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March 12, 1943, p.8
AIRBASE IN THE JUNGLE, Told By Howard Fast
AIRBASE IN THE JUNGLE
Complete in This Issue, A Jack Crane Story
Told By HOWARD FAST
THE cable editor of the Consolidated Press in New York was used to Jack Crane's sudden movements. He was not surprised, therefore, when one morning a radio message was handed to him which read:
"Arrived in northern Australia. Now attached to MacArthur's forces. Crane."
The news stories sent by Crane had been coming from Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands. How Crane traveled from there to Australia remained for long a mystery, even to his own office.
In the end, the story of Crane's journey was told in a book by another war correspondent. His book described how Crane "hitched" his way from Henderson Field (in Guadalcanal) to Australia in the empty bomb-bay of a returning Flying Fortress.
Crane had acted on a hunch, this correspondent said. When he started, the other correspondents on Guadalcanal had gathered on the field to say "good luck."
Then Crane had told them, "I'm not staying long in Australia. I'm going to New Guinea as quickly as I can.
"I've a feeling big things are going to happen there and happen fast!"
The day after he arrived at a northern Australian airport, Crane found himself aboard one of Gen. MacArthur's bombers, flying north towards Port Moresby, New Guinea.
The bomber crew had been in Australia since Gen. MacArthur arrived there from the Philippines. Crane talked with the navigator and learned from him the story of the fighting in New Guinea's mountains and jungles.
Things had looked very black for a time, the navigator said. Once the Japs advanced to a point only 24 miles from Port Moresby, our last stronghold on the New Guinea coast.
Now at last the period of retreat and defense was over in New Guinea as it was in the rest of the world. Our men were attacking. The Japs were in full retreat towards their base at Buna, on New Guinea's northern shore.
A CHANGE IN PLANS
Looking ahead through the nose of the plane, Jack Crane could see Port Moresby on the horizon ahead of him. He was wondering where the airport might be when a message came through on the plane's radio.
The operator decoded it. It told the pilot not to land at Port Moresby. They were to proceed north over the mountains instead, and come in at an airport they would find at a certain location on their maps.
The pilot whistled, half under his breath. "You're in luck, Crane," he said. "We're going on to MacArthur's secret airport. It's right in Jap territory, far beyond our lines."
They flew on over the Owen Stanley mountains, and Crane could see why the Jap attack on Port Moresby had not packed a bigger punch.
The mountains rose over 12,000 feet high between the north and south shores of New Guinea. Even skilled mountain climbers found the tracks across them hard to follow.
The Japs had tried to take their tanks and army trucks through these mountains from Buna to attack Port Moresby. They had failed. The Japs felt sure our forces would fail, too, now that we were attacking the other way.
The Japs never dreamed that American engineers would dare to build an airport on the Jap side of the mountains. Even to Crane, who had seen American forces outfight and outwit the Japs in the Solomon Islands, it seemed almost impossible that such a thing could be done.
Yet, before darkness fell, he saw it with his own eyes. They were far behind the Jap lines now, and below them the jungle was dotted with clearings. It reminded Crane of Minnesota, where (from the air) the woods and lakes made a crazy-quilt of green and blue.
Into one of these clearings, which looked no different from the rest, the bomber glided to a landing. From the air no life was visible, but as they taxied into the edge of the jungle Crane could. see they were in the midst of a well-camouflaged camp.
At mess that evening Crane met the men who had built the secret airport. He talked with them and they told him about their job. They talked as if it were a routine operation but even from their matter-of-fact accounts Crane could understand the difficulties of carving such an airfield out of the jungle.
Every space they cleared, every tree they felled, had to be hidden from the eyes of Jap scouting planes. The material they needed had to be either flown in, or improvised from the jungle.
To keep the secret of the field from the Japs, Crane could not write about these men until their work had served its purpose. Later, their airfield made possible our capture of Buna. Into it, at exactly the right moment to catch the Japs between two fires, Gen. MacArthur poured plane-loads of airborne American troops and equipment.
Then, with the Japs penned in their last foothold, the airport was used to bring in supplies of food and ammunition. Without air transport, these supplies could never have reached our men.
"I am going to call these Americans 'construction commandos'," Crane cabled the Consolidated Press as soon as the censor would allow him to send his story.
"It took a great general, with a daring plan, to think of building and using this secret airbase. It took fighting construction men to carry out his plans.
"The Japs pride themselves on being clever jungle fighters," concluded Crane's dispatch. "We beat them at their own game."