The Problems With Diaries, Photos, And Memory

The Problems With Diaries, Photos, And Memory

If you’ve been following this project for any time you’re already aware that I put little emphasis on postwar reminiscences. The entire premise of my research has been to use as much original documentation as possible.

Cascading problems of accurate documentation confront every historian. This is a problem in TIDAL WAVE research primarily because so little 376th Bomb Group documentation survived.

Even original diaries written within a day or two of the event can cause problems when trying to determine historical facts. Even original photos have their own problems.

CONTEMPORARY DIARIES

The basic problem with a diary, of course, is that each man writes what he knows and feels at the time he writes it. I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last week poring over original diaries from TIDAL WAVE men. One of the big things that jump out is how much scuttlebutt (rumor) is recorded as fact. Think about this: when a man in the combat zone hears something from his friends or superiors he’s more likely to regard it as fact than rumor.

If the historian accepts everything in a diary as objective fact (rather than fact as the writer understood it at the time) he’s in for a rough ride. It’s amazing, but understandable, to read how often a man’s diary records on 2 August 1943–the day after the mission–the loss of certain friends during the mission, only to read another entry several days later that the friend was interned in Turkey, landed on Cyprus, etc. In this example the wrong information was corrected within a few days, but it cautions us to wonder how many erroneous entries were never corrected.

Another good example of the German/Italian paratroopers who purportedly landed at various times and places near Benghazi. The participants’ diaries are filled with reports of paratroops landed, captured, killed, etc. Objective reports from official sources show some of these entries are accurate but many simply record the current scuttlebutt.

Yet another example of understandable misreporting in diaries concerns the two airplane sentries killed during the night of 19-20 June 1943. This was big news to the airmen. Every diary records they were killed by German or Italian paratroopers, and that the diarist slept with a gun next to his bed for the next several nights.

However, the official IX Bomber Command investigation report states that because of a rebuffed sexual advance one USAAF guard was murdered by the other, who then committed suicide. No Germans. No Italians.

It’s no surprise the men knew nothing of this, but it remains a good example of recorded “fact” that would be completely misleading without digging deeper into what really happened.

On the other hand, diaries are excellent sources for what the writer personally saw and felt at the time. This is obvious and I won’t expand further here.

PHOTOS

Photos are usually a huge help when documenting a historical event, but you must always remember that a photo is merely the record of a particular instant in time. It is not a record of everything that happened, nor even a complete record of what happened at that particular time and place.

Studying the various series of strike photos taken during TIDAL WAVE has strongly reminded me of this limitation. I have 500+ strike photos in my collection. The most useful are those taken as part of a sequence of photos.

Many TIDAL WAVE B-24s had fixed cameras mounted inside the lower right rear fuselage. An external mirror fitting recorded the image directly behind and slightly below the aircraft. For example, I can follow the 44th Bomb Group’s WHITE V (Columbia Aquila) target force from just before their turn at Floresti all the way past the target. As you can imagine, this is a fascinating trip.

Also useful, but often problematic are the photos taken out waist windows with hand-held K-20 cameras. The images recorded by these cameras were at the mercy of the cameraman: when he took each photo and where he was pointing the camera when he took the photo.

A good example of this problem is a series of hand-held camera shots taken out the left waist window of the 98th Bomb Group’s 795-I, flown by LeBrecht. This particular series shows the crash of (probably) 197-A Tagalong. It also clearly shows 98th B-24s dropping their bombs in open fields just past the target area.

More to the point, because the camera was pointed in slightly different directions and the images snapped at unknown but irregular times, it’s very difficult to track with complete certainty the action shown in these several photos.

Another great example are the several photos taken with hand-held cameras in 376th Bomb Group planes of a dummy oil refinery set up east of Ploesti. Since these are individual photos and not part of sequences it’s impossible to know which of the two dummy refineries east of the city the 376th passed by.

A whole spectrum of problems serious scale modelers will appreciate is related to the many “nose art” photos taken of various Liberators that participated in TIDAL WAVE. It is a huge problem to track the accurate name (or names) carried on TW aircraft during the mission. A mountain of incorrect information has been published in books and on the internet.

In particular, the two 9th Air Force bomb groups (98th & 376th) were notorious for renaming aircraft, and even changing the Field Numbers (large two-digit numbers painted on the nose and/or fin). Very often when a new crew took over an old plane the previous nickname and artwork was changed on one or both sides of the nose.

At least one model airplane decal company has depicted wrong “Hail Columbia” for John Kane’s ship on the mission. They didn’t realize that although Kane previously flew a ship he’d named “Hail Columbia,” he picked a different aircraft for the TIDAL WAVE mission and named it “Hail Columbia.” These were two different B-24s and had completely different artwork.

The three 8th Air Force bomb groups sent to the desert for TIDAL WAVE (44th, 93rd, and 389th) had the same issue, but to a lesser degree and generally not during the time they were deployed to North Africa.

