On April 18th 1943, in the midst of the war in the Pacific, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto left his bunker in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, and boarded a plane, a repurposed XXXXX, heading to Ballalae Airport on a tour of his troops. Coming from a Samurai family, Yamamoto was a graduate of the Imperial Japanese Army as well as a student in Harvard University. He took part in the Russo-Japanese war (during which he lost two fingers). Yamamoto had a brilliant career and climbed up the ladder, promoted to admiral in 1940. During his career, Yamamoto was a controversial figure as he was a moderate in a time of radicals. The admiral opposed both the invasion of China, the Tripartite pact with Italy and Germany as well as war on the United States of America. When both of these things became reality, however, he continued to serve the Empire. Indeed, ironically enough, the man who opposed war with America would be the one to devise the plan to start it, the attack on Pearl Harbor. A talented strategist, Yamamoto knew that if Japan was to win the war, which he strongly doubted it could, its only chance was with a short and surprising war. In 1943, as Japan was in a stalemate in the war, Yamamoto boarded what would be his last flight. His itinerary was intercepted and deciphered by the Americans with the help of MAGIC and an ambush was prepared over the area of Buin, on Bougainville. His plane was shot down and Yamamoto met his demise.
Yamamoto’s remains were retrieved by the Japanese Soldiers, it is said that he was found still sitting in his chair, his fist wrapped around the hilt of his sword. The plane, however, remained in the jungle and still is.
Getting to Yamamoto’s plane wreck
Today, Yamamoto’s plane wreck is a main sight in Bougainville and most of the very few tourists that come to the islands want to go there. It is high on the bucketlist of most WWII geeks and is still visited by Japanese veterans to this day.
The plane is located in the Buin region of the island, which is its southernmost region. To get there, one will need to drive on the mudpath south from Arawa and through the Siwai region. The site is close to the Buin-Siwai border. One drives as far as possible on the road before getting off and starting the trek. In order to visit the area, it is important to pay an entrance fee to the local families which own the land it is on. Local guides will know how to arrange this.
The trek condition
From the road to the wreck, the trek takes about 2 to 3 hours or about 4 and half kilometer one way and the same time back, depending on one’s fitness,. The trek takes people through a variety of terrains from grassy land to thick jungle. It is not very hard trek as the land is flat and the path, while narrow, is maintained and cleared by the locals. However, trekkers must not be afraid to get dirty and wet. The path is mostly mud and at some points it is necessary to walk through streams and a small river. Wildlife here consists mostly of birds and mosquitoes are not a very big problem. You will also be happy to learn that there are no leeches around. It makes for a great experience which feels adventurous without being dangerous. On the way, you’ll walk across reclusive villages, cocoa trees and other very interesting things. As the place does not get many visitors, you can be sure that your party will attract a lot of local followers, who will be more than happy to assist you and show you the way.
Preparing for the trek
As an easy trek, there is not much to prepare for and actually bringing too much would be more of a nuisance than anything. Considering the fact that the place is very wet, bringing any shoes would probably ruin them. We suggest either bringing rubber boots or flipflops. Quick-drying clothes are also a very good idea. With parts of the path covered by the canopy and some other not, it can be easy to be surprised by the intense sun so wearing a hat and sunscreen is important. You’ll also want to bring water, some snacks and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to carry a small first aid kit. You might also want to preload the local map on an app on your phone such as maps.me Other than that, nothing is needed.
Getting to the wreck
Arriving at the wreck, you will first see some pieces of the plane which broke apart from it as it went down through the jungle. Then, you will get to the main part of the wreck. The wreck is composed of the back of the plane as well as part of the engine. Interestingly enough, you can see the gunway where people moved around the plane as well as a rear gun window.
Once you have visited the wreck and walked back to the road, don’t miss Kunde beach, just past Buin town, where you can see a Japanese bunker, pillboxes as well as a place where a family built their home right on top of a cannon. From here, you can also see the first islands of Solomon Islands in the distance. Lastly, it is after a massacre happened in the region that the last ceasefire was signed, leading to the transitional government of Bougainville, but that is for another blog.