Captain John S. Young copilot of the 'Hail Columbia' with Col. John R. Kane on the mission to bomb Ploesti, August 1, 1943
B-24 Liberator #41-11768 'Kickapoo' of 344th BS, 98th BG, 9th AF. Crashed shortly after take-off for the August 1, 1943 low level Ploesti, Romania mission, initially due to loss of No 4 engine. 8 KIA , including pilots, Lt. Robert J. Nespor and Lt. John C. Riley / 2 WIA.
B-24D Approaches White IV, the Astra Romano Refinery at Ploesti, Romania, Sunday Aug 1, 1943
B-24D On fire and going down over Ploesti, Rumania, August 1, 1943
B-24D 'Utah Man' with pilot Col. Walter Stewart, deputy lead pilot for the 93rd Bomb Group.
B-24D 'Kickapoo' crash Lete Airfield - Aug 1, 1943 - killing pilots, Lt. Robert Nespor and Lt. John C. Riley - #4 engine failure - 8 KIA / 2 WIA
'Hadley's Harem' was First Lieutenant Gilbert "Gib" Hadley, the well liked young pilot in the 344th bomb Squadron of the 98th Bomb Group, and 9th Air Force.
Capt. John S. Young at the Consolidated Factory, Fort Worth, Texas, 1945
Capt. John S. Young on War Bond Tour 1945
B-24D 'Hail Columbia' After Crash Landing at Nicosia, Cyprus - Aug 1, 1943 - Lt. Korger - Lt. Whalen and crew the next morning
Lieutenant John S. Young from Dallas, Texas, called "Big John" or "Johnny" by his friends and crewmen, was a B-24D Liberator bomber pilot with the 9th Air Force, 98th Bomb Group and the 344th Bombing Squadron, based at Cairo, Egypt, Tobruk, and Benghazi, Libya, in the Mediterranean theatre 1942-3.
He flew on Operation Tidal Wave to destroy Hitler's oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania in 1943. He was assigned to fly with Group Commander Col. John R. (Killer) Kane in the 98th Bombing Group's lead aircraft, 'Hail Columbia'. The 98th and all of their element's groups' planes successfully attacked and bombed their targets at Ploesti, including the Astra Romano oil refinery, code named, White IV, Target Red at Campina, and also White V, the Columbia Aquila refinery.
Before that mission, John Young's regular aircraft was the B-24D # 41-11768 - 'KICKAPOO', which he named after the magical liquor, "Kickapoo Joy Juice" from Al Capp's "Li'l Abner" cartoon. From the time the 98th Bomb Group arrived in North Africa, in July, 1942 to August, 1943, it was assigned to and supported the British Eighth Army in it's westward advance across the North African desert to defeat and drive the German army out of Africa, from Egypt into Libya and Tunisia. The 98th Bombing Group bombed German army land targets, troops, tanks, and trucks in the North African desert, shipping in the Mediterranean Sea, harbor installations, enemy ports, and port facilities in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Crete, and Greece, in order to cut enemy supply lines to Africa, and to prepare for the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy. Flying for the British, the 98th's B-24Ds flew out in small groups, unescorted, and were often attacked and shot down by Italian and German fighters. Casualties were heavy.
On one of his early missions, while he was still based in the U.S. in Louisiana, Young bombed and sank a German submarine he caught on the water's surface in the Gulf of Mexico. Later, after deploying to North Africa with the 98th Bomb Group, while flying over an Italian harbor he felt his bombardier, who hated the Italians with a vengeance, toggle two bombs into an Italian hospital ship with red crosses on it, as he flew over it. Young knew that ship was off limits, and had been warned not to bomb it. He fully expected to be court martialed when he returned to Benghazi. However, several days later, when he was asked about the bombing and told intelligence what happened, they told him that the ship had been running arms and supplies to the Germans. So, instead of being reprimanded, he and his crew were commended for the sinking ! On April 3, 1943, on a bombing mission over Crete, Young had to drop out of his formation of B-24s after one of his engines failed and was attacked by eight enemy ME-109 fighters. Young and his crew fought the Germans in a running air battle, eight against one, using a descending defensive spiraling corkscrew maneuver down to the Mediterranean water's surface trying to rob the fighters of their vertical plane of attack. Once reaching low altitude just above the water's surface, Lt. Young turned back toward Crete with the German fighters in trail making gunnery runs on his crippled B-24. Young would not let his crewmen salute him or call him by anything but his first name or the nicknames they gave him. So, as the German fighters would close in, his gunners would call out to him over the intercom, "Johnny, break left!" or "Break right, Big John, two at three o'clock!" so he could time and make steep turns into the approaching fighters just above the water's surface so the gunners could get passing shots at the enemy fighters as they overshot and flew past the tighter turning American bomber. These tactics worked well enough for the ten or fifteen minutes of the fight, for Young's gunners to shoot down two of the attacking fighters and damage two others before the German pilots ran low on fuel or decided they had had enough and disengaged. Approaching the island of Crete, Young's shot up B-24 made it just close enough to shore for him to ditch in the shallow water just off the beach. He and his crew were all able to escape from their plane in the shallow water and swam to shore, where they were captured by Turkish soldiers and later released back to the British and returned to Benghazi. For this action, Young was awarded the Silver Star, and his crew were all awarded Distinguished Flying Cross medals. But they were all just happy to be unhurt and alive.
