Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Rabaul was the capital of East New Britain province, Papua New Guinea until 1994. It was built within the caldera of a large volcano, and was always vulnerable to an eruption. In 1994, a particularly large eruption took place. Two of the vents on the rim of the caldera, Tavurvur and Vulcan, erupted in September of 1994, destroying the airport and most of the town with heavy ashfall. The new capital, Kokopo , is just 20km away, so the region (and new airport) is still most often referred to as Rabaul.
Rabaul has good diving and snorkeling sites and a spectacular harbour, and so was slowly becoming a popular tourist destination before the eruptions. There are still several diving operators based there.
Britain was awarded New Guinea from the German Empire after the First World War, and was developing Rabaul into a base by the time the Japanese took it over. During World War II the Japanese developed Rabaul into a much more powerful base than the British had planned. There is still much military debris in the harbour, on the land and under the hills—the occupying Japanese army dug many kilometers of underground tunnels as shelter from the Allied air forces. By 1943 there were about 110,000 Japanese troops based in Rabaul.
After taking off from Rabaul on April 18, 1943, Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, the architect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was shot down and killed by U.S. fighter planes which were hastily dispatched after decryption of Japanese communications describing Yamamoto's flight itinerary.
Instead of capturing Rabaul, the Allied forces bypassed it by establishing a ring of airfields on islands around it. Cut off from resupply and under constant air attack, the base became useless. The Japanese held Rabaul until they surrendered at the end of the war in August, 1945.
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