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The FReeper Foxhole Revisits The Ploesti Raid - (Aug. 1, 1943) - May 15th, 2004
see educational sources

Posted on 05/15/2004 12:00:14 AM PDT by snippy_about_it


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The FReeper Foxhole Revisits

Into the Mouth of Hell

Losses on the first large-scale Ploesti raid were staggering, heroism unsurpassed.

Tradition rests on a foundation of great deeds done together in the past. A keystone of Air Force tradition is the Aug. 1, 1943, bombing attack on oil refineries at Ploesti, about 30 miles north of Bucharest, Romania. That mission stands as a monument not only to the skill and courage of Air Force crews but also to the ability of our combat leaders to pull together strands of a broken plan and salvage limited success from the apparent certainty of disaster.

The Ploesti raid was unique in several respects. It was the first large-scale, low-level strike by heavy bombers against a well-defended target and the longest--1,350 miles from base to bombs-away--of World War II up to that time. For extraordinary heroism that day, five men were awarded the Medal of Honor, a record that may hold for all time.

Why did Ploesti merit that unprecedented effort? In mid-1943, seven refineries in and near the city were producing an estimated 35 percent of Germany's oil and an equal proportion of her aviation gasoline. Some Allied planners thought that destruction of the refineries might even force the Nazis out of the war.

The task force put together for Ploesti was composed of two Ninth Air Force B-24 groups--the 376th and 98th--based in North Africa and three B-24 groups from Eighth Air Force--the 93d, 44th, and the recently arrived 389th--that were moved from their UK bases to fields in North Africa near Benghazi, Libya. The attack was set for Sunday, Aug. 1, in order to minimize casualties among impressed workers at the refineries. It was meticulously planned and thoroughly rehearsed, including two full-scale practice missions against a simulation of the Ploesti targets, laid out in a remote area of the desert.

Surprise and Precision

In concept, if not in execution, the plan of attack was simple, its essence: surprise and precision. The bomber stream would be led by the 376th Group under Col. Keith K. Compton, followed by the 93d, 98th, 44th, and 389th in that order. Specific buildings within the five refineries in Ploesti; the refinery at Campina, 18 miles northwest of the city; and one at Brazi, five miles to the south, were assigned to elements of the five groups.

The task force, totaling 177 B-24s with Brig. Gen. Uzal Ent as mission commander flying in Compton's aircraft, would take off between 4 and 5 a.m., fly north in a tight column of groups to Corfu (off the coast of Greece), then climb over the mountains of Albania and Yugoslavia to the Danubian plain, where they would descend below enemy radar coverage. At Pitesti, the first Initial Point (IP), the 389th would break off to the left and proceed to the refinery at Campina.

The four leading groups would drop to 500 feet and continue to the final IP at Floresti, where they would begin a 13-mile bomb run on five refineries in the city and the one at Brazi, descending to treetop level for bomb release. All six refineries would be hit almost simultaneously by a single wave of bombers, flying line-abreast, that would saturate the defenses. That was the plan. Winston Churchill is credited with observing that "in war, nothing ever goes according to plan except occasionally, and then by accident." Ploesti was no exception.

In the long flight over the Mediterranean, the column lost some of its cohesion, with the 376th and 93d Groups slightly ahead of the other three. Then, near Corfu, the lead aircraft with the route navigator went out of control and crashed. (Ent and Compton were not in the lead bomber, but in a position to assume the lead when a final turn to the bomb run was made.) A second 376th aircraft bearing the deputy route navigator followed down to look for survivors. Unable to climb back in time to rejoin the group, it returned to Benghazi.

Now ahead of the formation towering cumulus clouds rose above the mountains. The two lead groups threaded their way through or under the clouds, while the 98th, 44th, and 389th penetrated the cloud line at varying altitudes. By the time those three had reformed a column and resumed a heading for Pitesti, the first two groups were 29 minutes ahead of them.

Because of radio silence, Ent and Compton could not contact the trailing groups. Not knowing whether or not those groups had turned back, they decided to follow the operations order even though they might have to go it alone. Thus, the five groups actually proceeded toward Pitesti as two widely separated forces. A surprise attack on the refineries in Ploesti by a single wave of some 140 bombers, that dominant key to success at an acceptable cost, was beyond redemption.

The Wrong Turn

The chain of circumstance was not yet complete. The 376th and 93d Groups made their turn at Pitesti and headed for the final IP at Floresti. Halfway between the two IPs lay the town of Targoviste, which closely resembled Floresti. Flying at very low altitude, the 376th mistook Targoviste for the IP and turned southeast on the briefed bomb-run heading, which took the two groups to the west of Ploesti--an error that wasn't discovered until they were on the outskirts of Bucharest. At that point, Ent broke radio silence, ordering the two groups to turn north and attack targets of opportunity in the complex of refineries.