REMINISCENCES

To continue my rant against wholesale reliance on reminiscences, let us all be reminded of the problems police have when interviewing eyewitnesses to a traumatic event. Typically each sees something different: he was tall, he was short; he was white, he was purple; it was a man, it was a woman, etc. You can’t watch a reality TV cop show without getting a sense of this problem. Eyewitnesses are simply not reliable.

I learned how severe this problem is back in the late ’70s when I interviews hundreds of veterans. Very frequently a vet would tell me a story, but his fellow crewmen would jump in to point out he had the wrong mission, plane, or people in mind. I soon learned it was better to interview the whole crew at once than each man individually.

It also turns out the seminal Ploesti: The Great Ground-Air Battle of 1 August 1943 written by Cal Stewart and Jim Dugan has created a huge problem for trying to decipher participants’ reminiscences. The book is a true tour de force and if you don’t have it, get it now. Cal Stewart did Herculean work finding and recording every snippet of official and anecdotal information that was available at the time it was written in the 1960-61 period.

The problem–which I’ve encountered repeatedly in veteran interviews–is that over time some of the vets have confused what they actually saw or knew at the time with what they read in the famous book. Time after time the person I was interviewing would stop in the middle of a sentence, pause, and say “I’m not sure whether I saw that or read about it in the book.” That’s a scary thing for a historian to hear.

Another huge problem is intentional editing by the speaker to make himself look better or seem more dramatic after the fact. This problem is certainly not limited to TIDAL WAVE reminiscences; it’s so pervasive that any personal account must be read with a sense of skepticism. At least one senior participant has written extensive self-aggrandizing accounts of what happened.

I am NOT saying everybody lies, or that everybody misremembers. I am absolutely saying that every reminiscence must be taken with a grain of salt. Skepticism is the historian’s greatest strength when dealing with memory.

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9th AF Entertainment – Movies

I’ve been going through a bunch of 9th AF (IX Bomber Command) crewmen’s diaries and decided to list the entertainment movies they saw from January to the end of July 1943. I doubt this is a complete list and I think some of the titles are wrong or misspelled, but hope it interests you to see the entertainment air and ground crews saw.

The dates are direct from the individual diaries. The movies would have “made the rounds” of the various units and obviously been shown on different dates at different units.

If you live in the US you can see some of these old movies on the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) channel. They may occasionally show up on other channels too.

Shylock 19 Jan
My Smiling Gal 18 Apr
Whispering Ghost 23 Apr
Yank in Libya 28 Apr
The Hard Way 3 May
The Vivacious Lady 8 May
King’s Row 11 May
Casablanca 14 May
Wake Island 21 May
Hunchback of Notre Dame 25 May
Tale of Two Cities 27 May (wind blew down screen)
Grand Central Murder 28 May
Westerners 31 May
Rio Rita 1 Jun
Sailors Three 3 Jun (British film)
White Cargo 3 Jun
Victory at Stalingrad 6 Jun
Desert Victory 6 Jun
Sweetye Girl (sp?) 21 Jun
Love Crazy 22 Jun
Stage Door Canteen 24 Jun
I Got ‘Em Covered (You Got Me Covered?) 27 Jun
You Can’t Fool Your Wife 29 Jun
They Got Me Covered 2 Jul
Boys From Syracuse 4 Jul
Allegheny Uprising 6 Jul
Unexpected Father 8 Jul
Jackass Mail 10 Jul
Gallant Lady 13 Jul
Mission: Spitfire 15 Jul
Mr. V 16 Jul
It Happened At Flatbush 18 Jul
Tortilla Flats 22 Jul
Panama Lady 24 Jul
10 Men From West Point 26 Jul
I’ll Find You Somewhere 28 Jul
That’s Right, You Are Wrong 30 Jul

 

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Loyalty Among Senior Officers

Loyalty among senior officers involved in TIDAL WAVE turns out to be a major part of the story, based on what I’ve uncovered during my research. I urge you to read the article at the link below to get a similar story that you’ll be able to relate back to TIDAL WAVE when you see my documentary.

If you personally have served as a military officer in any service in any country you’ll know instantly what I’m talking about because this loyalty has always existed everywhere men fight and you’ll have observed it or even been involved . . . for good or not. At a certain point it’s simply not avoidable. If you’ve served in an enlisted capacity you’ll also have a clear sense of what this is and what it means, especially because the same kind of loyalty has always existed everywhere at the non-officer levels too.

An obviously strong tendency is for troops to respect and even venerate their commander. If you’ve been around long enough, and/or experienced or read enough military history, you will have noticed this loyalty often tends to increase over time. Patton is a great example. While he commanded the Third Army he was frequently not loved and even hated by men under his command. But in the years after the war it was unusual to find a Third Army veteran who described “Old Blood & Guts” Patton in anything less than reverential terms.

