Tag Archives: Mediterranean Sea

1 August 1943

Consolidated B-24D-55-CO Liberator 42-40402, "The Sandman," takes off for Ploesti, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Consolidated B-24D-55-CO Liberator 42-40402, “The Sandman,” ready for take off at its base in Libya—destination Ploesti, Romania—1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

1 August 1943: Operation TIDALWAVE. 178 B-24 Liberator very long range heavy bombers bombers of the 8th and 9th Air Forces, with 1,751 crewmen, made an extreme low-level attack on the Axis oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania.

The mission was a disaster: 53 B-24s were lost, 310 crewmen killed in action, 108 captured, and 78 interred in neutral countries. The damaged refineries were repaired within weeks and their output was higher than before the attack.

Five Medals of Honor were awarded, three posthumously, the most for any single air action in history.

The following is from an official U.S. Air Force publication:

U.S. Air Force Fact Sheet

OPERATION TIDALWAVE, THE LOW-LEVEL BOMBING OF THE PLOESTI OIL REFINERIES, 1 AUGUST 1943

Prior to World War II, the U.S. Army Air Corps (Army Air Forces as of June 20, 1941) developed a doctrine of high-altitude, precision, daylight, massed bombing of selected enemy military and industrial targets. Combined with the Royal Air Force’s concentration on mass air attacks on industrial areas at night by 1943, this doctrine evolved into the Combined Bomber Offense featuring “around-the-clock” bombing of German targets.

Petroleum production and distribution systems were among the highest priority targets, and perhaps the most inviting of these was the concentration of oil refineries at Ploesti, Rumania, which according to Allied intelligence estimates, produced as much as one third of Germany’s liquid fuel requirements. One of the most heavily defended targets in Europe, Ploesti lay outside the range of Allied bombers from England but could be reached by Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers from the Middle East or North Africa.

Colonel Jacob E. Smart, left, with Lieutenant General Henry H. ("Hap") Arnold, in China, February 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Jacob E. Smart, left, with Lieutenant General Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, in China, February 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Allied leaders determined to bomb Ploesti during the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 and Gen. Henry H.” Hap’ Arnold delegated the problem to Col. Jacob Smart of his Advisory Council. Smart, the principle architect and planner for Operation TIDALWAVE, proposed, in complete antithesis of USAAF bombing policy, a low-level massed raid on the nine most important Ploesti refineries by five B-24 bomb groups, two from North Africa and three borrowed from Eighth Air Force in England .

By July 1943, the five groups—the 44th, 93rd, and 389th Bombardment Groups from England had joined the 98th and 376th Bombardment Groups at Benghazi, Libya, where they made final preparations and conducted additional low-level training under the direction of Ninth Air Force.

Operation TIDALWAVE. (U.S. Air Force)
Operation TIDALWAVE. (U.S. Air Force)
Consolidated B-24D-155-CO Liberator 42-72772 and flight cross the Mediterranean Sea at very low level, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Consolidated B-24D-155-CO Liberator 42-72772 and flight cross the Mediterranean Sea at very low level, 1 August 1943. A gunner stands in the waist position. The bomber’s belly turret is retracted. (U.S. Air Force)

Commanded by Brig. Gen. Uzal G. Ent, the force of 178 B-24s took off on the morning of 1 August, followed a route across the Mediterranean, passed the island of Corfu, crossed the Pindus Mountains into Rumania, and approached Ploesti from the east. While over the Mediterranean the formation divided into two parts: the first led by Col. Keith K. (K.K.) Compton commander of the 376th, consisted of the 376th and 93rd Bomb Groups; the second led by Col. John R. (Killer) Kane, commander of the 98th, included the 98th, 44th, and 389th Bomb Groups. Mandated radio silence prevented the leaders from reassembling the formation. The goal of a single, mass attack disappeared.

