The following memories were contributed as part of conversations within the
389thBG Yahoo discussion group.


On 7/31/07, Robert W. Sternfels wrote:

Tomorrow is one memorable day....August 1st, 1943 Ploesti's Low Level Mission....64 years ago..!
Most of the guys like myself were in their early 20's, some even in their late teens.  It all started on a calm Sunday morning, no blowing sand  temperature in the 70s.  Never in our wildest dreams could we project the events of that day and it's lasting effects so many years later.   

It was cool during the warm up of the four engines of my B24 called The Sandman.  Then we were in line for take off.  We knew the 24 was loaded as it's belly almost touched the ground but without a head wind, we used most of the runway for a very slow climb to get to our assigned place in the formation.   
The Pratt Whitney's sounded smooth but with the very heavy load of bombs, gas and crew we nursed the gal up to our place with many other B24s circling  for a long flight to Romania.  The weather in the early morning was perfect which made fitting into formation a bit easier for the long flight.
Upon taking off one guy hit a concrete telephone pole,  we watch the fire being extinguished by ground personnel.....then before reaching the island of Corfu was smoke of burning fuel on the water of the Mediterranean, another B24 crashed.   

At the turn towards Yugoslavia clouds covered the mountains so Col. Killer Kane climbed to 10,000 feet and flew directly through the was Sunday so I was praying the other guys would hold their altitudes and headings....being on the gauges in a loose formation isn't the niceness way to fly.  By the way, Compton's group did the same thing...other reports are not accurate.
Gradually letting down over Bulgaria watching the farmers work the fields and enjoying the views of green fields plus flowing  streams seemed almost like a Sunday drive in the country....but it had a horrible ending.

The first group led by then Col. K.K. Compton who also we  know was doing the navigating at the time with Capt. Red Thompson flying as co-pilot, ordered a turn at a town roughly 50 miles from the briefed IP. In essence Compton had become the navigator for all planes on the mission.! The one group with him,  the 93rd BG, hearing Compton's order to bomb any target they wanted rather than what had been precisely planned by Col. Jake Smart the originator of the Ploesti bombing plan,   led to horrible causalities for others  including the 98th and 44th Bomb Groups.

After being targets like ducks in a shooting gallery when the 98th & 44th made the correct turn at the town of Floresti we encountered a fast moving GUN train that downed many planes, but then another problem..prop wash.
With so many planes on the same level prop wash was so severe that I had my co-pilot  assist me trying to keep the darn thing near level.  At one time we had the wheel turned completely to the stop and on the bottom of the tube holding the wheel read...THIS CONTROL IS UPSIDE DOWN....Really?
Looking ahead we saw flames and smoke rising from our target.....first thought.. German's had smoke pots to cover the refinery but when the flames were higher than we were..something else was wrong.  It was bombed by the 93rd BG by mistake.  Our bombardier dropped the bombs over the flames as he could not see the area he was directed to bomb.  Oil smoke looked very glossy and prevented me from seeing below or above the plane but in a slight break appeared a silver cable directly in my line.
Barrage balloon cable. If it drags on the wing it brings up a bomb...if the cable hits the front of the B24 it will cut through the Plexiglas and kill the two guys in that a slight bank to the left and the cable hit the #3 prop.  Sounded like hundreds of cannon fire but later we learned the cable was cut by the prop and the section was thrown into the fuselage...Only time in my life where the past was being reviewed....I knew it was the end....but turned out to be just another day at the office..

    The Sandman over Ploesti      Sandman over Ploesti


So, August 1st, 1943 is a memorable day for many of us who were assigned a mission so carefully planned, practiced for almost two weeks that ended so tragically for hundred of guys mostly due to a bad bit of navigation but more importantly the error not even attempted to be corrected by the leader. 

New information recently received revealed attitudes and personality probably influenced a bad decision rather than trying to correct the mistake by turning around  to continue on the prescribed course.  Also, the fact that the leader attempted to shift blame by asking the General who was riding with him to start court martial proceedings on the other leader, Col. Killer Kane. 
The General turned down this request by saying that Compton did not follow the bombing plan. This was told directly to me by the late General K.K. Compton when I was researching facts for my book.
In conclusion data from the Romania archives, our own Archives, de-briefing reports, the very low casualty count and photos taken of leader's plane indicate that the first group did not fly over refineries but dropped their bombs in streams and fields.  Only three planes tried to bomb a refinery.   Interviews with the principle key people for my book, Burning Hitler's Black Gold verifies the details of what really happened on the Ploesti Mission and the reasons for the holocaust.

Bob Sternfels, Major USAF



Here is an excerpt from my dad's diary (Stan F Olson, 44th Bomb Group) from July 31-August 2, 1943
It is a confirmation of the description you gave of being over the target. Of course, his estimation of losses was based on what he knew on the evening of August 2nd. Thanks for your anniversary reminder. I especially related to the upside down wheel trying to keep the plane level. All the best.
-Terry Olson (son of Stan)

Yesterday flew with Strong on a practice bombing trip about 60 miles out in the desert.  We bombed wrecked tanks, planes, trucks. Evidently the Armies of the African Campaign passed through there.
Today General Brereton talked to us about tomorrow's mission.  I don't know yet whether I will go with anyone.  It is an important target and no one actually has any idea whether it will be a snap or a rough nut to crack. [I now believe that when Strong took Stan with him out on that practice bombing run on 30 July, that he was testing Stan to see if he would have confidence in him as a co-pilot for the Ploesti raid.  You see here he doesn't even know at this late hour if he will go.  He does end up flying with Strong to Ploesti in "Baldy and his Brood."  See the letter from Strong I have included under August 2, 1943.]

August 1, 1943
Too busy ! !

August 2, 1943
Yesterday we had it!  We flew 2400 miles round-trip to Ploesti , Rumania and back.  One of the most important targets of the war.  We wound our way over the mountains through Albania, Yugoslavia, Rumania and others --- they were hit.
When we neared the I.P. I believe I was scared.  The target area was covered with smoke; flak was bursting and it looked as if all hell was breaking loose.
As we turned on the I.P., Strong gave it power and we overshot Bunker.  However, we moved into attack position in trail of Bunker; I took over.  With Strong handling the throttles, I was busy trying to keep the plane level, out of prop-wash, and hit the target.  Once I swore we had been hit but we went on.  I had the wheel turned upside down once trying to hold a wing up.  Strong even gave right throttle trying to pull it up.  Had trouble keeping the ship straight because of Nos. 1 & 2 having more rpms, but adjusted them.
Just as we dropped our bombs (we barely had time before having to turn off), one ship went into a vertical climb, then quivering, rared back head first into the ground, bursting into flame.  Two men bailed out, one jumped out without a chute.  It was Houston's ship; he incidentally had finished his missions. [All in Houston's ship were KIA, in spite of Stan having seen parachutes.]

Sixty airplanes are unaccounted for. So far we have 14 missing.