Monday, January 22, 2018

God, my men will think I'm chicken! *

It's been a while since I pulled out this photo and looked through the list of names.  This project has been satisfying for me.  I now recognize virtually all the names and can describe most of the justification for their being so honored.  

But there are still a few, and in researching this post's legend, I learned quite a few things that I hadn't known.

For instance, which mission that the Air Force (yes and its antecedents) flew resulted in the most Medals of Honor being awarded?

I knew that one.

Ploesti. 5 Medal's of Honor, 3 posthumously.

Second question.  What was the first target in Europe bombed by the US Army Air Forces?

Ploesti.  June 11, 1942, 13 B-24s  launched to attack the city.  1 aborted after takeoff with fuel issues, the other 12 attacked.  Minimal damage was achieved, 6 aircraft recovered as planned in Iraq, two in Syria and the other 4 were interned in neutral Turkey.  I did not know that one.

So, I scored a 50 on that pop quiz.  Bummer!

I arrived at the subject of today's post, based mostly on a recent comment from Andrew, our classically trained rantconteur (yes, I know that is not an actual word, Google, but it better fits the man than raconteur), In which he asks (paraphrased) how we could have such a large fleet in WWII and still have had a lesser number of feckless and ill-trained captains than we do now?

My mind pondered about my service and agreed that the situation is very similar.

The example that popped into my cranial vault was Ploesti.  Intricately planned, but plagued by bad luck.  Checkpoints missed, weather, mechanical problems all contributed to the chaos of the mission, and that was all before they encountered enemy opposition.  However, perseverance and leadership salvaged what success could be had from the situation.  

I'll be discussing one of the Medal of Honor Recipients who survived the attack and indeed the war, Colonel John R. Kane.


There's something to be said for this picture.  I knew as soon as I saw it, he was not a "perfumed princess".
Source
Col Kane was born in 1907 and joined the AAF in 1932. He arrived in Africa in July of 1942 and over the next year received 3 of the top 4 Military awards for Valor.  He received a Distinguished Flying Cross for actions taken in an Attack on the Harbor at Naples that sunk a cruiser and battleship and a Silver Star for out flying a ME-110, denying him a successful shot until the ME-110 had run out of ammunition and returned to base. 

Being a Fighter Pilot has little to do with flying a fighter. However....

On August 1, 1943, 178 B-24s launched from Libya on the attack most people think of when Ploesti is named.  As mentioned earlier, bad luck was plentiful, with aborts enroute as well as a couple of actual crashes.  Weather and a difference in procedures, caused the attack to unintentionally be split into two waves.  Col Kane's flight approached their target area approximately 60 miles behind the lead elements.  The element of surprise was lost.  In addition, their route followed a railroad line into the city.  Unbeknownst to them, the German commander had positioned a AAA railroad train on it.

Col Kane had modified his bomber with 3 .50 cal machine guns in the nose that could be fired from the cockpit.  He shot all 2500 available rounds on ingress.  Unfortunately, the target area had been attacked by an earlier flight that had missed their target.  The gunners were alerted, but also, smoke and flames from burning petroleum added to the confusion and danger.
Tail End Charlie from Col Kane's Group
Source

Col Kane continued his attack and eventually dropped his bombs on their target and began their egress.  During the attack, Col Kane's B-24 had been hit 20 times by AAA as well as countless small arms rounds.  He'd also lost an engine.  Fuel was too low to allow a return to Libya, the nearest reachable recovery base was 900nm away on Cyprus.  Col Kane decided to violate Turkish Airspace and fly direct to Cyprus.

On landing, he hit an unreported wall, and the aircraft was badly damaged, however the crew egressed successfully.  The bomber was scrapped.
The source says this is the picture of Col Kane's bomber, although reports from the mission said he was flying "Hail Columbia".  Update: This source says, at the time of the picture, it had been transferred to a different squadron which used Snow White names as a naming protocol, later it was transferred back to the original squadron, and when it flew the Ploesti mission, it was renamed "Hail Columbia".
A final bit of knowledge about this attack of which I was unaware.  I had never heard about any reattacks of the target after  this one.  Evidently, it was frequently attacked up until Romania surrendered in late August 1944.

You might recognize the Narrator's voice.

I found this picture of Col Kane and immediately recognized the man.  
Source
A strange resemblance to the man in the masthead above, bottom row, third from the left, no?

Col Kane resigned from the Air Force in 1954 and passed away May 29, 1996.

In one of his last public statements, he said
"I still recall the smoke, fire and B-24s going down, like it was yesterday... Even now, I get a lump in my throat when I think about what we went through ... I didn't get the Medal of Honor. The 98th did."
Nope, not a perfumed princess.  Warrior!

