This is my first work to put something from the past into the present and pass a message of those who fought over the skies of Europe and Romania in form of a preview of the bigger things to come, hopefully 2014. There are no intentions at my end to hide the truth neither write what people would like me to and I clearly indicate this was not written for Rumania or for the Rumanian people . I don’t expect anyone to approve or disapprove my findings or to continue to read if you think otherwise . If you wish to make a comment, you are welcome to.
Also let me get something straight , just because I am citting various errors of the 9th and 15th Air Forces ,one should not confuse this with me trying to glorify the Rumanian warfare in WWII nor stamp me as a Russian or German sympathizer, quite contrary I believe that in WWII the Rumanians were only second to Nazis with their guilt , while Stalinist Russia in the war waged against Hitler’s 3rd Reich and the Axis was anything but a good and a reliable Ally. True is that generally speaking, the Allies POW’s enjoyed a fair treatment in Romania in comparison with those throughout the 3rd Reich and the occupied Europe, however this because the Romanians kept their options open understanding the war’s outcome was turning to be unfavourable for them and the end was near.
Introduction to Romania and its Oil ( Bine ati venit in infern / Welcome in hell )
Needless to remind thar Romania was the closest Nazis Ally and along with the Germans and Axis they started the war . Romaniam Army were guilty of war atrocities against the Russian and Jewish population in Romania , Bessarabia, Moldova,Ukraine, Stalingrad and elsewhere in Russia, . The Romanian Army war conduct eventough their behaviour with Allied airmen (other than Russians ) was good , is described on my next screen called Romanian Army Atrocities in WWII which in contrast to the good things they did with the Americans they commited war crimes equal to those of the Germans and Austrians and there is no way I would be quiet about it. I want to remind that also the Soviet airmen were part of the bed treated crowd, eventhough Soviet pilots were anything but peasants or this what the Rumanians thought of them . When realising that the Soviet pilots were an asset for the Whermacht , on Goerings order from early 1943 they kept the Soviet POW airmen Air Force & Navy at Stalag Luft II and Stalag Luft VI improving their life conditions and many were offered to fly for Vlasov’s Army . Not so their Rumanian brother in arms who treated them as ” Bolschevik Jews ” and “second class human ” being . There is no doubt, the Soviets of then and Russia of today ever forgot what the Romanians did to them in WWII.
Worth to remind is the kindness of some Romanians towards the US POW’s such as Princess Caradja ,various Doctors at Queen Helena Hospital. Mr Maniu and Mr Georgescu , the Queen mother herself,”Bazu” Cantacuzino etc . Romania was a fully fascist country and they fully deserved the events which came upon their nation in WWII. Furthermore, I am very critical of their todays role at NATO given their revived sentiments and nostalgic views addressed at their war criminal Marshall Antonescu and their past brotherhood in arms with the Germans .
A warning on various profit oriented writers such as Pat Schenk ,Alexandru Arma , Sorin Turturica, R.Bujor ,Avramescu etc who are currently trying to revise the past on their various publications . Closer to the reality regarding Romania Air Campaigns in WWII are the books of Mr. Craciunoiu ,Dimitry Chazanov. Miroslaw Morozov, Alex Medveed and Denes Bernard . There were several excellent books about Ops. Tidalwave by Mike Hill , Call Stewart, Leon Wolf and Ted Travelling Circus , The Oil Battle, by Gen.Twining, Into the Fire of Ploesti, Fortress Ploesti,Passage to Valhalla of Bill Filly,The Princess & I , The Forgotten 500, Those Who Fall, The Oil Battle etc…though these books are by now outdated , revised numerous times by the historians . The last revision was “Ploesti Through The Lens “ by Morgan Freeman, an excellent piece of research and probably the best revision ever since end of the WWII.
True is that Romanian Air Force (AAR ) in the beginig of the war was fairly trained and well equipped on fighters , bombers, recon , liason aircrafts , German RDF’s stations, Telemetrical stations , Observation sations , UK and Swedish made AA guns and a coordinated fire and control system etc . True is also that on early stages of the war their pilots achieved here and there various victories against the unprepared Russian Air Forces and Naval Air Fleet , though already by the end of 1941 the ratio changed . Several of their top pilots such as Cantacuzino and Serbanescu achieved higher scores on the Russian fronts which are hard to be accurately confirmed ,Cantacuzino however may be remembered as the most skilled between the Romanian pilots rich of international reputation, an ice hockey player prior WWII a well cultured personality of royal roots.
Serbanescu ,their second top scorring ace , by nature a mountain trooper who decided to fly, despite his 40 plus aerials which most of them were on the Russian front, I am hesitant to compare him with the Lufwaffe aces, even an average one. Before his death he expressed the view ” better to die than betray my German brother in arms comrades” . In 1944 was shot down by an aerial gunner of a 15th Air Force bomber keeping his promise to rather die than betray his Germans comrades .
Beneath Capt.Cantacuzino and Lt.Col. Jim Gunn at Foggia on Aug.1944 This research hopes that the Aviation community will never forget Jim’s and “Bazu’s ” tributes in saving 1280 US airmen lives from Romania during turbulent times.
Beneath a group photo of Royal Romanian Air Force fighter pilots dated 1943 along with an adventurous lady who was tired of life and decided to try aerobatics & para jumpping . This woman didn’t feel ashame to make her own PR on the occupied Fomina Balta (Odessa ) in 1943 when millions were murdered throughout Nazi occupied Europe . Do these Romanian guys looks to you like pilots ? as far as I am concerned they look to me like anything but pilots ,a bunch of WWII clerks or railway workers ……..hillarious but true the 9th & 15th Air Forces airmen nicknamed the Romanians “gispy” pilots. Not even their Luftwaffe brother in arms had great opinions about the skills of their comrades , version confirmed by vets from JG77 and JG52 I spoke to in the long past , such as Hartmann and Rall. A Rumanian pilot who defected shortly before August 1, 1943 on a JU-88 to Cyprus and briefed the SOI about Ploesti anti aircraft defenses , was not taken serious by the Brits due to the previously mentioned reputation of the Romanians. His initial statements were in fact right ,days later he would reverse all his statements .
True is that their Aircraft factory Brasov IAR (Gimbav) an early French monopoly, sent out of their production lines several challenging designs such the IAR-80 and 81 series, designs approaching the other top of the line Axis fighters tec. though the flying characteristics, location of the fuel tanks and fuel endurance was substantially inferior to the German and Italian fighters of the same class and by the mid 1944 was replaced from active role with more ME-109’s .
A history revision is those citing the Rumanian pilots as well trained and highly skilled . Only a few were highly skilled but most of them were under average not matching even 30% of their Luftwaffe, Hungary , Italy and Finland friends and by early 1944 someof them were even no longer fit to face a low trained Russian opponent not to mention the 15th AF aces. Already by June 22, 1941 the poorely equipped and trained pilots of the Soviets from 55 IAP, 67 IAP, 69 IAP based near the Romanian borders, set a signal of what was to come in 1944 from Russia . The top Soviet aces such as Pokrishkin, Retchkalov, Figitchev, Morozov ,Yevstigneev,Glinka etc were to be born in combat on the Romanian fronts etc. While Capt. Cantacuzino’s WWII 59 victories are hard to be verified , fact is that already prior WWII he was a superior aerobatic pilot and successful ice hockey player .
As an example during the Iasi Chisinau campaigns in 1944 Maj.Evstigneev of 178 GvIAP brought down in less than a week 22 Rumanian aircrafts mostly fighters,Gulaev 18 , Egorov 13, Butchin, Klubov and Merenkov each 9. Already in 1941 alone Capt .Morozov brought down 6 Rumanian fighters and one bomber. Also at the US allies side ,as an example Capt Hatch from 1st FG brought down in one mission in less then 5 minutes 3 Rumanian fighters with his P-38 and Lt.Hoenshell alone against 11 Romanian fighters bringing down 3 of them, the last would be posthumously awarded DSC. On August 31,1944 2nd Lt.Cobbey 52nd FG who just finished few months earlier States side pilot training would shot down point blank the Luftwaffe ace Otto Foennekold (110 victories) at Reghin , Romania . Its absolutely exagerated and not in line with the history to state that a Rumanian pilot was highly trained and skilled , eventhough already in 1940 their Air Force was equipped with the early flight simulator version Link Singer . Most of their experienced pilots were already by late 1941 through mid 1943 dead ,captive and some combat fatigued.
For the last 19 years I have intensively researched the Romanian Air Campaigns of the Soviet Air Force and Navai Air Fleet in 1941, the Operation HALPRO (Halverston ) from Middle East to Ploesti, the Soviet Naval Air Ops against Naval bases of the Romanian and German Navies at Constanza and Tulcea in 1943 , the Ploesti Low Level Raid from Libya in 1943, the day light high altitude bombings of 15th Air Force from Italy in parallel with those of RAF 205th GP at night from April 4th through August 26,1944, Soviet Bessarabia & Ukraine campaign 1941, Soviet naval air fleet low level missions to Constanza 1943 and the 1st and 2nd Iasi Kishinev air campaigns of Soviet Air Force and Naval Air Fleet in 1944 ( check my continous updates )
My last chapter research was the 15th & 8 th Air Forces Shuttle Bombings from Ukraine Poltawa,Mirgorod and Pyriatin to Rumania under so called ” Ops Frantic Joe and Frantic “. Throughout these years I have conducted numerous interviews and collected enormous data base of personal, squadron and group files pertinent to every aircraft and airman lost in Rumania, and details about lives in the Rumanian and the German POW camps and collected an impressive amount of photos.
At the time of the arrival of the Halverson Detachment in the Middle East the military situation there was critical. The British Eighth Army under the sharp thrusts of Rommel was rapidly retreating toward the Nile Delta, and plans were being made for the evacuation of Egypt. The arrival of this first U. S. air combat unit, small though it was, could not have been other than an encouraging development, enthusiastically hailed.
Thirteen planes of the Halverson Detachment departed for Ploesti from Fayid (Canal Field), Egypt, between 22:30 and 23: 00 hours, 11 June,1942 instructed to proceed individually to the target, attack at high level, and then continue, if possible, to an airdrome near Ramadi, Iraq. The flight, 2,600 miles, was one of the longest on record for a combat force. On the way out the weather was CAVU , but at the objective there was broken overcast at 10,000 to 12,000 feet which practically obscured the targets. All 13 planes reached more or less the objective. The attack, which was a surprise, was made at dawn.
A majority of the aircraft bombed from below the clouds. About 10 bombed the Astra Romana Refinery at Ploesti; one, the port of Constanta; and the remaining one or two attacked unidentified targets. The attacking force encountered a few ME-110 night fighters, fairly heavy anti-aircraft , and a balloon barrage. At least one ME-109 was destroyed. The results of the bombardment were poor to none.