The 93d Group, led by Lt. Col. Addison E. Baker, a National Guard officer who had been called to active duty in 1940, caught a glimpse of refineries off to the left. He and his pilot, Maj. John Jerstad, who had completed his combat tour but volunteered for the mission, bored in on an unidentified refinery, which turned out to be Columbia Aquila, a 44th Group target. Enemy defenses, much heavier than anticipated, were thoroughly aroused. More than 230 antiaircraft guns, supported by many barrage balloons and smoke pots, surrounded the refineries, with perhaps 400 fighters in the area.

Into a maelstrom of ground fire, Baker led the group. Short of the refinery, his B-24 was hit and burst into flames. Baker and Jerstad could have bellied in on open fields or pulled up to bailout altitude and probably saved themselves and their crew. But this was a mission on which some thought the outcome of the war might hinge. Without wavering, they led the bombers straight on to the refinery before crashing into the ground. Both Baker and Jerstad were awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Off to the right of their funeral pyre, a second element of the 93d bombed two refineries assigned to the 98th Group. Meanwhile, five B-24s of the 376th Group led by Maj. Norman C. Appold hit the Concordia Vega refinery, originally assigned to the 93d, and "emerged covered with soot" as other 376th bombers unloaded on various segments of the Ploesti complex.

While the 376th and 93d were making the best of a bad situation, the other three, led by veteran pilot Col. John R. "Killer" Kane, commander of the 98th, turned at Pitesti as planned. The tail-end 389th under Col. Jack Wood broke off to the northeast, bombing the refinery at Campina to complete destruction. Four aircraft were lost to flak, one of them piloted by 21-year-old 2d Lt. Lloyd H. Hughes, who was on his fifth combat mission. His B-24, hit by ground fire, leaked streams of gasoline from wing and bomb-bay tanks.

Below lay wheat fields, where Hughes could have landed, but instead he drove on through the smoke and flame created by the bombers ahead of him, struck his target, and came out with his left wing sheathed in flame. His desperate attempt to save the crew by crash-landing on a lake bed failed when one wing of the blazing B-24 hit a river bank and the plane exploded. The mission's third posthumous Medal of Honor was awarded to Hughes.

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KEYWORDS: 8thairforce; 9thairforce; freeperfoxhole; history; ploesti; samsdayoff; usaaf; veterans; wwii
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No Turning Back

When Kane's 98th Group and the 44th, commanded by Col. Leon W. Johnson, a 1936 graduate of the Military Academy, turned at Floresti on their bomb run, they saw ahead columns of black smoke laced with flames and torn by explosions, the result of bombs dropped by the 376th and 93d Groups minutes earlier.

Both men knew that beneath those black clouds, which hid barrage balloon cables and tall chimneys, lay many delayed-action bombs that would detonate at random. With only about half the number of bombers planned for a simultaneous attack, enemy defenses would be far from saturated. They would have been fully justified in abandoning the attack. The probability of survival was low, but the rewards of success could be immeasurably high. For those two courageous leaders there was no turning back.

Kane led 41 of his B-24s straight into a scene that resembled the background of a medieval painting of hell, losing 15 Liberators to flak and fighters in the target area and three more to fighters over Bulgaria. His own plane, with one engine out at Ploesti and fatal battle damage from flak, was demolished in a crash landing at an Allied field on Cyprus.

Johnson, followed by 15 of his 44th Group crews, flew through flak, explosions, heavy smoke, and blistering heat, avoiding by a hair some 376th Group B-24s that were coming off a target, and successfully attacked the already burning Columbia Aquila refinery. Only nine of the 16 survived the gauntlet of fire. Johnson's plane was hit repeatedly, but made it back to Benghazi more than 13 hours after takeoff. While he was attacking his target, 21 of his B-24s led by Lt. Col. James Posey had a clear shot at the untouched refinery at Brazi, which they leveled, but lost two aircraft to fighters on the way home.

Both Jonson, now a retired four-star general, and Kane were awarded the Medal of Honor for their courageous decision to press on, regardless of the consequences, against targets the planners had considered so important as to justify the loss of half the attacking force. In fact, more than 30 percent of the B-24s that reached the target area were lost to enemy action or landed in neutral Turkey with battle damage and were interned.*

There are enough other stories of heroism on that mission to fill a book. The Distinguished Service Cross, second highest decoration for valor, was awarded to several men, among them Ent, Compton, Wood, Posey, Appold, and then-Capt. William R. Cameron of the 44th Group, like John Jerstad a volunteer for the mission.

