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John Simmons Young

Military

Lieutenant John S. Young was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. Bored with college at SMU in Dallas, and knowing the country was headed for war, he joined the Army Air Force early in 1941 and began training as an aviation cadet. He was known as "Johnny" or "Big John" by his friends, his fellow cadets and, later, his fellow pilots and air crewmen. After earning his pilot's wings and finishing advanced flight training, 2nd Lieutenant John Young was assigned to the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group, with the 344th Bombing Squadron, and stationed at Barksdale Field, Louisiana, training as a B-24 Liberator bomber pilot. On one of his early training missions out of Barksdale, Young and his crew bombed and sank a German submarine they caught on the water's surface in the Gulf of Mexico. Lt. Young and the 9th Air Force deployed to North Africa in 1942, the 98th Bomb Group was based at Tunis, Tunisia, Cairo, Egypt, Tobruk, and Benghazi, Libya, in the Mediterranean theatre of WWII, through 1942 & 43.

John Young flew on the famous low level bombing mission, Operation Tidal Wave, to destroy the German oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. He was assigned to fly with Group Commander Col. John R. "Killer" Kane as his copilot in the 98th Bomb Group's element lead aircraft, Hail Columbia. Kane's 98th Bombardment Group, the 389th Bomb Group, and the 44th Bomb Group following him, led by Col. Leon Johnson, all took heavy losses flying into Ploesti's ground defenses, yet, successfully attacked and bombed their targets, including the Astra Romano oil refinery, code named, "White IV", The Steaua Romano refinery at Campina, Ploesti, "Target Red", and "White V", the Columbia Aquila refinery.

After already having been shot down once by German fighters, Young's regular B-24 assigned to him, was the B-24D, 41-11768, he named, Kickapoo, after the magical liquor, "Kickapoo Joy Juice" from Al Capp's popular "Li'l Abner" cartoon. From the time the 98th Bomb Group arrived in North Africa in 1942, it supported the British Eighth Army in it's westward advance across the North African desert to defeat and drive the German army out of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. The 98th Bombardment Group's B-24 squadrons bombed and strafed German Army land targets, troops, tanks, and trucks in the North African desert. They attacked and bombed Axis shipping in the Mediterranean Sea, the ocean harbors and installations, enemy ports, and port facilities in Libya, Sicily, Italy, Crete, Malta, and Greece, to cut the enemy's supply lines to the MTO, and to prepare for the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy. Flying for the British, the 98th's B-24Ds flew out, mostly in small groups, from their bases at Benghazi, unescorted. They were often attacked by Italian and German fighters. On one occasion, while flying low over the ships anchored in an Italian harbor, Young felt his bombardier, who hated the Italians, toggle two bombs, on his own, right into an Italian hospital ship with big red crosses on it, and blew it up, just as they overflew it. Young knew that ship was off limits, and he had been warned not to bomb it. He fully expected to be court martialed when he returned to Benghazi. However, several days later, when he was asked about the bombing and told intelligence what happened, they told him that the ship had been running arms and supplies to the Germans. So, instead of being reprimanded, he was commended for his bombardier's sinking it. That sinking may have been when he was awarded his first Oak Leaf Cluster to his DFC medal. It's not known if his bombardier received a medal for the sinking, but he should have.

On April 3, 1943, after a bombing mission over Naples, Italy, just as Young and a flight of several other Liberator bombers were leaving the target area, one of his B-24's engines failed, and, as he fell behind, he had to drop out of his formation just off the island of Crete. Separated and alone, he soon was attacked by two squadrons, eight German Focke Wulf FW-190 and ME-109 fighters, all looking to shoot down a lone straggler. As the German fighters moved in for the kill, Young and his copilot made a steep diving turn back toward land, and their gun crew opened up on the fighters with their .50 cal. guns, fighting for their lives in a running gun battle, eight against one. Using a trick he learned from the British Stirling bomber pilots he talked to in England, Young rolled his huge bomber into a steep, power off, spiraling corkscrew descent to get his plane down to the Mediterranean water's surface as quickly as possible, and to throw off the German fighter pilots' aim on the way down and to rob them of their vertical plane of attack once he reached the ocean's surface. When they reached the ocean surface, Young and his copilot firewalled the throttles on their three good engines, trying to make a run back to land at Malta, with the German fighters in trail, making gunnery runs on their crippled plane. For morale reasons, and mostly because he just disliked them, Young ignored most military protocols and insisted that his crewmen not salute him or call him by anything but his first name, or the nicknames they gave him, insisting, " As far as l am concerned, we're all equal and in this fight together as equals." As such, he would, sometimes, go out in the heat of the day and work with his gunner/mechanics, Sgt. Treace, TSgt. Leard, his crew chief, TSgt. Weckessler, and the others, as they worked on his plane, but he confided, "They let me work with them, but, I was, mostly, in their way."

As the German fighters dove down on their B-24, Young's top turret gunner, Tech Sergeant Fred Weckessler and the other gunners called the breaks for him over the intercom, "Fighter 8 o'clock, Johnny, break left !" and, "Fighters high at three and four o'clock, Big John, break right !", so he could roll and turn into the approaching fighters just above the water's surface, making for a difficult target, and to put his gunners in position to make passing shots at the fighters as they flew over and past their tighter turning American bomber. Once clear, after the fighters flew past, Young and his copilot would turn and run toward Malta. These tactics worked well enough for the ten or fifteen minutes of the fight, that Young's gunners shot down three of the attacking fighters and damaged two others. When Lt. Norman Whalen, Young's navigator and nose gunner from Denton, Texas, hit one of the 190s and blew it out of the sky with his flexible .50 cal. nose gun, he let out a war whoop on the intercom, the equal of any Texas cowboy. Young said he almost felt he was home in Texas when he heard Whalen yell ! Fortunately for the young American airmen, the German pilots, were running low on fuel, or, maybe, they had decided they had enough, after taking three losses, and disengaged. But the German fighters and their cannons had also taken a toll on Young's B-24 Liberator bomber, as it was also failing, trailing smoke and streams of gasoline. "Big John" and his copilot were able to nurse the big plane back to Malta on three engines, close enough to ditch it in the shallow water just off the island's beach. Even though ditching a B-24 was usually disastrous, everyone got out safe and swam to shore, probably because they were in such shallow water. For his actions on that flight, Lt. Young and the rest of the crew were all awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses for their valor and skill in the air fight, and for shooting down three German fighters, damaging two others, and successfully defending their airplane against eight, determined, German fighter pilots.

By the time the rumors of the big mission to bomb Ploesti turned into an announcement in mid 1943, Young and his crew had fought through, and survived 27 combat missions, with over 300 combat hours logged. Like many of the 98th Bomb Group's men, they had flown more missions than the Army Air Force's 25 mission total requirement to earn a trip home. But, given the desperate situation of the Allies, at that time in the war, the destruction of the oil refineries at Ploesti became viewed as a mission critical to changing the direction of the war. So, Lt. Young and his crew were held over by Col. John Kane, along with all of the pilots and crewmen in the 98th Bomb Group, along with the men and planes of the 376th, the 93rd, and the 389th Bomb Groups, from the 8th Air Force in Britain, brought down to North Africa for the mission. Young was invited by Col. Kane to participate in the planning and training for the mission. Also, before the mission, Lt. Young and his crew were twice chosen to fly their long ranged B-24D from North Africa to Britain and back, to ferry military and government VIPs back to Benghazi in preparation for the mission. After returning from his second ferry flight to Britain, Young figured out that the top secret individual he had transported back to Benghazi was Winston Churchill. He had suspected as much before it was later confirmed to him that it was Churchill because, as he said, the back of his B-24 smelled of cigar smoke on the trip back to Benghazi. Churchill wrote in his biography how he nearly froze his feet in the freezing temperatures in the back of Young's B-24 at the high altitudes they had to fly over the European Alps to get back to Libya.

Last minute staffing changes before the Ploesti mission caused Group Leader Col. John Kane to replace Mission Commander, General Uzal Ent, well known as a dangerously incompetent pilot, as a rider in his bomber. Ent was reassigned to fly with the 376th Bomb Group's Element Leader, Col. Keith K. Compton's airplane, Teggie Ann. Kane, then, assigned John Young, to fly as his copilot in his chosen B-24D, 41-11825, formerly named, Grumpy, that Kane renamed, Hail Columbia, for the second time, especially for the Ploesti mission, and which was now designated one of the mission's five lead airplanes. This reassignment proved fortunate for Kickapoo's regular pilot, Johnny Young, and his crew, because Kane also reassigned all of them to fly with him in, Hail Columbia, including, Lt. Norman, "The Baron", Whalen, Young's navigator, Lt. Harry Korger, his bombardier, and the rest of Kickapoo's crew to fly with him on the Ploesti mission, including Staff Sergeant Neville C. Benson, waist gunner, First Lieutenant Raymond B. Hubbard, radioman, Sergeant Joseph W. LaBranche, gunner, Technical Sergeant Frederick A. Leard, waist Gunner, Sergeant William Leo, gunner, Staff Sergeant Harvey L. Treace, gunner, Technical Sergeant, Fred Weckessler, flight engineer and top turret gunner, all of whom were known as seasoned and exceptionally skilled airmen. Young often said after the war that Kane designated him as the command pilot of, Hail Columbia, on the Ploesti mission, and that Kane was his copilot. Apparently, Col. Kane had assigned Lt. Young to start the lengthy mission in the left seat as Hail Columbia's command pilot for the mission's takeoff and for most of the long flight over to Ploesti. As they approached Ploesti, Col. Kane switched seats with his copilot, so Kane could take the airplane commander's left seat position to command, Hail Columbia, and lead the 98th and 44th Bomb Groups following him, and also, to aim and fire the four extra fixed forward firing .50 caliber machine guns installed in, Hail Columbia's, nose. Evidently, the plan was, for the "Killer" to take command of his plane and the following element of planes to be fresh for flying the bomb run over the target area, and for leading two of his element's three Bomb Groups, the 98th and the 44th Bombardment Groups on their approaches into their IP's for their assigned targets.