According to an unconfirmed report picked up by naval intelligence an oil depot at Ploesti was damaged, one bomb fell in the woods, another hit a railway station, while several fell on Constanta without doing damage. At any rate, the damage inflicted fell far short of expectations. On the other hand
After carrying out his raid against Rumanian oil objectives and after seven of his B-24’s had participated in a damaging attack upon an Italian naval force off Taranto, Colonel Halverson asked to be allowed to continue on his way to the Far East, without further delay, to carry out his original mission. Because, however, of the unfavorable situation in the Far East and the desperate state of affairs in Egypt, he was ordered to assemble his command near Cairo, report to Gen. Russell L. Maxwell, commander of U. S. forces in that theater, and to employ his force in cooperation with the RAF in its Middle Eastern operations. It was not, however, the intention of the War Department that Halpro airplanes should be employed in local tactical operations unsuited to the technical characteristics and accepted tactical use of heavy bombardment aircraft. The Halverson Squadron, therefore, remained in Egypt, soon joining with the 9th Bombardment Squadron to form the “Provisional Bombardment Group,” which ultimately became the 376th BG of Col.Compton.
The failure of the Halverson raid was due to various causes. The bad weather conditions encountered over the objective were an unforeseen handicap. The crews had little or no experience in long-range combat operations and navigation. The force sent on the mission was much too small to accomplish the results expected of it. But even though it must be considered a failure in so far as its immediate objective was concerned, experience gained through it was of considerable importance in the planning and carrying out of the greater attack of 1 August 1943. Intelligence materials collected on the former occasion were readily available for the later on a limited basis . The earlier raid indicated definite difficulties, knowledge of which guided action to overcome them.
The Halverson raid underlined the absolute necessity of undertaking this operation with a very much larger force. Also, it indicated the need of approaching and attacking the target in the daylight hours rather than in hours of darkness and dusk. The difficult problem of navigation was even more evident. Moreover, certain of the participants of the first mission were assigned to units that took part in the later attack, and the planers of the latter profited from their firsthand knowledge.
In the aftermath , the 13 Liberators of the Halverston Detachment, flew from Middle East in an attempt to knock out the Ploesti refineries, the operation didn’t achieve any of its operational objectives and through a miracle only, no lives were lost and no Libs were lost ,but bad news for Turks ending up with new guests beside those from Russia, other would land in Irak and Syria . Other than this, that would constitute Capt.Wicklund first navigational error at Ploesti the future 376th BG lead Navigator. Capt.Wicklund who lived in Waco /TX regretfully denied me any interviews.
Operation Soapsuds / Tidalwave Aug.1,1943 ( Death came at trees level, ” Return is Secondary ” )
Throughout the planning of the Ploesti mission, aid to the Soviet Union was a primary consideration. The idea persisted, therefore, that cooperation might properly be expected in that quarter. Within less than a week after the final adoption of SOAPSUDS project by CCS, General Marshall submitted a memorandum to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on “Operations of Red Air Force Subsequent to ‘Soapsuds’.
This memorandum suggested that, assuming the SOAPSUDS operation would be successful, continued efforts to insure destruction and hinder repair of the damage should be made. If, following the execution of SOAPSUDS, the situation on the Eastern Front were favorable, it would be of great assistance to the Allies if the Red Air Force were to follow up this operation at some propitious time by striking the same objective with force. It appeared desirable, therefore, that at the proper time the President and the Prime Minister should jointly request Premier Stalin to employ the Red Air Force in this way.
In approving the recommendation contained in the memorandum the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed that the effectiveness of SOAPSUDS would be considerably increased if it could be followed up in the way suggested. At the same time, General Marshall indicated that there was no particular hurry about taking the action recommended. Their reaction to the proposal was virtually the same as that of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; however, the additional point was made that coordinated attacks on Ploesti by the air forces of the US and the Soviets would indicate close unity of operations and have a desired psychological effect.
On the other hand Gen.Ent seriously cautioned Lt.Gen.Brereton that a low mission to Ploesti will end up in a disaster. Regarding the high-level attack, General Ent stated the opinion that definitely 50% of the target could be destroyed in four missions and there was a better than 50% chance that still greater damage could be done in even fewer missions. Four missions could be flown in nine days with 80% maintenance efficiency if the necessary engines were forthcoming. The estimated total loss of airplanes was placed at the moderate figure of 75 . The morale of the crews, he believed, would be better at higher altitude than at low, and the chance of failure to locate the target and failure because of smoke screen would be minimized. The very simplicity of the plan of attack would increase its chance of success. The planner, Colonel J.Smart didn’t share these views and writes to Arnold to allow him to fly to Ploesti.
Five targets, were embracing seven of the major refineries of Ploesti, and designated White I, White II, White III, White IV, and White V. The Creditul Minier refinery at nearby Brazi was Blue Target and the Steaua Romana, at Campina, Red.
In all 154 airplanes were allotted to targets, roughly according to importance and number of key installations., Each airplane had a specific target. Various considerations entered into the assignment of specific groups to targets. For instance, according to the flight plan worked out, the force assigned to Red Target would be the last in the formation.
The 389th Group, because of its relative lack of experience and being equipped with planes with belly turrets which gave them different flying characteristics, would find it difficult to fly a close formation with the other therefore, was assigned to the Campina Target. The isolation of this target called for an individual effort and the time of attack did not have to coincide exactly with the main attrack. This group could train as a unit and fly as a unit. Since the force assigned to White I would be the leading group of the formation, it was felt that the most experienced group should be assigned this position.
The 376th the original heavy bombardment group of the Middle Eastern Theater, was assigned this place. Targets White I, II and III, having in common a definite landmark leading to the center of the targets, formed a natural division. The forces assigned to Targets White II and III would fly the same formation as the 376th, directly behind it, which would aid in keeping a close formation at the beginning of the route column. Since the 93rd Group had two excellent leaders to be assigned as force commanders and leaders, who could be under the supervision of the group commander these two targets were assigned to the 93rd , a veteran group from the United Kingdom. The cooperation existing between the 376th and 93rd, it was believed, would contribute greatly to the success of mission. Targets White IV and V and Blue constituted the third and final division of the target area.
The 98th and 44th Groups were assigned to them, the last two going to the latter. Since these groups occupied the same landing ground this arrangement would simplify the training and briefing problem.
Target task forces commanders were selected, as follows: Col. Keith K. Compton (White I); Lt. Col. Addison E. Baker (White II and III); Col. John R. Kane (White IV); Col. Leon W. Johnson (White V); and Col. Jack W. Wood (Red). Blue Target received as its commander, Lt. Col. J. T. Posey.
The flight plan for the Ploesti mission gone numerous revisions before approved. According to this plan the five bombardment groups constituting the mission force were to take off individually, rallying on the Bengasi-Driana-Tocra line at about 0730 hours on the morning of 1 August. By 0830 hours all were to be on course in visual contact with one another. This contact was to be preserved until Pitesti, Rumania, was reached. The groups constituting the first three White Target Forces were to lead followed by those forming White IV and V and Blue, with the group assigned to Red Target bringing up the rear. The route formation plan adopted was varied, permitting freedom of action with a minimum of horizontal dispersion. The 376th Group, leading, and two squadrons of the 93rd were to fly single-space, stagger formation; two squadrons of the 93rd and three of the 98th, V-formation; one squadron of 98th and all four of the 44th echelon formation, and the 389th, V-formation. The rate of speed was to be 190 to 210 miles an hour.
The course was designed to avoid, so far as possible,radar detection finders and AA installations along the coast of Greece, thereby insuring surprise. From Bengazi the formation was to fly northward across the Mediterranean at an altitude of 2,000 to 4,000 feet, to a point approximately 125 miles south of Corfu (38°20’N-20°08’E). No radar installation was believed to exist at Corfu, but there were spotters and powerful radio stations on the island which could report the passage of the force in case it were detected. By flying high, around the island, not only would this danger be avoided, but also the course would lie beyond the radar coverage of stations located on the heel of the Italian boot Slightly north and west of Corfu the aircraft were to swing northeastward across the mountains of Albania and Yugoslavia in the direction of a point near Lom (43°50’N-23°43’E) on the Danube. The 10,000-foot altitude was to be maintained until Pirot was reached. There the formation was to begin descending, so as to cross the Danube at 3,000 to 5,000 feet, remaining at this altitude until reaching Pitesti which lies about 58 miles from Ploesti. This level was below the tops of the mountains on which radar stations were believed to be located and at the same time was sufficiently high for accurate navigation. Here worth to mention that the Luftwaffe Radar Station at Mount Pernik Rezen ,Sofia ,Bulgaria its existance and “Stern Flug ” system capabilities were ignored by the planners.
At Pitesti the formation was to separate into two elements; the smaller, consisting of 389th, or Red Target Force, last in the formation, was to continue somewhat further in a northeasterly direction up into the Transylvania Alps to a point from which a southeasterly turn was to be made, Following a well-defined valley, and attack the refinery at Campina. The larger element, consisting of the remaining four groups, was to proceed in a somewhat more easterly direction to its initial point of Floresti about 13 miles northwest of Ploesti. From Pitesti to their respective IP’s both elements were to fly at minimum altitude above the terrain, and from their IP’s to the targets were to reduce their altitudes to bombing level, that is, from approximately 100 to 300 feet, depending principally upon chimney heights. At Floresti the main force of four groups was to abandon route formation for attack formation, forming for this purpose six target forces, each consisting of a fixed number of aircraft flying a predetermined course along a well-defined route which would carry each force directly over its appropriate target. Places were to be so carefully assigned in each element as to enable each airplane to attack the pinpoint target assigned to it.
The accompanying diagram of the dummy target area laid out in the desert near Bengasi on exactly the same scale as the original target, with all relationships exactly reproduced, illustrates how this maneuver was to be executed. The attack in every, case was to be made from a northwesterly direction; the White Target Forces following a heading of 127°, the Blue Force, a heading of 132°; and the Red, 150°. The force was to continue under a single leader then sub-leaders were to assume command of the airplances assigned to the destruction of these targets. Flying was to be in close formation, wave following close upon preceding wave and wing tip to wing tip
Subsequent to the attack the four White Target Forces were to continue at the lowest possible level on their attack course for varying periods of time after crossing the east-west railway line running along the southern border of Ploesti: White Forces I, II, and III, for two minutes and 15 seconds, White VI, two minutes; and White V, one minute and 45 seconds. This done, they were to turn right to a heading of 233° and proceed at an altitude of from 3,000 to 5,000 feet to Lake Balta Potelel, approximately 120 miles to the south of Ploesti. Both Blue and Red Forces were to turn right, also, just as soon as possible after leaving their targets, the former adopting a heading of 233°, and the latter one of 220°; both were to hug the ground at first, then climb to 3,000 to 5,000 feet and proceed to the rendezvous at Lacul Balta Potelel. There the seven target forces were to resume route formation and start their climb to 10,000 feet. From the lake the course lay in a southwesterly direction through Berkovista across the mountains to the southern tip of Crete. From Corfu to Tocra and on to their home bases the groups were simply to fly the most economical altitude.
