The 5th Air Force were engaged in missions against the Japanese in New Guinea and New Britain.... There was a warning that there was a weather front moving in during the mission – but the orders were to go ahead anyway. Probably no one could have anticipated just how severe that tropical storm could possibly be. In the end it proved to be the cause of the worst operational loss suffered by the 5th Air Force in a single day, including combat losses. It is believed to be the biggest single weather-related loss in aviation history. 1st Lt. Calvin Wire was flying a P-38, escorting the bombers. It was only on the return trip they experienced problems:
We flew at about 12,000 to 13,000 feet altitude, between a solid overcast and lower broken clouds. We had no problems until we were south of Wewak, approaching the edge of the Owen Stanley Mountain Range. At this time, we were looking into a solid wall of clouds from the ground to as high as we could see. I had flown a number of missions in this general area before and knew that some of the mountains were 13,000 to 14,000 feet high, so we climbed 20,000 feet looking for any opening – no luck.
We then headed North and went down to 12,000 feet again. We flew East and West along the wall of clouds, searching for any opening. Nothing doing! As we were headed back east, I saw a plane on our left and so we headed for it. There was a nice big B-24 heading home. I called Morton said: “We hit it lucky, this guy has a co-pilot, navigator and radioman let’s latch on and follow him home”. We snuggled in close on his right wing. He rocked his right wing to let us know we were welcome and then headed into that awful wall of clouds, we kept tucked in for about 10 to 15 minutes, when all of a sudden the B-24 went into a sharp left turn. I told Mort to hang on and climb. We made a 180 Degree turn and headed out.
It took us about 10 minutes settled down, and about this time along comes a full squadron of B-25′s. Again we tucked in on the right wing of the rear B-25. After about 5 Minutes or so, the whole squadron of B-25′s went every which way.
And again we went straight up an into a 180 degree turn and back out. After we were out of the worst of it, I called Mort and told him that usually along the coast, when the weather came in from the east, the clouds would rise a bit as they approached land and leave a space we could fly in and still see what was ahead.
He said: “Okay, let’s give it a try.” So then we proceeded east to the coast and headed south. My guess was correct to some degree as we had about 40 Feet between the clouds and the water and they kept working up and down. As it was raining hard, our vision through the windshield was nil, so we flew by looking out of the right side windows at the line of surf. I tried to maintain a minimum of 20 feet in altitude and about 50 feet east of the surf line...."