By the time the big mission to bomb Ploesti was announced later in 1943, Lt. Young and his crew had already fought in and survived 27 combat missions and had over 300 combat hours logged, more missions than the Army Air Force's 25 mission total requirement to earn a trip home. But the destruction of the oil refineries at Ploesti had become viewed as so critical to the war effort that Young and his crew were held over by Col. John Kane, along with many other pilots and crewmen in the 98th Bomb Group, and others, as well, who were badly needed to fly the mission. John Young was also invited by Col. John R. Kane to participate in the planning and training for the mission, and Young and his crew were assigned twice to fly their B-24 all the way north to England to ferry military and government VIPs back to North Africa for the preparation of the huge mission. Young figured out after his second ferry flight, that the top secret individual he had transported back to Benghazi was Winston Churchill. He had suspected as much before it was confirmed, that it was Churchill, because the back of his B-24 stunk of cigar smoke after they got back to Benghazi. Churchhill wrote in his biography how he nearly froze to death in the subzero temperatures in the back of Young's B-24 at the high altitudes they had to fly, over Europe and back to Libya.
Last minute staffing changes before the mission caused Col. Kane to replace the first copilot assigned to him for the mission, Mission Commander General Uzal Ent, well known as a dangerously incompetent pilot. So, subsequently, after Ent was reassigned to the 376th's Col. Keith Compton's plane, 'Teggie Ann', and Col. Kane chose Lt. John Young, to fly as his copilot in Kane's chosen B-24D, 'Hail Columbia', now designated the 98th Bombing Group's element lead bomber for the mission. This reassignment proved quite fortunate for 'KICKAPOO's former command pilot, John Young, and his crew because Col. Kane also reassigned all of them, including, 1st Lt. Norman Whalen, Young's navigator, Second Lt. Harry Korger, his bombardier, and the rest of Kickapoo's crew to fly with him in 'Hail Columbia' on the Ploesti mission, including Staff Sergeant Neville C. Benson, waist gunner, First Lieutenant Raymond B. Hubbard, radioman, Sergeant Joseph W. LaBranche, gunner, Technical Sergeant Frederick A. Leard, waist Gunner, Sergeant William Leo, gunner, Staff Sergeant Harvey L. Treace, gunner, Technical Sergeant, Fred Weckessler, flight engineer/top turret gunner, all of whom were seasoned and exceptionally talented airmen. Young often said after the war that he was the designated command pilot of 'Hail Columbia' on the Ploesti mission, by Col. Kane, and that Kane was his copilot. Apparently, Col. Kane had designated Young to start and finish the mission in the left seat as 'Hail Columbia''s command pilot during the mission's takeoff and on most of the long flight to and back from Ploesti. Then, sometime, just as they approached Ploesti, Col. Kane switched seats with his copilot so he could take command of 'Hail Columbia', and the two extra fixed forward firing .50 cal machine guns installed in 'Hail Columbia's nose, to be fresh for flying, commanding, and leading the two bombing groups following him on the final run into their bombing runs.