Romania is the only Balkan country in which meteorological conditions permitted the employment of smoke screen and artificial fog in defense of military and industrial targets. It was assumed in the absence of definite information that the constituted part of the defenses of Ploesti. The intel section on smoke screens made available facts concerning the characteristics and use of crude oil sake screens together with deductions. Crude oil smoke was said to be least effective against vertical observation when the sky was clear and from 1100 to 1600 hours. It was estimated that a smroke screen produced by efficient pots with a wind of 10 miles per hour would not exceed 360 to 300 feet in height, at most.
Intelligence reported the existence of six airfields for the defense of the Ploesti area,underestimated the fighter and alert forces near Ploesti at Targusorul Nou airfield just 5 miles West of Ploesti equipped with Radar controlled automatic AA guns and IAR-80 fighters as well the famous “Oel Schutz Staffel” or better known as the Lufwaffe Oil Defenders . There were additional ones in the region of Bucharest that might be called upon to take part in case of emergency. However, there were no known enemy fighter airfields en route to the target from the point of departure until the Danube was crossed. The control of the fighter aircraft defenses had been taken over by the Germans under a system called “TIGER” , yet the Rumanians continued to play a role in this work.
The strength of the enemy fighter force stationed on these fields was not known properly and fully miscalculated. Closely monitored was enemy order of battle in the eastern Mediterranean. The location and strength of enemy fighter aircraft two days before operations would determine the route of the mission homeward. Also this aspect was miscalculated ( area of coverage JG 27 – Greece ) . In this place worth to mention that by early 1941 the JG27 was based in Romania and later on led by Maj.Woldenga.
Radio direction finder (RDF) installations were believed to be located east of the Ploesti region to cover the approaches to the oil fields from that direction, info which was totally wrong ! Experts indicated impossible for RDF installations to penetrate the western mountain approaches as the mountains would serve to deflect the radio beams. The discovery of the location of enemy radar stations in the Balkan area on the very eve of the mounting of TIDAL WAVE in the confirmed the ideas the planners had held concerning the matter. There was no information at hand concerning the type of warning system employed by the enemy ! Neither the increased Defcon status of Ploesti defenses and numerous inspections perfored shortly before the raid by Goerings trustees ( Maj.Falcke) was known at Benghasi , at OSS ,OSI and STAVKA.General Gerstenberg & DLM fighters contingency approval by Goering , night fighters and twin fighters force shiftted back from Greece and N.Africa to Romania under command of famous Major Woldenga ex CO JG77 and Maj.Edu Neumann ex CO JG27, was not known in Benghazi.
While the detailed planning for the Ploesti mission was under way, the three additional groups had arrived from the UK. They had played their role in the Sicilian operations and had sped up their intensive training in preparation for the attack on Ploesti.
Prior to leaving UK for North Africa a Provisional Combat Wing consisting of 93rd BG aircraft trained in low-altitude mass flying and bombing. Tests were conducted at Hethel ,UK which demonstrated the practicability of this type of operation and a flying technique was developed which greatly influenced that decided on for TIDAL WAVE. Especially active in this work were Col. E. J. Timberlake, commander of this wing and an experienced 8th AF planner, Lt. Col. A. E. Baker, Maj. J.L. Jerstad ,Capt. Jack Jones and Captain Roper . The results of this experience gathered were drafted on two memorandums. The success of the Ploesti mission was believed to depend on closely coordinated group units within the combat wing and on a low, flat, compact formation attainable only through continued practice on simulated missions which was done on a dummy “Ploesti” designed near Berka.
Because of the danger of flying at ground level , it was suggested that 500 feet AGL be adopted until such time as the groups became thoroughly familiar with the problems encountered. When proficiency was attained at 500 feet, the altitude could be lowered. It was recommended that element leaders and flight leaders should be selected and taught one specific lead position. Alternate flight leaders should fly as co-pilots with the leaders. Given the heat, other ETO’s combat fatigue related aspects, the lack of proper facilities and newly encountered illness in Libya , I seriously doubted the success of the undertaken preparations & training .
Target forces of 18 to 36 aircraft were to receive practice in taking off and forming rapidly, in route formation, method of changing from route to bombing formation, in continuing low-altitude flying in bombing formation with slight corrective turns. At least four simulated missions were to be carried out, two coordinating all the target forces. These were to involve practice in all the critical maneuvers of the forecasted operation, and especially an effort was made to get the entire force over the target in about 30 seconds.Irronically, Gerstenberg built a Ploesti “dummy”of its own ,Smart’s worse nightmare. Fortunately the location would be selected South of Ploesti suggesting Gerstenberg’s misconception about future intruders axis.
By 30 July, sufficient engines were on hand for planes, but little time remained in which to make the installations. However, by late afternoon the next day, on the eve of the mission, 193 aircraft were commissioned out of the total of 202. This number appears to have been slightly in excess of available crews given that 30% of crews were suffering from disinteria. After the last briefing the airplanes were checked over as never before. The history claim two other things, retreating Rommel’s Armada weather specialists infiltrated 9th AF and the moral between airmen was anything but good , and I suspect that many wanted to get aboard just to get rid of the dust rations and heat exceeding 40 celsius in shadow of the Libyan desert. Some of the bombers used to carry USO beers to Libya which would get super cooled at higher altitudes and the myth of fresh air and cooling drinks eventhough strictly prohibitted before this mission sound to some as vacation . Irronically a co pilot who replaced a sick crew volunteering in the last minute would die with his entire crew and was devil’s will that an NCO reprimanded over drinking commissioned at the base kitchen ,would survive Ploesti for his entire crew never return.
The weather section having pronounced its last-minute GO, the mission was on, the Whermacht changed on last minute their “Enigma’s ” weather code which was an other blessing for the Sunday’s hell trip .
Although the Ploesti target was located at a distance of approximately 980 miles from the home bases of the attacking aircraft in the Bengasi area, the route that was to be flown required a round trip distance of approximately 2,100 miles. Seven hundred miles of this distance was over enemy territory; 1,400 miles over the Mediterranean Sea. These were just theories on paper yet far from working in reality.On a direct azimuth from Benghazi to Ploesti if selected, given winds aloft and pressure altitude of then , the mission time would have been reduced by aproximately one hour or more.
RETURN IS SECONDARY -WELCOME IN HELL
The longest low level raid in the history of modern Aviation was flown on 1 August 1943 from the Libyan desert. Through a complex series of events en route, Col.Compton and his Navigator who commanded the lead group, made serious navigation errors when nearing Floresti (IP-3) That error and a radioed release to targets of opportunity by Brig. General Uzal Ent, the force commander, caused significant confusion over the target.
Throughout the years various BG associations mainly the 98th BG were advocating the theory that KK ( Keith Compton ) was too young to be the leader of a mission given the importance, not adequately capable as pilot and a guy who continuously sparked tension between the two Bomb Groups , which both former Palestine vets since 1942 ( Ramat David & Lydda) . Likewise the 376th BG and some vets of the 389th inexplicably stamped “Killer ” Kane as an emotional leader with poor judgment and just an averagely skilled pilot.
Weeks before the mission, Keith and John frictions were escalating. The two officers, each one with different theater of operation experiences, each one having a world of his own, seems to totally disagree on all mission parameters and logistics . Keith believes this to be a reflection of leadership so he takes an immediate disliking to John authority and reverses most of his board recommendations. John begins to see in Keith a young,arrogant, inexperienced pilot ,a commander who is an extreme disciplinarian a Timberlake and Brereton Apostrophee and considered his military achievements and the rank of Colonel at age of 27 only a result of connections in UK . At Benghazi Keith uses for own crews and gunners at range a solely leased P-40. Another incident with a pilot from 98th ,Capt. “Red” Thomson who asked for transfer to 376th over a personal issue with Kane bringing the tensions between Keith and John at climax. Thompson would fly with Keith and Uzal Ent as Co Pilot.
John sees Keith inexperienced unfit and not competent to lead a mission of such magnitude and predicting the mission objectives jeopardized and final outcome as disastrous. In the aftremath the history would prove that John Kane’s fears were justified, facts which remained on “Killer’s” memories till the day he died. John Kane urgent recommendations for cruise control power settings enroute to Romania is quickly overridden by KK prior departure and while enroute to Romania At Benghazi Keith uses for own crews and gunners at gunnery practices a P-40 solely leased to him.
While approaching Targoviste , there were rumors about Keith suggesting Gen.Ent to court marshal John on motives other than the mission conduct was concerned while Ent disapproving such steeps citing Keith own errors over Yugoslavia on CB (Cumulo Nimbus) penetration proceedures. This distructed both leaders attention during the check point calls of Capt.Wicklund and KK approving the wrong turn in time.
The Ploesti Mission of 1 August 1943 was the most daring mission of World War II and was in the finest military traditions of the Yanks. The participants, a majority of them young and veteran airmen, were impressed by the importance of their mission in shortening the war , wearing the Whermacht and making history, although the success of the mission is assesed by them based on who you talking to basis.
Very early on 1 August the tented areas of the landing grounds of the 9th AF near Bengasi were awaken to life. The ground crews were up ahead of their aircrews, working on the planes, putting on the finishing touches. Before long, trucks were rumbling across the desert carrying crews to the planes. As dawn approached dust arose here and there across the desert as the engines were started and began to hum. Fainter sounds familiar to the airmen preparing to take off were drowned by the heavy drone of the engine and the whir of the huge propeller blades thrashing the air. One by one, in rapid succession, the Liberators swept down the runways and then into the air, circling wide and heading into formation. The five groups assembled singly at first, gradually increasing in number as they were joined by individual planes, meanwhile sweeping the sky in gigantic circles.
Virtually all of the airplanes took off between 0400 and 0500 hours. A few ships of the 93rd Group were delayed by dust in the airdrome. These followed as stragglers, gaining their position in the formation before the Mediterranean was crossed. The” Kickapoo “of the 98th Group crashed and burned in trying to return to the field after taking off. When the entire formation was finally complete, the sky over Bengasi was full of B-24’s. Then, rapidly they headed towards Tocra, heading straight out over the Mediterranean in the direction of Rumania.
