Northwest Thailand during World War II

Mae Mo Landing Ground (Th: ท่าอากาศยานแม่เมาะ / Jp: マイモ滑走路)
Lampang Province
Page 3 of 4
Thai Route 0001
Sta 000.00
offset 0.8km south


Text Notes

Postwar information

The very poor quality photo of the Mae Mo Landing Ground below was published in a Chiang Mai Museum report in 1999. The actual date of the photo is not known:


The caption (translated) reads:  

Fig 10. Airport built by Japanese soldiers during WWII. It is now located in the Mae Mo Forestry Plantation, Ban Ta Sri, Tambon Ban Dong, Amphoe Mae Mo, Lampang Province. Before it was finished, it was attacked.

Though that description was known to us in early 2008 and was more specifically defined in early 2010[28], a thorough inspection of Google Earth's rendering of that area had found nothing suggesting an airstrip. We came to that conclusion with the experience of having visited the airstrip at Khun Yuam which, though not used since 1946, has survived very nicely. That conclusion turned out to be in error.

No further progress was possible until we discovered offerings of the US Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA) in mid-2011. After ferreting out the information relevant to Mae Mo in webpages 1 and 2, and with numerous delays, we eventually found ourselves driving around the area indicated in the maps and diagrams on page 2 on 25 July 2013.

shop ownerSawai Maneesarn

We were heading SSE on a no-name road looking for any evidence of the old Mae Mo NE-SW runway and stopped at a point we thought it might have crossed the road, almost 70 years ago. Aside of the road where we stopped there happened to be a shop with a friendly shopkeeper. When asked if he knew anything about an old airstrip in the area, he, Sawai Maneesarn, immediately responded, yes: his shop was located right on the old runway, and that a mere 20 years ago, there was still visible evidence of the airstrip.

Looking out from his shop and across the road in a southwesterly direction, down what would have been the runway center line, we saw open fields bounded by a tree-lined, gravel road (to the left in the photo below):

Photo 1 [30]Looking south along Mae Mo runway

Traveling down that side road, we turned right into a single lane gravel road, stopped, and looked back at the shop (the blue roof in the distance). This is the view looking generally northeasterly from what would have been roughly midfield:

Photo 2 [31]Looking north from midfield


The two photos above were taken at the points shown on this enlargement of a small portion of the overlay map on the previous page: extract from overlay[32]


On that smaller road, we stopped and walked along paddy field dikes to look at various holes, which the shopkeeper thought might be vestiges of bunkers. Most of them turned out to be purpose-built unlined water reservoirs. However, two were decidedly different. Circular in shape, each looked similar to an old bomb crater we had seen in Chiang Mai on the old Sang Thai Rice Mill property. Diameters of the two here differ: 8 m and 13 m (approximate). The shopkeeper had mentioned that he thought the airfield had been bombed. Here is one of the two holes which appear to be bomb craters:

bomb crater


The shopkeeper also mentioned that there were possibly remains of a bunker near the local government building just up the street, at the intersection with Thai Route 1. So we ventured back over there where we found a standard Thai government building, in this case the administrative office for Tambon Ban Dong. It is located where the overlay on page 2 shows "Huts" near the top of the diagram:

AuBauTau bldg for Tambon Ban Dang[34]

The area around the building's westerly (exit) gate is of particular interest. A well just east of the gate is said to have been used by Japanese troops stationed at the airstrip. The vertical concrete pipe is the top of the well housing. Here an old metal sign has been recruited to cover most of the wellhead:

AuBauTau well[35]

To the west of the same gate is a dug pond which now obscures the site where an unexploded Allied bomb rested for several years. The owner of land adjacent advised that the area had been roped off with warning signs until authorities removed the bomb:

AuBauTau bomb site[36]

That same landowner indicated that years ago he had filled in a bunker on his property as a part of preparing to farm the land. He recalled that he had been troubled for years with nightmares about Japanese soldiers crying out in despair; and that stopped when he filled in the bunker.[36a]

It is curious that the Mae Mo airstrip had been bombed. The airstrip was hardly of any significance: the reports on the previous pages indicate no aircraft were ever sighted there. The bombing might have been by Allied pilots whose only orders were bomb "targets of opportunity"; or it might also have been the result of pilots purposefully dumping their unused bombs before returning to base. There was a remark in a 19 June 1944 mission report, B-247, that a 22nd Bombardment Squadron, having failed to sight its target (the Kaeng Luang bridge), had "spotted an airfield having two runways crossing in an 'X' pattern" and dropped all its bombs on this alternate target. The Mae Mo facility is the only one in the northern Thailand area with runways in an "X" pattern.

