Japanese Alddreu Airfield harbors occupation memories, Jeju, South Korea.
Pastoral present belies airfield’s dark past
Story by Jim Saunders
Winding down the window of the car, we shouted across to the farmer tending her field in the late afternoon sun.
“Which way to Alddreu Airfield?” we asked.
Straightening up a little and turning to look at us: “You’re in it!” came the reply. “And, to see the hangers, you have to keep following this road straight!” she added while waving the tool in her hand a little.
We looked around slightly incredulously. Fields of crops stretched in every direction with only Sanbangsan standing tall in the near distance. We started off again down the single track road in amongst the fields with dried mud kicking up from our car’s tires. A few minutes later, the first of the remaining structures from the airfield appeared- reinforced, concrete aircraft hangers, overgrown with long grass swirling in the light breeze.
Nineteen of the twenty hangers built by the Japanese during their occupation of Jeju Island remain today. However, the hangers are only a small left over of a much larger site that began its history in 1937.
Initially constructed to provide a base for bombing runs to mainland China the airfield expanded to include various facilities such as artillery stands and bomb-storage sites. According to one source, there were also underground bunkers that historians suggest were used for meeting rooms for army officials.
Later, as the tide of the Pacific War swung in favour of the Allies, Jeju became strategically important for the defence of the Japanese home islands. Between 1943 and 1944 the airfield was further enlarged to include the hangers that remain today, along with the arrival of a 70,000 men garrison (although the maximum number stationed at the airfield never exceeded around 2,500 according to figures from the Jungang Ilbo).
Of the three airfields built during the occupation (the two others being Jeju International Airport and a ‘lost’ field in Jocheon), Alddreu will be preserved for the future, as each of the hangers are now registered cultural heritage sites. According to further reports, Seogwipo City is planning to develop the area into a major theme park which will include a museum. Construction is scheduled to start in 2009 and last through 2015, the total budget for the project is forecast to be 59.1 billion won.
Unfortunately, the darkened history of Alddreu continued after the war and mixed with the events of 4.3 (the Jeju Massacre, 사삼, in which twenty-five to thirty thousand people died). As the site of the island’s largest arsenal, detonation of munitions by American forces left a deep crater- a crater that would then be used as an execution for about 250 people. The site has only recently been memorialized with a wooden walkway surrounding the crater and explaining events.
Alddreu today is a field with crops in which even the recently re-laid car park for visitors has been reclaimed by farmers. As I climbed up close to inspect one of the hangers, a man in his tractor ploughed his field right in front of me. I slapped the concrete a little. These were built to last and, though their original purpose is redundant, they will continue to sit as a lasting testament to Japanese occupation.
+ There is now an old Japanese bunker to climb into and investigate. It is marked on the map below.
+ A trip to the airfield could be combined with a trip to nearby Seongaksan. Here the Japanese built AA guns and dug tunnels into the cliff face, which linked the area with the airfield.
Getting there and visitor information: The airfield is located on the southwest tip of Jeju. Private transport is advised. However, taking a regularly scheduled bus from Jeju City Bus Terminal to Moseulpo port will put you within a hearty walking distance. Alternatively, upon arriving in Moseulpo take a taxi to the area. There are a lack of signs, so it’s probably best to stop and ask locals. The best place to explore the area from is the car park and nearby information boards. This is also very close to the site of the arsenal, which is linked to 4.3. Expect over an hour drive from Jeju City to reach the area. PLEASE SEE THE MAP BELOW FOR MORE DETAILED POSITIONING.
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+ Images: http://blog.daum.net/champ48/3548751