The force which successfully took off for Ploesti numbered 177 Liberators carrying a cargo of demolition bombs well in excess of a half million pounds. The aircraft of the 376th and 98th Groups, stationed permanently in the Middle East, were painted the usual desert pink nicknamed ( fat cow ) while those of the three assigned groups were dull green. The ships, which bore such prosaic designations as 754-U, 215-S, and 293-V, were known affectionately to their crews by such peculiarly American names as “Hail Columbia,” “Suzy Q,” and “Sad Sack.” Each bomber normally carried a crew of 9 or 10 men, but in a few cases the number was as high as 11.
All of the 1,726 men who manned this powerful air armada were Americans, with but a single exception the gunner of Appold an RAF gunnery instrctor. They represented every state of the Union and the District of Columbia, and virtually all the national strains that had gone into the composition of the American nation. General Ent the expeditionary commader later nick named manager of the great Romania tour, was a passenger in the plane of Col. Compton, commander of the 376th Group.
The five groups flew, well spread out across the Mediterranean. The 376th led the formation followed by the remaining groups in the order listed: the 93rd, commanded by Colonel Baker; the 98th, Colonel Kane commanding; the 44th, with Colonel Johnson as commander; the 389th under Colonel Wood.
It was originally planned that Colonel Compton, as commander of the 376th , should lead the formation in the attack. Shortly before taking off, there are rumours that Compton appointed 1st Lt. B. W. Flavelle, as leader of the entire force probably to use his aircraft serve as decoy as such protecting Teggie Ann VIP’s life . The weather was fine all the way across the Mediterranean, the groups having no difficulty in maintaining visual contact.
The formation flew low at an altitude of from 2,000 to 4,000 feet. Just south of Corfu Compton gave the signal for the climb to 10,000 feet, at which height the island was to be passed and the mountains of Albania and Yugoslavia crossed. The ship piloted by Flavelle, instead of responding, showed signs of distress by a definite wing wobble which later was explained by his formed wingman Palm as a manuever intended to shake a closing wingman apart. The ship made a sharp turn in steep bank, then went into a dive to approximately 100 feet. Attempting to pull out of this, it, instead, went into a tight spiral and straight into the sea, exploding as it hit and sinking immediately.
Attempting to search for his old friend, Lt.Iovine “Desert Lily ” ditched the formation and started a SAR pattern on own initiative. Lacking post crash rescue tasks, he lost sight on formation and elected to turn 180 asap to Libya, nevertheless this didn’t prevent him from getting the DFC.
General Ent and Colonel Compton, whose plane was in one of the following elements of the leading group, were not aware of the fact the plane which had plunged into the sea was that of the leader, and of the consequent change in leadership. This change, however, contrary to a notion that has arisen, does not appear to have had any special significance in the subsequent course of events. A German Sub seems to have appeared on the area and took notice of the events or the Armada. It’s by now known that the Sub reported the formation heading towards Europe. An other ME-110 based at Creta, reported visual contact with the same formation to Lufwaffe which on their turn alerted “Stern Flug “ and Gen.Kesselring Hdq in France. An othet Lib this of Benett “Prince Charming “ of 98BG and this of Harvey “Hells A Dropping II “ 93rd BG elcted early returns, one claiming radio operator disinteria and the other as losing fuel. Benett early return is justified ,Harvey and how the history shows had similar problems on his record. In the 60’s he would commit suicide during an FBI homicide probe .There were 13 early returns in total , mostly over Med and all claiming mechanical defects , fuel leaks, fuel pump problems and crew member illness .
Slightly to the northwest of Corfu, a northeasterly MH ( magnetic heading ) was taken across the Albanian mountains, as planned. Soon after leaving the coast, the formation encountered very heavy CB’s from 10,000 to 15,000 feet and lowering. Over Yugoslavia the clouds disipated until there was only about a thousand feet of visibility over mountains ( VFR ) which peaked in some instances as high as from 8,000 to 9,500 feet. The leader and against AAC regulations elected on a climb out and over the CB rather use the standard AAC penetration maneuver, a fact which Gen.Ent explained it later as pilots discretion decision .
Under these adverse conditions the formation integrity was destroyed, the 98th Group lost sight of the leading element of the force, consisting of the 376th and 93rd Groups. After losing the forward element once, the 98th Group subsequently regained contact. According to Kane, the advanced unit was at that time about 30 miles to the left of the prescribed course and several thousand feet higher than the 98th, which was flying at 13,000 feet and leading the two remaining groups through the towering cumulus clouds. Unity was definitely lost, however, within 200 miles of the Danube, when cloud formations were encountered, which could neither be penetrated nor avoided by flying around them. Unlike the two advanced groups which flew over the clouds, the 98th Group, followed by the 44th and 389th, deemed it necessary to descend and fly under them.
At the Danube the weather has cleared. The leading element reached the Danube at a different point and somehow in advance of the following unit. Then, for the first time, was it realized that only the two first groups were together. Unity might have been restored by use of radio, but, in order to insure surprise, it had been decided in advance to maintain radio silence until the target area was reached, and now, rather than risk sacrificing this great advantage, that decision was upheld. So the leading element continued on the prescribed course across Rumania, at an altitude of about 3,000 feet.
The 98th Group, on reaching the Danube, flew on a westward and 360 turn for several minutes to give one of the accompanying groups, which it mistook for the 93rd, an opportunity to take the lead. When the mistake was realized, the 98th assumed the leadership of the rear element. With hope of restoring the integrity of the formation at the Danube blasted, the rear element likewise, proceeded on its way toward the target. Thus, the effectiveness of an integrated formation was lost, for the following unit reached the target somewhat later than the leading unit, after the target had been alerted.
Pitesti was designated as the first IP, described as “a nondescript small straggling town situated at the confluence of two valleys.” Here the 389th Group (Red Target Force) was to break off from the larger formation and proceed to its isolated target at Campina. According to plan, altitude was reduced at Pitesti to minimum level, that is to say, to approximately 500 feet off the ground. Aside from the incidents described, the flight to Pitesti was uneventful, resembling a practice mission. No enemy opposition of any kind was encountered until the target area was reached. Generally these planes, after wheeling out of formation, passed under the onrushing planes, midway down. Some member of the crew would announce the misfortune of the stricken ship over the interphone: “Another plane’s turned back.” And sometimes there was waving between planes.
The landscape presented a striking contrast with the parched desert region surrounding Bengasi, where no rain had fallen since April. The green and fruitful countryside, dotted with neat villages and crossed by pleasant streams and tree-lined roads, a scene reminiscent of the American Middle West, was a welcome sight. In some places the aircraft flew so low as to enable the crewmen to see the villagers standing about in Sunday dress, gazing and waving in friendly manner at the planes as they passed. “In that long ride,” one crewman has written, “I don’t think anybody said a word.” Another reports the men at first in a loquacious mood, engaging in a great deal of jesting. For example, the passing out of the rather tasteless lunch rations was the occasion for a round of “wisecracking.” Nevertheless, as the time passed, a tenseness developed, and by the time the target was reached the men were highly keyed up.
Floresti, lying about 13 miles northwest of Ploesti, was IP -3 and final designated for the 376th, 93rd, 98th, and 44th Groups. Here route formation was to be abandoned for attack formation. The four groups reforming as six target forces to attack targets White I, II, III, IV, and V at Ploesti, and Blue target at nearby Brazi. The 376th Group, followed by the 93rd, separated from the remaining groups in crossing the mountains, proceeded along the prescribed course from Pitesti in the direction of Floresti. Upon reaching the vicinity of Targoviste, Rumania, a little more than midway to Floresti, Compton, the leader, still unaware of loss of the original leader designated by him, mistook Targoviste for Floresti while debatting a topic with Gen.Ent receiving a call from Wicklund erroneously concluded that the leader in continuing the flight in an easterly heading had overshot the IP. Accordingly, he broke radio silence and ordered a change of course which would have been right had the commander’s identification of the IP been correct.These actions sealed the Low Level mision’s fate and no matter how someone turns it, is the only cause of the terrible Ploesti failure.
Only later was it learned that the young officer leading the formation was on the correct course, that he knew where he was, and that had he not been ordered to change course he would, in all probability, have delivered the attack exactly as planned. The loss of the original leader, therefore, was in no way responsible for the mistake made in throwing the advanced unit off course. By following the new heading the two groups, now reformed as three target forces (White I, II, and III), flew in a southeasterly direction, not realizing that a mistake had been made until reaching the outskirts of Bucharest as far as lake of Snagov .
What Compton didn’t know is that the Lufwaffe station at Sofia got an azimuth on his group and alerted “Tiger ” Bucharest , shortly thereafter losing radar contact as the formation initiated the let down for Danube.
Down to this point, he believed that only partial surprise had been obtained. Unfortunately, Bucharest Otopeni was the headquarters of German Fire ,Command & Control station “Tiger” and now, the alarm was sent out to JG 4 and the remaing Romanian air assets in the capital and around Ploesti. An other Command & Control station near Baneasa ( Pipera) manned by Romanians was now alerted dispatching additional fighters . This was the second time the formation enroute to Ploesti was spotted .Irronically both stations overlapped oneanother in their decisions whereabouts to scramble the fighters to . On one occasion the German fighters were sent for high altitude intercept ,then ordered to patrol the area, failing to intercept targets until run out of fuel .
KK, upon recognizing Bucharest, realized the tragedy. He at once directed the target forces to proceed northward, with the idea of reaching the IP and from there carrying out the attack as planned, although the advantage of surprise was lost, the benefits derived from training and briefing might in this way still be saved. Proceeding northward on the 14-minute flight from Bucharest to Ploesti, the attacking force observed antiaircraft gunners running to man the guns, and barrage balloons, which had previously been down, were seen to rise. Approaching Ploesti, believed to be one of the most heavily defended targets in Europe, from the south, the attackers encountered increasing opposition, for as the minutes passed more and more of the defenses were alerted and took part in resisting the attack. In view of this heavy interference, Compton, having come to within a few miles of Ploesti, directed a change of course, this time in an easterly direction, with the intention of giving the defenses a wide berth and reaching the IP from a less heavily defended direction. Though Compton was wrong he was flying towards Mizil airfield , luckily there were dispatched elsewhere and no air to air assets encountered.
Lt.Palm’s navigator of the “Brewery Wagon “ out of Compton’s formation would discover the error and make serious attempts to avert the formation continue to Bucharest, then alone make a left turn to Ploesti , pass over flack and enter into firing range of Willi “Pappy” Steinmann of the JG4. Bob Merrel (B) and William Wright (N) would be the first Tidalwave fatalities . I thankfully aknowledge Bob cussin’s help. John Palm who I met in El Passo in the past had a leg amputated in Bucharest,met Antonescu and Royal Family and became the first spokeman of the Low Level POW’s. He became a Pvt Pilot and asked me when would I bring him the oher leg back from Romania.