For reference purposes, a profile of the main airstrip:

Mae Mo airstrip profile

The abrupt elevation change towards the right (NE end) may be the result of a seam between two aerial images stitched together by Google Earth to form a mosaic. A larger image is available here.



To Do List

p Item
1 Thai Rte 1 sta at xsectn to road to a/f. Names of sois.
2 Take photos as shown in this markup:

Points for photos

3 Re-GPS 2 shell hole locatns; photo 2nd hole
4 Property owner next to Tambon Ban Dong admin building:

a. Name, contact info: Mr Suk
b. Description of bunker (size, orientation)
c. Date of demolition of bunker
d. Photo of recovered bomb if available
e. Any other photos
f . Better copy of photo at top of this page?

5 Reforestatn Off at Mae Mo Forestry Plantatn, Ban Ta Sri:

a. Confirm name
b. Location:
      N18°25.032 E99°43.183 [01 May 2014]

6 Mae Chang Bridge:

a. Identify configuration
b. Field verify: scaled lengths of structures
c. Check structure for shell damage
d. Photograph
e. Get coordinates, RR stationing







27.^รายงาน การ สําร จอขุดค้น ตาม โครงการ
คึกษาเชิงอนรักษ์แหล่งฝังศพทหารญี่บุน สมัย สงครามโลกครั้งที่ 2 จังหวัดแม่ฮ่องสอน หัางหุ้นส่วนจํากัดเฌอกรีน
[Report on Archeological Research for the Japanese Soldiers Burial Project-World War II Era in Mae Hong Son Province], (Chiang Mai: Archaeology & National Museum Office 6, 1999), p 35.

Unique among the images in the report, only this one is unattributed. Hence, I don't know where to look for a better copy, or how to date it or determine its direction of view.

The title of the museum report specifies Mae Hong Son Province. Why this photo of a site in Lampang Province, two provinces to the east of the subject province, is included in this report is unclear.

28.^ Mae Mo Airstrip location per Sakpinit Promthep:
N18-25 E99-45
(via Jack Eisner email of 09 Jan 2010)




29.^ Photo is extracted from DSCF1599.jpg, 25 Jul 2013.

Shopkeeper/shop owner:

Sawai Maneesarn
Moo 7, Tambon Ban Dong Amphoe Mae Mo, Chungwat Lampang.

นายเสวย  ทวีสาร
บ้านหมู่7 ตำบลบ้านดง  อำเภอแม่เมาะ  จังหวัดลำปาง

30.^ DSCF1592.jpg of 25 Jul 2013.

















31.^ DSCF1610.jpg of 25 Jul 2013.















32.^ Portion of image attributed in footnote 24, with additional annotations by author using Microsoft Publisher.

















33.^ DSCF1602.jpg of 25 Jul 2013.

Coordinates of shell crater (diameter 8m) shown:
N18°24.747 E99°43.661

Coordinates of shell crater (diameter 13m) not shown:
N18°24.674 E99°43.573

[Coordinates added:
            01 May 2014]












34.^ DSCF1613.jpg of 25 Jul 2013. Building front faces approximately north.














35.^ DSCF1619.jpg of 25 Jul 2013














36.^ DSCF1615.jpg of 25 Jul 2013.












36a.^ Jack Eisner recounts hearing a similar story at a far distant, unrelated location; point being, the spirit world continues to be a very real factor in the outlook of some Thais.





37.^ Google Earth view of Mae Mo location and "show elevation profile" activated.

















37A.^ Google Earth image enhanced with IrfanView and annotated with Microsoft Publisher by author. Location coordinates per Google Earth.