As planning and training for the Ploesti mission progressed, and the day of the mission approached, the morale in the 8th and 9th Air Forces was deteriorating. The mood of the men in the 98th was especially becoming more and more grim. They had gradually learned from intelligence just how deadly the ground defenses around Ploesti really were, that Ploesti was the second or third most heavily defended enemy city in Eastern Europe. They learned what the specific defensive horrors at Ploesti were: high concrete flak towers, thousands of hidden flak guns, and barrage balloons, around the city with hanging cables and explosive charges designed to cut the American bombers to pieces or blow them up. They knew there were 250 first class German and Romanian fighter pilots and planes assigned and waiting to defend the city. They already knew that their B-24 bombers were flying fire traps, and they knew they would be flying without any fighter support and bombing at very low level, down as low as 20 feet. So they knew that getting hit by flak at low level would effectively rule out any hope of escaping their airplanes if they caught fire before they hit the ground. The men were sick with dysentery and other desert diseases. They were fatigued and war weary after months of constant combat missions. For over a year, they had been strafing and bombing the Italians and Germans over land and sea. They had lost airplanes and friends in combat. But, instead of being able to look forward to going home since completing their 25 mission requirement, they were faced with having to fly against a target so dangerous that the mission was fast becoming viewed as suicide. One pilot stood up in one of the mission briefings and told the mission commanders, " We've flown all over North Africa, Italy, and the Mediterranean. We've flown every mission, and done everything you asked of us, but I'll be damned if I'll lead my men into certain slaughter at Ploesti ! You can bet my plane will have mechanical trouble on the flight over !" He and several others of the 98th Bomb Group's crews did turn back from the mission with mechanical problems, too. The pilots were drinking and fighting at night over in Benghazi, inflicting serious injuries on themselves, the Australian, and the British army personnel they found there. Drunken American bomber pilots had been injured racing with each other and crashing their German motorcycles around the desert roads and on the Benghazi airfields at night. One American pilot nearly killed himself and several others when he ground looped on landing and crashed a captured German JU87 Stuka light bomber on the American airbase, which had been left behind by the Germans and rebuilt into flying condition by the American mechanics. These events convinced the Ploesti mission planners and commanders that something had to be done.
So on the last of the evening briefings just before the mission, Gen. Brereton called the men from all the bombing groups into one of the very large aircraft maintenance tents to give them a final briefing and a closing speech about the mission. After the briefing he added, " I want to address a very serious problem that can affect the execution and the success of this mission, which may turn out to be one of the most important missions of this war ! I don't have to tell you how tough this mission is going to be. You already know it. You're thinking about home, your families and loved ones. You're worried you won't live to see them again." Then, he said, " I've got some bad news for you. You can put all those thoughts behind you because you probably aren't going to see them again. And, if that's not clear enough, get this straight, and get it straight right now that you are not going to make it home, that you're not going to see your families again. Stop worrying about living past tomorrow because you're not going to live past tomorrow. In fact, you're already dead! You died three years ago when you signed up to fight this war. If you can't accept that, and what we have to do tomorrow, and what the consequences will be for us, then, you will not be able do your job, and and you will not be able to accomplish your mission, which is critical to winning this war for the people back home that you are fighting for!" Then he paused again and said, "You have some time this evening and tonight. So take that time and think about what I just told you. If you need to, write your families, and tell them whatever you need to say to them before we fly to Ploesti. But, if you can't accept what I just said, if you can't make peace it and with what we have to do tomorrow, come see me before morning, and we will relieve you of your duties, and we will find someone who can ! Finally, I want you all to
understand how important this mission is. This might be the most important mission of this war ! If all of you do your jobs and bomb your targets tomorrow, it will be worth it, even if we lose every airplane !" Then, the men were dismissed and filed out quietly. But they knew there were few, if any, replacements to speak of. And many of the men feared being left behind as much as they feared going on the mission. But none of them knew, then, that before the next day would be over, 446 of them would be injured, captured, missing or dead, starting with the replacement crewmen in Lt. John Young's former B-24 Delta, 'KICKAPOO' !
Col. John Kane wrote about that night after Brereton's speech in his autobiography about the war and the mission. He wrote how shocked the men looked, and how quiet they were, as they filed out of the area, and how dark the mood was over the entire three airbases that night. No one slept very well, if at all. They were sick and worn out. Now, instead of being able to look forward to going home after qualifying to do so, they were being asked to give everything they had left. Both Col. John Kane and Lt. John Young had been in on the intelligence, planning, and the training for the mission from the beginning, and they both knew the steep odds against them. Both Col. Kane and Col, Addison Baker told their men they were going to lead them to their targets "or die trying !" That night Col. Kane went out alone to his regular thinking place out on the air base and sat alone under the stars for a long time. He was among those convinced he was not going to survive this mission. So were, pretty much, the rest of 'KICKAPOO's old crew and officers, now assigned to 'Hail Columbia', including Lt. Young, Lt. Harry Korger, and Lt. Norman Whalen, all of whom wrote as much to their families that night. Kane wrote farewell letters to his wife and to his parents. John Young wrote his farewell to his parents. He had no one else to say goodbye to. Weeks earlier, his mother had written him that his high school friend and sweetheart had married the son of a wealthy oilman back in Texas. That night was a dark one for the men of the 98th Bomb Group and for the men of all of the other groups assigned to fly to Ploesti. And it was a very dark one for John Young. Even before he had left the United States to deploy to North Africa, he had held onto the hope that, somehow, he would survive the war and come home to marry his best girl back in Dallas. Now, along with the rest of the airmen of the 8th and 9th Army Air Forces, all of the hopes and dreams he had for any of those things were gone. Reality, the war, and General Brereton's speech had ended them. He resigned himself to whatever would come. He knew his men depended on him to fly and accomplish the mission. Kane had told the men of the 98th the same thing Col. Addison Baker told his men of the 93rd, that they would "lead them to their targets - or die trying !" That night Young wrote to his parents what he thought about the coming mission. "I believe the mission will be worth it", he wrote, "even if I don't come home."
