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!
Since this entire project is fundamentally and most importantly a "zero-based" analysis (starting as if we know nothing about the matter, gathering all available contemporary evidence, then building the story based on the facts), it takes MUCH longer to do than simply reading a few books published by previous authors and declaring yourself an expert.
It’s important to understand how this works:
- Gather all possible documentation about the matter. This is a long, drawn-out process, and in this case extraordinarily expensive (for example, General Uzal Ent’s official military record cost me $1585.90, plus shipping). Check the official archives, private archives, museums, private collections, etc.
- When you’re done, start over, because you definitely didn’t get all the important stuff the first time.
- Once all the data is gathered, put it in order so a) you can find it again and b) begin to form the “big picture” based on this data.
- Once this foundation is organized and the general picture formed, begin the hardcore analysis, which includes numeric and qualitative among other things. Even contemporary documents must be checked for accuracy and believability–as well demonstrated by the infamous and wildly inaccurate 1944 official USAAF account of TIDAL WAVE, AAFRH-3.
That document is shot through with egregious errors. The mission planning and preparation sections are useful, but have huge omissions. The account of the mission itself constitutes nothing less than an official cover-up to explain the problems and results. A multitude of raw contemporary reports, which were available to the 1944 report writer, contradict the AAFRH-3 story in fundamental ways. Not everything in AAFRH-3 is wrong, but many of the most important points don’t stand up to scrutiny. Sorting out stuff like this is critical.
Back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s I interviewed a bunch of TIDAL WAVE veterans on audiotape. At the time I was a young AF officer and intended to write the history of the 44th Bomb Group and its antecedents. But as so often happens, life and my professional Air Force career, intervened. Although I’d done a massive amount of research and some writing, my interest in that particular project eventually faded.
However. I learned two fundamental and frankly life-changing lessons from the interviewing process.
- First, people’s memories are generally terrible, and unreliable without corroborating evidence. This does not mean they’re lying, although that sometimes happens too. I’m not going to go into detail on this subject today, but be aware it’s the subject of many documentaries and studies.
- General Leon Johnson told me “what really happened at Ploesti” (his exact words) during our first interview in 1983. I recall today his very first sentence as clearly as if he’d just said it to me, and of course as the four-star general Medal of Honor earner he had my undivided attention. Those four simple words created a “significant emotional event” for me. I believe this statement is the main reason I decided so many years later to put this huge effort into telling the TIDAL WAVE story.
Because of the serious limitations of "war stories" and because the official story makes absolutely no sense, I decided to take the long, difficult, and frankly expensive path of going back to the original evidence and building from there. I’m not interested in "revisionist history," which is usually based on political spin, but very interested in going where actual facts take us.
I just completed one analysis that’s a good example of what I’m talking about. We need to know WHY only 56 bombs fell on the Astra Romana refinery (WHITE IV) when it was the most important target in Romania and the 98th Bomb Group’s target force to attack that specific group of refineries was by far the largest on TW.
Ah, but wait! How do we know only 56 bombs fell on WHITE IV out of the 260 (22%) bombs carried to that target area? How do we know how many bombs were carried to the target area? The crews reported serious strikes on the target in their Sortie Reports. The target was burning fiercely both before and after the 98th arrived in the area. What the hell really happened?
I go into this in much more detail in here although even that description doesn’t begin to describe how much work was actually required to accomplish this analysis.
23 aircraft were lost in the immediate target area out of the 54 lost in total. Aside from the apparent reasons, why did so many go down in the target area? What exactly did the crews face in there? It turns out there were two major reasons, one a serious technical error in configuration of the planes for the mission and the other the heavy flak.
I’ll discuss this technical problem, which was entirely due to a failure of command, during the documentary. But let’s look at the flak issue for a moment. The planners knew flak in the area was heavy and probably extremely heavy. This was one of the primary reasons they were directed to go in at low level.
Read more about this subject here.
So, as you can see, I’ve been a busy little beaver since we last communicated, and this is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg. First I had to FIND all this huge pile of information, then I had to organize it, and only finally have I been able to analyze all the disparate parts to pull together the actual story and put it in a comprehensible form.
I also located 600+ new combat and BDA photos; few if any have been previously seen.