Instead of folowing Compton south west bound , Col. Baker elected to make a 60 degree turn to the left ( East) and lead his White II and III Target Forces against the targets on the south east side of Ploesti , which had come into view. There is some uncertainty as to precisely which targets were hit by Colonel Baker’s forces, however this research agrees with Freeman’s book that Baker commited a grave error flying over the most fortified and uncharted defenses of Ploesti which ultimately led to losses at his group end. Unlike stated throughout the years, upon receiving a point blank 88 mm hit he crashed ablaze on his ordnance over a factory on the outskirts of Ploesti.
All accounts agree, however, that Targets White IV (the Astra Romana and Unirea Orion refineries) and White V (Colombia Aquila) were hit. Though, these targets were were assigned to the 98th and 44th Groups. Some crews believed that they hit Targets White II (Concordia Vega) and White III (Standard Petrol Block and Unirea Speranta). This is uncertain. If they did so, no serious damage resulted. There is no indication that any aircraft of the 93rd Group attacked Blue Target (Creditul Minier at Brazi), which lay well within striking range of Colonel Baker’s forces but sollely hit by Col.Posey’s group.
Although a slight haze and scattered, light showers were reported by the 93rd and 376th Groups in the area of the target, the weather does not appear to have impeded operations. Visibility was generally said to have been fair, or even good.
The B-24 Liberators of the 376th Bombardment Group and those of the 93rd Bombardment Group skimmed over or near Ploesti from the east and south, respectively, while the other groups came roaring in also at low level from the north and west as originally planned. The results on the target were worth the war bond tours, but the results on the attackers were heavy and decisive. The mission’s lead Navigator was cited for his second navigational error at Ploesti and awarded the Silver Star at Benghazi.
Thirty-two aircraft of the 93rd Group, out of the original 37 that took off, are believed to have reached the target area. One of these was brought down short of the target. The attack was delivered between 1150 and 1200 hours at altitudes varying from 100 to 300 feet. Enemy fighters and heavy flak were encountered on the outskirts of the town. One ME-109 and one FW-190 were claimed destroyed. The flak was for the most part inaccurate. Smoke pots were just beginning to send up a screen. Six to 10 balloons were noted south of Ploesti at an estimated height of 3,000 feet. Accurate light flak of moderate intensity and some machine gun fire was run into over the target. It was noted that a good job of camouflage had been done on the gun batteries. Bombs dropped caused heavy explosions in refinery installations as well as in oil tanks, which sent up great billows of fire and smoke. Eleven B-24’s were brought down in the target area. Between the downed Libs were this of Lt.Long, Lt.Meehan and Lt.Porter. I thankfully aknowledge the assistance given to me by the surviving crew members and their families throught the years, especially Norm Adams, Carol Meehan , John Lockhart and Mr Long family.
Meanwhile, Appold from the 376th Goup (Target Force White I) elected to lead his formation out of this Compton and individual bombed a refinary at Ploesti , Compton in order to avoid intense heavy flak had turned eastward on its way around Ploesti in the hope of reaching the IP and carrying out the attack as planned. After flying for several miles the course was changed to northward, then westward. Coming within a few miles of Ploesti to the northeast, in the vicinity of its target, the Romana Americana refinery, the 376th encountered such heavy antiaircraft fire that General Ent decided that the defenses, by now thoroughly alerted, were too intense to carry out the attack as briefed.
He directed, therefore, that any target of opportunity that presented itself should be attacked. Some of the planes released-their bombs on tank cars in a marshalling yard northeast of Ploesti. Others bombed oil wells and storage tanks or jettisoned their bombs in open fields, lakes, and woods. The major portion of the 376th Group flew northward beyond Campina, bypassing that town just a few minutes before the 389th Group (Red Target Force) arrived there, and thence southward in the direction of home. One element , however, a flight of six airplanes led by Maj. Norm Appold, as already said flew directly into Ploesti. The crews believed they had attacked Target White II, the Concordia Vega refinery, on the northern edge of the city, at altitudes from 120 to 150 feet, at about 1205 hours. Some damage was inflicted on this target. This second most important of the Rumanian refineries would otherwise have come out of the attack unscathed. Major Appold’s ships flew through dense black oil smoke and flames, emerging covered with soot. Appold would fly again to Ploesti in 1944 on a recon mission from San Pacrazio and bring back radar mapping plotts shot at night. Norm would lead the Lockheed Missile division and work with Werner von Braun towards Apollo 13 program.
Although the 376th Group dropped most of its bombs in the general target area, only a small fraction of these were on an assigned target, and many were dropped on no target at all. Intense light antiaircraft and machine gun fire were encountered in circling the target, one airplane being holed some 200 times. The low level at which the attack was made enabled the Liberators’ gunners to turn their weapons with disastrous effect on the ground batteries which were well camouflaged in treetops, bushes, haystacks, and barns. “It was the darndest thing ever,” Major Appold declared, “while civilians in the streets waved at us, gunners on the house tops were shooting at us.” “Everyone waved at us,” said another, “and we saw girls in their Sunday best, and little kids ran out into the streets. I saw one soldier with a gun on his shoulder, and he waved. “It seemed like we were looking down gun barrels from every angle throughout the run,” asserted a gunner. “It was the first time I had ever been fired at by a haystack. I got a great kick out of being able to shoot back.” A pilot agrees with this, saying: “We had the most fun picking off ack-ack positions. . . . As soon as we saw the flashes from any place everybody got busy turning on our guns.” As a major said: “The boys took a lesson in street fighting on this mission.” Dummy oil installations were noted southeast of Ploesti(surprize) . Eight to 10 enemy fighters, apparently looking for stragglers, made uneager attacks. One ME-109 was destroyed. Of the 28 aircraft of the 376th Group that set out on the mission, 26 reached the target area. The 376th flew back to Bengasi unscaved ( only two losses )
Meanwhile, the following unit, consisting of the 98th, 44th, and 389th Groups, proceeded in the direction of their targets more or less according to plan. At Pitesti the last of these-groups, commanded by Col. Jack W. Wood, instead of continuing with the others on an easterly course to Floresti, swung northeastward up into the mountains to carry out its attack as Red Target Force upon the Steaua Romana refinery at Campina. These installations were situated in a valley with a slope toward the southeast. It was planned that the attack should come as a downhill run from the northwest to the southeast. The B-24’s were to fly low up one valley, hop a ridge, then turn down another valley, there hitting the target. Upon reaching the foot of the mountains, however, the Red Target Force found that the tops of the mountains were covered with clouds, which made it difficult to find recognition points, upon which the selection of the proper valley depended. Wood’s pilot Maj.Caldwell picked a likely-looking valley, made his run, and hopped the ridge, only to discover that he had chosen the wrong valley. This did not defeat the mission, however, for he made a 180° turn and flew northward up the next valley, then hopped over the ridge, made another 180° turn, and then proceeded down the appropriate valley, as planned. Caldwell would be shot down over Germany in 1944 and be listed MIA.
Wood’ s force, much the least experienced of the five participating groups, succeeded in reaching the target area with all the aircraft that had been dispatched. Of the four groups which actually attacked selected targets, its losses were lightest, and it completely destroyed its target.
Red Target Force carried out its attack between 1210 and 1220 hours at altitudes varying from 200 to 700 feet, scoring numerous hits on all four divisions of its target. The bombs were dropped by quick toggle method at 10 to 20 feet intervals. Antiaircraft of light intensity, but accurate, was encountered, as well as machine gun fire. From three to six enemy fighters were seen. Of these, one ME-109 and one ME-110 were destroyed. Four airplanes were lost in action.
An officer of the 389th Group, two days after the mission, wrote of it as follows: That was our first low-altitude mission. . . . We came in wide open at house top level with all guns firing. . . . after the bombs were away, we went lower and flew for 40 minutes. In the fields and villages that we passed over people just stood in the streets and villages and waved. Very few people ran for cover. High altitude bombing is much better. At one hundred feet you see too damn much and besides being hard on your nerves . . . it scares hell out of you. We were in the air 14 hours. When writting these lines, my mind goes back and thankfully aknowledges the great assistance received from Earl Zimmerman (god bless him ) Gen.Triantafelu and Col. James throughout the years.
The 98th and 44th Groups, commanded by Col. John R. Kane and Col. Leon W. Johnson, respectively, proceeded from Pitesti to the final IP at Floresti, as prescribed. These groups constituted Target Forces White IV (assigned to the Astra Romana and Unirea Orion refineries), White V (Colombia Aquila), and Blue (Creditul Minier at Brazi). They arrived at the IP just after the 93rd Group was finishing its run, after the defenses had been thoroughly alerted. The attacks by the 93rd upon targets that had been assigned to these groups had set them on fire and had dropped delayed action bombs which were by this time intermittently exploding, thus greatly increasing the difficulty and danger of the attack.
Instead of turning back, as they might well have done, Colonels Kane and Johnson, without hesitation, led their forces directly against their objectives. For their heroism they were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Their attack was made between 1205 and 1215 hours at altitudes varying from 120 to 250 feet. In the case of Colonel Kane’s group, 39 out of the 46 aircraft that successfully took off reached the target area. All 37 of Colonel Johnson’s arrived. The firing of guns and explosions at the target created a frightful din which made the planes shudder as the forces flow over, in somewhat tighter formation, at about 200 miles an hour, the flames licked the planes on all sides while the flak beat out a deadly tattoo. The dense black smoke concealed such hazards as towering chimneys and balloon cables. B-24’s were seen going down all around. Upon returning home, Colonel Johnson remarked: “It was the closest thing to Dante’s inferno I’ve ever seen.”
Despite the smoke which tended to obscure the pinpoint targets, the bombing appears to have been surprisingly accurate. Out of one element of six aircraft crossing the target, only one ship came safely through. One plane was shot down approaching the target. Just over the target a terrific explosion occurred, destroying three additional ones. A fifth was seen to emerge from the flames, but belly-landed shortly after. Enemy resistance offered these two groups was the heaviest encountered in the whole attack. As one crew member declared, “They hit us with everything but bricks.” Some of the heavy guns appeared to be trained in an almost horizontal position. Light flak and machine gun fire were particularly heavy from midway between the IP and the target and several miles beyond. The guns seemed to be so arranged as to keep the aircraft in a crossfire during most of the run-up. Guns were mounted on towers, in pits, concealed in houses, haystacks woods and growing crops.