The next morning, during the mass take off in the dark for Ploesti, things went very bad for the replacement crew in John Young's former airplane, 'Kickapoo'. Like all the planes, it was grossly overloaded with extra guns, extra gas and gas tanks in it's bomb bays, extra ammo, and bombs. With it's heavy load, it needed all four engines running at full power just to be able to reach takeoff speed and start a shallow climb. Losing power in even one engine would be disastrous. But, just after it's long takeoff roll, as it was just beginning to climb, 'KICKAPOO's #4 engine failed and caught fire, a victim of heat and the desert sand. As it's two pilots, Lt. Robert Nespor began a slow turn out over the water to jettison their bombs, two more engines began losing power. Nespor desperately tried an approach back to Lete but lost all power on final, sank to the runway, bounced hard and hit a concrete pole with one wing causing them to crash in flames, killing, himself, his copilot, and all but two of the rest of the crew. They were the first casualties of the Ploesti mission, before it had even started. But they would not be the last.
After the long climb and flight over the Mediterranean Sea, as Col. Kane and Lt. Young in 'Hail Columbia' led their element, including 98th Bomb Group, "The Pyramiders", and the following 44th Bomb Group, the "Flying Eight Balls" into the Ploesti area, they had lost sight of the third part of their element, Col. Jack Wood, leading the 389th "Sky Scorpions" who had gotten ahead of them in the clouds over the mountains before they closed in on Romania. As they approached their first initial point coming into Ploesti, the situation ahead was even worse than they could have imagined. Flying very low, now, down to 20 to 50 feet off the ground approaching Ploesti, they began taking anti aircraft cannon fire from outlying flak guns. And, in turn, they began firing their .50 caliber guns back at the enemy guns. Kane and Young could see ahead of them and off to their right, what looked like dark thunderstorm clouds and lightning over Ploesti ! But, in fact, it was their principal target, the Astra Romano Refinery area, White IV, that was already on fire, pouring flames and boiling black smoke into the sky, as it was being attacked and bombed by the 93rd Bomb Group, who had come in from the south and were bombing ahead of them. What initially looked like thunder clouds and lightning over Ploesti from farther away, was the fire and smoke over the fiercely burning oil tanks and refineries of White IV, and the flashes caused by flak tracers and the 93rd's Bombing Group's bomb explosions. As the planes of the 98th got even closer, John Kane looking intently out of his windscreen at his ground checkpoints leading to his target, said to his young copilot, "Good God, Johnny, Look at that !" But, Kane, Young, Col. Leon Johnson, the leader of the 44th Bombing Group behind him, Lt. Robert Sternfels, command pilot of 'The Sandman' in the 98th's 345th Squadron also just behind 'Hail Columbia', and all of the pilots following them, could see ahead what they were facing - not only, the full effects of the fully alerted German anti-aircraft defenses already shooting at the attacking 93rd Bomb Group's B-24s, but also, the huge fires, bomb explosions, and secondary explosions all over the target area, caused by the 93rd Bomb Group's leader, Col. Addison Baker, Major Ramsey Potts, and Lt. John Palm, with Col. Walter Stewart, and others from the 376th Bombing Group following behind them, all of whom were strafing and bombing White IV, and the area around it, blocks of which were now covered with smoke and flames shooting hundreds of feet into the air, and huge explosions from the 93rd's 15 minute delayed action 500 and 1000 pound bombs, exploding ahead of the 98th and the 44th Bomb Groups, as their entire huge element of airplanes began a slow coordinated formation turn into their heavily compromised target, their throttles pushed to their war emergency full power stops, at 20 feet of altitude and 190 miles per hour.
South of them and heading straight for them, Maj. Walter Stewart in his B-24D, 'Utah Man' had just taken over leading the 93rd Bomb Group after his leader, Col. Addison Baker and his copilot, Major John Jerstad in their B-24, 'Hell's Wench', were shot down and killed ahead of him just minutes before, crashing in an explosion of flames into the Columbia Aquila refinery, as the 93rd began bombing Kane's target, White IV, ahead of Kane's 98th Bomb Group, and completely ahead of the attack plan. After bombing White IV, Major Stewart, in his B-24D, 'Utah Man', and the rest of the 93rd's planes following him, converged with and flew right through the 98th's approaching formation at low altitude in the chaos created by a catastrophically wrong turn away from Ploesti that had been ordered by Mission Commander, Gen. Uzal Ent, and executed by his pilot, Col. Keith Compton, in the B-24, 'Teggie Ann', leading the 93rd and the 376th Bomb Group's formation, also south of Ploesti.
