World War Two unexploded ordnance legacy is finally cleared from the Pacific island of Bougainville

In an interview on New Zealand’s Dateline Pacific radio programme, Captain Richard Capel has described the recent de-arming and removal of remaining World War Two explosives on Papua New Guinea’s Bougainville Island.

An operation lasting five weeks, known as Operation Render Safe, took place during October and November this year, to remove tonnes of exploded and unexploded ordnance from Torokina, a coastal village on the outlying island of Bougainville. Australian, New Zealand and other Pacific nations have joined together to take part in the long-awaited mission, much to the relief of local residents.

Islands located in the Pacific were used extensively during World War Two, as airfields, logistic storage, and service bases. Torokina airfield was used as a base for allied bombers, which would fly out to fight over the Pacific. Given its vicinity to Japan, the Japanese air-force often bombed the airfield as well, so a lot of remnants of exploded and unexploded armoury remained after the war ended, the Radio New Zealand International reports.

Much of the land around Torokina has been cordoned off and locals have been unable to utilise the area.  Many landowners have been frustrated that they can’t access their land, yet they were eager to provide the operation with as much of their knowledge as possible about the quantity and location of explosives or remnants on their land in order to expedite its removal.

A reconnaissance team attended the sites, prior to the actual removal operation, to plot out and prioritise the explosive remains. Even though the operation has been a success, Captain Capel concedes that the team can’t guarantee absolutely every single piece of ordnance has been removed. The team focused on areas near to where the population resides and in particular schools. They then moved out to more rural land as much as their resources and time would let them clear.

The operation has been ongoing across numerous Pacific islands for some years now and it is expected that the removal task will continue for some time to come.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE