Thursday, April 23, 2015

The B-24’s Finest Hour

A B-24 Liberator called "Sandman" during a bomb run over the Ploești Astra Romana refinery during Operation Tidal Wave.

Operation Tidalwave. Ploesti, August 1, 1943
The low-level B-24 raid on the Romanian oil refineries. This depicts Suzy-Q leading the 44th Bomb Group over the Coulmbia-Aquila Refinery.

Reconnaissance photo of the two primary oil refineries in Ploesti Romania taken in preparation of the low level B-24 Liberator bomber attack of Aug 1 1943.

Eight massive oil refineries surrounding Ploesti, Romania, that were bombed and destroyed by the Allies during World War II. The refineries supplied more than a third of the fuel needs for the Luftwaffe and Panzer corps. The first raids on Ploesti’s refineries in 1941 and 1942 by Soviet and U.S. bombers were unsuccessful. After the raids, Ploesti, once an easy target, was strengthened with flak batteries, barrage balloons, and heavy fighter defenses.

On 1 August 1943, a new series of raids took place with 177 bombers launched. Crossing the Albanian coast, they ran into a large formation of cumulus clouds that split the bomb groups.When they dropped to 500 feet for their final run, German radar lost them. However, the lead element’s navigator misidentified the second of three checkpoints, and other units right behind turned toward Bucharest. The trailing planes saw the error and called a warning to no avail.

Lieutenant Colonel Addison Baker, commander of the 93d Bomb Group, and copilot Major John Jersted saw Ploesti and decided on their own authority to attack. Coming in from a different direction, their new flight path brought them over the heaviest flak corridor. Fifty-two fighters attacked the bombers as they began their bombing runs. Baker’s plane was hit but continued, dropped its bombs, and crashed. The two pilots received the Medal of Honor. The group reformed and found that only 15 of the original 39 planes were in the air; they had destroyed 40 percent of the plant’s capacity. The most successful attack came when Lieutenant Colonel James Posey and 21 B-24s totally destroyed the Creditul Minier refinery, losing two planes.

The survivors were attacked while departing the area. Some detoured to RAF bases on Cyprus or bases in Turkey. Some ditched and were rescued. Of the 92 planes that returned, four crash-landed. Of the remaining 88, only 33 were still fit to fly. Altogether, 446 airmen were killed or captured and 106 were wounded.

Bombing reduced refinery production to 42 percent. The high loss rate meant that a follow-up mission was not practical. Although the targets were severely damaged, the plants were soon operating at premission capacity.

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