Improvisation and raw courage overcame the vagaries of war--inaccuarate intelligence on enemy defenses, unforeseen weather, human error--and a plan that perhaps demanded too much of too many in a strategy and tactic that had not been tried before. We honor the men who met the tests and trials of an historic mission and the nearly 500 who did not come back that day.

The Results.
Two of the 7 assigned targets were not bombed, and 'in the next month their oil production 'increased from 47% of capacity to 92%. Four targets were hit by planes from different groups. Two were damaged, production falling from 66% to 28%, and two were completely shut down, one for 4 months and one for 11 months. Creditul Minier was shut down permanently.

The Cost.
Of the 162 raiders to reach Ploesti (3 crashed and 13 aborted en route), 51 were lost and 22 landed (or crashed) at Allied bases on Malta, Sicily, and Cyprus. Of the 89 Liberators that returned to Benghazi that day, only 31 were flyable.

Today's Educational Sources and suggestions for further reading:
1 posted on 05/15/2004 12:00:14 AM PDT by snippy_about_it
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To: All
At first light on August 1, 1943 a force of 178 B-24 Liberator bombers lifted off dusty airstrips in the Libyan desert. They were to fly a 2000 mile round-trip deep into enemy territory, bomb a heavily defended target, and return to their North African base - without fighter escort. So began one of the bloodiest and heroic missions in the annals of aerial warfare. The target - the oil refineries at Ploesti.

One third of Germany's petroleum products were supplied from Ploesti, situated deep in Rumania and well beyond the range of Allied bombers based in England. Deprived of this vital supply of fuel, Germany's mighty war machine would grind to a halt. The high command were aware of this and the installations at Ploesti were defended accordingly. To attack such a heavily defended target with the required degree of accuracy it was necessary to bomb from a perilously low level, a task for which the B-24 was notoriously unsuited. The mission called for inspired leadership, cool determination and courage beyond the call of duty - and all of these were given in plenty.

As the first wave of bombers roared into the target, some as low as 50 feet, the German defenses opened up with a barrage of fire. Within moments the entire area erupted with exploding bombs, bursting shells, gushing flames and billowing palls of smoke. One by one the gallant crews took their aircraft through the intense wall of Ack-Ack and 88mm ground fire, and into the burning inferno to deliver their deadly cargo.

Of the 178 B-24s dispatched, 52 were lost and all but 35 aircraft suffered damage, one limping home after 14 hours and holed in 365 places. Ploesti witnessed countless acts of heroism, for which the crews received more decorations for bravery than any other mission of the war.

2 posted on 05/15/2004 12:00:35 AM PDT by snippy_about_it (Fall in --> The FReeper Foxhole. America's History. America's Soul.)
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To: All
'Nice job, Brereton, but you lost too many.'

-- Berlin Sally's succinct, accurate appraisal of the raid

'We went out to Ploesti in 27 planes one day in 1943, only 14 came back. I was 19 years old. I was a ball gunner.'

-- A B24 Ball Turret Gunner
at Veterans Reunion

3 posted on 05/15/2004 12:01:02 AM PDT by snippy_about_it (Fall in --> The FReeper Foxhole. America's History. America's Soul.)
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To: All

Consolidated Aircraft Company built the plane. It was powered by four 1200 horsepower Pratt & Whitney “Twin Wasp” 14 cylinder radial engines and had a maximum speed of 303 mph at 25,000 feet. It could carry eight, 1100 pound bombs and had a range of 2300 miles. It had a 110-foot wingspan, a length of 66 feet, height of 18 feet and weighed 32,605 pounds empty.

4 posted on 05/15/2004 12:01:44 AM PDT by snippy_about_it (Fall in --> The FReeper Foxhole. America's History. America's Soul.)
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To: All
Two older men in the Museum book shop were talking about flying in WW-II. I asked one, "What did you fly?" "`24s," he said. "In the Pacific?" I wondered. "No, we flew out of Italy -- over Ploesti." My jaw dropped, for I knew what that meant.

But I'm ahead of my story. We'd just been through Galveston's Lone Star Flight Museum - their fine collection of WW-II airplanes. It was a remarkable experience walking among all those machines that'd lain at the center of my childhood -- airplanes I'd never seen so close up. Background speakers played Glenn Miller music.

