Documentary Status Update, August 2014

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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!

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Keep tuned!

Dave Klaus

p.s.

I also located 600+ new combat and BDA photos; few if any have been previously seen.

14 Responses to Documentary Status Update, August 2014

  1. Mark Hester (son of E Lynn Hester 376th Gorup Bombdier) says:

    Not to mention interviews with sons of participants…

    • DHK says:

      Hi Mark

      Absolutely–I should certainly have mentioned this!

  2. Jeff Pennington says:

    Dave, my dad was part of the 98th BG 343 sq. He was with the group when it was formed in Barksdale. He was a flight engineer. Have many photos and some of records during the Ploesti time period. At one point he was line chief of the 343 along with a Piper. He was friend of Amos “Nickles” Nicholson.

    • DHK says:

      Hi Jeff

      Very glad to hear from you. The 98th was formed by splitting the 44th Bomb Group (which flew to Ploesti alongside the 98th) and adding new recruits from all over the US. Was your Dad one of the 44th’ers or one of the new recruits? Speaking of Nick Nicholson, I flew to Chicago a few years ago to interview him. Spent a very enjoyable day with him (I recall he was 92 at the time); unfortunately he passed away about six months later.

      Dave

  3. Larry Caskey says:

    Dear Dave:

    Great to hear about your further progress on this vitally important story about Tidal Wave. I was finally able to meet, after many years of hoping, an actual participant in this raid. I live in Grand Junction, CO, and it just so happened that a veteran of “Killer” Kane’s 98th BG, TSGT Wally Golec, lived in the Grand Valley a few miles away in Palisade, CO, with his wife. He was the radio operator/gunner aboard “Sad Sack”, which happened to be just off Col. Kane’s left wing going into the target area. His ship, along with Kane’s, wound up landing in Cyprus after the raid & unlike Kane’s bird was able to fly back to Benghazi after refueling. Wally’s gone now (he died on August 11th, 2011, just a few weeks before my father) but I keep in contact with his wife, Ginny, and consider them family. The only surviving member of “Sad Sack” I was told was the pilot, William Banks. Wally unfortunately had Altzheimer’s, which made it difficult for him to remember a lot of specifics about the raid. Fortunately he kept a log & a lot of other paperwork & personal items. When I’ve got more time I’ll let you know more about my personal quest to get a movie made about this mission.

    • DHK says:

      Hi Larry

      It’s a great experience to talk to a legitimate war hero, isn’t it?! I’m glad you had the chance to talk with Mr Golec, and that you’ve been able to keep in contact with them.

      I recently had the chance to interview a TIDAL WAVE vet named Paul Warrenfeltz, who was navigator on the 98th’s BABY. He told me an amazing story. BABY had to abort the mission shortly before the formation reached the Ploesti area for one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction events that you couldn’t replicate if you tried.

      As they reach the Targoviste area pilot Weisler ordered the crew to don their flak vests. If you’ve ever seen photos of the vests in use at the time you’ll know they were big, bulky, and heavy. Anyway, to slip the vest over his head, Paul took off his sunglasses and set them on his navigator’s table in the nose of his B-24D . A slight movement of the airplane caused his sunglasses to slip down behind the back of the table. This irritated him, but he figured he’d recover them some time after the attack was past.

      At the same time BABY’s #3 engine ran away and the crew couldn’t get it back under control. If you know anything about the B-24 you’ll know that a fully loaded ship on three engines has zero chance of keeping up with the rest of the formation. Under these circumstances Weisler recognized they could not continue with the rest of the 98th formation into Ploesti, so he turned for Turkey as the nearest safe place to recover.

      Their flight south held many more adventures and near-misses, but those are for another time. At some point Weisler decided the ship was holding together well enough to try for Cyprus, the nearest friendly territory. If they’d flown to Turkey they would certainly have been interned (as were the rest of the TIDAL WAVE crews that landed there), but Cyprus was just another part of “home” and they’d be free to continue the job they came over to do.

      BABY set down safely on a RAF fighter field on Cyprus. Weisler got the ship stopped before it ran off the end of the short runway, then turned off to the side to allow the B-24 right behind them land safely. It turns out that next B-24 was HAIL COLUMBIA with Kane piloting. Kane pushed HAIL COLUMBIA down hard and landed short of the runway, shearing off the left main landing gear strut. This caused the ship to ground loop, ending up with her nose against a small stone fence.

