Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Black Sunday - April 16, 1944

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On April 16th, 1944 over three hundred bombers and fighters of the 5th Air Army took off on a mission to bomb and strafe the Japanese airfields located at Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea.

The mission was successful and no aircraft was lost to enemy action, however their safe return was blocked by a massive weather front. 37 aircraft were destroyed or went missing because of the bad weather.This event known as Black Sunday and marked the biggest operational loss due to weather in WWII. My uncle piloted a B-25 on this mission.

Flight Crews in New Guinea 1944
Members of the 5th US Army Air Force
38th Bomb Group - 823rd Squadron
The experience of crews who did find an airfield was no better. Alfred B. Colwell,Jr., was the Navigator/Bombardier on a B-25 in the 38th Bomb Group based at Nadzab, New Guinea
April 16
Mission #48 – Hollandia.
The whole area was full of planes-B-24s, B-25s, A-20s and P-38s. We got down to 50 feet above the coast and followed it towards Saidor. I directed Polecat (Pilot Ed P. Poltrack) to the right and left along the coast. He and Jack were both flying, dodging planes. Once our airspeed went down to 120 – looked like we would have to ditch any minute. Now and then we would lose sight of the coast and weave back and forth along our course to pick it up again.
After 30 minutes of this we suddenly saw a strip ahead of us. Jack dropped the wheels and flaps and Poltrack nosed her down for a landing – we didn’t have any idea how long the strip was or what was at the other end – couldn’t see that far – but there wasn’t much choice. Polecat never made a better landing and we didn’t slide at all when he applied the brakes. We taxied over to one side. It was raining so beat Hell but we piled out in the middle of it.
Sitting at the end of the runway were three banged up 71st ships. Two landed okay and stopped; then the third came in and ploughed right through them – no one hurt.
As we walked over the strip, one of our planes broke through the rain about halfway down the strip(it turned out to be Harvey). He couldn’t see a thing either as he set her down, began to brake and started skidding to beat the devil. He was doing okay until he ran off of the end of the strip and hit the mud-then the plane started skidding sideways and suddenly the landing gear gave way and she went on a wing and and the belly. She was one hell of a wrecked ship but the whole crew came crawling out without a scratch.
About this time we saw a B-25 and a P-38 coming in for landings from opposite directions. Neither one probably never saw the other-they crashedd head on in the middle of the strip and exploded. Somehow one man got out of the B-25 okay; another was dragged out badly burned (died later); the others were cremated.
The situation was worse than ever now. The strip was blocked and the poor boys still in the air were about to go wild. All were running out of gas. The A-20s began coming in anyhow, the first one almost missing the burning wreckage but clipped off a wing; the second blew a tire, his nose wheel collasped and he skidded through the burning planes – both fellows got out okay.
The boys with the winches walked right into the burning, exploding mess hooked on to it and dragged it from the strip. Part of a burned body body slipped from the B-25.
Hamilton, another one of ours, came in next. He blew a tire – skidded off the strip but his plane was not damaged too badly. Next 2 A-20s and a P-39 came in almost at once, all gliding in out of gas. The P-39 hit the strip on its belly and the A-20s were right behind. Both pulled up their wheels and hit on their bellies. Not one of the three was hurt.

Damaged japanese airplanes. The Fifth Air Force, in a series of low-level bombing attacks, found enemy aircraft parked wing tip to wing tip along the runways. Hollandia, early April 1944


Years after the war, Ed's daughter Barbara took him to an air show and Ed took the opportunity to climb into the cockpit once again.


  1. Thank you for posting John......

  2. No matter how many times this story is revisited, it is impossible for me to fathom.

    1. I found a book "Fire in the Sky" which describes the air war in the South Pacific, so I may have more to add to this posting. One of my retirement goals is finding time to read. Thanks for your comments.

  3. No matter how many times this story is revisited, it is impossible for me to fathom.