August 1, 1943:   OPERATION TIDAL WAVE


93rd BG low flyover
During the summer of 1943 the 93rd, 44th, and 389th Bomb Groups of the 8th Air Force joined the 376th and the 98th Bomb Groups of the 9th Air Force on bases around Benghazi, Libya. These five bomb groups trained in the African desert to fly and hit targets at very low altitude.

Benghazi desert

Some of the practice was great fun for the pilots. They knocked down tents and forced Arabs off their camels.
There was a lot of speculation about the purpose of the low level flight training but security was tight.

Eventually they were told the purpose was to avoid radar detection for one very long mission.
The target was to be 18 square miles of German-controlled oil refineries located in the area of Ploesti, Romania.
It was to be a daylight low-altitude bombing run using delayed fuse bombs.
Each B-24 was heavily loaded with ammunition, bombs, and fuel as well as incendiary bombs to drop on the target.
The mission was 2400 miles round trip requiring the planes to stay airborne over 13 1/2 hours.
The refineries were intensely defended by many large anti-aircraft batteries.
Operation "Tidal Wave", as it was called, was an extremely dangerous mission.

Major General Lewis Brereton was credited with being the brain - or, in the estimation of some, the culprit behind the daring raid. His assessment during a final briefing was: "We expect our losses to be 50 per cent, but even if we lose everything we've sent but hit the target, it will be worth it."

The low altitude raid on Ploesti earned the name Black Sunday.  The groups became separated by bad weather over the Romanian Alps.  The synchronized timing of the raid was ruined and the element of surprise was lost. 

Between confused navigation, faulty bombs, and bad timing many bomber crews found themselves flying into total chaos over the target.  At one point during the raid, B-24s were flying over one target area from 3 different directions.  Observers on the ground said it was the greatest exhibition of flying skill they had ever seen.  They thought it was planned that way.
Many aircraft were flying so low that they had to raise up to go over the power lines.
Waist gunner, Don Pierce, recalled shooting up at anti-aircraft emplacements on the tops of buildings.

Amid the confusion, the 44th Bomb Group encountered heavy losses when, flying in low on their assigned target, they found that it had already been bombed by another group.
The refineries and oil tanks were already burning and exploding beneath them.
In the case of all the groups at all the assigned targets, the element of surprise had been lost. 88mm anti-aircraft guns had been alerted. Some planes were hit miles before they reached the target and, streaming gasoline from their tanks, continued to carry their bombs to the drop zone.
Airplanes disappeared into the black smoke and never came out.  
The photo below was taken from the tail gun turret of the 44th BG's "Suzy Q" as it was leaving the target. Suzy Q's altitude above ground level was approximately 200 ft. Aircraft of the following second wave can be dimly seen in the smoke clearing over the target area.


" of the most reliable of these reports was that submitted by the Turkish minister in Bucharest to the Turkish Foreign Minister and transmitted to the United States Ambassador to Turkey in strictest confidence...
...According to the report, governmental and refinery officials were "stupefied" by the precision of execution of the attack which was described as "superb," especially because of having scarcely touched the city of Ploesti. One high Rumanian official is quoted as remarking that "the Americans delivered their bombs on the refineries as precisely as a postman delivers his letters and the accuracy was beyond belief."

Exerpt from the declassified military study of the Tidal Wave mission
U.S. Air Force Historical Study No. 103

The raid on the Romanian oil fields was officially considered a success.
As a result of this Ploesti raid, the Nazi army suffered a 30% reduction in their supply of oil.  Germany was capable of making synthetic lubricating oil, but they needed the refineries to produce fuel for their tanks and aircraft.
Although the results were temporary, the Allied Forces bought valuable time to strengthen the war effort.

Within a year, some of the refineries were once again operating at almost 90% capacity. The15th Air Force was given the assignment to destroy Ploesti and it took them 22 missions of high altitude bombardment to get the job done.

On "Black Sunday", the "novice" 389th Bomb Group was effective against its assigned target. The 389th made one of the two as-planned attacks of the day. The Steaua Romana refinery was completely destroyed and did not resume production until the end of the decade.

"Colonel Wood's force, much the least experienced of the five participating groups, succeeded in reaching the target area with all the aircraft that had been dispatched. Of the four groups which actually attacked selected targets, its losses were lightest, and it completely destroyed its target...
A lieutenant of the 389th Group, two days after the mission, wrote of it as follows:

That was our first low-altitude mission....
We came in wide open at house top level with all guns firing...after the bombs were away, we went lower and flew for 40 munites. In the fields and villages that we passed over people just stood in the streets and villages and waved. Very vew people ran for cover.
High altitude bombing is much better. At one hundred feet you see too damn much and besides being hard on your scares hell out of you. We were in the air 14 hours."

Exerpt from the declassified military study of the Tidal Wave mission
U.S. Air Force Historical Study No. 103

Casualties, however, were heavy.
The 389th had to fly farther to their target than the other groups. The Germans had time to call in fighter squadrons as well as man the AA batteries.
From the waist window in Ole Irish, Don Pierce watched as an aircraft beside him flew to the target streaming high octane aviation fuel out of the bomb bay and the left wing tank. After bomb release the flaming plane, piloted by Lt. Hughes, crashed into the target area.

Ole Irish, piloted by Lt. Frank McLaughlin, had one engine knocked out. The crew of "Old Blister Butt" saw her limping away from the target area and escorted her as far as the Mediteranean coast. Lt. McLaughlin gave his crew the opportunity to give their opinions on whether they should try to return to base or head for Turkey.  The crew opted for the Banghazi base.  They unbolted guns and threw overboard whatever they could to lighten the load.  She carried her brave crew the entire distance across the Mediterranean sea back to Benghazi on three engines.
Don Pierce recalled: "All the while we were just thinking about that shot of whiskey they'd give us when we got back. When we got to the coast of Libya, we landed at the first airstrip we came to. Then when we were taxiing from the runway, the other (outboard) engine quit."

Of the 179 B-24s that took off from Benghazi, 41 aircraft and crew were lost.
56 did not return and of those that did, less than 40 were still airworthy.

More about Operation Tidal Wave

Recommended Reading:
  • The Ploesti Raid: Through the Lens   by Roger Freeman (RZM Imports)
  • Ploesti: The Great Ground-Air Battle of August 1, 1943   by James Dugan & Cal Stewart
  • Black Sunday: Ploesti   by Michael Hill
  • Burning Hitler's Black Gold   by Bob Sternfels
  • Bomber Pilot   by Phil Ardery
  • Maternity Ward   by Marguerite Arnowitz
  • Low Level Mission   by Leon Wolff 

A B-24D operating from an airbase in the Libyan desert -
This bomber is returning from the raid on Ploesti

You can participate in an online discussion group dedicated to this history at


in this site
Ralph Lipper B-24 Liberator Don Pierce
Flying 8-balls Mighty 8th AF Sky Scorpions
random photos-a the air crews 389th BG aircraft
random photos-b Ploesti, Romania Ole Irish
lifestyle hazards Aviator's diary waist gunner
sources / books / links U.S. before the war 389th BG stories
this site home page contact 389th BG web site