      HAIL COLUMBIA was written off in that crash. BABY, however, was repaired a couple of days later. The RAF maintenance men were fighter experts, not bomber, and along with BABY’s crew and some of the other AAF men who recovered on Cyprus after the mission tried to fix the #3 engine problem. It took quite a long time for them to figure out what the problem was.

      When Paul’s sunglasses slid off the back of his nav table, they fell into a circuit panel under the table and shorted out part of the electrical system that controlled #3. Once they removed his scorched and mangled glasses from the panel the rest of the repair was easy and BABY and her crew returned to Benghazi to continue combat operations.

      You couldn’t invent that scenario for a novel or movie if you tried!

      Warrenfeltz finished his required missions, serving as lead navigator on about a third of them. He now lives a couple of hours from me and his daughter and grandson have been quite cooperative in helping my research. As of 1995 Paul still had his navigation log for the TIDAL WAVE mission, but it’s apparently disappeared since then. Damn.

      I hope you’ll find my documentary interesting and educational.

      Dave

  4. Good day Dave

    I am responding to your demand on the questions we would like to see adressed in your future video on the Tidalwave mission, so here are some of my questions and some of the subject I would love to see in it I just hope I am not to late as your message (video) was in march or april on this year

    Let’s say to start that french is my mother tongue, so bear with me for the mistake I will make

    I am listing them in no perticular order. Of course it will all be a matter of how long your documentary will be, as with my expectations on that would need a mini series. A mini serie that could most probably be sold the tv network ? I am sure that such a documentary would be of interest for the general public

    I would like to see a part on the Consolidated B24-D, its design , its evolution , its weakness and strenght, the modification for this perticular mission (fuel tanks, belly turret etc)

    In the aircraft section there should be a part on the complete identification of each aircraft,squadron, bomb group and explanation on the national markings (saw that on your web site )

    It would be interesting to get a brief biography of the actors of the mission (planning and execution)

    A section on how the mission came about , where this mission stand in the global war effort of the allied in Europe, in perticular why Ploesti, why at this time during the war, why not wait a bit longer (armistice with Italy came just 3 /4 months later) to have airbase closer to the target , why Libya as a base for the mission why not Egypt or Palestine (closer to target) which were English control territory

    What I do not understand is why a low level operation when it goes against all the US military doctrine in bombardment (it was not tried before nor was it used again after) How come it went throught when there was so much opposition (seems to me that a majority of people were against the low level approch)

    There was 2 approach regarding the cruising speed for the first leg (one commander favor higher speed the other slower) how come this issue was not settle before takeoff so the 5 groups would have been all together instead of being separated and thus compromising the mission

    It is said that for this mission the belly turret were remove to save on weight, yet on the roster list I saw there is personnel listed as tunnel turret gunner, what is the difference between belly turret and tunnel turret

    It would be interesting to adress the case of Flavell and Wongo Wongo. Where was he in the formation, and where was Compton (group commander)

    How many aircraft participated in Tidal wave, after reading many sources the exact number is not certain, the highest number I saw is in the 200 ball park and the lowest is +/- 165.My count is 178

    There are a lot of questionning on my part as to a lot of subjets
    – How could the be so blind in thinking that this could be a surprise attack ?
    – How could they believed that they could fly undetected ?
    – The British navy proved that the low flying planes were easy target why continue in low level attack
    – Was there any provision for flying in cloud formation ( the 2 sections had a different approch over in one case and no change in the second group and thus augmenting the separation between the 2 formations )
    – Why the information that Ploesti defence was strong and well trained with German troop not taken in account
    – Why did the planners did not push more for a landing in russian territory making it a shorter flight especially since the russians were asking for a second front to be opened (help us we will help you)

    There are some others question but I will write you later on them

    I first read about Tidal wave mission in my teens (late 60’s) when I read the french translation of Dugan « opération raz de marée sur les petroles de Ploesti », this year I bought the english version and 2 more books on the subjet Black Sunday and Into the fire. Could you suggest other books

    Thanks and keep up the good work

    Pierre Brosseau
    Boucherville Qc Canada

    • DHK says:

      Hi Pierre

      Thanks for your long and thoughtful submission. BTW, your English is MUCH better than my French (pretty much limited to sacre bleu and merde)!*

      Your questions are considerably more insightful than many I receive, so I’ll spend quite a while addressing them. You also point to the direct reason why I’ve done a “zero-based” analysis of the operation (going back to original documentation): so much incorrect and outlandish material about TIDAL WAVE has been published in various places that it’s time to set the record straight.