Still, Col. Kane in 'Hail Columbia', Col. Leon Johnson, in his plane, 'Suzie Q', and the rest of the 98th "Pyramiders", Col. Jack Wood and the "Sky Scorpions", and Col. Leon Johnson's 44th "Flying 8 Balls" Bombing Groups, without discussion or hesitation, continued on, following their attack plans, into Ploesti and into White IV and White V's walls of smoke Addisoand the burning hell of the flames, explosions, and flak guns all around and south of Ploesti, all of the men, determined "to bomb their targets or die trying", as Kane and Col. Baker had promised their crews the day before ! Col. Baker, and his copilot, Major John Jerstad, and their crew were among those who did "die trying" when their bomber, 'Hell's Wench', took multiple hits by the deadly flak rounds, caught on fire, and crashed, instantly killing everyone on board their airplane.
All of this madness was caused partly because south and east of Ploesti, Mission Commander Gen. Ent had deliberately failed to continue flying north toward Ploesti at his second initial point outside the city! Instead of staying on course north to bomb his assigned targets, he had ordered his pilot, Col. Keith Compton in their B-24, 'Teggie Ann' to turn east towards Bucharest, and he refused to answer the desperate radio calls from Maj. Ramsey Potts and Maj. Walter Stewart in 'Utah Man' just behind him in the 93rd Bomb Group, and the calls on his own intercom from his own navigator, Capt. Harold Wicklund, warning Compton and Ent that they had made a disastrously WRONG turn AWAY from Ploesti ! Col. Baker, behind them, had also seen the wrong turn and quickly decided to break formation and bomb Ploesti on his own, just like he had said he would, and deliberately led the 93rd Bomb Group away from the rest of the 376th, north toward the refineries at Ploesti ! Major Walter Stewart and Ramsey Potts were also, both, in shock and disbelief at what they had just seen Ent and Compton do, and also disobeyed their attack plan orders to stay with Ent and the rest of the 376th Bomb Group ! They also turned north and followed Col. Baker, all of them also determined to attack Ploesti on their own initiative, in spite of Compton's inexplicable, wrong turn, away from their target.
But Col. Compton with General Ent in the B-24,'Teggie Ann', twenty minutes after having turned east toward Bucharest, and still leading the 376th planes that were still following them, were circling around Ploesti east of the city, instead of flying their attack plan. They could see off to the west, thousands of the green German flak tracer rounds streaming into the sky. They could see the smoke, explosions, and the fires of the exploding bombs dropped by the 93rd, 44th, and 98th Bomb Groups. And they could see the American planes being attacked by fighter planes, and being shot out of the sky by the defending German flak guns and airplanes. And they could see their friends' B-24 bombers burning, exploding, and crashing into the ground inside of, and south of, Ploesti's refinery area.
Major Norman Appold in 'G.I. Ginnie', his wingman, Lt. John Palm, piloting 'Brewery Wagon', and two other ships from the 376th Bomb Group's formation had also seen the mistaken turn that Compton and Ent had made and had quickly decided that they, too, would bomb Ploesti on their own. So they ALSO disobeyed THEIR orders to stay with their assigned formation, and also left the 376th Bomb Group's formation, and turned their planes left and back to the west, with their four plane section, looking for targets of opportunity to bomb. On their run into the refinery area, they decided to attack Target White II, the Concordia Vega Refinery, Col. Addison Baker's assigned target. After bombing White II, Major Appold's surviving planes, along with Major Potts and the 93rd's planes, now fleeing the area north, also, passed through Killer Kane’s 98th and 44th Bomb Groups still heading for White IV. The confusion resulted in more ongoing moments of terror and violent maneuvering as three layers of formations of B-24 bombers from the 98th, the 44th, the 93rd, and Major Appold's planes from the 376th Bomb Group, all desperately maneuvered their airplanes, pulling up or pushing down, trying to avoid mid air collisions with each other's planes, as the converging planes all flew through Col. Kane's formation at low level from two different directions in the mad confusion of the broken mission that Operation Tidal Wave had become.