It is nearly universal for senior officers to avoid publicly criticizing their commanders and peers. What’s said behind closed doors is another thing entirely. General Jacob Smart’s son recalls that whenever his dad’s fellow TIDAL WAVE participants visited they retreated behind closed doors and did not discuss the mission in front of him or other non-senior participants or outsiders. When General Leon Johnson personally told me “what really happened at Ploesti” (his exact words) when he was long retired and I was an Air Force captain researching TIDAL WAVE and the 44th Bomb Group, he did so only after making me promise I would not reveal what he said until after he had passed away.

Yeah, yeah, there’s always open warfare like the public fights between Montgomery and Patton, but it should be easy to see their professional relationship was entirely different from, for example, the relationship between the senior officers involved in TIDAL WAVE (from Gen George Marshall all the way down to the individual bomb group commanders).

You can always chalk public criticism up to “sour grapes,” and you’ll form your own opinion when you read the article linked below. This is as it should be.

I strongly recommend you read this article, entitled “Officer breaks rank over the Battle of Crete,” to get a sense of how loyalty among senior officers worked back then, and before that, and certainly even today. If this is new information to you I think it will quite revealing and maybe even stunning. If you’re already clear on the phenomenon I think you’ll find it a breath of fresh air.

Again, here is the link.

Dave Klaus

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TIDAL WAVE Model Airplane Decal Sets Survey

I’m thinking about producing a series of brand-new decal sets related to the research I’ve been doing on the TIDAL WAVE/Ploesti operation. Note–this is not a definite commitment on my part to actually do this, but I’m considering it and need your guidance.

These decal sets would produced to the same high standard as my other sets, likely in the PYN-ups Decals line with their photographic-quality nose art decals, and possibly a set or two the Cutting Edge line.

This is also a chance for you to let me know if there are other subjects (beyond TIDAL WAVE) you’d like me to create–just put your suggestions in the comments section.

 

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Romanian Pronunciation Guide

Romanian is a Romance Language and therefore somewhat related to French. However, their words are pronounced quite differently from what we in the English speaking world might expect. Therefore, I’ve asked a friend of mine who was born and raised in Romania to record a pronunciation guide for the most common words we might see related to TIDAL WAVE.

You’ll see a list of words, primarily place names but others as well. You will be able to click on each one to hear a native Romanian-speaker correctly pronounce it.

We’re working on it now and I expect to publish it within the next couple of weeks. I hope you’ll find this interesting and useful.

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Status Update – Public Commitment

It’s been quite a long time since you’ve heard from me. Due to a couple of very painful and protracted real estate transactions I lost nearly all of 2015 because I was living out of a suitcase. I’m now out of the Washington DC metropolitan area (thank you God) and well established at my mountain to the west.

With the interminable and frustrating move behind me, but also after YEARS of deep research (at very considerable cost!), I’ve made huge progress on my TIDAL WAVE documentary research during the last four months and am on track to release it this later year.

YES.
I HEREBY MAKE A PUBLIC COMMITMENT THAT I WILL RELEASE
BOTH THE BASIC AND EXTENDED VERSIONS OF MY TIDAL WAVE
DOCUMENTARY NO LATER THAN 1 DECEMBER 2016.

Actually I hope to have it on the street earlier than that, maybe even by 1 August 2016 (the 73rd anniversary of the mission), although that date is only 97 days away from the day I’m writing this update and there’s a ton of work left to finish.

Problems, Challenges, and Champions

The Ploesti/TIDAL WAVE story has become quite seriously twisted over the decades since the action took place, first by an intentional US Army Air Force cover-up that offered a ridiculous reason for the first formation turning early and one group simply jettisoning their bombs in open fields and rivers before running for home. And unfortunately a few actual participants with axes to grind have allowed additional misconceptions and falsities to creep in.

This false history is a grave injustice to the bravery and self-sacrifice of the thousand-plus men who fought–and died–in the flash of flames and flak in that smoke-blackened sky.

One of the worst problems has come from an army of authors quoting each other’s incorrect information, thus creating a circle of false facts that appear to validate one another. None of them bothered to check their facts before publishing.

Luckily for history, in the late 1950s and early 1960s Cal Stewart and Jim Dugan wrote what immediately became the literal “bible” on the mission, Ploesti: The Great Ground-Air Battle of 1 August 1943. A truly herculean effort, it was based on the very best information and eyewitness accounts available at the time.

Unfortunately for history, a mass of information that fundamentally changes the TIDAL WAVE story was still highly classified by the US and British governments at the time Stewart & Dugan wrote their book, and of course the Romanian archives were unavailable behind the Iron Curtain. Certain contemporary German documentation existed in the US, but was problematic since it was being prepared for return to Germany. Certainly the existing archives of the day in Germany were quite limited.

Another good/bad “standard” reference source that has confounded TW historians since the 1970s is Karl Otto Hoffmann’s massive, multi-volume work Ln- Die Geschichte der Luftnachrichtentruppe. This German language work tells the story of the Luftwaffe’s signals intelligence organization before and during the war. Unfortunately for us, his coverage of Luftnachrichten activities in the SüdOst (southeast; the area encompassing the Balkans) is rather spotty, imprecise, and almost entirely without listed references except the memories of a few participants.

