[Okinawa and Saipan: 1944-1952]. Two volumes. ; pp. containing 268; 315 mounted photographs and three maps. Folio. Original grey cloth binders, manuscript titles on front covers. Light wear and soiling to covers. Contents mounted on leaves of ruled notebook paper. Annotated extensively in a neatly printed hand. Very good. Item #1982
These exceptionally well-documented photo albums detail the efforts of the 806th Aviation Engineer Battalion to construct and support airfields for B-29 bombers on Saipan and Okinawa to aid in the massive 20th Air Force campaign to bombard the Japanese homeland. The 806th was activated in Puerto Rico in 1942, and by July 31, 1944, the group had reached Saipan to begin the backbreaking work of creating runways out of coral. The compiler includes photos showing the storage areas; hospital tents dubbed "Dengue Hill" where they treated Dengue fever patients; the American Red Cross tents; medical officers; and images of the 2nd Marine Division Red Beach Cemetery along the beach road. Each image is neatly captioned, sometimes humorously, and identified with the number of the negative where applicable. The author of these albums seems to have been a tidy and meticulous compiler, and he appears in several of the photos.
Working conditions were brutal in the heat, with disease a significant concern and the coral destroying machinery. As a result, the 806th became incredibly inventive, including the building of a wind-powered washing machine connected to a large windmill; salvaging drums of Japanese high octane gas to mix with Bunker Coal road oil to create fuel for their trucks; building supply and motor pool sheds with walls made from burlap sacks and army truck tarps for roofs; and constantly scrounging for scrap lumber, which the author of these albums notes was "a pet racket with me, 500 board feet comprised a load." They also harvested scrap metal from downed airplanes and a Japanese locomotive. On October 12, 1944, the first B-29 landed on the newly-constructed landing strip, followed by hundreds more, with photos documenting their return from bombing runs on Tokyo; close-up photos of pinup art on the nose of the bomber "Fools Paradise" which had a record at the time of thirty-four bombing runs; as well as images of Hellcat fighter planes and the B-29 bomb dump a quarter of a mile from the author's office. The photos also depict Garapan after being destroyed during the battle for Saipan and its rebuilding; the ice house constructed to supply ice to the U.S. forces on the island; building an officer's club; and U.S.O. performers staging a show in distinctly primitive conditions.
The second volume records the 806th's time on Okinawa, where they were dispatched in June of 1945 along with twenty-five other Aviation Engineer Battalions. Their job was to begin building airfields for the B-29 superfortress across Okinawa as an advance base for an increasingly active bombing campaign leading up to an invasion of Japan. The battle for Okinawa had already stretched from April 1, and would continue for two more months after the 806th began working to construct facilities and airfields. The album opens with photos of the destroyed city of Naha, including the Judo Palace, which barely survived the battles, and the lone surviving generating station of the Naha Power & Light Company. There are also photographs of the 806th Battalion supply offices, power plant, vehicles, and other structures. This album focuses heavily on surviving Okinawa natives and culture, as well as detailing changes wrought by the engineers. Such changes include images of trees, carefully pruned for decades, being removed to make way for the construction of the Futema Air Strips, and a control tower erected by the 806th. Additionally, he includes images of temples; Japanese citizens planting rice and terracing fields; the battle-damaged Shuri Castle where caves and bunkers were dug into the hillside beneath; the historic graves of western soldiers who traveled to Japan with Commodore Perry; and even a photograph of a Japanese casualty six months after the battle for Okinawa. The compiler notes that Japanese and native Okinawan women vastly outnumbered the surviving men on the island. The album closes with several photos of a U.S.O. troupe featuring Charlie Ruggles and Mary Brian, who entertained the 806th troops in September 1945. The 806th would remain on Okinawa another seven months after the surrender of Japan in August 1945.
Despite close reading and careful research, we are unable to pin down the name of the compiler of these albums. He, however, has provided extensive documentation including names, locations, and other specifics for his fellow soldiers in the 806th. An altogether wonderful archive of images documenting this tumultuous and important period in the Pacific Theatre at the end of World War II.