Col Kane's Citation:
For conspicuous gallantry in action and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 1 August 1943.On this date he led the third element of heavy bombardment aircraft in a mass low-level bombing attack against the vitally important enemy target of the Ploesti oil refineries.
En route to the target, which necessitated a round-trip flight of over 2,400 miles, Col. Kane's element became separated from the leading portion of the massed formation in avoiding dense and dangerous cumulus cloud conditions over mountainous terrain. Rather than turn back from such a vital mission he elected to proceed to his target.
Upon arrival at the target area it was discovered that another group had apparently missed its target and had previously attacked and damaged the target assigned to Col. Kane's element. Despite the thoroughly warned defenses, the intensive antiaircraft fire, enemy fighter airplanes, extreme hazards on a low-level attack of exploding delayed action bombs from the previous element, of oil fires and explosions and dense smoke over the target area, Col. Kane elected to lead his formation into the attack.
By his gallant courage, brilliant leadership, and superior flying skill, he and the formation under his command successfully attacked this vast refinery so essential to our enemies' war effort. 
Through his conspicuous gallantry in this most hazardous action against the enemy, and by his intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, Col. Kane personally contributed vitally to the success of this daring mission and thereby rendered most distinguished service in the furtherance of the defeat of our enemies.

* Attributed to Col Ted Timberlake, Chief Operations Officer for the Attack, on being told he could NOT go on the mission as he knew too much about Allied Plans to be risked.  I understand the sentiment. 

Sources:  My Primary Source is, once again, Home of Heroes.  Always a good read there.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_R._Kane
http://www.nytimes.com/1996/06/12/us/john-kane-89-who-led-raid-that-bombed-nazi-s-oil-depot.html
http://www.cmohs.org/recipient-detail/2813/kane-john-r.php
http://www.homeofheroes.com/wings/part2/09_ploesti.html
https://airforce.togetherweserved.com/usaf/servlet/tws.webapp.WebApp?cmd=ShadowBoxProfile&type=Person&ID=126906
http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/jrkane.htm

39 comments:

  1. Thank you for making this fine American known to me.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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  2. ...IIRC, COL Kane - and a fair number of the Liberator drivers on the Ploesti mission - were former A-8 Shrike pilots, men who made an art form out of low-level precision flying.

    Truly wish someone would make a movie - an ACCURATE one - about Operation Tidal Wave.

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    1. Interesting, I hadn't heard about the Shrike or any of it's history. A research project! Thanks.

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    2. Evidently, you recall correctly. According to this site Col Kane published an article called "Flying the Shrike" in 1966.

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    3. AND..... according to this article, the Commander of the unit was Col Horace M. Hickam. He was killed landing at Ft Crockett, on Galveston Island, when he landed short of the runway and flipped the aircraft. Hickam AFB was named for him.

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  3. Colonel Kane has always been a hero of mine, the first book I read on the raid to Ploesti was probably in grade school. He does bear a resemblance to BG Olds, or vice versa as Col Kane was older. Kindred spirits.

    You're right though, not all fighter pilots fly fighters.

    Great post.

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  4. I spoke with a nice older Romanian lady who was living there at the time, and who witnessed the famous attack from the ground. Stuff like looking down on the planes from a hill and remembering how the pilots were dressed... And being shooed away from a crash site with living airmen, and later hearing that they had not made it to the POW lists, as it were.

    Also, a relatively (in hindsight) poor choice in husband (an SS officer) resulted in a nearly-fatal stint (was there any other kind?) in a Soviet slave-labor coal mine (was there any other kind?).

    On the one hand, I'm extremely fascinated by these Medal of Honor stories, and the inconceivable (to cowardly me) heroics - that these guys are gone now, saddens me a great deal. But on the other hand, "we don't make them like that anymore" is just wrong - we certainly DO, we're just blessed enough to not live in the world-shattering times that give these stories the space to come to the fore.

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    1. That would have been a very interesting conversation, and as the Air Force manual said, bailing out over the target you just bombed is not advised. (That is an actual statement from the manual).

      That's also an interesting observation about world-shattering times and bears pondering. I haven't really done much reading on MOH recipients from Trashcanistan, but what I have read seems to indicate they were well deserved.

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    2. I think maybe it's just a too-wordy way of saying "the bigger the war, the more heroes."

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    3. Maybe so. I think it unlikely that a pilot will receive a MOH in today's wars. Course, my daily prayer when on active duty was "Lord, I'd appreciate it if you don't present me an opportunity to earn a Medal today. However, if you do, please don't let me screw it up."

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  5. What's that clanging sound??? Oh, right, BIG brass ones. We, as a nation, still do not give those individuals the recognition they deserve. As in continually celebrating their lives and accomplishments and educating our youth in same. When I hear the National Anthem I picture in my mind those huddled in the landing craft at Omaha Beach or climbing into a B-17, knowing what they going to face, but going anyway. I would like to think I would have the same courage but thankfully have not been tested to that extent.

