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!

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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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2 Responses to Research Update/Status

  1. Tom Imburgio says:

    Great research, as an old retired AF targeting officer I was greatly interested in the bomb fall plots map that you showed. Love to see a little bit larger version …… old ways die hard wanting to evaluated the bomb damage on a 70 year old strike mission. Again great work and look forward to the finished product.

    • DHK says:

      Hi Tom

      Thanks. I think you’ll find all the refinery bombfall plots very interesting (as did the German & Romanian governments, and of course the petroleum companies themselves). I will certainly show all of them in the documentary and haven’t decided exactly how/if to make them available in higher resolution than will be available on-screen. The evaluation of the actual strikes, along with the oil companies’ descriptions of the specific damage, really turns the conventional wisdom of how the attack turned out on its head.

      Dave Klaus