B-24 Liberator “the Sandman” Emerging From Smoke During Ploesti Raid

 

The_Sandman_a_B-24_Liberator,_piloted_by_Robert_Sternfels

Aug. 1, 1943. The Sandman,  a US Army Air Force B-24 Liberator from the 98th Bomb Group of the 9th Air Force, piloted by Major Robert Sternfels, shown emerging from a cloud of smoke as it barely clears the stacks of the Astra Romana refinery during the disastrous American raid on the Romania oil fields at Ploesti. (caption and photo courtesy of the National Museum of the US Air Force. Photo taken by Jerry J. Joswick, the only survivor of the 16 cameramen of the operation)

 

Unfortunately, Not the Most Successful Action of the War

Since US Army Air Force doctrine stipulated high-altitude precision bombing, pilots had little experience in low level missions. And this was a low level mission.  Several months prior to the attack, aircrews and aircraft were sent to Libya and trained day after day in flying fifty feet off the ground or lower while in formation.

Coming in at low altitude was the key tactical element in the plan of attack on the refineries and associated facilities at the oil fields in Ploesti, Romania. These oil fields were Nazi Germany’s main source of oil, supplying almost 40% of the total. As such, Ploesti was the most heavily defended target against air attack in the entire Nazi empire. (Romania was a staunch ally of Nazi Germany).

The USAAF suffered terrible losses. Of the 177 B-24s on the raid, 53 were lost, most on the raid, some which crashed and a handful interned in neutral Turkey. Official US Air Force casualty figures are as follows:  310 air crewmen were killed, 108 were captured by the Axis, and 78 were interned in Turkey.

 

Despite the extreme heroism of the airmen and their determination to press the mission home, the results… were less than expected…. the attack temporarily eliminated about 3,925,000 tons (of petroleum production), roughly 46 percent of total annual production at Ploesti.

Unfortunately…these losses were temporary and 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…”

 

Source: Fact sheet on low level bombing of Ploesti August 1943, US Air Force Historical Office. You can find the entire fact sheet here:

http://www.afhso.af.mil/topics/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=17993

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/