Numerous balloons were observed scattered throughout the target area. On the way home, the 98th and 44th groups were attacked at several different points by enemy aircraft, including ME-109’s and 110’s, FW-190’s, JU-88’s, DO-217’s, MC-202’s, HE-112’s, and 113’s, and unidentified biplanes, in short, it seems, “anything that would fly.” The first fighter attack was made just after the forces left the target. But, because the B-24’s were flying 20 feet or less off the ground, attacking dive bombers were unable to dive on them. Instead, they did lazy eights over them, causing plenty of trouble. Safety was sought in flying a close formation and hugging the ground. Especially vulnerable were stragglers or planes that flew at a higher altitude than others of their formation. An especially determined attack was made just off Corfu by 20 or more FW-190’s and ME-109’s. This was a most unfortunate interception because there were several crippled planes in the formation; also, the formation was scattered because of bad weather conditions. The enemy fighters encountered over the mountains followed the formation out to sea for 15 to 20 minutes, inflicting at least four additional losses. The 98th Group reported at least 50 attacking aircraft, of which it claimed 33 destroyed; the 44th Group, 18 to 20 attacking, and 13 destroyed. Both 98th and 44th were victims of the Q Train ( flack train ).
Of the five groups, the 98th sustained the heaviest loss of planes — 21, 18 of which were brought down in combat. The 44th lost 11, 7 of these in combat and 2 crashing at sea on the return trip.
Numerous acts of courage and resourcefulness on the part of the airmen who flew the Ploesti mission have been recorded. Three officers, in addition to Colonels Kane and Johnson, were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroic conduct which cost them their lives: Colonel Baker and Major Jerstad, who flew in the same aircraft; and 2d Lt. Lloyd H. Hughes. The cases were practically identical. In each instance the plane was hit by antiaircraft fire short of the target and seriously damaged. Although the pilot might have made a safe landing, he, instead, quite aware of the consequences, piloted his ship over the target, dropping his bombs, then crashed in flames. Not mentioned or not properly mentioned is the “Old Baldy” of the 98 BG flown by Lt.Dore whose Lib was hit point blank by a 88 mm plane which crashed into the flack battery which mortally injured his plane killing the entire crew of the battery. Dore was posthumously awarded Silver Star. Of course I didn’t forget my Julian Darlington, John Ward, Kanes family and all my friends from 98th BG whose contributions and motivation enabled me to progress with my research.
At this point I wish to express my gratitude to Capt.Taylor’s family, Lt.Austin family and F/O Packer family. Packer was last minute Capt Taylor’s copilot replacement , he just completed pilot course back in April , may god bless their heroism and sacrifices.
In some cases seriously wounded men remained at their posts to perform their duties. Three crewmen of one plane, injured by enemy fire, stuck to their guns until out of danger from enemy pursuit. One of them, severely wounded in the leg, back and left arm, continued to fire his gun while his wounds were being dressed. Here is the place to mention SSgt Ernest Martin out Blevins crew who was awarded DSC for the mentioned bravery and died later on in the hospital in Italy. I thankfully aknowldge the material received from his family.
Two crewmen of one plane fought a fire in the plane’s nose which could not be got at with an extinguisher, even after the bell had rung to bail out. One even took off his parachute to get down to fight the blaze. The fire was put out by tearing out padding and pounding it out. Another member of the same crew went out on the bomb bay with the bomb bay doors open and the bomb bay itself full of hydraulic fluid and gas sprays, and effected desperately needed repairs. When, over the target, the bomb bay doors of another plane jammed, the engineer immediately jumped down from the top turret to crank them open by hand, the radioman replacing him at post. Although he had never before handled a machine gun in the air he fired 50 rounds at an approaching ME-109 and brought it down. Another B-24 was hit, receiving a puncture in the bomb bay gas tank. The tank was full of fuel, which was needed for the return trip. The radioman lay down on the cat-walk and held his fingers in the hole until the gas could be transferred into another tank.
The flight plan prepared in advance for the return home from Ploesti was not closely followed. The groups, bombing at different times and in some instances hotly pursued as they left the target area, do not appear to have made any attempt to assemble at Lake Balta Potelel to resume route formation as a unified force. Instead, each group or remnant of group, with the exception of the 98th and 44th, which remained together throughout the mission, followed its own course home. Stragglers and small elements attached themselves, whenever possible, to passing formations, for in formation lay a greater degree of security. In general, the route back was the one prescribed from Ploesti southwestward to Berkovista. to the southern tip of Corfu, and from thence southward across the Mediterranean to Tocra and finally to Bengasi. Rain was encountered over the Danube valley. In the mountains over Yugoslavia, Albania, and Greece the clouds had thickened and cumulus were piled up to about 30,000 to 40,000 feet. It was possible, however, to fly through in the clear at 15,000 feet by continually bearing to the west.
Sometimes aircraft voluntarily left formations to accompany planes that were in distress. Such planes generally made for Turkey or the nearest Allied landing grounds on the islands of Cyprus, Sicily, or Malta. Altogether, seven planes landed in Turkey and an additional one crashed at sea off the coast, seven of the crew being rescued. Nineteen landed on Allied fields, other than at the home base. Two crashed at sea on returning from the target. A total of 92 aircraft succeeded in returning direct to Bengasi, thus completing a flight of approximately 2,400 miles after spending from 13 to 14½ hours continuously in the air.
Meanwhile, at the 9th AF base near Bengasi the day dragged on. One by one the 13 early returns showed up. At about the time the Liberators were expected to reach their targets a meeting of headquarters section heads was called in the War Room. There, for the first time, they were officially told the object of the mission. In the course of the afternoon the letters “MS” came in on the radio, a prearranged signal from General Ent signifying “Mission Successful.” Long before the returning B-24’s were due, most of the restless staff scattered to the various landing fields to greet their return. Among those anxiously waiting was General Brereton himself. The atmosphere grew tense at 1700 hours, the estimated time of their arrival, approached and passed with no returning Liberators as yet in sight. The first planes landed at 1720 hours, just as the sun was setting. Before long, the sky was dotted with planes coming in singly or in small groups, landing on their respective fields. Some dispensed with all formalities, cutting in directly, their fuel gauges registering empty. One plane that landed had actually consumed its final drop of gasoline and had to be towed off to the taxi strip. Virtually all that returned that night were back by 1810 hours, before darkness really fell. By midnight, approximately 70 remained to be accounted for.
At 0200 hours on 2 August, General Brereton and General Ent went on the air to give an account of the climatic event in the history of the Ninth Air Force in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the strike photos of the mission were being developed and were available for inspection by the next morning. These recorded almost every phase of the mission, constituting a vivid and unforgettable picture of the event. An other recon was due by SAAF 60th Recon Sqd on Aug 3, 1943.
Aircraft losses resulting from the Ploesti mission were high, totaling 54 of these were brought down in action; five were lost due to operational causes; seven landed in Turkey, and one landed in the sea just off the Turkish coast. Besides the 13 that turned back short of the target, 89 succeeded in returning directly to the home base. Twenty-two landed at alternate bases either to refuel or because of engine trouble or battle damage and subsequently found their way back to Bengasi. Of the 111 returning from the target area, approximately 58 were classified as damaged.
Antiaircraft gunfire was the principal cause of losses. The bomb bay fuel tanks were a contributing factor of great importance, the Liberator’s Achilles heel, aimed at by enemy artiIlerymen. There can be no doubt that had had bomb bay tanks been emptied and dropped before reaching the target area, losses would have been smaller. Colonel Kane was of the opinion that many of the losses were due to the fact that rear elements of attacking formations making their runs flew higher than planned and practiced, thus exposing themselves unduly to enemy fire. Enemy fighters accounted for a few American losses, but in general they were not very formidable. Other losses were occasioned by ground explosions of gasoline storage tanks and cars, by delayed action bombs; by collisions of airplanes with other aircraft and by contact with obscured chimneys and balloon cables.
It is as yet impossible to state exactly the number of casualties suffered by the Ninth Air Force in this attack. Manning the 177 that successfully took off were 1,726 officers and enlisted men. The crews of the 53 ships successfully taking off but failing to return numbered 532. Ten crewmen were saved when they crash-landed at an alternate base; seven were rescued at sea, and 75 interned in Turkey. Approximately 110 have been reported as prisoners of war in Rumania, of whom many are known to have been wounded and hospitalized there. A total of 330 men remain unaccounted for. It appears altogether likely, however, that some of these missing men are alive in Axis Europe. Several Liberators are believed to have made forced landings in Bulgaria but the number of survivors, if any, is unknown. On the other hand, a number of the crewmen who returned were seriously wounded, some subsequently dying.
On August 2nd , 98th BG Ops .section under Maj.Daigle ,dispatched a B-24 from Libya to perform a SAR mission for downed aircrews over Bulgaria and Macedonia , the flight descended to 500 feet AGL and executed right turns holding pattern in attempt to establish visual contact with Ploesti mission survivors. While taking great risks in flying low over occupied territories and ati aircraft emplacements , no survivors were located. This research determines lack of proper assesments behind this plan and the senseless risks the aircrews were exposed to.
An exact damage assesment done to the Rumanian oil refineries by the attack of 1 August 1943 wahttps://lifesupportintl.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/lewellyn-clifford-daigle-as-an-officer.jpgs not possible then. Recon aerials were flown at high altitude by SAAF 60th Sd based at Sicily . With due regard for the efficacy of photo reconnaissance, the possibility of a considerable margin of error must be admitted. In view of the absence of reports of unquestionable reliability by qualified ground observers, knowledge of the extent of the destruction wrought is largely dependent upon combat or strike photographs taken in the heat of the attack and aerial reconnaissance or stereo photographs taken some time later.
Two reconnaissance missions were flown within three weeks after the attack; the first on 3 August, the latter on 19 August, resulting in a set of excellent vertical photographs. On the former mission only the Ploesti area proper and a part of Brazi were photographed; on the second, Campina, Brazi, and Ploesti. Only one type of reconnaissance plane was capable of attempting such flight m the fairly new recon Mosquito in service with RAF or SAAF at Sicily . Prior to the mounting of TIDAL WAVE two of these aircraft were sent out from Great Britain to do this job though results were marginal due to weather . A third mission was flowm in October 1943 which was affected by weather and the onboard oxygen system of the crews.
The length of the 3rd August flight was almost too much for it, and the pilot, worried about his fuel supply, was able to effect only a partial coverage of the bombed areas. He succeeded in reaching the Sicily just as his gasoline supply was exhausted. On 19 August the second mission was carried out. This time the areas left unphotographed by the first were photographed. These pictures, taken at 27,000 feet were of excellent scale and quality. They were turned over to the Middle East Interpretation Unit, which, in collaboration with Colonel Forster and other refinery experts, issued a series of Photographic Interpretation Reports, which are the principal source of Allied intelligence on the effectiveness of the attack of 1 August 1943.In general, the evidence indicated that the targets that were bombed were bombed accurately, but that many of the bombs did not explode. Therefore, the damage was not as great as had been expected. Nevertheless, a “high degree of short-term damage” and a “promising degree of long-term damage” was discovered.