A small but important item on the hangar floor was an old car with an A-sticker on its window. "A" was the tightest gasoline rationing level. This war was fueled by petroleum and gasoline was precious. Germany got petrol from the Ploesti oil fields in eastern Romania. Hitler had said that if the Ploesti refineries were destroyed, the damage would be beyond repair.

So damage them we must. But how? They lay out of reach of Allied bombers. Two elements finally came together in 1943. First the British and Americans took North Africa. Second, the Americans brought in the B-24 heavy bomber -- the Liberator.

The B-24 was designed more for range than bomb capacity. It had a nominal range of 3500 miles and now it was available.

The first great Ploesti raid left from Benghazi in Libya on Sunday, August 1st, when few Romanians would be at work. 1726 men took off in 177 B-24s, overloaded with defensive armor.

The first casualty on that 2700-mile trip was a plane that crashed on takeoff, killing all hands. The planes attacked Ploesti at treetop level -- flying into flak, machine gun fire, fighters, and barrage balloons. Their aim was no less than to shut off German petrol supplies. But things went wrong. The element of surprise was lost. Airplanes were shot down over the oil fields and on the way back. American losses approached 800 men. Estimates of lost airplanes are uncertain -- maybe 70 heavy bombers.

In the end, we paid a terrible price for shutting off sixty percent of Germany's oil -- and then we only turned it off for a while. What we did in 1943 we had to do again -- and again.

And I'm back to that museum shop. "We went out to Ploesti in 27 planes one day in 1944," the man said. "Only 14 came back. I was 19 years old. I was a ball gunner.

He left me at a loss for words, trying to add it all up. He'd flown 51 missions -- dangling out in the flak in that bubble on the plane's belly, with only luck to protect him. I'm five years younger than he -- that close to having been in that, or in some other, shooting gallery myself. But it'd been him, not me. I had momentarily brushed up against heroism, a virtue we find all too hard to believe in today. And it had been heroism on my behalf.

John H. Lienhard

5 posted on 05/15/2004 12:02:27 AM PDT by snippy_about_it (Fall in --> The FReeper Foxhole. America's History. America's Soul.)
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To: All

Coming Back is Secondary
The Final Mission of the Vulgar Virgin

A NEW FEATURE ~ The Foxhole Revisits...

The Foxhole will be updating some of our earlier threads with new graphics and some new content for our Saturday threads in this, our second year of the Foxhole. We lost many of our graphic links and this is our way of restoring them along with revising the thread content where needed with new and additional information not available in the original threads.

A Link to the Original Thread;

The FReeper Foxhole Remembers The Ploesti Raid - Aug. 1, 1943 - Jan. 27th, 2003

6 posted on 05/15/2004 12:04:05 AM PDT by snippy_about_it (Fall in --> The FReeper Foxhole. America's History. America's Soul.)
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To: CarolinaScout; Tax-chick; Don W; Poundstone; Wumpus Hunter; StayAt HomeMother; Ragtime Cowgirl; ...

FALL IN to the FReeper Foxhole!

Good Saturday Morning Everyone.

If you would like added to our ping list let us know.

7 posted on 05/15/2004 12:05:15 AM PDT by snippy_about_it (Fall in --> The FReeper Foxhole. America's History. America's Soul.)
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To: snippy_about_it

"Hell's Wench," a B-24 badly damaged by anti-aircraft artillery fire, led the 93rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) in its daring low-level attack on the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, which supplied two-thirds of Germany's petroleum production at that stage of World War II. Lt. Col. Addison E. Baker, an Ohio National Guardsman who commanded the 93rd, ignored the fact he was flying over terrain suitable for safe landing. He refused to break up the lead formation by landing, and led his group to the target upon which he dropped his bombs with devastating effect. Then he left the formation, but his valiant attempts to gain enough altitude for the crew to escape by parachute failed and the aircraft crashed. For their gallant leadership and extraordinary flying skill, both Baker and his pilot, Maj. John L. Jerstad, received the Medal of Honor, posthumously. The raid, nicknamed "Operation Tidalwave," was costly, with 54 of the 177 bombers lost and 532 of the 1,726 personnel engaged listed as dead, missing or interned. Baker's service epitomized the role of National Guard aviators during World War II. Because of their experience, most of them were transferred from their 29 pre-war observation squadrons after mobilization. As individuals, they helped train and lead the huge numbers of volunteer airmen who served in Army Air Force units during the war. Baker and other Guard aviators carried on a long tradition of dedicated service to the states and nation.