Consolidated B-24D Liberator very long range heavy bombers attack the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Consolidated B-24D Liberator very long range heavy bombers attack the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Compton’s formation reached Rumania well ahead of Kane’s. It descended to low level and, in error, made its planned turn to the south at Targoviste, miles short of the correct Identification Point (IP). Compton led two bomb groups toward Bucharest. Col. Addison L. Baker, commanding the 93rd Bomb Group following Compton, saw Ploesti to his left, turned his group and led it into the target first. Meantime, Compton found that he was heading to Bucharest and turned, almost reversing course, and bombed Ploesti from the south.

As the two groups emerged from Ploesti and escaped to the south, the 98th and 44th Bomb Groups led by Kane plunged into Ploesti where they found many of their targets in flames. They sought alternate targets of opportunity. Far to the north, the 389th Bomb Group successfully bombed its target, a separate refinery at Campina, as planned.

In one of the most famous photographs of World War II, Consolidated B-24D-55-CO Liberator 42-40402, The Sandman, i sover Targer White IV, the Astra Romana refinery, Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
In one of the most famous photographs of World War II, Consolidated B-24D-55-CO Liberator 42-40402, “The Sandman,” is over Target White IV, the Astra Română Refinery, Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Survivors of the attack fled south alone or in small groups trailed by Axis fighters which took a toll of the weakened force. Bombers crashed in fields or disappeared into the water; some diverted to Allied bases in the region; others sought sanctuary in neutral Turkey. Some 88 B-24s, most badly damaged, managed to return to Benghazi. Personnel losses included 310 airmen killed, 108 captured, and 78 interned in Turkey. Five officers: Kane, Baker, Col. Leon W. Johnson, Maj. John L. Jerstad, and 2nd Lt. Lloyd H. Hughes, earned the Medal of Honor; Baker, Jerstad, and Hughes posthumously.

Consolidated B-24D-55-CO Liberator 42-40402, The Sandman, clears the triple stacks at Astra Romana, Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Consolidated B-24D-55-CO Liberator 42-40402, “The Sandman,” clears the triple stacks at the Astra Română Refinery, Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Despite the extreme heroism of the airmen and their determination to press the mission home, the results of Operation TIDAL WAVE were less than expected. TIDALWAVE targeted nine major refineries that produced some 8,595,000 tons of oil annually, about 90 percent of all Rumanian oil production, and the attack temporarily eliminated about 3,925,000 tons, roughly 46 percent of total annual production at Ploesti. Three refineries lost 100 percent of production. Unfortunately, these losses figures were temporary and reflected much less than the planners had hoped for. The Germans proved capable of repairing damage and restoring production quickly, and they had been operating the refineries at less than full capacity, anyway. Ploesti thus had the ability to recover rapidly. The largest and most important target, Astro Romana, was back to full production within a few months while Concordia Vega was operating at 100 percent by mid-September.

The U.S. Army Air Forces never again attempted a low level mission against German air defenses.

Dr. Roger Miller, Historian, AFHSO.

Air Force Historical Studies Office Joint Base Anacostia Bolling, DC.

U.S. Army Air Forces B-24 bombers clearing a target at Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
U.S. Army Air Forces B-24 bombers clearing a target at Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

23 September 1913

Roland Garros' Morane-Saulnier G monoplane.
Roland Garros’ Morane-Saulnier G monoplane.

23 September 1913: Pioneering aviator Eugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros (6 October 1888–5 October 1918) was the first pilot to fly across the Mediterranean Sea.

At 5:47 a.m., he departed Fréjus, Côte d’Azur, France, in a Morane-Saulnier G and flew to Bizerte, Tunisia, 470 miles (756 kilometers) to the south-southeast. He arrived at 1:40 p.m., having been airborne 7 hours, 53 minutes.

PR 90364 ©musée de l’Air et de l’espace – Le Bourget
PR 90364 © musée de l’Air et de l’espace – Le Bourget

Reportedly, the airplane carried sufficient fuel for just 8 hours of flight. According to a contemporary report, only 5 liters (1.32 U.S. gallons) of fuel remained when he landed.