Recently uncovered contemporary documentary evidence shows some of Hoffmann’s material is incorrect–which is no condemnation of his work. Like Stewart & Dugan, he performed a herculean effort based on the best information available to him at the time and there is no other resource anywhere near the quality and breadth of his effort.

Stewart & Dugan, and Hoffmann, have been endlessly quoted and misquoted in subsequently published works without the authors bothering to check the underlying facts. Seeing the same “facts” quoted over and over–even though they came from the same two or three original sources–makes it appear to be accurate history. This is the circle of deception (intentional or not) I am talking about. “Hey, twenty-seven authors said exactly the same thing, so it must be true, right?” But repetition does not create fact.

I need to be very clear about this: Stewart, Dugan, and Hoffmann were the legitimate champions of their day, providing us with the very best information and analysis that was available to them at the time. They and their families have every right to be immensely proud of their work, and I am in awe of what they were able to accomplish. These men performed backbreaking labors to bring us the deepest and broadest information possible at the time they wrote. Unfortunately you cannot say the same about most other TW writers since then.

I Feel Like I’m In An Episode Of “The First 48”*

Writing history is quintessentially investigation. Historians, police homicide investigators, inventors, and legitimate scientists follow pretty much the same process.

You look at everything to find the important facts. You dig deep to find those facts. You keep digging to find more facts. You follow the trails created by sets of facts, or even a merely tantalizing morsel of information, to see where they lead. You pick experts’ brains. You form hypotheses based on what you’ve found and test them against all the facts you can possibly gather–not to prove, but to disprove. You modify and repeat.

When you find a “hole” — when you’re missing an obviously important fact — you verify as many other facts surrounding the missing piece as possible to justify informed conjecture–rather than pompous speculation–about the missing piece. (And sometimes that as good as it’s going to get). You keep facts and conjecture separate, and don’t forget the difference. You don’t stop until you’ve wrung everything possible out of the archives, and then keep going because there’s almost certainly more there you didn’t find the first 15 times around. And on. And on.

Of course, for practical reasons at some point you have to say, “Stop. I have as much as I can reasonably get under the circumstances,” and then finish the damned project. You do this knowing you don’t really have everything, and as soon as you publish some punk in Poughkeepsie will pop up out of his parents’ basement and say, “Why didn’t you include this document-fact-photo-whatever?” Well, because nobody else in the world had access to that except you, and you didn’t speak up!

This is the truth of it: you work your ass off, you do your very best, you get it done, all the while recognizing that however much you’ve accomplished, however much new and relevant material you’ve uncovered, it is NOT POSSIBLE to tell the whole story. Get ‘er done, then let the next guy come along and build on your foundation (which you’ve built on the shoulders of your forebears). If your product informs and expands your audience’s knowledge and understanding, if you’ve made them think, if you’ve challenged and corrected their preconceptions, you’ve done what you intended to do.

*An American TV show documenting the investigations of police homicide detectives across the country to find and arrest murderers.

Investigation Tidbits

As I’ve reported before, this project started with a huge research effort, a deep dive into to the original documentation in the Romanian, British, German, and American archives. I set out to be able to tell the story of TIDAL WAVE from the eagle’s perspective, not the mole’s. “War stories” are very interesting and great fun, but seldom explain anything approaching a comprehensible picture of the whole. I’m including “war stories,” but to illustrate specific points and not as the main thread. Seriously, if all you want is war stories you can go to a multitude of previously published material about TIDAL WAVE and be perfectly happy.

A handful of sources have been particularly helpful.

The Background

Although barely mentioned in most accounts, TIDAL WAVE was one of–if not the–most “political” military operations of the war. I’ll get into those details, as they formed the background and framework for the planning and execution. You won’t look at TIDAL WAVE the same way ever again. The US and British National Archives and Library of Congress have been primary sources for this information, particularly the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in New York. FDR has traditionally been portrayed as a president who maintained a “hands-off” policy towards the conduct of the war, which is easily proven inaccurate. I’ll show his direct connections to TW.

The British

The British ULTRA decrypts of deeply secret German communications revealed the entire German order of battle at Ploesti on 1 Aug 43, as well as significant insights into the causes of failure in their early warning system (more about this below), political realities in Romania and Germany that limited their ability to respond to the American attack, and much more.

The British National Archives and to a lesser extent the Imperial War Museum and RAF Museum archives have revealed deep details on both the British support for the mission and high-level military and political considerations about the who, what, when, where, and why of TIDAL WAVE. Few Americans realize that although the British Government strictly enforced the “It’s an American operation and must be seen as an American operation” public position, behind the scenes the RAF provided literally all the intelligence and photo reconnaissance support, a considerable amount of logistics support, literally all of the post-mission recovery and air-sea rescue, and a multitude of other support activities which allowed the mission to proceed.

