Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Solomons Sojourn

Today's work consisted of heading up to Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands. Being my first time into Henderson, as is customary practice, I was accompanied by a check pilot to familiarise me with the particular intricacies of the route.

As an amateur military history buff I was pretty excited to be going to the site of a MAJOR conflict in the Pacific War during WWII. Guadalcanal, along with New Guinea was basically where the Japanese were stopped in their island hoping campaign across the Pacific, with the intention of cutting off Australia from it's ally, the US, and even though I would not have time to look around, just seeing the area with my own eyes would put so much into perspective. The campaign was made into a movie back in 1998. The Thin Red Line was one of the first "realistic' movies made about the Pacific War(sorry Duke, but Sands of Iwo Jima is just a recruiting flick in comparison) and as a result, very disturbing.

Located on the island of Guadalcanal, Henderson Field is the name that was given to the airport way back in 1942. In the convention of the day it was named after a US Naval Aviator killed during the Battle of Midway. The runway today is aligned exactly as it was back in the '40s, just longer and sealed for jet operations.

The water in the background is Sealark Sound. Known as Ironbottom Sound because of the amount of shipping that lies on the sea floor, it must have been a horrendous place to be in 1942 as the ships we are talking about aren't just little tinnies or supply ships. Cruisers, destroyers and if my memory serves, a big ass battleship. Please read the Wiki page (above) on the battle as it is yet another of the almost forgotten Pacific battles that really was vicious and decisive. Our HMAS Canberra, a heavy cruiser, lasted about "as long as a snowflake in hell" during the battle.

Anyway, we cruised up at 37 000 feet and would have been immune from Zeros at that height and speed.  Coming over the island at 15 000ft to ensure terrain clearance we threaded our way between two cumulonimbus(CB) which I have a sneaking suspicion are permanent features on the high ground.

The airport is on the other side of the island and we were approaching from the same direction as the Japanese troops had back in 1942 as it turned out. While this path looked ugly, these tropical storms are usually quite benign just to either side of the anvil(head) and we had a smooth ride through that cloud. Just don't try it under the build-up!

Overhead the field at 10 000ft isn't the normal approach profile of a 737, so gear and flaps were thrown out and we glided steeply down in an arc to the north, over Ironbottom Sound, to finally re-apply power at 500ft and land on runway 06 to the north east.

Facilities proved to be the expected third world fare, barely adequate and run on pacific time.

Looking back toward the high ground, it was looking a tad damp. I can't imagine trying to trudge through the rainforest covered hillsides on almost no food, trying to keep a weapon serviceable and find someone to fight all at the same time.

The Solomon Airways Airbus had a cracked windscreen (it happens from time to time) which they were in the process of changing out, so we inherited another seventy or so passengers for our return flight.

By the time we departed the CB had slid along the ranges toward the south west and our southerly departure track was relatively clear.

After a comfortable two hours and fifty minutes we were back in "wintery" Brisbane and the 31C (88F) warmth of Honiara was a distant memory.

Today proved to be very interesting and I would love to return to have a closer look around and examine some of the historic sites. While the Solomons isn't the safest place to hang, I think it is getting it's security concerns under control thanks to a peace keeping deal that has been running for most of the last decade.

So, somewhere else I have to go when I have the time......? Definitley!


  1. Very interesting post. Thanks for the info. I hadn't really heard of the Soloman Islands.

    I had to research the nearby Marshall Islands for work. A few years ago we kept getting court appointed to represent some of their citizens on criminal cases and I was having a hell of a time trying to find an interpreter. They too have a sad history, but I think theirs was mostly at US hands.

    1. I was suprised to see how much the setting of the film looked like the actual island even though it was filmed around Cairns here in north Queensland.
      The cast of the movie was pretty impressive too. It features a large ensemble cast, including performances and cameos by Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, George Clooney, John Cusack, Jared Leto, and John Travolta. By the final cut, all footage of the performances by Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Sheen, Gary Oldman, Bill Pullman, Lukas Haas, Jason Patric, Viggo Mortensen and Mickey Rourke had been removed.
      Yeah, you guys tested nukes on the Marshall Islands and the French blasted the Bikini Islands. Smarter than what we did though. We tested our(British) nukes in our own backyard in South Australia(upwind!!), but I guess the US did that initially in New Mexico too.

  2. Nice post bro. Nice place to visit by the looks.

    1. Thanks. Different day out I guess.
      I think that malaria is bad on Guadalcanal so I might have to rethink a trip or bathe in Aeroguard.


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