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Places In Saipan: The Old As Lito Airfield

Basic Information

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

Narrative

A major historical stop on the island of Saipan which seemed to me to be under appreciated are the many remains from the Imperial Japanese era As Lito Airfield located in southern Saipan:

As Lito Airfield was constructed by the Imperial Japanese in 1934 and capturing it was the major American objective of the 1944 Battle of Saipan.  After its captured the US named the airfield Isley Field after a US Army soldier killed during the battle at the end of the runway.  Using this airfield American B-29 bombers began regular bombing raids of mainland Japan for the first time.  This strategic bombing combined with the eventual nuclear bombing of mainland Japan caused the Imperial Japanese to surrender thus ending World War II.  After World War II the airfield returned to civilian use and was eventually replaced with the construction of Saipan International Airport in 1976:

Picture from Aslito Airfield, Saipan

Incredibly despite the massive destruction brought to the island during the Battle of Saipan and all the decades that have since passed, many artifacts from the old As Lito Airfield are still visible today.  The most obvious example is this giant mound in front of the passenger terminal that looks like a small hill, but closer inspection reveals it to be a giant bunker:

Picture from Aslito Airfield, Saipan

In front of the bunker is the Japanese Memorial to the War Dead:

Picture from Aslito Airfield, Saipan

There are a number of memorials that various Japanese veterans groups have established in front of the bunker that mostly had only Japanese writing on them:

Picture from Aslito Airfield, Saipan

However, there was a prominent memorial with an English caption that explained that the memorial was in honor of the men of the Japanese 3rd Battalion, 89 Infantry Regiment.  This unit was under the command of Captain Miyota Sasaki and they made their last stand defending the airfield:

Picture from Aslito Airfield, Saipan

After checking out the memorials I went and walked up to the top of the mound that had a few trees growing on it as well as air holes:

Picture from Aslito Airfield, Saipan

The sides of the mound also had some really colorful flowers growing on it as well:

Picture from Aslito Airfield, Saipan

The top of the mound did give me a great vantage point to take in the views around the airport.  The most striking view is of the 1,554 foot Mt. Tapochau in the center of the island:

Picture from Aslito Airfield, Saipan

Here is a closer look at Mt. Tapochau which shows how the mountain was a natural castle that the Imperial Japanese used to defend the island from:

Picture from Aslito Airfield, Saipan

Here is the view looking in the other direction towards the modern day Saipan International Airport:

Picture from Aslito Airfield, Saipan

The airport is small, but it is not too bad and has a few shops and a couple of simple eateries inside.  After taking in the views I then walked back to the bottom of the mound and proceeded to walk inside the bunker:

Picture from Aslito Airfield, Saipan

It was very dark inside, but I could make out the three fuel storage tanks that were protected inside of this giant bunker:

Picture from Aslito Airfield, Saipan

After checking out the bunker I walked around outside and noticed a tarmac from the old As Lito Airfield was still visible under the grass:

Picture from Aslito Airfield, Saipan

I then walked over to what appeared to be a passenger terminal or administrative building of some kind:

Picture from Aslito Airfield, Saipan

Here is a closer look at the building:

Picture from Aslito Airfield, Saipan

I also walked over and explored a few of the old personnel bunkers that lined the old airfield:

Picture from Aslito Airfield, Saipan

Here is a closer look at one of the bunkers:

Picture from Aslito Airfield, Saipan

The bunkers appeared to be used currently as a place for young people to go and party inside of judging by all the beer can litter:

Picture from Aslito Airfield, Saipan

After checking out the bunkers I then drove over to another section of the old airfield about a half mile away near the current airport control tower.  Along the road I spotted this marker that explained how the various concrete slabs seen along the road were once where B-29s were parked during World War II:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

Here is a picture of one of these barely noticeable slabs that are slowly being covered over by the jungle:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

A short walk from the sign a dirt road can be found that leads to another location where a World War II era Japanese Type 95 tank can be seen:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

Here is another picture of the same tank being slowly covered up by the jungle:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

A short walk from the tank are the ruins to the old power plant that powered the airfield:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

The walls of the power plant were in amazingly pretty good shape after all these years.  It made me wonder if the US military intentionally did not bomb this building because they knew they would use it after the conclusion of the Battle of Saipan?:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

Here is a look inside the building where the mounts for the generators can still be seen installed on the ground:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

Near the power plant were ruins of other buildings as well that were either bombed or did not withstand the test of time as well as the power plant facility:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

Something else I noticed in the area was scattered underground bunkers that would have been used to defend the power plant facility during the Battle of Saipan:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

As I continued down the dirt road passed the power plant facility, I then spotted another Type 95 tank:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

Here is a closer look at the turret of the Imperial Japanese tank:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

Some other World War II era equipment could be seen as well such as this artillery piece:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

There was also an anti-aircraft gun on display:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

As I continued to walk down the dirt road I spotted another above ground bunker much like the ones I saw previously:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

Unlike the other bunkers the inside of this one was not littered with beer cans:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

As I walked down the dirt road through the jungle I did spot another concrete pad where aircraft would have parked:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

A sign in the area provides details about the Imperial Japanese air power:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

Near the concrete pad where the aircraft would have been parked was this very large bomb magazine that would have been used to arm the aircraft from:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

This magazine was well built considering how US bombing did not damage the structure.  For example the door into the magazine was made of extremely thick steel which was still usable after all these years:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

The thick concrete used to make this bunker can be easily seen from inside:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

The space inside the magazine was huge and the US military actually used this same magazine to store their own munitions after capturing the airfield.  The magazine is empty today, but not forgotten as some Japanese visitors left a little shrine inside of it:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

Here is a panorama view the bomb magazine that I took from outside that shows how well concealed it would have been from US bombers with all the jungle vegetation growing on top of it:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

After walking around the bunker I followed the dirt road back to where I parked.  As I walked back I noticed these birds following and circling above me:

Picture from As Lito Airfield, Saipan

It was extremely hot out so I don’t know if they were waiting for me to die of heatstroke or not, but for whatever reason that had some kind of fascination with me.  Fortunately I made it back to my car without incident though morbid thoughts of birds trying to peck out my heatstroked eyes did come to mind.

Conclusion

A visit to the old As Lito Airfield is really a must for any World War II enthusiast visiting Saipan.  There is a lot of history easily seen all around the airfield.  It is additionally easily accessible to anyone with a rental car since the roads are all paved.  The dirt road I walked down could actually be driven down by a sturdy vehicle, but I did not bring mine because of broken glass I saw near the entrance of the dirt road.  Despite the heat and humidity I did enjoy the walk through the jungle to see a part of Saipan’s incredible World War II legacy.

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