The Ploesti Low Level mission produced a fine lot of oblique strike photographs taken at minimum level. While of great value as a source of information concerning enemy defenses, these do not, however, constitute an adequate basis for damage assessment. They show, here and there, a hole in a roof where a delayed action bomb had penetrated, the starting of fires, or even results of explosions, but generally these photographs were taken too early to indicate the degree of the attack’s success. Photo reconnaissance gives a much clearer verdict. Two reconnaissance missions were flown within three weeks after the attack; the first on 3 August, the latter on 19 August, resulting in a set of excellent vertical photographs. On the former mission only the Ploesti area proper and a part of Brazi were photographed; on the second, Campina, Brazi, and Ploesti.1 Only one type of reconnaissance plane was capable of attempting the flight — the fairly new British Mosquito.
The length of the flight was almost too much for it, and the pilot, worried about his fuel supply, was able to effect only a partial coverage of the bombed areas. He succeeded in reaching the Bengasi base just as his gasoline supply was exhausted. On 19 August the second mission was carried out. This time the areas left unphotographed by the first were photographed. These pictures, taken at 27,000 feet were of excellent scale and quality. They were turned over to the Middle East Interpretation Unit, which, in collaboration with Colonel Forster and other refinery experts, issued a series of Photographic Interpretation Reports, which are the principal source of Allied intelligence on the effectiveness of the attack of 1 August 1943.
In general, the evidence indicated that the targets that were bombed were bombed accurately, but that many of the bombs did not explode. Therefore, the damage was not as great as had been expected. Nevertheless, a “high degree of short-term damage” and a “promising degree of long-term damage” was discovered.
The Romana Americana refinery (Target White 1) was not bombed at all.
Concordia Vega (Target White II) suffered but slight damage, one distillation plant and an asphalt plant only being fairly hard hit. Its capacity was reduced perhaps no more than 15 per cent. It was not considered that the plant would be out of action for any great length of time.
Standard Petrol Block and Unirea Speranta (Target White III) sustained no appreciable damage.
Target White IV was much more heavily damaged than the foregoing. The most important distillation plant of Astra Romana was completely demolished. The refinery as a whole, however, was expected to resume operations fairly soon at about 50 per cent of its original capacity, since other vital installations had come through in most cases without serious damage. While the distillation plant of the Unirea Orion refinery appeared to be unhit, the main boiler was wrecked, which, it was estimated, would reduce the capacity of the refinery by about 30 per cent.The Colombia Aquila refinery (Target White V) was very badly damaged in its vital installations by fire and explosion, so badly, in fact, that it was believed it could not be made operable in less than six months, and it was even doubted that the Nazis would attempt to repair it.
The Steaua Romana at Campiria (Target Red) was extremely hard hit in most, of its vital installations, with the result that not only was it put out of action, but it was estimated that it would be many weeks before it could function again.Equally decisive was the damage inflicted upon the Creditul Minier refinery at Brazi, which was held certain to remain-inactive for three months. Both refineries resumed to normal output by early 1944 despite previously mentioned by Dugan /Stewart , Mike Hill etc on the 6 months supply delays !
An estimated 22 % of the total refinery capacity of Rumania’s nine leading refineries was destroyed. Possibly only 29 % of the cracking capacity had been knocked out for a period of at least four to six months. It should be added that in the attack Rumania’s only paraffin wax plant was destroyed and her facilities for producing lubricating oils were considerably reduced.
Many reports, official as well as unofficial came out of Rumania following the attack. While these vary widely they agree on serious damage done. The most interesting and one of the most reliable of these reports was that submitted by the Turkish minister in Bucharest to the Turkish Foreign Minister and transmitted to the United States Ambassador to Turkey in strictest confidence. The report was based on a personal visit to the bombed areas and conversations with two Rumanian cabinet members and the general managers of two refineries who had just left a meeting of refinery managers at Ploesti. According to this report, fires continued to rage at Ploesti, Brazi, and Campina on 3 August, and even that late new fires were being started by delayed action bombs. On this respect I would like to jump back to attack Major Zurzumya of the Black Seat Fleet in July 1941 when he along with just other 5 Petlyakov PE-2 Bombers caused the refineries to burn for weeks , with just the loss of one aircraft.
Fire-fighting apparatus was of little avail because of lack of water. In addition to confining substantially the Photographic Interpretation Reports, the Turkish minister reported the obliteration of a train of munitions and a complete train of loaded tank cars. The damage to the production facilities of all refineries was estimated at 70 per cent. The managers were reported to have agreed to send crude oil from seriously damaged properties to those less seriously damaged, which were to operate at full blast. Surplus crude oil was to be sent to Germany and Czechoslovakia for refining, in so far as transportation and refining facilities permitted. According to the report, governmental and refinery officials were “stupefied” by the precision of execution of the attack which was described as “superb,” especially because of having scarcely touched the city of Ploesti. One high Rumanian official is quoted as remarking, “The Americans delivered their bombs on the refineries precisely ” but throughout the years this statement would revised and downgraded.
On 6 September 1943, a report embracing the views of all present at the meeting was drafted and adopted, without dissent. Long-term damage to Rumanian refining capacity was assessed at 42.5 % while on Aug Sept. 28, 1944 was reassesed by OSS to 29% . The following excerpts from the report summarize very well the principal conclusions of the meeting:
As a result of the raid, Rumanian refining capacity has been reduced from 9,235,000 tons per year to 6,300,000 tons per year. Rumanian crude oil production is currently estimated by the Enemy Oil Committee at 5,100,000 tons/year, and by the UK Hartley Committee at about 5,500,000 tons/year. It follows, therefore, that for six months from 1 August, 1943 Rumanian refinery capacity will just be sufficient, or be slightly insufficient, to handle crude oil production demand of the Whermacht and Romania. Thus, the most important effect of the raid was to eliminate the cushion between production and capacity.
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From the overall point of view, therefore, the attack of 1 August 1943 destroyed the bulk of the cushion formed by the excess of efficiently located refinery capacity over crude oil production. The Axis had to immediately facilitate and rebuild this cushion through rehab of the damaged refineries or the construction of equivalent new capacity and better protected in equally suitable locations. Pending such rehab, which required at least three months, the balance between crude oil supply and efficient refinery capacity will be so close that any considerable damage inflicted on operating refineries will be reflected by the immediate loss of product output or in a severe strain on other phases of the Axis Economy.
Despite the fact that the Ploesti mission resulted in very important damage to the Rumanian oil refineries, this damage has not sufficient to be decisive. Save for temporary shortages, the attack did not result in any major loss of petroleum products for the German Industry because they were able to make up for lost refining capacity by activating idle refinery capacity at Ploesti and by speedily repairing some of the damaged plants. It was even believed that if no further attack were launched, the cushion of excess refining capacity would be restored by December 1943. However, there is no doubt that Germany’s oil supplies to the Russian fronts became tighter in 1943. By early of 1944 supply and requirements were substantially again balanced. The oil reserve was believed to be at a bare minimum. The combination of high military requirements, delayed completion of synthetic oil plant capacity, and bomb damage to existing refineries, all prevented the Nazis from building up their stocks. Therefore, Germany’s oil position following the Ploesti attack appeared peculiarly vulnerable to further attacks.
The degree of destruction resulting from the attack fell considerably short of the hopes of its planners. Throughout the planning the possibility of subsequent missions had been envisaged. Prior to the attack, Ike had cabled to General Marshall as follows: After 1 August the dispatch of additional missions seemed to be the only solution . This was especially true after the conquest of southern Italy placed under Allied control numerous excellent airdromes situated less than 600 miles distant from the Rumanian oil district.
The project of Soviet aerial bombardment was, meanwhile, revived in Washington. Action on this matter by US Armed Forces had been deferred because of the disinclination of the British Chiefs of Staff to make this request of the hard-pressed Russians. It was now felt by then that the improved general situation of the war in Europe warranted action. A memorandum to President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill was adopted, which recommended the following message to Marshal Stalin:
Following the recent successful attack by U. S. bombers on the Rumanian oil refineries at Ploesti, further attacks by Allied bombers are highly desirable to insure complete destruction and preclude repair of the damage to this vital objective. We suggest that when the situation permits you consider the possibility of sending Red air force bombers from Soviet bases to attack this objective. If you should consider this operation favorably, we shall be glad to advance detailed intelligence material relating to the targets. It is not known whether or not such a message was sent.The fact that no subsequent attacks were made against the Rumanian oil refineries by Allied air forces until April 1944 is explainable on the grounds that tactical operations and strategic targets of greater priority claimed first attention.
Although the Ploesti area was strongly defended, the defenders commited a series of errors one the Bulgarian based Radar station experienced contact loss with the formation. It’s beyond any doubt that had it not been for accidents and errors comitted by the attacking force, the damage inflicted would have been far greater and losses much less severe. According to reports that came out of Rumania, the Germans blamed the Rumanian commanders for laxness, and upon order from Berlin the entire region was reenforced by the military and several commanders were severely questioned. It also appears that shortly after the attack the defenses were considerably strengthened by sending hundreds of additional fighter planes there and increasing the number of barrage balloons. The Rumanians were highly appreciative of the fact that the bombing had not been promiscuous, but, instead, confined strictly to military targets which had minimized casualties among the civilian population and damage to private property. Both Rumanians and Hungarians appear to have been profoundly impressed by the attack on Rome, the Ploesti mission, and the one that followed about two weeks later against Wiener-Neustadt.
Prior to the Low Level mission the impression existed that intelligence concerning the target was inadequate and outdated. This was found to be the case. As a result of personal observation and the photographing of the Ploesti area during and following the attack, larger accurate data was secured concerning the defenses of the region.
Much of the camouflage employed was found to be little better than “a poor paint job.” None of it was very effective against a minimum-altitude daylight attack. However, certain skillful attempts at camouflage were noted. The tanks of the pumping station for the Giurgiu pipe line, for example, were covered with dummy pitched roofs and chimneys to give the impression of a group of small houses. Nevertheless, the tanks still cast circular shadows and their round shape was still discernible. The South Railway Station at Ploesti was camouflaged by painting white dummy road across the railway lines and marshalling yards. At the same time, the roof surfaces of station buildings were split up by a pattern intended to resemble rows of houses.
Dummy oil installations were found a few miles to the southeast of Ploesti, consisting of about 33 oil storage tanks, 20 by 30 feet in diameter but only one to one and a half feet high, two dummy cooling towers 15 to 20 feet high, and about eight dummy oil derricks. A remotely controlled system of lighting or firing the dummy were discovered, indicating that it was intended as a decoy for night bombers only. A second dummy installation reported seen northwest of Ploesti was not photographed. A smoke screen was employed during the attack but it was very ineffectual and caused serious operational interference to the AA crews . The thick black smoke which rose from burning refineries, however, proved to be a real handicap to the attacking force. Smudge pots were located south, northwest, and northeastof Ploesti, and in the vicinity of Brazi.
