From the Collection

Uniform of Capt Nyme Farage survivor of the Raids of Operation Tidal Wave

This mission was a crucial part of the broader "oil campaign" aimed at depriving the Axis powers of petroleum-based fuel. Despite the effort, the mission did not succeed in reducing the overall output of oil products from the targeted refineries.

April 5, 2024

In early 1943 during the Casablanca Conference, Winston Churchill advocated for targeting Romania's oil refineries, believing it would severely cripple Germany's war effort. However, due to resource constraints for organizing such attacks, the plans were initially shelved.

In April 1943, General Henry H. Arnold directed his staff to revive the plans, leading to the development of two strategies: a medium-scale high-altitude attack from Syrian bases and a massive low-altitude attack from Libya. The latter, proposed by Colonel Jacob E. Smart, was eventually chosen and named Operation Statesman, later renamed Operation Soapsuds, and finally Operation Tidal Wave. General Lewis H. Brereton was appointed to lead the operation.

The Ninth Air Force, specifically the 98th and 376th Bombardment Groups, oversaw the raid's execution. To bolster the bomber force, three additional bomb groups (44th, 93rd, and 389th) from the partially formed Eighth Air Force in England contributed, all flying B-24 Liberators due to the mission's long-range requirements.

Drawing from HALPRO's experiences, planners opted for a daylight low-altitude approach to evade German radar detection. Extensive training included sand table models, mock-up raids in the Libyan desert, and practice runs over secondary targets. The B-24 bombers were modified with bomb-bay fuel tanks, increased fuel capacity, low-level bombsights, and additional armaments like .50-caliber machine guns operated by pilots.

Originally slated for 154 bombers, the operation eventually amassed 178 bombers and 1,751 aircrew, marking one of the largest commitments of American heavy bombers to date. Departing from Benghazi, Libya, the route involved crossing the Mediterranean and Adriatic Sea, skirting Corfu, navigating through Albania and Yugoslavia, before heading towards Ploiești. Checkpoints guided them to approach their targets from the north, simultaneously hitting five main refineries in Ploiești along with designated targets in Brazi and Câmpina.

To prevent accidental bombings of Ploiești itself, the Allied planners intentionally avoided targeting the city for political reasons.

Out of the 178 B-24 bombers that embarked on Operation Tidal Wave, only 88 managed to return to Libya, with 55 of them sustaining battle damage. The losses were significant, including 44 bombers lost to air defenses, along with others that either ditched in the Mediterranean or were interned in neutral Turkey. Some diverted to the RAF airfield on Cyprus for emergency landings. One particularly resilient B-24, riddled with 365 bullet holes, made it back to Libya 14 hours after departure, its survival attributed to the comparatively light armament of the Bulgarian Avia B-534 fighter planes.

The human toll was also heavy. The Americans suffered 310 aircrew members killed or missing, 108 captured by the Axis forces, 78 interned in Turkey, and four taken in by Tito's partisans in Yugoslavia. Three Medals of Honor were posthumously awarded for this mission, the most for any single air action in history, alongside 56 Distinguished Service Crosses and 41 Silver Stars for valor.

Despite the losses, the Allies estimated a 40% reduction in refining capacity at the Ploiești refineries, although some were largely undamaged. However, most of the damage was swiftly repaired within weeks, and by September, the net fuel output exceeded pre-raid levels. The Enemy Oil Committee's assessment noted "no curtailment of overall product output," as many refineries had operated below maximum capacity before the attack. Only Creditul Minier and Columbia Aquila refineries resumed production in late 1944, while Steaua Română partially restarted in January 1944.

Capt Nyme Farage: 2nd Lt (Later Captain) Nyme Farage was the bombardier of the B-24 Nobody's Baby. Lt Farage would fly 50 missions as what was reported to be "The best bombardier in the entire 465th Bomb Group. He flew the Ploiesti Raid during Operation Tidal Wave and was award the Distinguished Flying Cross as well as multiple air medals for you his time in the "hot seat". He would rotate back to the United States on the completion of his 50th mission to become and instructor. However Nyme knew that instructing was not for him and he enrolled in flight school instead. He would become a pilot and completed his war service flying the famous P-51 Mustang.

B-24: "Nobodys Baby" would be shot down on what would have been Cpt. Farage's 51st mission over Blechhammer, Germany August 8th 1944 with all but three crew members surviving the war as POWs. The planes pilot Cpt. Cecil Bates would posthumously receive his Distinguished Flying Cross for holding the stricken bomber steady while his crew jumped while he burned alive.

During World War II, around 14,000 B-24 Liberators were manufactured, making it one of the most prolific aircraft of the war. However, the toll of combat and operational losses was substantial, with over 6,000 B-24s lost during the conflict. These losses occurred due to a variety of factors, including enemy fire, mechanical failures, accidents, and non-combat-related incidents. Many B-24s were shot down by enemy anti-aircraft fire or enemy fighters during combat missions. The intense air battles over Europe and the Pacific often resulted in heavy casualties among bomber crews. Additionally, mechanical failures such as engine malfunctions or structural issues could lead to the loss of an aircraft during flight. Operational accidents, including collisions during takeoff or landing, navigational errors, and adverse weather conditions, also contributed to the high number of B-24 losses. Furthermore, some aircraft were lost in non-combat incidents such as training exercises, ferrying missions, or accidents during maintenance and repair. The significant losses of B-24 Liberators underscore the challenges and dangers faced by bomber crews during World War II, highlighting the risks inherent in conducting aerial operations in a wartime environment.

The Uniform: Today Capt Farage's embroidered tropical uniform is preserved and displayed with pride here at Ghosts of the Battlefield. These artifacts, from uniforms to weaponry, become more than relics; they become living testimonies to the profound impact of military history.