8 posted on 05/15/2004 12:05:38 AM PDT by SAMWolf (Vengence is mine says the Lord, but I'm busy, so I sent the US Marines.)
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To: SAMWolf

Nice map, cool paintings. Thanks Sam and nighty night. ;-)

9 posted on 05/15/2004 12:07:13 AM PDT by snippy_about_it (Fall in --> The FReeper Foxhole. America's History. America's Soul.)
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To: snippy_about_it

Good Night Snippy.

10 posted on 05/15/2004 12:07:34 AM PDT by SAMWolf (Vengence is mine says the Lord, but I'm busy, so I sent the US Marines.)
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To: snippy_about_it; SAMWolf; JulieRNR21; Vets_Husband_and_Wife; Cinnamon Girl; Alamo-Girl; Bigg Red; ..
Hiya Kids,

just sticking my head into the FOXHOLE for a minute .... where's the BEER?

Keep up the GOOD WORK! And watch for my after action report on VetsCoR's booth at FreedomFest 2004 .... coming next week ...... with pictures!!!!!


"The Era of Osama lasted about an hour, from the time the first plane hit the tower to the moment the General Militia of Flight 93 reported for duty."

11 posted on 05/15/2004 12:15:05 AM PDT by Neil E. Wright (An oath is FOREVER)
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To: Neil E. Wright; Darksheare

Hi Neil. I think all the beer is in Darksheare's hole.

12 posted on 05/15/2004 12:36:07 AM PDT by SAMWolf (Vengence is mine says the Lord, but I'm busy, so I sent the US Marines.)
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To: snippy_about_it
What a story. My first thought when I read it was "How the heck did they find their targets after navigating by DED reckoning all that way."

People think navigating an aircraft over unfamiliar territory is like driving to the supermarket. It's not - even with navaids, things look "different" up there. Not to mention that you are a little busy flying the plane and monitoring the engine(s).

That's why I get so pi$$ed when people want to shoot down private planes that stray over some imaginary line in the sky. It happens.

13 posted on 05/15/2004 2:57:07 AM PDT by snopercod (It ain't over until I say it's over.)
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To: snippy_about_it

Good morning, Snippy and everyone at the Foxhole.

14 posted on 05/15/2004 3:05:27 AM PDT by E.G.C.
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To: snippy_about_it
My father's leather A-2 flight jacket from the 376th Bomb Group, 512th Squadron:

15 posted on 05/15/2004 3:13:17 AM PDT by Godebert
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To: snippy_about_it; SAMWolf; radu; PhilDragoo; Professional Engineer; All

Good Saturday morning everyone.

16 posted on 05/15/2004 6:20:44 AM PDT by Soaring Feather (~The Dragon Flies' Lair~ Poetry and Prose~)
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To: snippy_about_it; SAMWolf; All
I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord. —2 Kings 22:8

I entered the world's great library doors;
I crossed their acres of polished floors;
I searched and searched their stacks and nooks,
And settled at last on the Book of books.

The Bible is old, but its truths are always new.

17 posted on 05/15/2004 7:13:16 AM PDT by The Mayor (When life knocks you to your knees, you're in a good position to pray)
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To: snippy_about_it
Flying the Ploesti mission was rough. The one half losses is about expectable. The Liberators of 1943 burned up pretty badly as I recall, also. Very slow, as was the B-17. Navigation would be tough, especially in daylight, without meticulous reconnaissance photography. Only navigation aid was probably high frequency radio direction finding - HF DF - "Huff Duff".

The Pratt Twin Wasp used in the Liberator is a major milestone on the radial aircraft engine road. Very good engine, reliable. Not as powerful as really needed for the war, though.

The Pratt R-2800 was the star of the World War aero engines with over 2,000 horsepower. The R-4360, a post war development, ah, now that was an engine. Turbo compounded about 3,800 horse power.

Seriously, if it was my responsibility to specify engines for a new work, as opposed to toy, aircraft, I would of course use modern turbine engines. The Pratt PT-6 series will do anything any WWII radial can do with much greater reliability, lower cost, and weight. Radials are as obsolete as reciprocating steam engines. And the PT-6 is truly beautifully made, like all of the Pratt stuff.
18 posted on 05/15/2004 7:40:59 AM PDT by Iris7 (If "Iris7" upsets or intrigues you, see my Freeper home page for a nice explanatory essay.)
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To: snippy_about_it

Morning, all! Billy will enjoy those pictures!

19 posted on 05/15/2004 8:11:51 AM PDT by Tax-chick (It's possible that I look exactly like Catherine Zeta-Jones.)
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To: Neil E. Wright

Thanks for the ping!

20 posted on 05/15/2004 8:29:03 AM PDT by Alamo-Girl
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