Fifth Air Force began attacking Hollandia on March 30, 1944 with B-24 Liberators escorted by 80 Lightnings. They met 40 enemy aircraft, but did not lose any planes. The next day, the heavy bombers went back and finished softening Hollandia for the low-level A-20 attacks scheduled for April 3rd. The 312th’s A-20s would not be alone in this endeavor. They would be joined by B-24s from the 22nd, 43rd and 90th Bomb Groups, B-25s from the 38th and 345th Bomb Groups and A-20s from the 3rd Bomb Group. The 234 bombers would be escorted by 76 P-38s, which would make this the largest formation of Fifth Air Force aircraft at this point of the war. The 900 mile roundtrip mission would be the longest yet for the 312th. Col. Strauss gave his intelligence officers, operations officers and squadron commanders a thorough briefing the night before Operation Reckless was to commence. He warned the pilots to closely monitor their fuel supply because this mission was close to the 950 mile range of the A-20, and he showed them how to switch between fuel tanks.
The Group left Gusap at 0850 on April 3rd, formed up over Dumpu and met up with their fighter cover. The 312th, recently choosing the nickname of the Roarin’ 20’s, flew to Hollandia with the 3rd Bomb Group. When the planes were about two miles away from Hollandia, a Ki-43 Oscar tried to attack the formation, but was quickly taken care of by the P-38 fighters.
The B-24s started pounding Hollandia with 1000-pound bombs. The B-25s and A-20s made their runs after the heavy bombers came through. The 312th’s goal was to destroy as many Japanese huts, camps, airstrips, storehouses, antiaircraft gun positions and aircraft dispersal areas as possible. While hitting the targets at 30 second intervals, the A-20s dropped bombs and fired their .50-caliber guns, damaged or destroyed several aircraft on the ground and started many fires.
Maj. William Kemble led the 388th Squadron through the heavy barrage of antiaircraft fire, flying his plane up and down to dodge the flak. His gunner, Sgt. William Ernst, had a close call during the flight. A metal fragment from a burst hit a .50-caliber bullet in the chain-feeding mechanism of the right hand gun, causing the bullet to explode and hit Ernst’s dog tag. Ernst was sure he had been shot, but examined himself when he did not see any blood. He looked at his dog tag and realized that had taken the bullet for him. The dog tag was never bent back into shape, but remained a good luck charm for Ernst.
After the day’s mission, the pilots of the 312th discovered they did not need to be so worried about the A-20 fuel supply. They had plenty of gas left, so there would be one less thing to worry about on future flights to Hollandia.
Fifth Air Force attacked Hollandia again on March 30th, March 31st and April 3rd. During that time, they lost one P-38, but destroyed over 300 Japanese aircraft. Sixty Japanese fighters came to meet the groups on April 3rd and, to the dismay of the Japanese, 26 of them were shot down. Gen. Kenney was congratulated by Gen. MacArthur in an uncoded telegram to further dishearten their foe.
Hollandia after Operation Reckless.
Kenney continued organizing missions to Hollandia on April 5-8th. The 312th was sent to Humboldt and Jautefa Bays to take out various military targets including Japanese ships and barges. The Roarin’ 20’s left the bays enveloped in a plume of black smoke that rose over 1000 feet. The Group was not able to attack Hollandia on the 8th because of the infamous bad weather.
Some of the Japanese aircraft after Fifth Air Force bombed Hollandia.
MacArthur wanted to invade Hollandia on April 22nd, however, Kenney wanted to make sure none of the Japanese planes survived the previous attacks and that reinforcements had not arrived. He chose April 16th as the day for the last attack on Hollandia. This day would come to be known as “Black Sunday.”