      Addressing your suggestions in order:

      – The modifications made to the TIDAL WAVE (TW) B-24s must be addressed and I will do so. The reasons why the B-24 was the only viable aircraft for this mission is another important point I’ll cover.

      – The results of this mission were very much related to the personalities of the major players. I’ll be discussing Luftwaffe Gen Alfred Gerstenberg, Gen Uzal Ent (IX BC), and colonels Jacob Smart (Arnold’s staff), Ted Timberlake (201 CW), Leon Johnson (44 BG), John “Killer” Kane (98 BG), K. K. Compton (376 BG), and Jack Wood (389 BG) in some detail, along with Lt Col Addison Baker (93rd BG). This was an operation that was very much personality-driven.

      – The “why,” “when,” and “why now” issues are very important and establish the foundation for the mission being flown on 1 August 1943. Your point about the availability of Italian bases half the distance from Ploesti a couple months later is very good, and seldom asked. The reason the Americans did not wait is critical to understanding the “why now.” The originating base (Benghazi area) and not someplace closer is also important and will be described in detail.

      – I’ll also explain in detail why “low level” was the only viable option for this attack. You note it was against USAAF doctrine, which was also the subject of a Master’s Degree thesis written by a USAF officer a few years ago. This is not entirely correct; 5th Air Force in the Pacific had been bombing from low level for months before TW, although they were using A-20s and B-25s, not heavy bombers. As the result, the USAAF had considerable in-house experience with low level attacks, and of course the RAF had been attacking targets in the Ruhr and France at very low level for a couple of years. In fact, Operation Chastise, the famous low level “Dam Busters” raid by RAF heavy bombers (Lancasters) had occurred a mere 2-1/2 months before TW.

      Between the USAAF and RAF considerable operational experience with low level attacks was available to the TW planners. In fact, passive defenses, primarily barrage balloons and artificial smoke, were serious issues for low level attacks and formed part of the intelligence planning the TW staff received from outside agencies.

      – I mentioned earlier that personalities drove the results of this mission. Your question about the two different cruising speeds enroute–plus numerous other operations issues–point directly to serious weakness on the part of one of the participants. This had a massive impact on the results and I’ll discuss this issue at great length.

      – Brian Flavelle (Wongo Wongo) and mission leadership is another of the great issues about this operation, and understanding what happened and why is essential to understanding the “big picture” of TIDAL WAVE. Obviously I will spend considerable time describing and explaining this issue; you will understand exactly what happened when I’m finished.

      – Accurate statistics about the mission in many respects tell quite a different story than what we usually hear, and will give you insights into issues most have not even thought about. I’ve spent a massive amount of time gathering, verifying, assessing, and analyzing statistics from US, British, Romanian, and German sources and will share them with you in the documentary.

      – Your questions about surprise and British naval experience require a bit more space than I can devote here. Surprise was CENTRAL to the TW battle plan, and I’ll discuss it in considerable detail along with some surprising documentation from German and Romanian official documents. The RN experiences are actually mostly irrelevant to TW, as extremely slow aircraft such as Swordfish (and USN TBDs at Midway) attacking over open ocean is quite different from aircraft attacking at 200 mph over mostly built up spaces. Nonetheless, I will address in detail the issues, actual results, and loss causes during the TW attack.

      – “Current” intelligence about Ploesti defenses was a major issue, both during the planning phase and obviously during the attack itself. The Allies had astoundingly accurate strategic and technical intelligence about the refineries and general status of the defenses, but as you know senior commanders decided at almost the beginning of the planning process to NOT fly recce over Ploesti because they were afraid it would reveal the Americans’ intentions. I will discuss the entire issue of Intelligence in great detail during the documentary.

      – I will only touch on this in the documentary, but the Americans actually requested permission from the Soviets to land in Soviet territory after the mission. The Soviets, as usual, dickered and dithered and did not respond at all until more than a month after the attack had already occurred. I’ll tell you in the documentary what the Soviets said!

      Several professional historians and military officers are pushing me to write a book to accompany my documentary because I have FAR more interesting and useful information than can be packed into a 90-minute documentary. I’m not sure I’ll do this, but I’m at least considering it at this point.

      Thanks again for your excellent questions.

      Dave Klaus

      * You know the old joke:

      What do you call a person who speaks three languages? (Trilingual)
      What do you call a person who speaks two languages? (Bilingual)
      What do you call a person who speakes one language? — AN AMERICAN!