Roland Garros’ flight. (Lycée Roland Garros)

Garros flew on to Kassar Said Aerodrome the following day. His airplane was then dismantled and shipped back to France.

On 15 October 1913, Roland Garros was appointed Chevalier de la légion d’honneur.

Roland G. Garros standing in the cockpit of his Morane-Saulnier G at Bizerte, Tunisia, 23 September 1913. (Sheila Terry/Science Source)

The Aéroplanes Morane-Saulnier Type G was a two-place, single-engine monoplane, which had first flown in 1912. The airplane used wing-warping for roll control. It’s landing gear consisted of two wheels and a tail skid. The wooden framework was primarily ash and was covered in fabric. The airplane was 21 feet, 6 inches (6.553 meters) long with a wingspan of 30 feet, 6 inches (9.296 meters). The wing had a chord of 6 feet, 0 inches (1.829 meters), no dihedral, and the wingtips were swept. The airplane had an empty weight of 680 pounds ( 308 kilograms) and a maximum weight of 1,166 pounds (529 kilograms).

The pilot’s instrument panel had a revolution indicator (tachometer), a barograph, and a compass.

—FLIGHT, No. 230 (No. 21, Vol. V., 24 May 1913 at Page 562
—FLIGHT, No. 230, No. 21, Vol. V., 24 May 1913 at Page 562

The Morane-Saulnier G was powered by an air-cooled 11.835 liter (722.22 cubic inches) Société des Moteurs Gnome Lamda seven-cylinder rotary engine with a single Bosch magneto, with a nominal rating of 80 horsepower (one source indicates that the engine actually produced 67.5 horsepower at 1,250 r.p.m.), and driving a laminated walnut Chauvière Hélice Intégrale fixed-pitch propeller which had a diameter of 7 feet, 10 inches (2.570meters).

The airplane had a 14 gallon ¹ (63.65 liters) main fuel tank near the engine, and a second 8 gallon (36.37 liters) tank in the cockpit. Fuel had to be transferred forward by using a hand-operated pump. A 5 gallon (22.73 liters) tank for lubricating oil was adjacent to the main fuel tank.

Garros’ airplane maintained an average speed of 59.5 miles per hour (96 kilometers per hour) for this flight. The Morane-Saulnier G had a maximum speed of 76 miles per hour (122 kilometers per hour).

The Morane-Saulnier G was produced under license by Grahame-White Aviation Company, Hendon Aerodrome, London, England, and by Dux at Moscow, Russia. More than 150 Type Gs were built.

Roland Garros was born 6 October 1988 at Saint-Denis, Réunion (an island in the Indian Ocean). He was the son of Antoine Georges Garros and Maria Clara Emma Faure Garros. Garros was a racer and test pilot who had set many aviation records, including a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Altitude Record of 5,610 meters (18,406 feet), set 11 September 1912 at Saint-Brieuc, France. ²

Roland Garros
Sergent Roland Garros, l’escadrille 23, Aéronautique Militaire (Collection Ronan Furic)

Garros flew in World War I as a fighter pilot for France and shot down a total four enemy airplanes. Garros’ airplane went down behind enemy lines and he was captured, 18 April 1915. He escaped nearly three years later and returned to France. For his military service, he was promoted to Officier de la Légion d’honneur, 6 March 1917. He was also awarded the Croix de Guerre.

Lieutenant d’infantrie Eugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros, Officier de la Légion d’honneur, Aéronautique Militaire, flying a SPAD S.XIII C.1, Nº. 15403, was shot down by the German ace, Leutnant Hermann Habich, near Vouziers, France, 5 October 1918. He was killed one day before his 30th birthday.

Stade Roland Garros in Paris, the tennis stadium where the French Open is held, was named in honor the pioneering aviator.

Garros in Tunisia, 1913. (The New York Times/Agence France-Presse—Getty Images)

¹ Fuel and oil capacities from a British publication, so quantities are presumably Imperial gallons.

² FAI Record File Number 15888

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather