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Evidence of mustard gas use in WW2 PNG

BY BRUCE M PETTY

ONE OF THE PEOPLE I interviewed for my book about Saipan way back in 1996, was a Roland Fronheizer. He was with the 33rd Coast Artillery there during the war.

He told me that, after Saipan had been secured, the troops were kept on the island in anticipation of the invasion of the Japanese home islands later in the war, an operation that never came to pass as a result of Japan’s capitulation following the dropping of the atomic bombs on two of their cities.

Roland also told me the US military was stockpiling chemical shells for their 155-mm Long Toms for possible use against the Japanese when they invaded. Ever since then, I have been curious about what happened to those shells.

Some years back, I asked the EOD [Explosive Ordnance Demolition] man operating out of Saipan what happened to them, but never received a definitive reply.

Fast forward to this past week. I had just finished the last of my on-cruise Pacific War lectures on 25 August, when an Australian, a retired EOD from the Australian Army, approached me.

He said he had attended all my lectures, and then proceeded to tell me some interesting things about his days in EOD in PNG, the Solomon Islands and other island groups.

He said in the area where the battles of Buna and Gona were fought in New Guinea — probably at Dobadura — they found chemical bombs shoved off into the jungle. He said they contained blister gas. (I am guessing it was a mustard gas.)

In 1989-1990, in the Russell Islands, they found over 150 155-mm chemical shells lying around in the open. The US military was notified, planes and crews from Johnston Island flew in, picked them up and flew them back to Johnston Island, where they were disposed of. Their orders were to not talk about what they had found.

After the battle for Buna-Gona, Australian officers reported that some of the Japanese showed signs of having died from gas poisoning.

I think this is worth further investigation; just one more item to add to my list.

There is also some interesting information coming my way about some Kiwis captured on Tarawa early in the war. The Japanese decapitated them and buried them on the island.

More recently, while looking for the missing graves of US Marines left behind on Tarawa in 1943, the graves of these missing Kiwis were found. I am now waiting some follow-up on that story from individuals I network with on Pacific War issues, and who were involved in finding those graves.

I hope the New Zealand government or military will follow up on this.

And that’s it for this cruise from your nondescript-garden-variety white guy. G’day, mates, and Happy Trails.

Comments

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Melva Melendez

While reading an article on safety of carageenan consumption and health I followed the trail from the author, Myra Weiner, owner of Toxpertise, LLC, to her employment with the company, FMC Corporation. In the professional networking site, Linkedin.com I learned that she had been employed for 29 years by FMC Corporation.

Curious about FMC I went to its website where I learned in a tiny blurb of its history that on November 20, 1943 they used chemicals as warfare during a "combat test at Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands."

This is the link to that company which I believe did experimental testing or secret chemical bombing on the island and contributed to that high casualties and wounding of American troops.

http://www.fmc.com/en-us/aboutfmc/corporateoverview/fmchistory/1943-launchofchemicalbusiness.aspx

John Dude

Look at 10:04
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSp4RAlm2rc
chemical airdrop?

Martin Hadlow

Bruce - Do you have any more news on the NZ Post Office radio operators decapitated by the Japanese on Tarawa, Betio and Ocean Island in 1942?

I have the names of those murdered from the official GEIC files and no doubt you have that list too. Were the remains recovered recently on Tarawa of these men?

And does the memorial to them erected on Tarawa still exist? According to the colonial files, it originally carried the words "In the service of their country they faced death with courage undaunted".

Janet Burris-Wessling

I found your wonderful web site when I was looking up information on Chemical Warfare during WWll in New Guinea.

My dad was in PNG for the two campaigns and was with the Army Corps of Engineers. Are you
planning to look further into the use of Chemicals in the Buna/Dobodura area?

One of our researchers knows a man, who was in Bulolo as an officer. He is 92 and the researcher still can't get him to divulge much information!

Thank you also for the reference to the books, "The School that fell from the Sky" and "White Ghosts and Black Shadows."

I am a teacher in Massachusetts, who does research for a military museum and who helps others find information about WWll. The
Pacificwrecks.org site has been very helpful to me too.

Thank you again for your website and the articles you include.

Kevin Lock

In 1975 on one of the many airstrips near Popondetta I saw a huge mountain of bombs with holes in the side. They were to trucked to Oro Bay for shipping to Japan as scrap. I was told that they were gas bombs.

Graham King

At the fisheries base in Oro Bay there are a large number of bombs which had contained mustard gas. At some stage previously the bombs had been blown to remove the gas.

Each bomb had a hole in the side where an explosive charge had been used to release the gas inside. The story I heard was that a helicopter had flown overhead to disperse the gas while the bombs were blown open.

I last saw this stockpile at Oro Bay in 2007.

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