The position of 23 barrage balloons was plotted in the target area, the greatest concentration being northeast and east of Ploesti. Although down at first, the balloons were raised before the attack was well under way; yet, curiously enough, not a single one appears in the strike photographs brought back from the mission. While several aircraft are known to have been lost as a result of hitting balloon cables, six returned to Allied bases bearing the marks of such encounters.
It came as no surprise to the striking force to find Ploesti heavily defended by artillery. Besides rifles and machine guns, antiaircraft of 20-, 40-, and 88-mm. were employed by the defenders. Fifty-two heavy antiaircraft guns of varying types and calibres were noted in 10 positions encircling the city. Several of these heavy guns were equipped with Wurzburg & Freya RDF control. Approximately 125 light antiaircraft guns, many mounted on flak towers in groups of three, were observed, and seven searchlights were located in the region. Machine guns were scattered all over the area, their positions generally being well camouflaged. These observations contradicted the recon data offered by intel officeres prior mission’s begin.
Enemy single- and twin-engine fighters were encountered around the target and en route home in considerable numbers. Intelligence estimated the figure at approximately 90; some, however, were of obsolete types. A majority appear to have been manned by Rumanians, rather than by Germans. Although the 98th and the 44th Groups ran into some determined interference, the defending aircraft were, in general, not very effective. Relatively few aircraft casualties were attributed to enemy fighters. Liberator crews, on the other hand, made the astonishing claim of having brought down approximately 50 enemy aircraft,figures which after the occupation of Romania on 23 August 1944 were proven as highly exagerated !
Decorations were liberally awarded to the men who participated in the Ploesti attack. Out of the 17 awards of the Congressional Medal of Honor to Army airmen from Pearl Harbor down to 11 March 1944, five went to officers played in the Ploesti Attack. They are Col. Johnson, commander of the 44th Group; Col. Kane commander of the 98th Group; Lt. Col. A.Baker, commander of the 93rd Group; Maj. John L. Jerstad; and 2nd Lt. L.Hughes. Fifty-six were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, including the following: Brig. Gen. Uzal G. Ent, commander of the 9th Bomber Command; Col. Keith K. Compton, commander of the 376th Group; Col. J.Wood, commander of the 389th Group; Lt. Col. Jim Posey, commander of Blue Target Force; and Maj. Norman C. Appold. The Silver Star went to 41, while one received the Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster to the Silver Star. One hundred and thirty-six were awarded the Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster to the Distinguished Flying, while the latter decoration was received by 1320. One Soldier’s Medal was awarded.
To Col. Jacob E. Smart when the Distinguished Service Medal, while Lt. Col W. L. Forster, Maj. Gerald K Geerlings, G/C D. G. Lewis, and W/C J. S. Streater were awarded the Legion of Merit. All bombardment groups that carried out the attack received citations.
Following the Ploesti mission, approximately 110 American airmen were prisoners of war in Rumania. More than half of this number were injured through bailing out at low altitude and were hospitalized. When the Germans demanded that they be handed over to them the Rumanians declined to comply. In view of the fact that Rumania was at war with the United States, that Rumania soldiers and airmen had cooperated with the Germans in defending the oil refineries, and that Rumania life and property had been destroyed in the attack, the treatment of the American prisoners by the Rumanians, especially by those socially prominent, is most remarkable. Indeed, the welcome given them was so extravagant as to suggest a demonstration against the Nazis.
The following statements of prisoners are typical, reflecting their attitude toward their captors: “We are what is commonly called prisoners of war. You would never know it from the way they treat us though”; “. . . the Rumanians were kind people and did all they could towards our needs . They are treated us well and we couldn’t ask for anything better”; “Rumanian people are treated US airmen good. In fact, King Michael and the Queen Mother visited the prisoners, subsequently sending them books, cookies, cigarettes, and other comforts. Rumanian ladies’ committees in Bucharest were untiring in their efforts to show a “non-partisan spirit,” sending gifts to the wounded Americans and Rumanians alike. While some regarded these actions as exemplary, the pro German Romanian society complained that it was ridiculous to see enemy airmen receiving better treatment than the soldiers in the Rumanian army.
As a result of forced landings or crashes, the crews of eight aircraft, totaling 75 men, were interned in Turkey. In the case of seven survivors of the Hadley Harem’s crew whose plane had crashed in the sea off the Turkish coast, the “cooperating neutral” government of Turkey, stretching international law a point, accepted the validity of the argument that these men were “shipwrecked sailors” and promptly released them. The Turkish Foreign Minister was reported to be instructing the General Staff not to take exceptional measures to prevent the escape of the remaining internees. However, he “requested that he be not embarrassed by too many escapes in the immediate future.” A system of priority of “escapes” was established. Meanwhile, the Turkish authorities were following the liberal policy of allowing the internees to absent themselves from places of internment on their word to return. In due course till March 1944 40% of the former Ploesti airmen would die and taken captive during the Reich missions from Libyia and later on from Italy.
Had the Ploesti mission been executed as planned, it very probably would have attained the degree of success that its planners expected of it, which was the destruction of 90 per cent of the capacity of the Rumanian oil industry. At the same time, combat losses would have been minimized. But for an unfortunate accident of bad weather conditions, resulting in the loss of formation unity, and an even more important error of judgment, there is every reason to believe that complete surprise would have been achieved. The loss of unity might have been repaired the risk of sacrificing surprise, had radio been broken to reassemble the formation at the Danube. Once again in the months of June and July 1944 the 376th as a leading formation would commit a error at Ploesti final IP’s.
Had this been done the success would probably have been greater and the losses less severe than was actually the case. “Combined operations of this nature, require precision and timing, and are most difficult to control and coordinate especially when navigation must be conducted over great distances.” Leaders error in confusing Targoviste for the final IP resulted in a sacrifice in large degree of the benefits of training and briefing for the attack in the cases of the 376th and 93rd Groups. It also deprived the others of the advantage of surprise, for by the time the 18-minute run was completed from Bucharest to Ploesti, the targets had been alerted. In this connection it is notable that the losses of the 93rd Group were heavier than those of the 44th due Col.Baker’s decision to leave the leading group and execute the bombing run over uncharted areas . If it could be assumed that without the separation of the groups the 98th and 44th Groups would have followed the leading element off course, the loss of unity might be considered a fortunate accident. However, it should be remembered that the commanders of these groups were highly skilled, experienced fliers who might well have recognized the error and taken steps to rectify it. The decision of the commander of the 93rd Group to attack from the south west after his formation got off course was totally not reasonable. Not only were targets bombed that were not assigned to this group, for which it had received no training and briefing, but it rendered much more dangerous the task of the assigned forces. This research notes that Col.Baker’s CHM award unlike the others , was delayed as late as 1944.
To point out errors, however, is not to assess blame. One is not inclined to take issue with General Brereton’s well-balanced view of the matter when he stated: no blame is attached to any commander or leader participating in the mission, for decisions which were made on the spot under the stress of combat. On the other hand, the 9th Air Force is deserving of the highest praise for its excellent staff procedure and leadership displayed in the planning, training and execution of this most difficult mission. Colonel Smart, as deeply interested in the success of the mission as any man, expressed the following view of the outcome:
Regardless of how good, how detailed your plan may be, there is a human element to be considered. It is easy for football fans to sit back on Monday morning, play quarterback and decide that if this man had done this, something else would have happened. It is easy to criticize work done by someone at so great distance away. Human error will happen in any maneuver. In 1944 Col.Smart will be assigned to lead the 97th BG based at Amendola , Italy . On May 10,1944 he would lead a mission to Wiener Neustadt from which only he and his pilot would survive the B-17 explosion he piloted. Smart would spend rest of the war in a POW. And so Kane’s famous Bomardier 1st Lt.Korger which a month later would be shot down over Italy.
This research also determined that both KK and Kane were right and wrong in their decisions and both have compromised the mission objectives in a way or another, undisputed are however Keith& Wicklund responsibilities for the navigation errors, Ent inactive over the CB issue and navigational errors. John Kane superior leadership and sacrifices at Ploesti , fully justified his CHM award and remained since then the true hero of Operation Tidal Wave . Operation Tidal Wave is synonymous to John Kane and John Kane is synonymous to 98th BG and Ploesti. Kane never got over of his losses at Ploesti , this followed John all along his life . John was a great man and so 98th BG was . The pilot training center at Barksdale AFB and so a B-52H carry John R.Kane’s name.
As the declassified Ploesti mission briefing footage shows, the 9th Air Force used obsolete recon details and intel information on Ploesti defences. The history also proves the Russians denial to share their early missions recon photos and outcomes with Arnold’s office as such the Ploesti Armada would fly to their targets with 10 years old photos of the Royal Navy Admirality .
Conceived as a one-time, low-level knockout punch, the August 1943 raid temporarily knocked out only 35% of the throughput capacity of the oil refineries and 42 percent of their cracking capacity. The attackers lost 53 of the 177 participating American aircraft, 55 more were damaged, 440 men killed or missing, and 79 men interned in Turkey. Ploesti recovered only within weeks and the oil supplies were little or not at all affected. It’s further not clear if Col. Posey’s formation completely knocked out Creditul Minier refinaries as Brazi as mentioned on older books of Hill and Cal Stewart. Fact is that also this refinary in less than 4 months would return to full capacity of Avgas output.One interesting fact, 55% of the airmen were of Jewish American origin 35 % of German , 5% of Mexican and one airmen of Japanese origin .The last would tour all WWII theathers and obtain later on a Presidential award.
In retrospect Ops.”Tidalwave” was a gamble which failed.Like other war time gambles, the cost came to be measured in human lives, even so the young men who volunteered for the one way trip suicide ticket on that hot and black Sunday took part in one of the most extraordinary aerial combat mission in WWII , the longest and lowest ever in the history of modern air warfare. Moreover ,through the unique enterprise and scale of recognition afforded the participants , this operation is without parallel in annals of American airpower. And in the years to come, this is what “Killer” Kane had to say about that , a message which was engraved on a memorial stone errected in Bucharest commemorating his mission on Augst 1, 1943 :
” TO THE FALLEN OF ROMANIA “
To you who fly on forever I send that part of me which cannot be separated and is bound to you for all time. I send to you those of our hopes and dreams that never quite came true, the joyous laughter and showery tears of our boyhood, the marvelous mysteries of our adolescence, the glorious strength and tragic illusions of our young manhood, all these that were and perhaps would have been, I leave in your care, out there in the Blue.
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LINK TO PLOESTI BRIEFINGhttp://www.93rdbombardmentgroup.com/videoplayer_polestibriefing.html
HAP KENDALL FOOTAGEhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdB8261qH3s