  5. Curtis Green says:

    Dave,

    In your research for your project, have you come across or obtained any of the names of the men who were transferred from other units to take part in Tidal Wave? (“adding new recruits from all over the US”) I am researching the military service of my dad, 1st Lt. Curtis G. Green, Jr.(O-414-726) and on his discharge document it shows that he had TAD orders to the ETO from 5 July 1943 to 30 August 1943; his duty station at the time of the TAD was in the U.S. Dad was both a B-17 and B-24 pilot. I have a good number of his military documents/orders but nothing that covers this timeframe. Also, his pilot log book is “silent” about this timeframe. I’m trying to determine if dad was part of Tidal Wave or of the invasion of Sicily that was occurring at about the same time. Information I’ve obtained recently indicates that the 44th, 93rd and 389th bomb groups of the 8th Air Force were involved in Tidal Wave.

    If you have any information that indicates that my dad was involved in the Tidal Wave operation I would truly appreciate hearing about it!

    Many thanks!

    Curtis Green
    curtisgreen30@tx.rr.com

    • DHK says:

      Hi Curtis

      I just discovered that my http://www.Low-Level-Ploesti.org website stopped sending me alerts that somebody has posted a comment. Your interesting note from four months ago (!) has unfortunately fallen into that category, for that I apologize–I have no idea why my alerts stopped. Please be assured that my lack of response does not indicate a lack of interest!

      Yes, I have quite a bit of information on inter-group crew transfers, and probably have useful data on your Dad. Unfortunately, I’m in the midst of selling my house and moving to a new place and almost all my TIDAL WAVE documentation (including the crew transfers) is in deep storage until I get to the new place. Once I get settled in I’ll dig out these files and let you know what they show.

      Do you know whether your Dad had any additional specialties besides pilot (such as intelligence)? The lack of entries in his logbooks suggest he might have been there in an intelligence/ordnance/maintenance role rather than combat aircrew.

      The timeframe you mention is precisely the North African desert (Benghazi, Libya) period the three 8th Air Force B-24 bomb groups were on TDY (TAD is a NAVY abbreviation!!) down there, so it seems extremely likely he was involved in TIDAL WAVE on some level. The three groups also participated in all the 9th Air Force heavy bomber attacks in support of HUSKY, the invasion of Sicily, during that period.

      This timeframe would also likely have coincided with a “specialist” being temporarily assigned to the operation outside flying duty. This is reasonable conjecture and I’m sure we’ll know more when I get access to my files again.

      Again, sorry about the long delay in answering your note.

      Dave

  6. Michael Hollister says:

    Dave,

    Just FYI, I recently attended the funeral of Col. Walter T. Stewart (97 years young) who flew “Utah Man” and was the deputy lead for the 93rd BG. Addison E. Baker was lead but was shot down over the target and it fell to Walter and his crew to lead the remaining aircraft over their respective target. Baker was one of the five MOH recipients, of which four were given posthumously, like his. Operation Tidal Wave is still the most highly decorated mission in all of U.S. history! Not many people realize this. Walter would receive the Distinguished Service Cross 52 years after the fact.

    Walter was an amazing man, a dear friend and a personal hero of mine! He will be missed! There will never be another generation like his!

    • DHK says:

      Hi Mike

      Many thanks for sharing this info about Col. Stewart. Do you know the date he passed away? He was certainly one of the oft-quoted TIDAL WAVE vets, and the documentary about him is quite interesting. I think you’ll find what I have to say about the 93rd Bomb Group to be revealing.

      Dave

  7. Carol Buran says:

    Dave, as you go through your research, I would like to make note that my Dad’s plane has been improperly identified in Ploesti by Dugan and Stewart. I have also seen it identified improperly in other books and haven’t been able to trace back why. My Dad was Lt. William E. Meehan, Jr., 93rd BG. He named his plane for my Mom, Jane Meehan – the plane has been referred to as “Bertha” in Ploesti but it should have been call “Lady Jane.” I have documentation of the proper name from the tail gunner, Larry Yates, who was the only surviving crew member. If you would like to see any of the information his family sent me as I was doing my initial research several years ago, I would be glad to make copies and send them to you. I have his statement of the events of the mission and the crash as he reported them after being released as a POW. I will be most interested to keep up with your progress. Thank you for your efforts!!

    • DHK says:

      Thanks, Carol. I’ve already contacted you off-site.

      Dave

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