B-24 Liberator “the Sandman” Emerging From Smoke During Raid On Ploesti Oil Field in Romania
PLOESTI OIL FIELD IN RUMANIA SUPPLIED IMMENSE AMOUNTS OF PETROLEUM TO WEHRMACHT
Outside of Berlin itself, this was the most heavily defended German military location
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. The photo was taken by Jerry J. Joswick, the only survivor of the 16 cameramen who flew on 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 and doing this in standard formation.
Coming in at low altitude was the key tactical element in the plan of attack
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).
USAAF Suffered Terrible Losses
The USAAF suffered terrible losses. Of the 177 B-24s on the raid, 53 were lost, most on the raid, some of which crashed and a handful interned in neutral Turkey. Official US Air Force casualty figures are as follows: 310 aircrewmen 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.
Ploesti Recovered Quickly
The overall loss in oil production from the nine refineries which made up the complex did not achieve what the mission planners had hoped. Within weeks the Germans repaired the damage restored production. Ploesti had the ability to recover rapidly. The largest and most important target, Astro Romana, was back to full production within a few months…”
Official Mission Report Missing From US National Archives
“The Mission Report from August 1, 1943 attack on the oil fields in Ploesti, Romania, code word “Tidal Wave,” is missing from the Army Air Corps 44th Bomb Group Mission Report.” Someone didn’t want the full details of this disaster to be known.
24 high altitude bombing missions eventually destroyed the oil fields at Ploesti in Rumania but never put the refineries completely out of business.
Source: Fact sheet on low-level bombing of Ploesti August 1943, US Air Force Historical Office. You can find the entire fact sheet here: