TIDAL WAVE/Ploesti Documentary Update

A couple of guys have enquired within the last week about what’s going on with my TIDAL WAVE/Ploesti documentary since they hadn’t heard anything from me for a while.  The 70th anniversary of the mission was a couple of weeks ago and I had really wanted to have my documentary on the street by then.  Didn’t make it.

I’m putting in a MINIMUM of eight hours a day, seven days a week on the TIDAL WAVE project, regardless of what else I’m doing.  I try to take a full day off every three weeks, but don’t always get to do that, what with travel and all, and I get in about 10-12 hours on most days.

For example, in the last two weeks, I’ve spent two days at the Army War College Archives at Carlisle Barracks, PA (my second visit there), four days at the National Archives (my umpteenth visit there), and two days at the Library of Congress (again, my umpteenth visit).

These visits and the ones that preceded them, along with considerable information received from Germany and Romania and other archives, have revealed quite a bit of previously unknown, or unknown but surmised, or unknown and incorrectly guessed or reported material related to TIDAL WAVE.  I’ve also read over 350 (yes, three hundred fifty) books, plus innumerable articles, professional papers, doctoral dissertations, etc., in my quest to get the TW story right.

On Thursday of last week, I found a previously unknown official Romanian-language report on TIDAL WAVE filed in the middle of a “graves registration” file at the National Archives.  No wonder nobody could find it before–if they were even looking for it.    Oh, and BTW, I don’t speak German or Romanian, so thank God for Google Translate and the other online translation services (Google does a terrible job with German).  Luckily Jim has stepped in to help with some of the German translation, so hopefully that will speed things up quite a bit.

The mass aerial formation became separated during the flight into two elements that were widely separated in time and space.  I found a previously unknown 201st Combat Wing (the 8th AF contingent of TW [44, 93, 389]) report that includes two maps drawn on 3 Aug 43 from 8th AF navigators’ logs to track where the two TW formations (376/93 in first element; 98/44/389 following 20+ minutes later in the second element) actually went.  This is CONSIDERABLY different from any previously published maps, and doesn’t have many straight lines on it like you see on the official maps.

Col Ted Timberlake, former 93rd commander, and then commander of the 201st CW who was excluded at the last minute from flying on the mission, wanted to know what actually happened and where the two formations actually went. He directed his wing navigator to get the actual story from his 8th AF navigators & pilots, who had participated in each of the flying elements.

From a Luftwaffe map I now have the exact locations and codenames (Brutus, Tiberius, Justinian, etc.) of the German radar sites that ringed the Ploesti oil area.

I’ve also confirmed the real reason why the mission was flown–at the time it was–(it wasn’t to “end the war six months earlier,” although that’s what the crews were told); what the German aircraft detection service (radar & observers) did and when they did it; security breaches that may have led to a very early German notification the huge mission was airborne; German & Romanian air defense screwups; effects of the attack on the German High Command (OKW) and Hitler himself; civilian day-to-day life in 1943 Romania; etc., etc., etc.

At this point I’m focused on having this project on the street by my birthday at the end of October.  A ton of work remains, but we’ll see.  In any case, I’ll get back to working on it now!


29 Responses to TIDAL WAVE/Ploesti Documentary Update

  1. Mark Loper says:

    Hi Dave,

    I just read your update on the Ploesti Documentary. I would like you to keep two things in mind:

    1. Do not work so hard you injure your health; and,

    2. Do not work so quickly that the end result is not the best you can do.

    We who will be purchasing the documentary want the best product we can get for our money and, many of us may like you to continue to be with us in good health for many years after it is completed.

    Thank you for your consideration of these two items.

    • DHK says:

      Hi Mark

      Thanks for your concern about my health. All of us have to be more careful than was necessary when we were 20!

      A big part of my effort is ensuring I can prove to the maximum extent possible some of the more interesting aspects of the mission that contravene some of the conventional wisdom that’s grown up over the last 70 years. I don’t mind controversy, and some will never release their long-held beliefs in spite of new evidence, but if it was just the “story,” I could have finished this up months ago. A great deal of what I’m doing now will probably not appear in the actual documentary, but helps ensure I’m telling the most complete and accurate story possible.


      • Woody Griffin says:

        Dave, Don’t kill yourself doing this project. I’m sure it’s going to be terrific, like everything you do, and when it’s finished, I’ll be purchasing the documentary to show at Eagle Squadron. Cheers, Woody Griffin

        • DHK says:

          Hi Woody

          Thanks for your kind wishes. Worked all night last night (it’s 0613 right now), but I need to take your advice.


  2. Avery Galbraith says:


    I learned a long time ago that task assessment of anything more complex than tying your shoelaces is just an educated guess. It sounds like you’ve given yourself a job along the lines of ‘peeling’ an onion — you have to get through one layer to be able to even see what’s under it! I also learned that the best way to do a job is to do it right, even if — ESPECIALLY if — you’re the only one that knows it!

    I’m rooting for you, and looking forward to your final product arriving in my mailbox. Thanks for this massive effort.

    Avery Galbraith

    • DHK says:

      Hi Avery

      Yes, and the onion is making me cry (LOL). Your analogy is exactly correct. History is not memory, and a great deal of what’s been said since the war–and especially since the Stewart & Dugan book in 1961–is more properly termed “memory.” I believe I’ve noted it elsewhere, but when I was actively interviewing participants back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, more than one would stop in the middle of a sentence, pause, and say: I’m not sure whether I remember that or whether I read it in the book [Dugan & Stewart]. It became so commonplace that I got to the point where I would gently prod an interviewee by asking whether he actually saw or experienced whatever he was telling me about, or whether somebody “told” him about it. Much of the time the vet, upon reflection, acknowledged he was told about it and couldn’t personally verify the story. This does not mean–at all–that the vet stories are invalid or incorrect, only that it’s best if we verify, verify, verify.

      It was through “peeling the onion” that I was able to verify the real reason TIDAL WAVE was flown in August rather than a month or two later when closer airfields were coming available.


  3. Thomas R. Nelson says:

    Dave: First, thanks so much four what you’ve undertaken. I’ve been fascinated by the story ever since i heard avery short comment from one of our fraternity alumni advisors while I was at the University of Oklahoma. (the kind of comment that doesn’t invite any more conversation). I also spent two years in the Air Force ROTC there.Then I devoured Dugan and Stewarts book, and not to detract to what it contributed to a vastly increased interest in the story, there were some things that didn’t ring true. (By then i was a young trial lawyer, and beginning to appreciate the subtleties of cross examination, which first and foremost required an understanding of motivation and human behavior.

    Later, I read both the “After the Battle”, very well done, book about the raid titled “Though the Lens: Ploesti” Extremely detailed, and in my view, a more succinct and fact based account, that also had the merit of calling out Jacob Smart’s prevarications, as well as raising an eyebrow (a subtle art only the Brits have mastered)* at the Wongo Wongo fabrication, and the inconsistencies in the 376th command crews accounts; much less behavior. (Think “targets of opportunity”) Mike Hill’s book has fascinating photographs and obviously was a labor of love, but has its own inconsistencies, as well what amounts to a naive acceptance of the myth that if the mission was heroic, that then everyone involved deserved to be given the benefit of the doubt and accorded the mantle of heroes. This, I submit, detracts from the overwhelming number of true heroes.

    I intend to make whatever financial contribution our dwindling budget will allow in terms of purchases, and will do so even if you don’t care to respond to this question (or more likely simply don’t have the time, but here it is :

    I was an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) officer on the DesRon 28 squadron flagship, USS WALLER (DD 466) and participated in the surfacing oif one of the Soviet Foxtrots, and the prosecution of two more (As a small world story, of the five others acknowledged by the Russians to have been forced to the surface, three of the destroyers given credit included officers whom played significant roles who war and are friends of mine. So, when I tell you that there are many and marked similarities to the cover ups and misinformation occurring after each, you won’t be surprised.

    Thomas R. Nelson
    Supporter, and
    Former and Present customer

    • DHK says:

      Hi Jim

      You raise several good points. Dugan and Stewart’s 1961 book was the first great breakthrough on Ploesti information, and it was no fault of Cal Stewart’s that a considerable amount of US material was still classified and in Romania, then a Communist country, the archives were closed to Western researchers. In spite of those monumental limitations, Cal Stewart was able to gather a breathtaking amount of material from participants, most of whom knew what they saw, but not necessarily much more except hearsay and rumors. 40 years later eminent 8th AF researcher Roger Freeman tackled the subject and was able to add considerable new technical insight, including a certain amount from Romanian sources.

      Both authors were highly influenced by the AAF’s 1944 official history on TIDAL WAVE that stated a (very talented) first lieutenant was the mission leader and when he went down over the Mediterranean the rest of the mission was thrown off pace. This ludicrous fiction was accepted by the writers, but no military commander (or former commander) would willingly accept the possibility that a full colonel bomb group commander and brigadier general mission commander would place themselves far back in the leading formation and expect a lieutenant to lead the parade. Indeed, Lt Gen K.K. Compton (who, as a colonel, commanded the lead bomb group) stated in later years he was in his proper position at the front of the formation, leading, for the entire time. This is so obvious it’s amazing the “lieutenant leads” fiction survived for as many decades as it did.