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    1. Yeah, I had the opportunity to take a guided tour of the Okinawa Battle. It started offshore in a landing craft and came ashore on the beach. It was an interesting experience to be standing there, with your nose at the ramp and hear the bottom hit the beach. The realization that, if this were real, your life expectancy was probably measured in seconds was "educational" to say the least.

      I always wondered how I'd react, hence the prayer.

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    2. Living on an island that was wrenched, inch by bloody scary inch, from the hands of the Japanese, changed my view of war forever (and this was at 7 years of age.) Being able to daily walk the island and see bomb and shell craters, find bits and pieces of exploded stuff (and one time finding a case of Jap grenades while snorkeling, yikes, more scared of them than the sharks) and all the other little reminders that three days of extreme combat occurred under my feet, well, was sobering. That was at Kwajalein, and it was considered a 'cake-walk.'

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    3. I can imagine. Or, maybe, I can't imagine.

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    4. About every two years I read the official US Army documentation on the invasion. And I can, in my mind, walk in their steps, remembering where I was, what was there at the time I was. Sobering. At the end of the island-island before you got to the 'we added extra room on the island-island' there is/was 'Bunker Hill' which was a Jap concrete command post where the US forces had to do unthinkable things in order to secure it. So strongly built they just covered it up and left it in place. No ghosts there. We played on it during the day, but come dusk the general feeling was decidedly creepy.

      Visited Cape Canaveral one year on a tour, which included the Apollo 1 launch pad. Their ghosts haunt that place, too.

      I don't think I can handle going to someplace like Iwo or Okinawa or the trenches in France. Cold, windy places, no matter the time of the year.

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    5. Visited Ypres while visiting NATO HQ on a trip to Sarajevo in 97. There was a Museum set up with intact trenches that you could travel down. Couldn't do it. Could walk along and look in, but walk in as if I were there, no way.

      When I was less than 3, my Dad and Mom were stationed at Naha AB Okinawa. There quarters were on Suri Ridge. Mom, later, said she wouldn't let me play outside unless she was there. Heck, EOD was still active when I was there 35 years later. Mom also said she didn't like being outside after dark. Said it was just too eerie. So, yeah, I understand where you're coming from.

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    6. Definitely more than a couple attacks against Ploesti.

      Reading an interview of Erich Hartmann, he mentions flying in defense of Ploesti on June 23, '44, in command of I Group, JG52. He had been transferred there for a while. Multiple kills of Mustangs on more than one flight. On one flight, with 8 of them chasing him, he ran out of fuel, and bailed.
      IIRC, he failed to make it to base more than a dozen times in WW2, due either to fuel exhaustion or damage suffered from hitting pieces of his victims (he liked to get very close before shooting).

      Article in World War II magazine, 9/02

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    7. It's hard to miss when you're firing from within 100' of your target, which I've heard was his preferred range. It's also hard to be missed when you're firing from that distance.
      Min Range on the Eagle was decreed to be 1000'. I got a bit behind the closure on a shot at the Dart one time, and squeezed the trigger at 800'. The Dart came apart (it was a plywood cruciform target with thin aluminum skin to reflect radar). Darn near over-g'd the jet trying to get out of the way of the debris. Luckily, 1) I did and 2) my flight lead was a fighter pilot, not a pilot of fighters. He asked me what min range I'd shoot at next time. I answered "Peacetime or War?"

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    8. One of my dad's favorite stories about flying the F-84G was when he destroyed the laundry of a whole Korean town.

      Seems that, due to being in a 'war zone,' anytime they flew patrols they had to be loaded for combat. And the ammo was only rated for so many times at such and such an altitude (I am sure it is the same today.) So when they did target practice, they used non-rated war shot, rather than purpose-made practice ammo. So here he is, in his bird, towing a target. Target gets so shredded that it is hanging down far lower than normal. He comes in for a landing, dragging the target holder, which is hanging far under his aircraft, through just about every drying line on the approach path to the airport.

      But, on the other hand, their gunnery scores were pretty much tops throughout the AF. No one stateside understood.

      I think the Koreans moved the shanty town a little farther down from the airfield after that.

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    9. Yeah, it never fails to amuse me that Bases were initially built way out in the sticks, then within a matter of months, houses were being built right off both ends of the runways.
      Things fall out of the sky, folks, and the more something flies over a given piece of sky, the better the odd of something under that piece of sky being hit by it.
      Nellis is a great example.

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    10. I can see building off to the side of the flightline, but directly under the take-off/landing line? Nyet. Too much possibility of things falling off on takeoff, or stuff not falling off properly before, or a big, fat plane not making it's takeoff, or, or, or...

