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Airmen Honor Ploesti Raiders
by USAF Master Sgt. Jeff Walston - October 31, 2011

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BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. (AFNS - 10/27/2011) -- Airmen had the opportunity to mingle with nearly 30 World War II veterans here Oct. 17-21 during the 98th Bomb Group Reunion.

Ken Scroggins signs a photo of the Ploesti Raids Oct. 21, 2011, in the Barksdale Club ballroom at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., during the 98th Bomb Group Reunion. Airmen had the opportunity to sit down with a few of the Ploesti Raiders and hear about their experiences during the Ploesti raids and even some prisoner-of-war stories. Scroggins was a B-24 Liberator engineer and gunner assigned to the 344th Squadron in 1943. U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jeff Walston
Ken Scroggins signs a photo of the Ploesti Raids Oct. 21, 2011, in the Barksdale Club ballroom at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., during the 98th Bomb Group Reunion. Airmen had the opportunity to sit down with a few of the Ploesti Raiders and hear about their experiences during the Ploesti raids and even some prisoner-of-war stories. Scroggins was a B-24 Liberator engineer and gunner assigned to the 344th Squadron in 1943. U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jeff Walston
 Members of the 98th BG Veterans Association hosted the famed Ploesti Raiders to highlight the achievements of the bomb group during World War II for their day-time raids against the oil refineries around Ploesti, Romania.

Retired Col. Bill Seals, who is the current president of the 98th BGA, opened the gathering with a slideshow detailing the non-classified aspects of Operation Tidal Wave. He described the challenges of the mission, mistakes that were made during the chaos and the final results.

As dawn approached Aug. 1, 1943, aircrew, maintenance and munitions personnel prepared their bombers on the airfields of Benghazi, Libya, he said. They were all unaware how writers of history would bookmark their efforts during Operation Tidal Wave, but, that day, which the Air Force War College describes as "one of the bloodiest and most heroic missions of all time," would forever be known as "Black
Sunday."

The original plan, he said, was to send 177 B-24 Liberator bombers, the greatest air armada ever assembled, on a gutsy, low-level mass attack against 18-square miles of German held assets in and around Ploesti, Romania, to destroy Adolf Hitler's oil reserves. Aircraft were drawn from a total of five different bomb groups, the 98th and 376th from North Africa, the 93rd and 44th from the 8th Air Force, and the 389th that was diverted from the United Kingdom.

He said, if all went as planned, at least 155 would make it to the target. If they completed their mission, the bombers would travel a total distance of 2,100 miles, and return to the base in Benghazi. The area around Ploesti, which contained eight major oil refineries, was targeted because it supplied the German war machine with more than 60 percent of its crude oil supply, including 90- octane aviation fuel, the highest quality in Europe at that time.

But, it wasn't going to be a surprise attack, explained. Ploesti was the most heavily defended city in all of Europe, and the Germans knew the American Airmen were coming. The B-24 pilots would have to fly at tree-top level if they had any hope of surviving the German guns. The results of the raid were not exactly what American and Allied forces were hoping for. Only 40 percent of the Ploesti refinery capacity was knocked out, and three refineries were not even touched. Full refining capacity was recovered within months.

The U.S. Army Air Force losses on the Ploesti raid that day were devastating, Seals said. In all, 54 planes were lost, 41 of those in combat. Ninety-three planes returned to Benghazi, where 19 landed at other Allied fields, seven landed in Turkey, and three crashed at sea. There were 532 men killed, captured, missing or interned. Every man who flew on the Ploesti mission was decorated. Five Medals of Honor were awarded for the Ploesti mission, three posthumously. This was more than any other day in American warfare.

Airmen had the opportunity to sit down with a few of the Ploesti Raiders at the Barksdale Officers Club and hear about their experiences during the raids and even some prisoner of war stories. There was also memorabilia on display, which included Col. John Kane's and 2nd Lt. Lloyd Hughes' Medals of Honor. 

By USAF Master Sgt. Jeff Walston
307th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Air Force News Service
Copyright 2011

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