- Historic Sites
Ploesti: A Pilot's Diary
A thousand miles behind enemy lines, Liberator bombers struck Hitler’s Rumanian oil refineries, then headed home flying so low that some came back with cornstalks in their bomb bays
October/november 1983 | Volume 34, Issue 6
I couldn’t decide for sure what was best to do. I knew that ditching a B-24 at night was a very hazardous undertaking and should be done while we still had power. Bailing out into our individual dinghies would have been OK for everyone except Lieutenant Gioana, who was still unconscious. We decided to keep flying until we ran out of gas and then ditch without benefit of power from the engines. We reviewed the ditching procedure and did some more silent praying. Finally we saw some red flares straight ahead and knew we were approaching the field. Lieutenant Klinkbeil had kept us exactly on course. The engines were still going but couldn’t last much longer; the gas gauges indicated zero. It was already 9:30 P.M. We only needed a few more minutes! Sergeant Dillman cranked down the main wheels as we crossed the coastline, saving what little hydraulic fluid we still had for the flaps. The nosewheel was useless, so we left it up. The radio was not working, but we could see other ships landing into the northwest, so I flew to the right of the field and started a gradual turn to the left. We were at about five hundred feet, and as we came in on the final approach, CaI started pumping down the flaps. I put the rpm up to 2100 but knew we could never go around if we missed the first time. CaI got the flaps halfway down and operated the ailerons and rudder. I manipulated the automatic-pilot elevator knob and handled the throttles. At two hundred feet CaI put on the landing lights. The ship was lightweight, so we slowed down to 100 mph as we flared out. The wheels touched, and she bounced several feet. I advanced the throttles, and she settled back to the ground as one engine cut out; she rolled halfway across the field, and as we lost speed, the nose began scraping the ground, and we came to an abrupt stop. It was 9:54 P.M., fifteen hours after takeoff.
To say we were glad to be on the ground is a great understatement, but our first concern was Lieutenant Gioana. We had fired several red flares as we came in, and the ambulance met us as we came to a stop. The attendants put him on a stretcher and lifted him out of the plane. His clothes were torn, and he was bandaged up. He, and the inside of the ship, were covered with blood. I thought sure he was dead or dying because he was so pale and white, but I was greatly relieved when he rallied and said, “Sure glad to be back. ” That night he spent four hours on the operating table, had a temperature of 105, and received two blood transfusions.
SERGEANTS HUNT, AYERS , and Waugh were taken to the hospital but were released after first-aid treatment. The rest of us went to interrogation where General Ent and General Brereton were very much interested in all the details of the mission. I was amazed to see Sergeant Alfredson in a huddle with both generals, telling them “just how it happened.” After that we went over to the mess tent, where they were serving “fresh” eggs—all we could eat. Lieutenant Klinkbeil ate ten and regretted his inability to make it an even dozen. After eating all we possibly could and relaxing a bit, we began to realize just how tired we really were. Up to now we had been busy trying to learn what had happened to all the fellows, where and when they went down, and what damage had been received by the ones who got back.
August 2, 1943 . At about six o’clock in the afternoon we woke up and decided to have a look around to check up on some more of the fellows.
We learned that Lt. William Nading, on the last ship in his group over the target, had followed his leader (Capt. Robert Mooney in Blonds Away) out of the target area, only to learn that Captain Mooney had been killed by machine-gun fire and the copilot was flying the badly damaged ship and trying to stay on course. Lieutenant Nading took over the lead, realized that the five damaged ships in the formation could never climb over the Carpathian Mountains, and decided to head for Cyprus. Lt. Charles Weinberg, his navigator, ran out of pilotage maps over Turkey but used a large Mercator map to pinpoint the tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean. It had a small airdrome and short runway, but all the ships got down safely and were refueled. Colonel Kane, too, made it safely to Cyprus.
We heard that after Colonel Johnson’s ship landed, the colonel noticed that his waist gunner, on his first mission, was looking a little sad, so the colonel explained to him that all his mission’s wouldn’t be as rough as Ploesti. The gunner was greatly relieved.
Several ships from other fields had crash-landed at our base, and some of them looked like wrecks. Ours, Daisy Mae , didn’t look so good herself. The crew chief and his men were already working on her. They had counted more than 150 holes all over the ship—flak, machine gun, and 20-mm. Number three engine was in bad shape. Flak had knocked several holes in the nacelle and cowling and penetrated the oil cooler in several places. The top was knocked off of the two top cylinders, and four spark-plug wires were severed. They were unable to measure any gas in the tanks at all and doubted if it would have flown five minutes longer.