Lt. John Palm had drawn a "jinxed" plane for the mission, the 'Brewery Wagon', and was also one of the rogue pilots from the 376th Bomb Group, who elected to turn away from Bucharest toward Ploesti, and was also heading for Ploesti and targets of opportunity at treetop level. But he never made it that far. He took a number of direct flak hits and had to release his bombs just to keep his crippled and sinking ship in the air, when he suffered another direct 88 mm explosive flak hit on 'Brewery Wagon''s nose, instantly killing his navigator and his bombardier, destroying flight control cables, and taking out two engines. Now, with his plane descending, on fire, and himself seriously wounded, with his right leg nearly blown off, and also being attacked by two ME-109s, Lt. Palm crash landed his failing B-24 into an open field, to be captured alive, along with only three other surviving crew members.
Col. Jack Wood leading the 398th "Sky Scorpions" and Pete Hughes had gotten ahead of Kane on the run into Ploesti, but both of them found and bombed their targets, "Target Red", the Campina refinery, with Col. Wood losing four of his group. When Hughes had his B-24's wings set aflame by flak, after bombing Target Red, north of the city, he pulled his plane up to try to save as many of his crewmen as possible, by giving them enough altitude to bail out, but ran out of luck when the fire in his wing folded it, crashing his ship in a fireball of flames, killing him and all those left on board.
John Kane and John Young, leading the 98th and the 44th Bomb Groups, and their followers, made their final sweeping formation turn into their bombing run, and began making more large sweeping formation turns, weaving back and forth, individually and in groups, to fly around and between the oil fires' smoke pouring skyward from the huge fires, explosions, and other obstacles in their way, as they pressed home their attack, looking for the way points to their targets at the Astra Romano refinery complex. All this time the lead plane pilots and gunners were strafing the flak guns ahead of them with their four .50 cal. machine guns, and the two guns on each side of 'Hail Columbia''s nose, manned by the nose gunners Lt. Korger and Lt. Whalen, and from the gunner in the top turret modified to fire his two .50 cal. guns forward, and out of the sides, and back of their B-24. All this time, Col. Kane and Lt. Young were working hard just to keep their airplane flying. Kane wrote that it took all of his and Young's combined arm strength to manhandle 'Hail Columbia''s yokes and rudder pedals, turning between and around the obstacles ahead of them, and to control the pitching, bucking, rolling, and vibrating monster that 'Hail Columbia' became, approaching their target, in and out of the huge updrafts from flying through White IV's air, boiling with flames, smoke, and explosions around and under them, and still avoiding the other American B-24 bombers flying through their formation from two different directions. At the same time, Kane and Young could see the cannon tracer rounds coming at them from all directions and crossing in front of them, and could see their friends, including Col. Addison Baker in 'Hell's Wench' being hit, crashing in flames off to their front and right side, and others being shot down around them, as 'Hail Columbia', too, was being hit hard now by the deadly accurate flak rounds. And they saw other planes catching on fire simply by flying through the 300 foot high flames, hitting the barrage balloon cables, and being blown up from both the flak rounds and the explosions from the 93rd's delayed action bombs now exploding under them, with other planes crashing into the oil tanks and the refinery buildings on the ground. As the 93rd's delayed action bombs began exploding in front of and under 'Hail Columbia', Norm Whalen, watching all of this out of his forward nose position, wrote later, "I thought I was going to die right there. I thought we all were. I never thought any of us could make it out of there alive !" Kane flew 'Hail Columbia' right through one of the huge columns of boiling flames, which reached up even higher than his plane's 200 feet altitude and burned his left arm resting on 'Hail Columbia''s left side sliding window sill. Yet, somehow, the flames did not ignite the gasoline leaking from 'Hail Columbia''s wings and the gasoline fumes inside it's fuselage. With determination and flying skill, and by some kind of miracle, Kane, Young, and Harry Korger, their bombardier, were able to locate, line up on Korger's target, and drop their bombs on the Astra Romano refinery complex. But, as 'Hail Columbia' was still being hit hard by the German flak guns shooting at them from point blank range, a direct flak hit completely destroyed their #4 outboard engine. Young secured the dead engine and feathered the engine's propeller, when their #3 engine's propeller was hit and holed by a small caliber round and began vibrating. The #2 engine's propeller on the left side was also hit and damaged, but still running. With things going bad for Kane, 'Hail Columbia' and her crew, with one engine out, and two more propellers damaged coming out of White IV, they were heading into the heaviest flak area just south of Ploesti. Although several crewmen had been hit and injured by flak, the Texans were wounded and bleeding, but still alive, and 'Hail Columbia' was still flying. As they began leaving the refinery area behind them, they had been flying through the destruction around the greater Ploesti area for almost half an hour, a very long half hour, the longest of their lives.
In marked contrast, after having been in the area for over 20 minutes, Col. Compton, Gen. Ent, and the main force of the 376th, who stayed with them, finally, dropped their bombs harmlessly over the hills north of Ploesti and headed southwest for home, almost undamaged and intact.