On top of that, between Gen Brereton (Ninth Air Force commander) and Gen Eisenhower (theater commander), ALL the intervening commanders were British, and they were involved to one degree or another with the mission. Oh, and of course, a single RAF officer accompanied the TW crews, the only non-American to participate in the actual attack.

You can’t understand the Ploesti story, let alone tell it, without understanding British involvement.

The Axis

I will prove the failure of the Axis air defense at Ploesti was every bit as momentous to the outcome as General Ent’s early turn at Targoviste.

You’re probably saying to yourself, “What the hell is he talking about–Axis air defense failure!?!! 1/3 of the bombers didn’t make it home and he’s calling that a “failure??”

Well, there’s a lot more to that story and I’ll prove it to you.

Documentation for this part of the story has come largely from German and Romanian archives; ULTRA, and German monographs from the Karlsruhe Collection on the German air defense and intelligence systems during the war, etc. For the first time anywhere you’ll get a comprehensive picture of the defense and its problems and successes. This will blow the toupee clean off the top of your skull.

We’ll explore the Luftwaffe early warning system, including the radar system and ground observer systems, and a bunch of other topics in ways you’ve never seen before. For the first time, things will make sense, and you’ll come away with a vastly deeper understanding of how things really worked that day. As a very quick taste, here’s the radar coverage map for the nine sites that surrounded Ploesti:

Romania Radar Coverage (Nominal) 3,500'This is as scary as the flak coverage map I showed you earlier. And yet . . . something or some things went wrong on the Axis side.

You can’t truly understand the TIDAL WAVE story without understanding the Ln (Luftnachrichten) involvement.

The Early Turn

General Ent’s early turn at Targoviste, which led 2/5 of the attacking force on a bucolic excursion to Bucharest and resulted in one bomb group failing to attack and the other to be cut to ribbons, is the big issue most people know about. I’ve exhaustively researched this matter and will present my findings–another instance where the conventional wisdom about TIDAL WAVE will be turned on its head. This is a long story and analysis, so will be included on the expanded (premium) version second DVD. I’ll also trace the routes of both the 93rd and 376th Bomb Groups, another point of contention over the decades. The evidence of where they actually went is pretty conclusive, and you’ll get the full picture.

The Results

Many writers, especially non-Americans, have joyously declared the TIDAL WAVE mission a complete failure due to the high losses and puported minimal damage caused by the attack. This “analysis” is so superficial it hardly bears discussing, except that it’s so widespread. You’ll get the documented facts about what the attack cost the Axis, and it ain’t what you’ve been told. The contemporary Romanian and German documents lay out the details in stark terms.

The actual results will not please everybody, and some folks are likely to be pissed off to the point of rejecting the facts. However, the Romanian bombfall plots at each refinery made immediately after the attack tell the story, good, bad, or ugly. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own set of facts. I’ll document the facts and after that it’s up to you.

The German reaction, particularly Hitler and the OKW, is utterly fascinating. We haven’t heard much about this in the past, so I’ll lay it all out for you.

I’ve written enough for now. It’s time to get back to the final steps in my research plan and the writing and producing of my documentary–I have a ton of work left to do. I’ll try to do at least a couple more updates before the DVDs are released, and as always welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Dave Klaus

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Progress Update

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It’s been quite a long time since I updated you on the status of my TIDAL WAVE/Ploesti documentary, and I assure you I’ve been working diligently. It’s not done yet, but I’m getting much closer to putting it on the street.

This update is a very long since it’s been quite a while since I last communicated with you so I’ve broken this up into several sections. Here’s what I’ll cover:

  • The “big deal” that’s kept me motivated to keep going on this long and very expensive project
  • Why only 56 bombs out of 260 (22%) carried to the 98th Bomb Group’s target (WHITE IV) actually fell on the target–as an example of the kind of research and analysis I’ve been doing
  • What the German and Romanian flak locations in the Ploesti area looked like, the flak coverage the crews had to fly through (good thing they didn’t see the map in advance!), where specific planes crashed in relation to the flak, etc.–as another example of my recent research and analysis

These are barely the tip of the iceberg, but all I’m going to talk about today!

READ MORE . . .

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TIDAL WAVE/Ploesti – Call For Questions

I’m deep into writing the script for my documentary right now and I need your help. With the massive original research I’ve done at the US National Archives, USAF Historical Research Agency, Air Force Museum, Romanian archives, German Bundesarchiv, British National Archives and Imperial War Museum, interviews with participants, etc., etc., etc., I have FAR more information than could ever fit into a film documentary.

This documentary is for you–since I’ve done the research, obviously I already know the story. The point is that to be useful, this doc must first answer your “burning questions” about the mission. This is literally the most important thing.

What do you want to know about the mission? What interests or perplexes you? This could include the background (or situation), planning, execution, aftermath and/or anything else that interests you.

If you don’t want to enter your questions and comments on the video above, feel free to leave them as a comment by checking the comment box below, or you can email me privately here.

Thanks for your help–remember, this project is for YOUR benefit!

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Research Update/Status

Deep research for my TIDAL WAVE/Ploesti documentary continues, but is hopefully, finally, drawing to a close. When I committed to myself at the start of this project to "leave no stone unturned," I had no idea how long or how expensive that task would be. It’s been a ton of fun, but ye gods, I’ll be glad to have this wrapped up!

PYND32005

Official Romanian Bombfall Plot Maps

I’ll get to more details in a moment, but thought you might first enjoy seeing one of the official bombfall plot maps the Romanian government required each refinery company to compile from the day after TIDAL WAVE until the end of the war. In short, these diagrams show the EXACT location, to within less than one-meter accuracy, of EVERY bomb that fell within the refinery company’s property during the attack.

I found and have excellent copies of every one of these refinery bombfall plots. The diagrams themselves are large—the one for Astra Romana is about eight feet wide by five feet tall! For example, above is a copy of the bombfall plot map for the Steaua Romana (Romanian Star) refinery at Campina, Romania (target RED):

Note these diagrams plotted both high explosive (GP-General Purpose) bombs and incendiary bomb explosions, and also where dud bombs fell. However, they plot only those bombs that fell within the refinery property, none of the bombs that fell outside their fence lines are included.

There were many total misses, and their locations can only be surmised from other official Romanian damage reports that usually state a small geographic area where bombs fell, both exploded and duds. Sometimes it’s as precise as a particular building in a small village and sometimes a larger but undefined area as "the open area west of xxx refinery."

The refinery diagrams and other reports have, for one thing, finally made it crystal clear how the 98th Bomb Group performed that day—I’ll cover this in detail in my documentary.

I should also mention that all the reference material described here (and much more) has allowed me to create a number of animations that will clearly show you certain aspects of the mission. These are pretty cool, if I do say so myself!

Other Types Of Reference Material

In addition to the normal run of veteran reminisces, books, videos, articles, and interviews, I have very, very long list of official documents consulted, and in the interest of brevity I’ve left quite a bit off…and it’s still a long article. I’ve referred earlier to the film archives I’ve drawn motion picture film from in previous posts, so the material below relates to still photographs and paper archives.

9th Air Force Documentation

  • Bomb group sortie reports: These are very well known reports filled out by intelligence officers for each crew immediately after they returned from the mission. Scans of some of the TIDAL WAVE SRs are even available on the internet. I have them for every single aircraft and crew that participated, and also for the turnbacks that took off but soon returned to base for various reasons.
  • Bomb group formation charts: Again, very well known; these diagrams show where each plane was in the formation. Unfortunately these charts have to be taken with a grain of salt because although they show where individual planes should have been, that’s not necessarily where they actually were during the event. In addition, once the final leg into the target was started planes definitely moved around. For example, during the late ’70s and very early ’80s I showed dozens of 44th Bomb Group Ploesti veterans the official chart and, as a group they made significant alternations: "No, no. I wasn’t there, I was just off Abernathy’s right wing," etc.
  • Bomb group damage and injury reports.
  • IX Bomber Command Mission Planning Reports and Documents. A lot of these have survived, but unfortunately not in 9th AF files, which seem mostly to have disappeared from the US National Archives and USAF Historical Research Agency (if they were ever provided in the first place). However, I located quite a few in RAF files (MAC (Mediterranean Air Command), Hq RAF ME (Headquarters Royal Air Force Middle East), etc., etc.) the individual bomb group files, the 201st Combat Wing files, and numerous other rather obscure locations.
  • There’s quite a bit more, but I want to move on because I can’t possibly cover everything here.

British Documentation

This requires a bit of explanation. Why is so much TIDAL WAVE stuff in British files?

First, while the mission was flown exclusively by Americans (except for one RAF gunnery expert who manned one of the top turrets), you have to remember that the east end of the Mediterranean was a "British lake" where essentially all the action, planning, supplies, maintenance, etc, was in British hands. Ninth Air Force was more or less an anomaly in that it was the only major US unit operating in this part of the world. General Eisenhower was the overall Theater Commander and technically in charge of this area as well as the western North African operations, which were nearly all American with a tiny sprinkling of French units. You’re undoubtedly familiar with NAAF (Northwest African Air Force) and the USAAF Twelfth Air Force, led by USAAF General Carl Spaatz. At this time of the war, the northwest African leadership had relatively little to do with Ninth Air Force, except that Eisenhower thought highly of Spaatz and valued his advice.

General Brereton, Ninth Air Force commander, actually worked directly for Air Chief Marshal Sir William Sholto Douglas (famous for strongly arguing during the Battle of Britian for the "Big Wing" concept also championed by Douglas Bader, and becoming head of RAF Fighter Command just after the Battle of Britain). Douglas’ direct boss was Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder, Ike’s chief airman. So, Brereton had two Brits between him and Eisenhower. This was the logical result of Ninth’s role in supporting the British in the Western Desert from mid-1942 on.