      Furthermore, the claim in the 1944 official history that Compton did not see the lead ship go down is utterly unbelievable on the face of it. If he was, as claimed in the report, far back in the formation he could not possibly have missed seeing the lead ship go down. If Compton was leading from the front, it’s slightly possible he might not have personally seen a following ship (Flavelle) go down, but it’s equally impossible his crew would have missed seeing and reporting it to him.

      To be clear, the preceding comments are not about Compton or his personal performance, but about the fictions propagated in the official history.

      You hit the nail on the head when you talk about the true heroes. When the problems are inside the lead aircraft, the remainder of the unit crews are blameless for following him–that’s what they’re trained and expected to do.

      The 376th Bomb Group has taken a lot of heat over the decades for being the only unit to fail to attack Ploesti after flying more than a 1000 miles, only to mostly salvo their bombs in fields and rivers and head home. This is wildly unfair to the crews, given their training, orders, and expected behavior. The fact that five (not six, as indicated in the official report) 376th crews broke away to attack (Palm from the south, Norm Appold and his two wingmen from the north to bomb WHITE II, and Miller, who broke away at approximately the same time as Appold and attempted to bomb his originally briefed WHITE I target), simply shows extraordinary courage and commitment on the part of these five crews and in no way detracts from the other crews who followed their leader home without attacking. They are utterly blameless, from both a military and moral perspective, for following their orders and leader.

      I’ll contact you offline regarding the other matter.


  4. DNick Adams says:

    Carry on the good work. Advise if I can read (English-and southern English at that) and summarize any documents for you.

    Nick Adams

    • DHK says:

      Hi Nick

      Thank y’all for your kind offer. I’ll let you know offline.


  5. Eddie Lee says:

    Dave, I second the prior post about pacing yourself in order to preserve your health! Also, we should all reflect on the inaccuracies (purposeful or not) of the reports of just about any battle action in all theaters of operation in all episodes of human conflict. The Ploesti raid was not unique in the regard of misinformation disseminated to the public!
    Keep up the great work!

    • DHK says:

      Hi Eddie

      My thanks for your advice about health–you’re absolutely right. Also thanks for your kind remarks.

      Your observation about historical inaccuracies is right on; watch the documentary Discovery Channel (I think) documentary about the accuracy of eyewitness evidence. That’s why I put more weight on crew reports where multiple men reported on specific incidents. It’s also why contemporary documentation is generally more reliable than material created months or years after the event. Certainly it’s possible for additional information to be acquired after the fact that could modify original reports (perfect example is the aircrews’ target damage assessments and RAF photo recce reports compared to the Romanians’ contemporary damage reports on their refineries capabilities. The bigger issue on “later” reporting an anecdotes is the possibility or even likelihood of what we might call political influence. As you say, this is not confined to TIDAL WAVE; pretty much all human activity is subject to these factors.


  6. Clyde says:

    Awesome. Can’t wait. Have enjoyed the Keep ’em Flying DVD that you put together as well. Great work mate.

    • DHK says:

      Hi Clyde

      Glad you liked the B-24 Maintenance Films DVD (“Keep ’em Flying”). I know the sound on one of the films is not great, but you literally could not understand the narrator on the original film–at least you can understand him now! I hope to meet your expectations on the “Dragged Through The Mouth Of Hell” documentary DVD set.


  7. Tom Imburgio says:


    Looking foward to the DVD and I hope everyone appriciates all the research your doing. Have you been through the USAF archives at Maxwell AFB? Years ago I got to look up my old squadron’s WW II history (71st Bomb Sqd) when I was at a school there in the late 1980’s. Boxes of op orders,FRAG orders, pictures, stike photo’s etc.

    Best of luck with the project,


    • DHK says:

      Hi Tom

      Thanks for your kind comments. Yes, I’m well aware of the USAF archives (I attended Air Command & Staff College there way back when). I’ve gotten a ton of material from Maxwell, including some really esoteric stuff. Like all archives, there’s a fair amount of misfiled material, and I’ve been extremely lucky in finding a bunch of critical but misfiled documents as well as the correctly filed material. That archive is a true national treasure.

      BTW, I’ve most recently (like right now) been into the Soviet NKVD interrogation files of captured senior Luftwaffe generals who served in Romania as well as the files of Die Deutsche Luftwaffenmission in Rumänien, German air force top command in Romania. The NKVD stuff is in Russian and the Luftwaffe stuff in German, neither of which language I speak, so it’s pretty slow going. Absolutely crucial stuff, though.


  8. Bruce Culver says:

    This is very exciting – this mission was pretty unique in its use of heavy bombers at low altitude, and getting a clearer picture of what happened and why will make further study that much more effective. It will be good to get the truer story. One can only wonder what really happened in any number of other major battles in WW2, and by extension, almost any other war. As a wise man once said, “He who fights and runs away lives to write his memoirs and make all his enemies look bad.” Take care of yourself, please……

    • DHK says:

      Hi Bruce

      That’s a GREAT quote!


  9. Kai Willadsen says:

    Hi Dave,

    Have you cracked the Russian of the Soviet NKVD interrogation files open? If not, I might possibly help?

    Kai Willadsen

    • DHK says:

      Hi Kai

      It’s been a long time! Great to hear from you.

      I got into the NKVD stuff in the Russian language a couple of years ago. I found their interrogation reports for Gerstenberg, Braun, Hansen, Dietl, and Spalke. If you know of others relevant to TIDAL WAVE, I’d very much like to hear about them. Please contact me off-list (supportatLowdashLeveldashPloestidotorg). Thanks for your kind offer!


  10. Mark Hester says:

    David –

    I look forward to the documentery of the 8-1-43 mission… Let me know if i can assist further in any way..

    . BTW my Dad ( E Lynn Hester) said the bombs were salvoed out of Teggie Ann over “fields” not “rail sidings”…. He said that when the order came from the cockpit to “bomb targets of opprotunity” ( he presumed Gen. Ent gave that order) , he got into his position to look for a target to drop on… (remember they were 100-200 feet off the ground moving at over 100 MPH)… that the bomb release handle was limp and the bombs were already gone…

    I was not awair that they dropped right into and thru the bomb bay doors when salvoed.. but my Dad said thats what happened, and they made it back to N Africa with the Bomb bay doors blowing in the wind…

    He never got to see the actual target ….The lead plane headed south in a sweeping turn away from Ploesti heading back to their base in N Africa..

    I bet it was a long flight home… Do you have any records of the order of arrival of the B-24s back at the base after the mission?.

  11. Fred G says:

    I’ve always heard it pronounced ‘plo – yes – tee’.
    I met someone from Romania who told me the real pronunciation is ‘plo – yesht’

    • DHK says:

      Hi Fred

      Yes, we English-speakers have problems with properly pronouncing Romanian words. It was so bad that on the very first page of the famous 1961 Stewars & Dugan book Ploesti they printed the “plo-yesht” pronunciation. Of course, when you pronounce it properly other English-speakers have no idea what you just said!

      Also, the country name is pronounced “roman-nia,” which is in a sense their homage to their historical Roman roots (at one point Romania was a part of the Roman Empire).

      I will be posting a web page here entirely devoted to the proper pronunciation of various Romanian words and place names, with the spoken audio coming from a native Romanian who is a good friend. I think that will be a lot of fun. Stand by–I think I’ll have the page up in a few weeks.


  12. John Repcik says:

    Great news that this still on going. I was afraid that it had been shelved. I am looking forward to the release and hope it will be this year.

    • DHK says:

      Hi John

      Yep, I’m glad too! I will be very relieved to have this baby on the street. I think/hope the wait will have been worth it.


  13. Rob Julien says:

    Hi Dave,

    Jack W. Wood was my uncle. Like many of his contemporaries, Uncle Jack was reticent about sharing his war experiences, particularly the Ploesti raid, and we look forward to learning more about it from your project.

    • DHK says:

      Hi Rob

      I much appreciate your note.

      Jack’s daughters have been helpful with certain information. All of the TIDAL WAVE commanders except Kane kept very quiet about the mission after the war unless talking among themselves. General Jacob Smart’s son told me that when the other TW commanders would visit his house while he was growing up his dad kicked the family out of the room so they could talk privately. I now have a handful of letters these leaders exchanged with one another that give hints about their massive irritation about what happened on the mission and afterwards.

      I was exceptionally lucky (“stunned” is more accurate) that by 1985 when I twice interviewed General Leon Johnson he was no longer interested in holding back what he knew about the mission. He let Ent have it with both barrels. Of course, he also charged me with keeping my mouth shut about what he’d said until after he died, but could relate his information freely after that. I would have loved to go to Generals Timberlake, Wood, and Smart to ask them the same questions I asked Gen Johnson (and discuss the blockbusters Johnson revealed), but with Gen Johnson’s demand I remain silent it wouldn’t have done much good to talk to the other men–for precisely the reason you’ve highlighted concerning your uncle.


  14. Forrest R. Lindsey says:

    While in the Marines, I was introduced to the saying “better is the enemy of good enough” (usually when I was laboring over a difficult investigation.). Even though I am sure that there are piles of yet unknown documents hiding somewhere, you and I aren’t getting any younger and somewhere soon down the line, somebody else is going to get all those unbuilt model kits in our basements.

    The work you have done is superb and you need to get it out to all of us while you still can. Trust me Dave, it’s time to “go final”.

    Semper Fi,

    • DHK says:

      Roger that, Rick. That’s why I’ve made the public commitment to have this puppy on the street by this Christmas.


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