Operation Tidal Wave

1992 B-24s Hit Ploesti Refineries stamp
US #2765d – from the 1992 Turning the Tide World War II sheet

On August 1, 1943, US Army Air Forces bombed oil refineries in Ploesti, Romania.  It was part of the Allies’ oil campaign, to cut off Germany’s petroleum supply during World War II.

1959 Petroleum Industry stamp
US #1134 – The operation was part of the Allies’ oil campaign to cut off Germany’s petroleum supply.

Oil and the ability to move it to the places where it was most needed played a critical role in the success of both the Allied and Axis forces throughout World War II.  A high priority for the Allies, the US kept streams of oil moving from the mid-west and southwest to loading terminals in the East.  From there, the precious fluid was transported to the battlegrounds, where mobile pipelines followed the troops as they moved through Europe and North Africa.

The Axis however, depended upon reserves built up in peacetime and supplies seized in occupied countries.  To win access to these great oil regions became a matter of life and death.  When German U-boats began attacking tankers carrying oil from Venezuela and Texas, the Allies planned to retaliate by striking hard at the Axis’s main sources of oil.

Ploesti Raid Mystic First Day Cover.
US #2765d – Mystic First Day Cover

In June 1942 a squad of 13 B-24 Liberators attacked Ploesti, Romania, which provided Germany and the Axis powers with about 30% of their oil.  The attack inflicted minimal damage, but encouraged Germany and Romania to better defend the refineries.  They set up anti-aircraft defenses, many hidden in haystacks, railroad cars, and fake buildings.  They also had five squadrons totaling nearly 300 planes ready to defend Ploesti.  These combined defenses made it one of the most heavily defended Axis targets in Europe.

1992 Ploesti Raid Classic First Day Cover
US #2765d – Classic First Day Cover

The Allies planned another attack for August 1, 1943.  The attack, dubbed Operation Tidal Wave, would target nine oil refineries around Ploesti.  It was carried out by the Ninth and Eighth Air Force, totaling 1,751 aircrew flying 178 B-24 Liberators.  It was one of the largest such operations up to that time.

Departing airfields in Benghazi, Libya early on the morning of August 1, 1943, the strike force had some issues during its flight to Romania.  One plane crashed to the sea for unknown reasons, leading a few planes to go after it in search of survivors.  Additionally, some planes came out of formation in heavy clouds and others followed the wrong rail line.  They maintained radio silence as ordered for most of the flight, which further hindered their attack.

1992 Ploesti Raid US #2765d Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover
US #2765d – Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover

Once they reached their targets, the planes came under heavy fire from the Romanian anti-aircraft defenses.  Some planes crash landed, killing the crews and civilians.  Most of the planes that made it there managed to hit their targets, and when the operation was over it was estimated they had reduced Ploesti’s oil productivity by 40%.  However Ploesti recovered quickly and even increased their output within weeks of the attack.

2005 B-24 Liberator stamp
US #3922 – The mission was carried out by 178 B-24 Liberators.

The mission was one of the most costly for the US Army Air Forces during the war.  They lost 53 bombers and had 579 crewmen killed, wounded, or captured.  Five Medals of Honor and 56 Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded to members of the mission.  It was the most costly air raid of the war and became known as “Black Sunday.”  A report years later called it “one of the bloodiest and most heroic missions of all time.”

View a video about the Ploesti attacks.

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3 responses to "Operation Tidal Wave"

3 thoughts on “Operation Tidal Wave”

  1. I had a co-worker, Wilhelm Meier, who was a co-pilot, born in Germany. 19 years old. Said he made all the Ploesti raids. His plane never got a scratch, Other pilots walked around his plane looking for damage. saying Krauts sure take care of their own.

    Reply
  2. I know of the air raid on Ploesti, during WWII. What I was not aware of, was
    the great loss, and how the defenders were able to recover within a week, and
    even increase the oil output from the previous. Sometimes, one has to salute
    the adversary. But then we are the adversary to our adversary.

    Reply
  3. My father flew all 4 raids on Polesti from Bengazhi (Wheelis AIrfield) 1500 miles round trip and from Italy later in the war. Lost crewmen to AAA Luftwaffe batteries and fighters from Bulgaria and Germany. Each B-24 carried a 10 man crew. You failed to mention the Bulgarian and Romanian defenders. To get to Polesti they had to fly over Bulgaria and Romanian AirForce and ASA batteries, not just Luftwaffe. Nearly 50% aircraft losses. Many that returned shot up so badly they were junked for parts.

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