But not so intact were the men and the planes of the rest of the 98th, the 44th, the 389th Bombing Groups, and the rogue planes from the 93rd and the 376th Bombing Groups led by Major Appold, Major Potts, and Lt. John Palm, that had been thoroughly decimated by the German defenses over their targets. As these remnant survivors were still trying to escape the area alive, they were attacked by the higher flying German and Romanian fighters, who dove down on them and shot down several more of the American bombers. Young later wrote, "We had ME-109s and 110s doing lazy eights all over us.", as Kane and John Young again had to execute defensive turns to throw off the German fighter planes' aim, and they did avoid being hit by any of them. Several other shot up, crippled straggler planes, including Lt. Robert Sternfels in 'The Sandman', Col. Walter Stewart in 'Utah Man', and Lt. Gib Hadley in 'Hadley's Harem' all joined up with 'Hail Columbia' and it's excellent lead navigator, Lt. Norman Whalen, who navigated the group of crippled survivors south, all the way out of Ploesti, on over the Pindus mountains, and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, then, all the way to the British air base at Nicosia, on the Greek island of Cyprus, where the few planes, still flying, landed. Sadly, as the group was closing in on the British airbase on Cyprus, just before they got there, Lt. Gib Hadley finally lost his fight with his damaged and failing airplane, turned away from the group and crashed into the Aegean Sea trying to ditch in the surf just off of the Turkish coast beach. After surviving the air fight at Ploesti and getting so close to safety, he died, trapped in his sinking airplane with all but three of his crew, who escaped and made it to shore. The rest of those with John Kane and 'Hail Columbia, who made it to the British air base at Cyprus, all landed safely, and 'Hail Columbia''s two exhausted pilots crash landed their crippled bomber on the Nicosia airbase's runway after dark. Somehow, they had survived the mission to Ploesti !
Of the 177 planes that took off from Benghazi, only 88 of them made it back, 55 of those, with damage so severe, they would never fly again. Of the 47 planes of Kane's 98th and 44th Bomb Groups that launched to Ploesti, only 27 B-24s returned from the mission. Seventeen of Kane's 98th's and the 44th Bomb Group's planes were shot down over Ploesti. Two planes, including Gib Hadley's 'Harem' went down at sea on the way to, and back from, Ploesti with the loss of their crews. Seven B-24s turned back from the mission over the Mediterranian, with mechanical trouble. One plane, Lt. John Young's B-24D, 'KICKAPOO', crashed in flames on takeoff at Lete, Benghazi, killing it's two replacement pilots and most of it's crew. Many others crashed and died on the long flight home, like Gilbert Hadley, who, almost, but did not quite make it home. The 98th and the 44th Bomb Groups suffered 46 percent casualties on the Ploesti mission. A total of 446 American airmen on the mission were lost, killed in action, with 532 total crewmen, captured, killed, injured, or lost from all causes.
For Johnny Young, Ploesti was his 28th and last combat mission of the war. But, for the men who died, and even for the men who survived the mission, "Black Sunday" was an appropriate name given to that terrible day, Sunday, August, 1, 1943, by historian Michael Hill, a day that saw so many young American flyer's killed, horribly wounded, and lost, the U.S. Army Air Corps having suffered the most casualties ever, on a single U.S. Army Air Force bombing mission up to that time.
For his part in leading his element of three bombing groups successfully to bomb their targets on the mission, Col. John Kane received one of 5 Medals Of Honor awarded for the mission, 3 of them to men, like Col. Addison Baker, Major John Jerstad, and Pete Hughes, all of whom paid for them with their lives. For his part in the mission, Lt. John Young received an oak leaf cluster to his Silver Star and another to those already on his Distinguished Flying Cross, with 1,320 total DFC Medals awarded, one to every single man who flew on the mission and survived, and also to those who flew on the mission and paid for their medals with their lives, as did 27 year old Lt. Robert Nespor and Lt. John C. Riley, the two young pilots who died bravely trying to save 'KICKAPOO' in Johnny Young's and his crew's places. Lt. Norman Whalen, Col. John Kane, and Young's navigator, Lt. Norm Whalen, on 'Hail Columbia', received one of 50 Distinguished Service Cross medals awarded for the mission, for his bravery and his excellent lead navigating on the mission, as did Col. Walter Stewart for his leadership after his Group Leader Col. Addison Baker was shot down and killed. 'The Sandman''s pilot, Lt. Robert Sternfels, who landed safely behind 'Hail Columbia' at Nicosia, Cyprus, gave both Col. Kane and Lt. Young rides back to Benghazi in his plane after the mission.
