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Authors: James Dugan,Carroll Stewart

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Ploesti: The Great Ground-Air Battle of 1 August 1943

BOOK: Ploesti: The Great Ground-Air Battle of 1 August 1943
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The whole true story of the most
daring bomber attack of World War II
"In bigness and bravery it was the
greatest of all strokes."
S.L.A. Marshall, New York Herald Tribune
by James Dugan and Carroll Stewart
Twenty years ago, 1,763 Americans headed their unescorted
Liberator bombers toward Ploesti, the German oil refinery
deep in Rumania. Their impossible task was to destroy, from
zero altitude, a fortress more heavily defended than Berlin
They were told that their mission would shorten the war by
six months. Hundreds of men volunteered to go, even though
50 per-cent casualties were predicted. But that didn't mat-
ter. Their goal was to blast the refinery to dust -- at any cost.
"PLOESTI is an epic. It is packed with fierce, tender, tragic,
breakneck action, and, too, with random and haphazard
heroism and terror and horror. All the immemorial ingredi-
ents of war: speed and brutality and devotion and death."
-- Chicago Tribune
The Great Ground-Air Battle of 1 August 1943
A Bantam Book / published by arrangement with
Random House, Inc.
Random House edition published April 1962
2nd printing ........ May 1962
3rd printing ........ July 1962
Excerpt appeared in Male Magazine February 1963
Bantam edition published June 1963
The quotations beginning Chapters 6, 8 and 10 are
from W.H.D. Rouse's translation of THE ILIAD,
published by New American Library of World
Literature, Inc.
The quotation beginning Chapter 12 is from E.V. Rieu's
translation of THE ODYSSEY, published by Penguin
All rights reserved.
Š Copyright, 1962, by James Dugan and Carroll Stewart.
No part of this book may be reproduced In any form,
by mimeograph or any other means, without permission
in writing. For information address: Random House Inc.
457 Madison Avenue, New York 22, N. Y.
Published simultaneously in the United States
and Canada.
Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, Inc. Its trade-mark,
consisting of the words "Bantam Books" and the portrayal of a
bantam, is registered In the United States Patent Office and in other
countries. Marca Registrada. Printed in the United States of Amer-
ica. Bantam Books, Inc., 271 Madison Ave., New York 16, N. Y.
During the events described herein James Dugan was with the Photo &
Newsreel Section of the Eighth Air Force, which provided three bomb groups
for Tidal Wave. Carroll Stewart was the public relations officer of one of
them, the Traveling Circus. The authors knew many men who did not return
and, shortly after the mission, interviewed scores who did. This material
was only used in a 32-page airdrop booklet in French, Le Bombardement
de Ploesti. Since then the authors have corresponded with about half
the living U.S. participants in Tidal Wave, as well as with the ground
staff and relatives of the fallen. A questionnaire was circulated among
the veterans, and the pilots and navigators were furnished additional
target area charts in which to draw their courses over Ploesti. The
two forms were also printed in German and distributed among the small
percentage of Luftwaffe fliers and flak men who survived the war. The
authors found the five surviving German pilots who fought in Tidal Wave,
the four top fighter controllers, and a number of Gerstenberg's staff
The authors personally interviewed 164 U. S. combat men of 1 August 1943
and dozens of ground (and grounded) men, widows, and relatives. Dugan
and Stewart consulted 28 unpublished personal narratives and diaries
of U. S. Tidal Wave men, plus a prison camp chronicle by the inimitable
Douglas Collins. The spate of narratives indicated that the men regarded
the low raid as the greatest event in their lives. A hundred men wrote
shorter recollections of the day. Very few of them had previously told
their stories for publication, so that the accounts were relatively fresh,
even after the passage of years. Quite a few questionnaires furnished
cross checks on what happened in a single aircraft and among squadrons and
groups. The percentage of corroboration among these individual accounts
was extremely high, notwithstanding the fact that men had been separated
for a long time. A handful had improved their memories over the years,
and some of these accounts could be checked against earlier versions by
the same men.
By compiling the first complete mission roster of Tidal Wave, the authors
believe they were able to avoid the sort of evidence on Ploesti that
Colonel Kane encountered some time after the raid. Kane was in an air
terminal and overheard a U.S.A.F. sergeant telling some new acquaintances,
"I was Killer Kane's tail gunner at Ploesti." Kane stepped over and said,
"Pardon me, but did I hear my name mentioned?" The sergeant shot out his
hand and said, "Colonel, meet the biggest liar west of the Mississippi."
Five or six of the outstanding men of the mission had deliberately or
subconsciously put the awful details out of mind, and their stories
had to be gathered from others. One of the shining heroes of Ploesti
had not spoken a word about it in seventeen years. After a preliminary
interview he became upset, refused to say anything more, and would not
even furnish a photograph of himself.
The research entailed two trips to Europe and about 50,000 miles of travel
in the United States. The U.S. Air Force cooperated wholeheartedly,
although this is not an official history. The U.S.A.F. declassified
every known document and picture on Tidal Wave. Several former officers
provided documents that were not in the official archives because of
the primitive record-keeping in the desert.
The U.S.A.F. read the manuscript for security. However, this surveillance
did not involve censorship or approval or disapproval of the treatment.
The sole remaining security consideration was to protect the real names
of certain Europeans who helped the Ploesti men and who may be living
today under governments that resent such activity.
1 The Hidden Mission 3
2 Ploesti: The Taproot of German Might 21
3 Zero Raiders 40
4 Coming Back Is Secondary Today 59
5 The Great Mission Airborne 82
6 The Circus in Hell 110
7 Targets of Opportunity 131
8 The Tunnel of Fire 142
9 The Coup de Main 154
10 Kane at White Four 160
11 Red Target Is Destroyed 171
12 The Stormy Return 182
13 Black Sunday 213
14 The Gilded Cage 236
15 The High Road to Ploesti 250
16 "Liberation, Glory Be!" 265
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 boy-
hood, 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.
--John Riley Kane, Colonel, U.S.A.F. (Ret.)
In Tsarist times a game of courage called Kukushka
was played late at night in garrisons in Caucasia and
Siberia. Two officers stood in adjoining rooms with an
open door between. One had a pistol, the other had
not. At a signal the lights were extinguished. The un-
armed player opened the contest by dashing toward
the door, yelling "Kukushka!" The rules permitted him
to go through it straight or diagonally, left or right,
crouching or leaping. His opponent's problem was to
shoot him as he came through the door.
--Othmar Gurtner, The Myth of the Eigerwald
He who owns the oil will own the world, for he will rule the sea by
means of the heavy oils, the air by means of the ultra-refined oils,
and the land by means of petrol and the illuminating oils. And, in
addition to these, he will rule his fellow men in an economic sense,
by reason of the fantastic wealth he will derive from oil.
-- Henri Bérenger, 1921







