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Synapticism

An experiential journal of synchronicity and connection

Taichung Aerodrome Gun Tower 臺中飛行場機槍堡

A lone Japanese colonial era gun tower on the former site of Shuinan Airport at the edge of urban Taichung.

Not much remains of the former Taichū Aerodrome 臺中飛行場, a Japanese colonial era airbase originally built in 1911 on the northwestern periphery of central Taichung 台中. The airbase saw a lot of action in World War II and several kamikaze units were stationed there in the final months of the war. After the arrival of the KMT it was used as a hub for aviation research and development before entering into civilian use in the 1970s as Shuǐnǎn Airport 水湳機場. In 2004 operations were transferred to the nearby Taichung Airport 台中航空站 and, over the following decade, the former Japanese airbase was completely demolished as part of an ongoing city-wide urban renewal plan. The only building spared was a lone gun tower built in 1940, formally designated a historic site in 2006, and officially known as the Former Japanese Army Taichung Aerodrome Gun Tower 原日軍臺中飛行場機槍堡.

It doesn’t look like much without a sense of scale but this tower is actually about 10 meters tall.
Access to the interior is possible by climbing the rusty rungs on the left.

This gun tower is one of dozens built by the Japanese to defend airfields and important installations from allied bombers during the war. Several more just like this one (as well as a few more recent structures) can be found further west on the Dadu Plateau 大肚台地, a natural defensive position guarding access to the populous Taichung Basin 臺中盆地. To my inexpert eye the conical design looks identical to one of the gun towers near the former Changhua Aerodrome in Changhua 彰化. For a more general discussion of Japanese gun towers in Taiwan I recommend this post from Taiwan Air Power.

It isn’t hard to find a way in. This photo mainly serves to provide a bit more of a human scale to this structure.
First look inside the gun tower. This view would have been facing the airbase. It is possible to descend into the base of the tower from this floor but it looked flooded, dark, and full of insects when I visited. No thanks!

The biggest surprise inside the gun tower was evidence of human habitation! It is not so unusual to encounter evidence of squatters in abandoned homes and factories but a historic gun tower? That was not expected. Whoever had been staying here kept the place fairly tidy and even went to the effort of blacking out the windows. I’m glad they weren’t home when I dropped by—but even if they were there’s a good chance they would have been fine with me taking a look around. Squatters I’ve encountered in Taiwan tend to be quite friendly.

The next level up contained quite a surprise: someone has clearly made a home in the old gun tower! The windows have been blocked to darken the room (and so my photographs from this chamber are rather grainy).
Inside the dark chamber at the heart of the gun tower. Not much light makes its way in here.
The situation board, or qíngkuàngbǎn 情況板 in Chinese. Troops stationed here would have recorded information on this wall.
Ascending to the top of the gun tower.
The gun mount on top of the tower would have once held some formidable armament. It is rather tough to take pictures up here; there really isn’t much room to move around.

There wasn’t a lot of room to get a good picture of the gun mount on top of the tower but the view of the surrounding landscape was worth the risk and effort involved in getting up there. As mentioned, the former airport has been cleared out, and a new grid of streets now extends toward the horizon. Water mains burrow through the ground below and street lights change for no one. It is all ready for property developers to move in—I wonder what’s the hold up? We might ask the same about the gun tower; it was designated a historic site ten years prior to when these photographs were shot. And speaking of shooting, you can bet troops stationed here fired on American planes 70 years ago!

The view from the top of the gun tower. This would have been an airport once. Maybe in the future it will be a housing development or a mall or something.
Coming down was the hardest part. This metal ladder isn’t very stable as it has rusted away at the very bottom.
Climbing out of the gun tower at the former Shuinan Airport.
The former Taichu Aerodrome gun tower after dark. This was actually my first sight of the place; I went to go check it out after sampling the nearby night market.

Finding this historic gun tower is easy. Since it is a historic site all you have to do is enter the Chinese name into Google Maps and you’ll have directions in no time. Access may change over time as the area is developed into the public park it is destined to become—whenever city officials get around to it—but if you act now you might be able to explore the interior before it is sealed (as these things invariable are). Just be sure to knock first!

1 Comment

  1. I miss the old Shuinan Airport. There used to be a restaurant right behind the runway – you could eat outside and watch the planes roar overhead as they came in to land.

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