      Come to think of it, at least a mile to the sides, too. I've seen films where exploding munitions and planeparts travel quite a distance. Being caught in the frag zone of a 4th of July firecracker mortar once was enough for me.

      Maybe a couple miles, behind hills or at least really big berms.

      (And our house at Holloman used to be relatively close to the blast deflectors for the fighters, so my mother tells me. Dust, tumbleweeds, spider migrations, and some arrogant prop-head firing off his afterburner just before takeoff. She says she was very happy to move from that base.)(And if you timed it right, you could set the tumbleweeds caught on the fence on fire right as the leading edge of the spider migration was rolling over them. Of course, once the first wave was cooked, there was nothing else to do but endure subsequent waves of the little 8 legged freaks. And I was too young to enjoy the brilliant display of pyro/insecticide. Bummer. I always miss the really cool things.)

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  6. Rantconteur? I kinda like that. Does that mean my renumeration stipend has been increased? Who-hoo! Royalties!!!

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    1. I wondered if you were going to comment about that. As for Stipends....Ya gotta bring it up with the Sarge. He's a little tightfisted.

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    2. Wait! We get coin for commenting here??? Who knew???? :-)

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    3. Rumor has it that Sarge is richer than Croesus living in his castle in the Roadeyelan Alps. However, "trickle down" economic theory hasn't made a big impact on us peons at the Chant.

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    4. Hhmm, methinks I need to call out the Cossacks. I sense unrest amongst the peasantry.

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  7. I don't mean to be flippant, but I hate it when this occurs.
    Unfortunately, the target area had been attacked by an earlier flight that had missed their target. The gunners were alerted

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    1. Back then, it was the mission that was paramount. Not the bodies of the flight crews, or the planes. Those came 2nd and 3rd, or even lower.

      To win a total war one pretty much must be a complete bastard. Which explains why Lemay was such a good air general.

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    2. And that's never a good thing. Whether you're traveling at 700MPH or 250MPH, you've got to fly through a lot of lead.

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  8. Amazing story, to press on through that 'Cluster' took a lot of courage, and you know he was a true leader, in that the others followed him all the way. Thanks!

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    1. Yeah, and that raises, once again, Andrew's question. How come back then when we had enough aircraft to darken the skies, how did we have fewer feckless and ill-trained commanders? Hmmmmmmm......

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    2. I read somewhere that war acts as sort of a 'distillation' system. The Warfighters, who have been relegated to the boonies or let go, come forward, while the Paper Pushers withdraw into non-fighting positions or are cashiered.

      But as soon as the boom and bang go away, the scales shift, and the Paper Pushers ascend to command, and the Warfighters are once again either sidelined or shitecanned.

      And it is never good to allow the Paper Pushers to remain ascendant and actively weed out the Warfighters while you are at war. Stalin found this out, after the Finns thoroughly handed the USSR their collective ass. Unfortunately, the previous administration, while embroiling us in more and more fighting, decided to follow Stalin's 'Path to Glory' abeit without actually physically executing the warfighters, just doing massive character assassination.

      I hate administrations and political parties who either forget history or are more concerned in lining their wallet than the welfare of the country. (Exactly how do you start as President basically broke and end up with over 40mil? Hmmmmm....)

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  9. The good colonels nickname was "Killer Kane." After the (rough-to say the least) mission he promoted everyone one grade on the spot and awarded everyone a single mission air medal (Apparently field commanders could do such things in those days. Todays "Chair Farce?" HA!!)

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    1. Yes, well the personnel folks would have a problem with their manpower documents if everyone were promoted. Finance would be pitching a fit with all the Pay and Allowance change paper work needed. So, you're right VX, that's a no go Today.

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  10. Some o the lead elements got lost and missed the tgt. By the time they re-oriented they realized they'd have to do a 180 to get back to hit the tgt. When they arrive they found themselves running head-on into some of the follow-on elements. It was remarkable airmanship that there were no mid-airs an everyone dropped their bombs while going both ways. The German gunners afterwords said it was one of the bravest and most profesional things they had ever seen, thinking it had all been intentionally planned to throw their gunnery off!

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    1. And if some of those returning B-24s had done a little SEAD with their bombs......

      BTW has anybody ever had a dream of flying an AC-130 around San Antonio in early March of 1836. This is a recurring dream of mine.

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    2. Oh Damn. If only!!! Santa Ana would have to have had a priceless expression on his face if that had happened - at least until the impact of the rounds obliterated him. I wonder how the little cartoon book of Texas history all of us got in early school in the late 50's would depict that?

      On a more somber note, one of the lasting images from all the WWII movies and newsreels I have seen is the one from the Ploesti raid of the Liberator taking the direct hit from AAA in the wing root and the wing folding up and away. All I can think about is the last few minutes the crew had left, and how much we owe them and those like them.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)