After the mission, John Young returned to his home in Dallas, Texas, was promoted to Captain, and served on a war bond tour across America, telling American's about the desperate mission over Ploesti. He happily reunited with his high school sweetheart in Dallas, who was divorced by then, and married her. He continued to serve as a flying officer until he was honorably discharged from the Army Air Corps in 1946 with the rank of Major. He became an officer and a vice president of the First National Bank in Dallas for many years and later became the owner and president of the Herrin Trucking Company. John Young died in 1983.
Military | First Lieutenant | Pilot | 44th Bomb Group The Flying Eightballs
1st Lt. Horace W. Austin, Jr. from Virginia Beach, VA, flew as command pilot in the B-24D 42-40778, 'Southern Comfort' on the Aug 1, 1943 raid on Ploesti, while temporarily assigned to the 9th Air Force.
Military | Lieutenant General | Commanding General
Lewis Hyde Brereton (June 21, 1890 – July 20, 1967) was a military aviation pioneer and lieutenant general in the United States Air Force. A 1911 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, he began his military career as a United States Army officer...
Military | General | B-24 Command Pilot - Squadron Commander - Commanding Officer | 376th Bomb Group
Keith Karl Compton (December 9, 1915 – June 15, 2004) was an American Air Force Lieutenant General who was Vice Commander in Chief, Strategic Air Command. He flew as Command Pilot with Gen. Uzal Ent on Operation Tidal Wave in the B-24D, 'Teggie Ann'...
Military | Major General | Commanding General | 376th Bomb Group
Uzal Girard Ent was an American Army Air Force officer who served as the commander of the 9th Air Force and subsequently the 2nd Air Force during World War II. He flew as mission commander on the Aug 1, 1943, Ploesti oil refinery raid...
Military | First Lieutenant | B-24D Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
First Lieutenant Gilbert B. Hadley was a B-24D Liberator bomber pilot with the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group, "The Pyramiders", from Texas, and the 344th Bombing Squadron, based at Cairo, Egypt, Tobruk, and Benghazi, Libya, in the Mediterranean...
Military | Second Lieutenant | Pilot | 389th Bomb Group
Pilot Killed in Action (KIA) during Ploesti raid, 1 August 1943. Medal of Honor winner — bombed target and held formation after aircraft B-24 42-40753 'Ole Kickapoo' had been gravely damaged.
Military | Colonel | Commanding Officer, Command Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
John Riley Kane (January 5, 1907 – May 29, 1996) was a colonel in the United States Army Air Corps and later the United States Air Force. He received the U.S. military's highest decoration, the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II, for his...
Military | Colonel | Bombardier Navigator | 98th Bomb Group
Lt. Harold Korger was a bombardier in the 344th Bombardment Squadron, 98th Bomb Group, 9th Air Force. He flew on the famous mission, Operation Tidal Wave, Aug 1, 1943, to knock out the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. ...
Military | First Lieutenant | B-24 Command Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
1st Lt. Robert James Nespor was a B-24D command bomber pilot in the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bombardment Group, "The Pyramiders", and the 330th Bombing Squadron. For the huge mission to bomb the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, on ...
Military | First Lieutenant | Pilot | 376th Bomb Group
Units served with
Established as a B-24 Liberator heavy bomb squadron and trained by Third Air Force. Deployed to Egypt in June 1942 over South Atlantic Transport Route transiting from Morrison Field, Florida though the Caribbean to Brazil; performed trans-Atlantic...
The 98th trained for bombardment missions with B-24 Liberators during the first half of 1942.
B-24D #41-11613 'The Blue Streak' of 514th Bomb Squadron, the 376th Bomb Group, 9th AF. Originally named 'Florine Ju Ju' then '71 Liberandos', '71 Teggie Ann', and last '71 The Blue Streak'. She was a member of the HALPRO group that eventually became...
The B-24D, named 'Hadley's Harem' was Lt. Gilbert Hadley's personal airplane and the one he flew on the mission to destroy Hitler's oil refineries at Ploesti Romania in 1943.
This aircraft originally served in the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 344th Bomb Squadron as 'HAIL COLUMBIA'. It was 344th's CO Col. John R. Kane's personal aircraft until Kane became the 98th Bomb Group CO and turned it over to Herman ...
The B-24D Liberator #41-11768, 'KICKAPOO', was piloted by Lt. John S. Young from Dallas, Texas as part of the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 344th Bombing Squadron, which arrived in North Africa in early 1943. This airplane and was...
1 August 1943
Operation TIDAL WAVE. B24D Liberators attack the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. The bombers flew low to avoid radar detection and dropped time delayed bombs. Out of the 177 B-24s that took part in the raid 167 managed to attack their targets. 57 B...