In short, nearly all the pre-mission intelligence on the Romanian targets and defenses came from the Brits. They also provided 100% of the photo reconnaissance and bomb damage assessments after this attack. They provided 100% of the Air-Sea Rescue operation, and 100% of the emergency recovery bases at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. The British transported nearly all supplies. And more.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Chief of the Air Staff (RAF) Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal were actively engaged in early planning for what became TIDAL WAVE, and followed its development and execution closely.

Do not mistake my meaning: Americans created the original concept of operations and operational details necessary for the crews to successfully find and attack the targets, trained the crews and executed the mission. Except for one RAF gunnery expert who manned a top turret in one of the planes, the mission was flown entirely by Yanks. In fact, when some British officers complained bitterly to their headquarters in England the official reply was "this is and is to be seen as an American op." It was American. But the British were deeply involved, and very helpful, right up to takeoff.

Various documents obtained from British sources include:

  • Prime Minister Churchill’s personal files and reports: These are related not only to the petroleum products coming out of Romania, but the overall German oil position, war strategy, activities on the Russian Front, political and military relations with the US, and much more.
  • British War Cabinet files and reports: Similar to the Prime Minister files, but cover a wider range of topics in significantly more detail.
  • British Chiefs of Staff Committee files and reports: Technically a subcommittee of the British War Cabinet, the BCOS was the British equivalent to the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, and in fact when the two organizations met together they were called the Combined Chiefs of Staff. In particular, documents from the Joint Planning Staff and Joint Intelligence Committee go deeply into the issues surrounding German and Romanian oil and denying the Axis petroleum products. Other relevant records include relations with the Americans, the overall German oil position and especially the balance of different products required and their sources, strategic and operational planning documents, etc.
  • Ministry of Economic Warfare: Here sat the oil experts of the British Government, and I was amazed at how much they knew–and how correct they were–about the German oil position, its vulnerabilities, the delicate balance of product types and sources, etc.
  • ULTRA Intercepts: ULTRA was the extremely secret British program to intercept and decrypt German and Axis messages encrypted with, primarily, the famous Enigma code machines. This has been a remarkably productive set of records. Again, I’m utterly shocked at how much the British Government knew about the intents and details of nearly all German operations.
  • Middle East Interpretation Unit (MEIU): This RAF organization controlled all British photo reconnaissance operations and interpretation for the British (including the USAAF Ninth Air Force) as they advanced westward from Egypt towards the Americans advancing to the east from French North Africa. MEIU records are nothing less than a treasure trove of photographs, intelligence analyses, plans, and general evaluations.
  • Chief of the Air Staff (RAF) records and reports: These documents include plans, coordination with the Americans, a broad range of relevant reports and analyses by various British Government organizations, intelligence reports, and much, much more.
  • Central Interpretation Unit (CIU): These were the modelbuilders who built in record time the famous 3D models used in the "SOAPSUDS" (an earlier code name for TIDAL WAVE) briefing films and by the crews themselves for detailed target study. Although nominally a RAF organization situated just outside London, a sizeable number of USAAF personnel were assigned and worked on the TIDAL WAVE models.
  • Many more British organizations created or held documents related to TIDAL WAVE, but are too numerous to mention just now.

American Documents

  • Combined Chiefs of Staff: Although an organization that combined the British Chiefs of Staff and the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, I’m listing it here because most of their records I’ve found have come from American files, regardless of who originated them. The important subjects covered in this category is so vast I’m not going to describe them in detail, except to say that once FDR decided we had to help the Russians, the implementation of how best to do that in 1943 was left to the CCS–and TIDAL WAVE was the result. CCS reports and summaries of the two major Allied conferences where the Ploesti attack was discussed and approved (SYMBOL, the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 and TRIDENT, the Third Washington Conference in May 1943), and QUADRANT (the Quebec Conference) held in mid-August 1943 immediately after the TIDAL WAVE attack where the results were briefed to FDR & Churchill.
  • US Army Air Force records and reports: I now have more than ten shelf feet of Army Air Force records and reports related to TIDAL WAVE and the issue of Axis Oil.
  • Military Attache reports: The US Military Attache in Bucharest provided considerable detail of Ploesti defenses before the Romanians threw the Allies’ diplomatic corps out of their country in the fall of 1941. The Military Attache office in Turkey was the primary source for intelligence on the Balkans area and kept up to date on the TIDAL WAVE aviators who were captured in Romania and Bulgaria and interned in Turkey. Records of the Military Attache office in the country of Peru provided considerable detail about Uzal G. Ent, the TIDAL WAVE commander, just before he moved to North Africa. This is important because we must understand what kind of a man Ent was to be able to understand why the TIDAL WAVE attack was less than fully successful.
  • US Military Academy (West Point): Ent was a 1924 graduate of West Point, and his cadet records and remembrances of his classmates also help provide a fuller understanding of what kind of man he was.
  • Office of Strategic Services (OSS): The OSS was the predecessor of the CIA, and without doubt their files have yielded the greatest mass of detailed American reports and analyses on the German oil position and Ploesti in particular.
  • Hap Arnold Diaries: General Hap Arnold, Commanding General of the US Army Air Forces, kept detailed diaries, and those from the first half of 1943 have provided important insights into the background and planning of the TIDAL WAVE operation.
  • Many more documents from other Army, Army Air Force, and US government civilian agencies have also proved quite helpful.

