It's been a busy week, although since it was Spring Break there were very few employees around the district so the copier/printer swapout went fairly well. Well, aside from a small miscommunication that 25% of the copier/printers that were being installed required 220V power to operate. Ah well!
Well, Sarge's Blog does not have a section for "woulda, coulda, shoulda", so on with this week's posting. Today, we'll be discussing Operation Tidal Wave. Now, there are a LOT of posts that are Naval related (No, not Navel related, they pertain to the Navy, not your belly button). This Operation however had nothing to do with any Navy, other than flying over water.
According to the Source of all "verified" knowledge, Operation Tidal Wave was the official title for the Raid on Ploesti during WWII on August 1st 1943 by 178 B-24s crewed by 1751 crewmen. The bombers took off from Benghazi (where have we heard that name recently), crossed the Med, flew across Bulgaria and then eastward into Romania. To avoid detection, they flew the entire route, a distance of about 2400NM, at 300'.
Suffice it to say the raid did not go well. One bomber crashed on takeoff, another crashed into the sea due to unknown causes, but that crash caused one groups formation to come apart. Several of the bombers aborted at that point.
|Notice the angle of attack, those bombers are HEAVY!|
Radio silence was rigidly enforced to maintain surprise, but the Axis forces were aware of the attack. However, the maintenance of Radio silence meant that formations couldn't be rejoined and when the lead bomber of one group missed a turn point, no one could inform him of that error.
All in all, of the 177 Bombers that got airborne, 162 made it to the target. 88 made it back to Benghazi , 55 of which had battle damage. 310 aircrew were killed, another 186 were captured or interned. Damage to the Ploesti refineries was repaired in a matter of weeks and production rates actually increased after the raid.
In short, a disaster for the Allies, the United States and the Army Air Corps.
Sarge did an excellent post on the raid back in 2014, so I'm not going to spend more time on the raid itself. Rather I'm going to look into one specific airplane and it's crew. That airplane would be "Hell's Wench".
|Obviously this airplane is in bad shape.|
"Hell's Wench" was the lead bomber of the 93rd Bomb Group. The raid was it's first and only mission. It was piloted by the Group Commander, LtCol Addison Baker, Co-piloted by Major John Jerstad. Lt George Reuter was the Navigator, Lt Al Pezella was the Bombardier. The other crewmembers were SSgts Faith, Fritts, Bennet, Stafford, Workman and Barto.
LtCol Baker and Major Jerstad were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions during the raid.
|Lt Col Baker|
As I researched this aircraft, it's crew and the reports of it's final flight, I stumbled upon some of those internet crumbs that brings a name to life.
For instance, with the exception of the Pilot and Co-Pilot, all the remaining crew were part of a formed crew assigned to Lt Pat Murphy. Lt Murphy evidently annoyed Lt Col Baker by missing the Colonel's reception after he took over command of the Bomb Group. The Colonel conveyed his disappointment by commandeering Lt Murphy's crew to fly the lead ship.
SSgt Faith was an excellent Guitar player with a preference for Hank Williams Sr. Lt Pezella was Italian with a quick sense of humor. On a previous mission, their aircraft had been hit by AAA and a piece of shrapnel had come up through the floorboard, passed between his legs and exited out the top of the plane. Lt Pezella, immediately called "Ball One!" over the intercom.
Around this time in the war, much ado was being made about "Memphis Belle" having completed 25 missions and coming home. It was interesting to note that the entire crew, to include Lt Col Addison and Maj Jerstad, had completed 25 missions and volunteered to stay in theater to complete this mission.
So, what brought about the end of Hell's Wench?
As they all perished, no one knows for sure, but as they're in the final stretch of their bomb run, other aircraft reported that the aircraft hit a barrage balloon cable on the left wingtip. Almost simultaneously, a AAA round exploded in the wing of the airplane setting fuel on fire. Shortly thereafter, another round explodes in the nose compartment.
B-24s were notorious for exploding when set on fire. "You've got til the count of ten to bailout before she explodes" was the watchword. Col Baker elects to continue the bomb run, drops his bombs and then starts to initiate a climb which would allow the crew enough altitude to survive bailing out. As the aircraft starts to climb, it explodes and kills the crew.
I stumbled upon an excellent blog as I was researching this. The blogger is the nephew of the Navigator, Lt Reuter. He's assembled several articles on various aspects of the crew and their final flight, and I've borrowed heavily from them. Unfortunately, the last posting was from 2012 when he was travelling to Romania to try and find where the bomber had crashed and obtain any other information there might be.
I hope he was successful and will start posting again.
Lt Col Baker's citation.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy on August 1, 1943. On this date he led his command, the 93d Heavy Bombardment Group, on a daring low-level attack against enemy oil refineries and installations at Ploesti, Rumania. Approaching the target, his aircraft was hit by a large caliber antiaircraft shell, seriously damaged and set on fire. Ignoring the fact he was flying over terrain suitable for safe landing, he refused to jeopardize the mission by breaking up the lead formation and continued unswervingly to lead his group to the target upon which he dropped his bombs with devastating effect. Only then did he leave formation, but his valiant attempts to gain sufficient altitude for the crew to escape by parachute were unavailing and his aircraft crashed in flames after his successful efforts to avoid other planes in formation. By extraordinary flying skill, gallant leadership and intrepidity, Lt. Col. Baker rendered outstanding, distinguished, and valorous service to our NationMaj Jerstad's citation
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty. On 1 August 1943, he served as pilot of the lead aircraft in his group in a daring low-level attack against enemy oil refineries and installations at Ploesti, Rumania. Although he had completed more than his share of missions and was no longer connected with this group, so high was his conception of duty that he volunteered to lead the formation in the correct belief that his participation would contribute materially to success in this attack. Maj. Jerstad led the formation into attack with full realization of the extreme hazards involved and despite withering fire from heavy and light antiaircraft guns. Three miles from the target his airplane was hit, badly damaged, and set on fire. Ignoring the fact that he was flying over a field suitable for a forced landing, he kept on the course. After the bombs of his aircraft were released on the target, the fire in his ship became so intense as to make further progress impossible and he crashed into the target area. By his voluntary acceptance of a mission he knew was extremely hazardous, and his assumption of an intrepid course of action at the risk of life over and above the call of duty, Maj. Jerstad set an example of heroism which will be an inspiration to the U.S. Armed Forces.