Minimally edited extract from diary of Alfred B. Colwell,jr., Nav/Bomb. provided by his sister, Mrs A. E. Seitz, Houston, Texas via Lawton Howell, 823rd Squadron. The 5th Air Force lost more planes this day than were lost in combat in any one day.
BLACK SUNDAY 16 APRIL 1944
April 16-Mission #48-Hollandia. This is one day we won't soon forget. On the way to the target I was nervous as a cat and expected all hell to break loose, but we reached Hollandia, dropped the bombs and had no trouble. Still shaky, I decided I'd been flying too much so started to read a magazine.
About half way back Co-pilot Jackowski tapped me on the shoulder and pointed ahead-south, east and west, all socked in solid with black clouds, rain and wind. We had two hours gas left and it was 1 1/2 hours home. The whole formation kept flying hoping for a hole somewhere ahead but soon we began to circle. The only clear spot was north but that was all Jap territory as was the area over which we were circling."
"Around, around, up, down-the situation was getting no better fast. We had been circling for an hour and now our only chance of getting down safely was make Saidor, about 30 minutes away. The weather that way looked even rougher, but we would be over water most of the time. We had just decided to leave the formation and go it alone since the others all seemed to have more gas when suddenly we all spotted a little hole just over the coast and water. Everyone nosed down and dove for it. Just as we got over the water we hit rain and wind-couldn't see a damn thing."
"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 Poletrack 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 din'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-25okay; 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 onr 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."
"By this time it wasn't even exciting. I was drenched to the skin and beginning to feel sick. Caught a truck and went for hot coffee and something to eat. We couldn't find a place to sleep so seven of us finally went over to the hospital, put on a sick act and they put us to bed with a few sleeping pills for the night.
" Several other planes of all types cracked up, but no one was killed. One of our crews crashed on the coast about 20 miles from Saidor. A couple of Ausies picked them up in a barge and brought them in next morning. Our plane was the only one out four from our squadron that was still in flying condition. We loaded all four crews in our ship and came back to Nadzab about noon."
"Other planes from our squadron managed to make it too Cape Glouchester (one smashed up) but we did not lose a single man through the whole mess."
" They probably will never let us know actually how many planes were lost."