Black Sunday: Part 3

LADY CONSTANCE, the plane belonging to Lt. Gibbons, was having engine trouble on the way back from Hollandia. As Gibbons trailed behind the 312th formation, he discovered that the 30 gallons of fuel left in the tanks would not get him to Saidor or Gusap. He turned back to land in a clearing he saw about 20 miles north of Faita. With the waning daylight, it was much harder for Gibbons to survey the area. Suddenly, the left engine quit and the aircraft crashed into a ridge. Gibbons ended up with a gash on his head, but his gunner Rhodes escaped with minor cuts and bruises. The men spent a long night under a parachute that did not keep out the mosquitoes. Sgt. James left Gusap in search of Gibbons and Rhodes. He spotted them after seeing a flare sent up by Gibbons and dropped rations and medical supplies. Later that day, Maj. William Pagh flew over and dropped a map and a note instructing the men to stay by the plane and saying that there were no enemies in the area.

Lt. James thought he could fly the men out if they built a strip for him to land his L-5. He dropped a map showing a clearing two miles away where he would meet Gibbons and Rhodes. The next day, James was back with more supplies and a note requesting the men to clear an area at least 150 paces long and informing them that T/Sgt. Allen J. Lockwood would be picking them up soon. That afternoon, Lockwood landed his L-4 on the soft strip and realized he would not be able to reach takeoff speed with another person on board. He stayed with the men overnight and helped them clear out more grass. The next day, the ground was still soft, but with the help of the wind, Lockwood was airborne with Gibbons. There was not enough daylight to go back and get Rhodes, who ended up spending the night worrying about Japanese troops. Lockwood returned to the site and retrieved Rhodes the next morning.


Lt. Davidson was flying his plane, THE HELL’N PELICAN II, with two other aircraft lagging behind the main formation making its way back from Hollandia. This three-aircraft flight, led by 1/Lt. Edward T. Cassidy, burned more fuel as they tried to catch up. Davidson knew that he could not stay with the group much longer because he was very low on fuel. He relayed the information to Cassidy and then left the two planes to find a clearing he had passed by not too long ago. He gave his gunner, Sgt. John McKenna the option to bail, but McKenna decided to stay with Davidson. As Davidson lowered the flaps for landing, the left engine cut out, and the aircraft landed nearly 50 yards from the jungle’s edge. The uninjured men climbed out of the lightly damaged aircraft and prepared to spend the night in the jungle.

Davidson’s plane remained where it landed until 1984 when it was salvaged by the Royal Australian Air Force.

The next morning, the men discovered the turret guns still worked since they ran off the plane’s battery. They took turns manning the guns while waiting for help. Supplies were dropped from a P-40 (those disappeared into the jungle), followed by an A-20, and two B-24s. Intelligence officers at Gusap thought the best way to rescue the two men would be for them to meet up with Gibbons and Rhodes, 16 miles to the southwest. The men set off toward the other crew, only to be caught in a heavy downpour that night. This forced the men to find higher ground. The next morning, they returned to the A-20 because their compass had been ruined by the water and they needed it to navigate through the swamp. The next rescue plan was to clear a strip for the “Guinea Short Lines” to land. After spending five days trying to clear the grass, the L-4A pilot decided landing there would not work.

On April 24th, the town of Madang was secured by the Allies. It was decided that Davidson and McKenna should float 60 miles down the Gogol River to Madang. Two one-man rafts were dropped, and the 312th monitored their progress from the air as the crew made its way downstream.  They signaled for a five-man raft so it would be easier to stay away from crocodiles in the river. They found the new raft in a tree a day later and received a note saying they were two miles away from Astrolabe Bay, south of Madang. Sixteen days after setting off from Gusap on April 16th, the men made it to the bay, where Australians took them to Madang. From there, two L-5s flew the men back to Gusap. This was McKenna’s third crash landing, and it left him feeling like he would die if he flew again. He was granted a request for ground duty back at the States and boarded a B-25 for Nadzab, the first step in returning to the States. The plane that carried him out of Nadzab disappeared into a storm, never to be seen or heard from again.

The series conclusion is up next.

6 thoughts on “Black Sunday: Part 3

  1. I am Sgt. John McKenna’s daughter and would love to hear from anyone who knows anything about him. We were never told any details about his disappearance. Are there any books about that small area of the war. Thane you.


  2. I am the grandson of Allen Joseph Lockwood (“Pop”) of the 25th Liason Squadron. Allen passed away in 1987 and on 2/12/12, his wife and my grandmother, Ivy Kathleen Lockwood, passed away as well.

    We have found a treasure trove of information about the 25th and Pop’s service during WWII. I am slowly and methodically looking at every item, report, clipping, commendation, etc. We have his log book and I will look to see if I can find anything about Sgt. John McKenna.

    Seeing that my grandfather is mentioned in the page above, I do have some pictures of him I can provide for this piece. Let me know if you’re interested.

    You can contact me directly via email if needed. My address is todd **at** norcalhubracing(dot)com.

    -Todd Allen Osterberg


  3. Pingback: Reflections on Black Sunday | IHRA

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