On August 1, 1943, the USAAF staged Operation Tidalwave—a daring, surprise low-level B-24 raid against the Axis’ critical source of fuel, the oil fields in Ploesti, Romania.
During the unescorted 1,000 mile flight from Libya, clouds broke the formation into two groups and a wrong turn caused even more confusion. The B-24s arrived over the heavily-defended target area disorganized and without the planned element of surprise.
Of 178 bombers and 1,726 men on the mission, 54 aircraft and nearly 500 men failed to return (310 killed and 186 captured). Five Airmen received the Medal of Honor for their heroism during the raid—Lt Col Addison Baker (posthumous), Maj John Jerstad (posthumous), Lt Lloyd Hughes (posthumous), Col Leon Johnson, and Col John “Killer” Kane.
Although the raid significantly damaged the facilities, the enemy quickly restored production. Ploesti was not attacked again until April 1944.
Enlisted aircrew on the lead B-24 put on their body armor before getting on board: (l to r) SSgt Angelo Aspesi, SSgt Leo Picard, SSgt Leonard Pate, and TSgt Charles Robbins. They completed the mission and returned to base.
In the confusion of battle, some B-24s made bombing runs through heavy smoke and were caught in the bursts of delayed-action bombs from previous waves.
Another wave of B-24s can be seen in the distance coming in for their bomb run.
One of the lucky ones—a B-24 returns to its Libyan base.
Col Leon Johnson
Flying suit and goggles worn by Col (later Gen) Leon Johnson, commander of the 44th Bomb Group, on the August 1st Ploesti raid. The patch is of the 3rd Attack Group of the pre-war period—the donor continued to wear the suit during the war.
Col Leon Johnson, 44th Bomb Group commander. Johnson received the Medal of Honor for his steadfastness and courage in leading the second wave through alerted enemy defenses, burning fires, and explosions of delayed-action bombs.
Lt Col Addison Baker
Lt Col Addison Baker led the 93rd Bomb Group during Operation Tidalwave. Near Ploesti, his aircraft was set afire by flak. Rather than break up the formation, he stayed on the run and bombed the target. Unable to gain altitude, his aircraft then crashed into the ground, killing all on board.
2nd Lt Raymond “Jack” Warner, a navigator, wore this shirt during the August 1st raid. Flak nearly severed his left arm, but Warner was able to bail out of his stricken B-24, hitting the ground just as the parachute opened. After capture, hospital nurses repaired his torn shirt. Warner wore it as a POW until he was released in the fall of 1944.
Artwork by E. Weber, believed to be a German flak gunner at Ploesti. The scroll reads:
"To our commander from his flak artillery in commemoration of the successful defense against the major attack by American bombers on Ploesti, 1 August 1943 (destruction of 31 Liberators).”
Col John “Killer” Kane, 98th Bomb Group commander. Kane received the Medal of Honor for courage in leading his group through flames, smoke, delayed-action bombs, and the fully activated enemy defenses.
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Operation Tidalwave (Ploesti, 1 Aug 43)
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Return to the B-17F Memphis Belle Fact Sheet
Return to the WWII Gallery list