This is the last installment in the series involving the 312th on Black Sunday. Read the previous installment here.
The US wasn’t the only country that lost aircraft and crews around Black Sunday. Two weeks prior, a violent storm took a toll on the Japanese Navy when the Commander in Chief, Admiral Mineichi Koga, was killed in a plane crash. Koga believed the Americans would invade the Netherlands New Guinea (the western half of the island of New Guinea) and he wanted to be closer to the action to better direct the Navy’s response. On March 31st, he and his staff boarded two flights from the Caroline Islands to Mindanao in the Philippines. While in the air, the planes encountered a storm and Koga’s plane crashed into the ocean, killing all aboard. The second plane transporting Koga’s Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukudome, crash-landed in Bohol Strait. The survivors, including the injured Fukudome, made it to shore, but did not make it back to the Japanese forces in the Philippines until April 10th. Fukudome had important documents with him, including Koga’s “Z Plan,” which was recovered by Filipino guerrillas and turned over to the Americans. The Americans then made copies and returned the originals to the crashed plane. The Japanese never knew the Americans intercepted their “Z Plan.”
Though Black Sunday was a bitter loss for Allied airforces, the operation it was a part of was an overwhelming success. On April 3rd, the Fifth Air Force attack nearly demolished the 6th Air Division, which led to Lt. Gen. Giichi Itabana being relieved of his command. Twelve days after the attack, Gen. Teramoto withdrew the rest of the 4th Air Army to Manado, hundreds of miles away from the action around Hollandia. On April 22nd, Allied forces landed at Homboldt Bay, Tanahmerah Bay, Tadji and Aitape with little opposition. Operation Reckless was working according to plan.
As the 312th reflected on the events of Black Sunday, the biggest obstacle of the day was the weather on the flight home to Gusap. Weather in the Ramu Valley tended to get stormy between 1530 and 1630 each day, which meant flights needed to leave by 1000 to avoid the storms on the trip home. That day, the Group left a little before 1100, though the pilots did not have a choice in the matter. Arriving at the target, there was no opposition from the Japanese in the air or on the ground at Hollandia. Aside from leaving late, the formation missed Hollandia by 100 miles due to a navigation error. The fuel used up during that time may have made a difference for crews as they tried to get home.
Lt. Nathaniel Rothstein noted three rules pilots need to follow: stay with the formation and follow the flight leader, flight leaders must follow squadron leaders and the squadrons must follow the lead plane. The flights that stayed with Col. Strauss on April 16th made it back safely. After the raid, Strauss told his pilots, “If you follow me, I’ll take full responsibility for bringing you back safely. If you go off on your own, upon you rests the responsibility of you and your ship.”
The men of the 312th tried not to dwell on the events of April 16th. These type of events were the occupational hazards that came with the job of a combat pilot. After the Hollandia raids, their sights were set on other Japanese bases in New Guinea: But, Boram, Wewak and Dagua were up next.