Black Sunday

veteran’s corner

Tom Krabbenhoft

The 1st of August 1943 marks 79 years since operation Tidal Wave or sometimes called Black Sunday took place. Tidal Wave was one of the largest air raids to ever take place and also one of the costliest.

Tidal Wave was an attack on the oil fields in Ploiesti, Romania. 30% of all German oil came from here so its strategic importance was obvious.

The raid was launched from bases out of Libya. 178 B-24s took off. Hard to imagine that many planes in the sky at once.

The B-24 holds the record as the most produced bomber. It had a crew of 8-10 and carried a dozen machine guns. It was nicknamed the flying casket, having one exit will do that. Walter Matthau and Jimmy Stewart are a couple of people that served on B-24s.

So many planes so heavily loaded with fuel and bombs taking off in the desert put the aircraft in great strain. A bad start to a difficult mission.

The raid was broken into five strike forces with each to strike a separate spot in the large oil fields.  Once getting close to the targets navigational problems plagued most of the strike forces. Many of them were to use nap of the Earth technique. This means flying very low over the targets. Three of the strike forces were to follow rail lines into the target. Two of the three followed the wrong lines which caused panic in the strike forces and caused the crews to break vital radio silence.

One of the strike forces pulled up and gained altitude so they could reposition themselves to their targets. This exposed them to very intense anti-aircraft fire and fighter planes. One of the bombers encountered a fighter that half rolled underneath it, shooting its belly up. The bomber crashed into Ploiesti woman’s prison. Of the 100 civilians killed and 200 injured most occurred here when the three story prison collapsed. The entire plane crew was lost. Only 45 women survived the prison collapse. Proving once again crime does not pay.

Out of the 178 planes departing only 88 returned. 310 airmen were killed or missing, 108 were captured. Three of the five Medals of Honor were posthumously awarded, the most of any air mission. 56 Distinguished flying crosses were also handed out.

The damage the bombers inflicted was very far below even the lowest estimates. Most repairs were made in weeks.

With the destruction of so many refineries, oil production never even slowed down. Most of the facility was working far below capacity.

Let’s hope and pray we never get another Black Sunday.


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