Axis Records

I’ve mentioned this before, but the Romanian national archives have proven a treasure trove of insight into what happened that day. Official Romanian ministry of defense reports, other governmental reports, and especially the detailed damage/destruction reports prepared by the individual refining companies for the Romanian government make it quite clear what the actual results (as opposed to intelligence-based conjecture) were.

The refining company reports span the period from immediately after the attack to September 1944, when the war in Romania ended after the Russians captured the country. From these reports we can identify exactly what immediate and long term results were obtained by the attack of 1 August 1943. I’ll get into these results in considerable detail in the documentary.

Die Deutschen Luftwaffen Mission In Rumänien (DLM) was the German organization responsible for the defense of the Romanian oil producing area and some of their records were copied by the OSS and USAAF officers who went into Romania in early September 1944, right after the Russian captured the country. These teams photographed and filmed much of the destruction at some of the refineries and copied as many of the records as the Russians made available to them. These reports are exceptionally useful in identifying what actually happened during TIDAL WAVE. The DLM also prepared an official report on the attack from the German point of view.

The German Foreign Ministry was responsible for economic relations with the Romanians, related primarily to petroleum products and foodstuffs. Their contemporary reports on exactly what the Romanians were supplying to Axis forces give great insight into the details of what Romania contributed to the Nazi war effort—this is an extremely important subject and will be described at length in my documentary. OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, the German military high command) and to a lesser extent OKL (Oberkommando der Luftwaffe, German air force high command) records shed additional light on what oil products were needed, when, and where; shortages; and sources.

Enough for now. Hope you’ve found this rather long recap interesting, and I hope you’ll enjoy the documentary when it’s released.

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Status Update

Long-delayed update on my documentary’s progress:

First, it’s not done yet (damn). However, the research portion is very nearly at end and I’m actively working on the script, visuals, graphics, etc.

I’ve recently obtained another 4,000+ pages of original documents from the US National Archives, British National Archives, and German Bundesarchiv that, among other things, clarify to a great extent who the major national players in the planning for the attack on Ploesti were, and especially their attitudes, recommendations, and decisions.

Interesting how this unfolded: some documents I got from the British National Archives led to investigation of several completely new categories of documents from the US National Archives, which are not adequately indexed. This required a great deal of research time, but revealed critical new information not previously known or available.

I’ve also obtained some additional rather obscure but extremely interesting film of the mission and related activities that will help show a clearer, more exciting, and broader picture of what went on.

Some of the new specific document types include a large number of ULTRA decrypts related to Ploesti. You’ll recall that ULTRA was the TOP SECRET British codebreaking operation that was so secret no one outside the tiny group of intelligence initiates was even allowed to know the program existed, let alone the contents of the intercepted messages.

The ULTRA material covers a wide variety of subjects in detail, sometimes in considerable detail. For example, some of the intercepted German messages included such details as the Werke Nummer (serial number) of destroyed or damaged Luftwaffe aircraft (this applies to far more than just Ploesti). German military unit and personnel movements, damage assessments, and to a limited degree overall plans were other subjects covered.

It is utterly amazing to read how well Churchill, and to possibly a lesser extent FDR, were informed on what was going on behind German lines. ULTRA was undoubted one of, if not THE, major coups of the war.

Of particular interest is the extreme difference between the very accurate information the Allies were receiving from the Germans themselves through the ULTRA decrypts, and the amazingly bad information coming to them from some human intelligence sources, especially through Swedish, Polish, and Yugoslavian sources. Contemporary German and Romanian sources available to me now, especially from the oil companies, highlight these inaccuracies. Thankfully the Allies did not put much stock in these inaccurate reports. Because it’s outside the scope of my project, I have not investigated whether these inaccuracies were the result of German penetration of Polish and Yugoslavian intelligence networks or simply over-eager reporting of what was merely positive speculation.

Can’t recall whether I’ve already told you this, but my previous research into OKW (German high command), OKL (Luftwaffe high command) and Hitler’s personal diaries and logs has revealed considerable insight and detail on the German’s attitudes and actions with regard to Romanian oil. Among other things, Hitler’s utter contempt for the Romanian people (and his high regard for Marshal Antonescu) is as well documented as FDR’s well known contempt for Winston Churchill, both in spite of their many public proclamations to the contrary.

In addition to the contextual information I’ve been researching recently, I’ve also made considerable progress on a number of specifics related to the actual attack and its results.

In sum, there is today a massive amount of original documentation that was still classified or completely unavailable 50+ years ago when Stewart and Dugan wrote their landmark book. What’s most amazing is that they did such a superlative job given the relative scarcity of information available to them. As always, I feel honored to walk in the footprints of giants who have preceded me.

Dave Klaus

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