.
When the Japanese attacked Guam, they did not bomb the abandoned naval air station. When they occupied the area, they constructed Orote Field, using Korean and Guamian labor, and used the base until the liberation of Guam.
Used by the Japanese navy from April 1944 to June 1944. As of June 1, 1944, Japanese air strength on Guam consisted of 100 Zeros and 10 J1N1 Irvings at Airfield #1 and 60 Ginga at Airfield #2.
On February 23, 1944, American carrier based airplanes attacked the field, and other American raids soon followed. During the Battle of the Philippine Sea the field was used by the Japanese carrier-based airplanes to refuel and rearm. The Japanese airplanes based at Orote Field were also used to attack the American fleet. American raids on June 19, 1944 destroyed the landing fields, the aircraft on the ground and such aircraft that managed to take off. American pilots reported extremely intense antiaircraft fire around Orote Field. Fifteen Japanese airplanes crashed at Orote Field on June 19, 1944.
On June 20, 1944, numerous actions occurred in the immediate vicinity of Orote Field between American carrier airplanes and Japanese aircraft seeking refuge at Orote Field after flying from their carriers, or Japanese refueling and rearming to attack American carriers. Numerous dogfights took place in the air above Orote Field and numerous strikes by American airplanes destroyed Japanese facilities and airplanes on the ground. This denied the Japanese extensive use of this crucial airfield during the battle.
Land Battle at Orote
The Japanese assigned the defense of Orote Peninsula to the 54th Independent Guard Unit under command of Air Group Commander Asaichi Tamai. After American invasion on July 21, 1944, the 1st Provincial Marine Brigade under command of Lt. General Lemuel C. Shepherd fought its way through the Agat village to the base of Orote Peninsula. Here the Japanese had constructed an elaborate interlocking system of pillboxes, strong points and trenches.
Regiments of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, the 4th and 22nd, fought their way through the area. Shortly before midnight on July 26, 1944, the Japanese trapped on the peninsula staged a suicide attack and were completely wiped out. The advancing Marines still met heavy Japanese resistance in the vicinity of the airfield, where the Japanese fought from caves and coconut bunkers. The peninsula was declared secure on July 29, 1944. It is estimated that the Japanese lost more than 3,000 men defending Orote Peninsula.
Immediately put into use by Marine air power for close support missions during the liberation of Guam. This was accomplished by Marine Air Group (MAG) 21. By mid-November 1944, MAG-21, now commanded by Colonel Edward B. Carney, was an oversized group, having 12 squadrons based at Orote Field, 529 officers, 3,778 enlisted men and 204 aircraft. MAG-21 was shifted to Agana Airfield in 1945, as Orote Field had always been hampered by adverse crosswinds. The field was then used by the US Navy for repairing damaged aircraft.
American Units Base at Orote
VF-76 (F6F) September 1944
MAG 21 (F4U) July, 1944 – to Agana in 1945
USS Santee (F6F) landed at Orote August 1944
Orote Field was finally closed to all but emergency landings in 1946. Today, the cross-runway is used for C-130 touch-and-go flight training, and for helio-ops by Navy Seals. Much of the time the airfield is off-limits. The major runway runs from NW to SE and the secondary runway crosses the first and runs in a NE to SW direction. Limited tours of the airfield are available.
Thanks to Jennings Bunn and Jim Long for additional information.