"The tap-root of German mechanized power" was how Winston Churchill described the oil refineries located in Ploesti, Romania. He was not incorrect in this assessment; the Ploesti refineries accounted for close to 40% (some intel put it as high as 60%)of all German petroleum consumption during the Second World War. On August 1, 1943, 177 B-24 Liberator heavy bombers flying out of Benghazi, Libya, flew across the Aegean Sea to hit this extremely important target. The operation was code named Tidal Wave. For the purpose of avoiding radar detection, the bomber groups all flew 100 feet above the ground and maintained strict radio silence. (Consider that the normal altitude maintained during bombing raids during the war was 35,000 feet.) They probably shouldn't have bothered. When they arrived at Ploesti, the Germans were waiting for them, having been tipped off by eyewitnesses on the ground far from the target who radioed in. Additionally, contrary to the contention made by Allied intelligence that the target wasn't heavily defended, Ploesti was the most heavily fortified location under German control outside of Germany proper. The Germans had been expecting them for close to a year. And then the inevitable commenced: the German Luftwaffe squandrons and the ground defenses blew American bombers out of the sky virtually at will. Some bombers hit their designated refinery targets, but most didn't even get the opportunity. Of the 177 bombers that took off from Benghazi, only 33 made it back. The rest were either forced to crash land in Romania and became POWs, landed in Turkey and thus were interned (Turkey was officially neutral during WWII, and would detain any member of the warring factions), or were obliterated outright. Almost a third of the approximately 1700 bomber crewmen that flew the mission lost their lives. And the Ploesti refineries, far from being destroyed, were quickly repaired with little change in production output. American bombers would revisit Ploesti several times afterwards, but at 35,000 feet. Ploesti never ceased production until the Soviet Red Army overran Romania late in the war.
Five Medals of Honor were awarded to participants of the Ploesti mission. It remains the most amount awarded for a single mission. That this mission is largely forgotten today is the reason for this post, this first day of August. It happened this day, sixty two years ago.
No blood for oil. If only.
(Those interested in further study on this can see pics here and read more here.)