B-24 Liberator “the Sandman” Emerging From Smoke During raid On Ploesti Oil Field in Romania; THEN ALLIED TO NAZI GERMANY.
THIS FIELD SUPPLIED IMMENSE AMOUNTS OF PETROLEUM PRODUCTS TO WEHRMACHT
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 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 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.
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:
A Mosquito of the Banff Strike Wing in action in the Kattegat on 5 April 1945.
A Mosquito of the Banff Strike Wing in action in the Kattegat on 5 April 1945. There the Mosquitos discovered a convoy of seven ships evacuating Germans troops back to the Fatherland. In the ensuing attack a flak ship and a trawler were sunk, but one No 235 Squadron Mosquito struck a mast and spun into the sea, killing its crew. Losses among the embarked German troops were heavy. (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)
RAF Coastal Command was known as the “Cinderella Service” since they received nothing but hand me down aircraft from Bomber Command and anyone else they could find to scrouge aircraft. The planes pictured above are Lockheed Hudson’s orignally built for the Royal Air Force.
While useful, the planes were slow, 246 mph or 397 km/h, and range limited, 1,960 miles or 3,150 km. Keep in mind these specifications are for a properly maintained aircraft operating under good conditions. In operational service, I presume they were marked down for a range of 1600 miles. That would be 800 miles out over the ocean and 800 miles back. Even then, in bad weather, that would be pushing it.
Communications were problematic. Given the crewman isn’t on oxygen and is wearing a short sleeve shirt, the plane must be flying low and it must be summer.
In the first years of the war the main task of Coastal Command was maritime patrol and reconnasiance of the seas surrounding Great Britain. This task included attacking U-Boats, protecting Channel convoys, protecting Atlantic convoys, and occasional search and rescue.
The demands placed on Coastal Command were far beyond its capabilities as the pilots lacked training and the entire command suffered from a lack of aircraft and ground support. Finally, Coastal Command was placed under the tactical command of the Royal Navy in late 1940 and slow improvement began. But it took a long time.
One of the mainstays of Coastal Command in the early years was the Short Sunderland flying boat. (The plane was built by Short Brothers, Ltd. ‘Short’ is not a reference to the size of the plane)
The pilots and air crew performed a monotonous mission well. There were many crews who flew thousands of hours of reconnaisance patrols and never saw anything during the entire war. The ocean is a big place.
From the website historyofwar.org: “The Leigh Light was developed to solve a problem with anti-submarine radar during the Second World War. By 1941 the British had developed radar systems capable of detecting a surfaced U-boat, but interference from the surface of the sea meant that the radar signal would be lost during the final attack run.
The solution to this problem was to fit a bright light to the attacking aircraft. [A design] … by Squadron Leader Humphrey de Verd Leigh, used a controllable spotlight suspended below the belly of the aircraft….”
The blinding white Leigh light was often the last thing a UBoat kommandant saw before depth charges were dropped on top of him.
Famous Swedish Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft gun used by all sides in World War Two. (Once war came countries which could not get them directly from Sweden manufactured them under license. The gun above is being manned by British troops).
Domestically produced British anti-aircraft manufactured from British designs lacked the effectiveness and versatility of the Bofors 40mm.
A group of Finnish soldiers operating a Bofors gun during the Continuation War, Suulajärvi