During the middle years of World War II the United States Army Air Forces
carried on a determined and bloody bombing offensive against one of the
most vital, distant and deadly industrial targets in Hitler's Europe, the
oil refineries at a city called Ploesti, in the kingdom of Romania.
The campaign against Ploesti, which Winston Churchill called "the taproot
of German might," opened with a quixotic attempt to avenge the Japanese
assault on Pearl Harbor.



In May 1942 a secret, hastily assembled band of American freebooters known
as Halverson Project No. 63 took off from Florida in 23 new Consolidated
Liberator (B-24) bombers with orders that rivaled science fiction. They
were sent to do nothing less than bomb Tokyo.



The planned route from Florida to Tokyo was not the direct 8,200-mile
line to the northwest; instead, it equaled a circumnavigation of the
globe. The course, south and east, called for a series of formation
flights to Brazil, across the equatorial Atlantic, and over the bulge of
Africa, without ground navigational aids or bases that could service the
new-model bomber. There were no air charts of the route. The navigators
used National Geographic Society members' maps and scattered sections
of African geological surveys.



The Liberators carried everything needed for the extravaganza except
bombs and further installments of gasoline. They were overloaded with
three months' food for 231 men and a double issue of anything that
could be scrounged. Each navigator had two sextants, each man two
mess kits, each plane a spare nosewheel. The Halverson Detachment,
or "Halpro" as the outlandish expedition was dubbed, carried its own
intelligence echelon, including a stockbroker named Paul Zuckerman;
Wilfred J. Smith, Professor of History at Ohio State University;
Floyd N. Shumaker, a Mandarin-speaking airplane salesman, whose son,
Thomas, was a navigator with the mission; Dr. Lauchlin Currie, President
Franklin D. Roosevelt's adviser on China; and General P.H. Wang of the
Chinese Air Force. The combat men were also exotic. One of the pilots
was a full-blooded Oklahoma Indian, Meech Tahsequah. There was also a
war analyst from the Pittsburgh
, a former actor in Our
Gang movie comedies, a Royal Dutch Airlines pilot, and Richard Sanders
of Salt Lake City, Utah, who was to become, at the age of twenty-eight,
the youngest U.S. general officer since the Civil War. Even a skeleton
ground echelon was aboard. Each plane carried two mechanics who were
expected to do the work of the usual seven-man ground crew.



The cutting-out party was named for its leader, a dark, impetuous pilot,
Colonel Harry A. ("Hurry-Up") Halverson.* His expedition was the product
of the shocked, frantic days after Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese almost
obliterated the U.S. air forces in Hawaii and the Far East. Halpro came
from vengeful councils of veteran American airmen with their chief,
General Henry ("Hap") Arnold. Colonel James A. Doolittle's carrier-based
raid on Japan a month earlier came from the same fiery moots.



* Born Halvor A. Halvorsen.



At Chengtu, in interior China, Halverson's Liberators were to fuel from
buried caches, sling Italian bombs, and move up to operational fields
around Chekiang within return range of Japan. The forward bases were
primitive earthen fighter strips, hardly capable of handling spotter
planes, and the Liberator was a 60,000-pound four-engined bomber with
a 110-foot wingspread. Indeed, Doolittle's raid had drawn attention to
the likelihood of further attacks on Japan, and the Japanese army was
marching rapidly toward the Chekiang bases.



As they headed out from Florida on the chimerical adventure, Halverson's
outfit did not know the Japanese strike was impossible and that, instead,
they were to be sent to Romania on the longest bombing mission ever to
be attempted until the long-range Superfortress came into action two
years later.



Halpro island-hopped to Natal, Brazil, with one ship unable to keep up
with the formation because its right wheel would not retract. It was
the flagship carrying the furious Halverson and his executive officer,
Colonel George F. ("Mickey") McGuire, piloted by a thirty-four-year-old
ex-KLM pilot from Indiana, Alfred Kalberer, who had been flying since he
was seventeen. Kalberer's flight engineer was a newly recruited garage
mechanic, who could not find anyone able to fix the hanging wheel on
the Caribbean stops. The flagship barely made 135 miles an hour and its
stalling speed was 110.
BOOK: Ploesti: The Great Ground-Air Battle of 1 August 1943
10.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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