As planning and training for the Ploesti mission progressed, and the day of the mission approached, some of the men's morale was beginning to wear thin. After being told, at first, that the mission was going to be a milk run, they gradually learned just how heavy and deadly the ground defenses at Ploesti were, and what the specific defensive horrors at Ploesti really were: high concrete flak towers throughout the city, hundreds of hidden flak guns and barrage balloons spread out in large rings around the city, with cables and explosive charges hanging from barrage balloons, designed to cut the American bombers to pieces or blow them up. There were over two hundred German and Romanian fighter planes with their pilots, trained and on guard, waiting to defend the city. The men already knew that their own B-24D bombers were flying fire traps in combat, and that they would be flying, as usual, without any protection from fighter escorts, and flying into the target area at a very low level, as low as 10 to 20 feet off the ground, bombing at no more than 200 to 250 feet, just high enough to clear the refineries' smoke stacks. They knew that getting hit by flak at 20 to 250 feet above the ground would rule out much hope of landing or escaping from their airplanes, especially, if they caught fire or the pilots lost control of their ships. After a year in the North African desert heat, the men were sick with dysentery and other desert diseases. They were physically and mentally worn out and war weary after months of constant combat missions and living in the harsh primitive conditions in the desert. For over a year, they had been strafing and bombing the Italian and German armies on land and their ships at sea. But, now, instead of being able to look forward to going home after having completed their 25 mission requirement, they were training to fly a mission against a target so well defended and dangerous that the mission became viewed as suicide. Some of the men felt betrayed by their commanders and, even, the the Army Air Force. One pilot, reportedly, stood up in one of the mission briefings and angrily told the mission commanders, "We've flown all over North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Greece, and the Mediterranean. We've flown every tough mission and done everything you asked of us. But, I'll be damned if I will fly my men into certain slaughter at Ploesti ! You can bet on my plane turning back with mechanical trouble on the flight over !" And, he and several other pilots of the 98th Bomb Group's crews did turn back from the mission.

The pilots and flying officers of the 98th were showing signs of combat fatigue, given to drinking and fighting at night over in Benghazi, sometimes inflicting serious injuries on themselves and the Australian and British Army personnel they found there. Drunken pilots had been injured by crashing their German motorcycles, while racing with each other around the desert roads and on the airfields day and night. One American bomber pilot nearly killed himself and several others riding with him in a landing accident they had on one of the airbase runways, when he ground looped and crashed a captured German twin engine JU-88 light bomber they were trying to land, which had been left behind by the Germans and rebuilt into flying condition by the American mechanics. These, and other events convinced the Ploesti mission planners and commanders that something had to be said and done, or the mission could be compromised, or might even fail.

On the last of the evening mission briefings, Gen. Lewis Brereton called the flying officers of each of the five bomb groups in, separately, for individual final briefings and a closing speech about the mission. After the technical briefings, Brereton added, " I want to address a very serious problem that can affect the success of this mission. I don't have to tell you again how tough this mission is going to be. You're thinking about home, your wives and families. You're worried you won't live to see them again. I have some bad news for you. You can stop worrying about living past this mission. If that's not clear enough, get it straight right now, you are probably not going to survive this mission. Put your hopes for the future behind you and forget about them. Stop worrying about living past tomorrow because you're not going to live past tomorrow. In fact, you're already dead men ! You died three years ago when you signed up to fight this war. If you can't accept that, if you can't accept what you have to do tomorrow and what the consequences will be, then, you will not be able do your jobs, and you will not be able to accomplish this mission, which is critical to winning this war for the people back home that you love, and that you are fighting for ! They are depending on you to do your jobs to destroy Ploesti and win this war. You have some time this evening and tonight. Take that time and think about what I just said. Arrange your personal items on your bunks so they can be sent home if you don't return from the mission. Write your wives and families, and tell them whatever you need to tell them before we fly tomorrow. But, if you can't accept what I just told you, if you can't make peace with it, then, come and see me before morning, and we will see that you are relieved of your duties for this mission, and we will find someone who can ! Finally, I want all of you to fully understand how vitally important this mission is to the war effort. It can change the direction of the war. If all of you do your jobs and bomb your targets tomorrow, it will be worth it, even if we lose every airplane !"
Then, after each of the separate briefings to the officers of the five bomb groups, they were dismissed. It was reported that several officers did take Brereton up on his offer and asked to be relieved from flying the mission. But, other officers, like Col. Ted Timberlake, hated having been prohibited from flying the mission, for security reasons, because the last thing they wanted was to be viewed by their men as cowards. And, many more men, some of whom were not even on regular combat status, wanted to fly on the mission, so much, that they stowed away on various airplanes and flew the mission as extras. At least one pilot tried to go, but was so sick with dysentery, he finally had to stand down and stay home. But, what none of the men knew, then, was that before the next day would be over, 446 of them would be injured, captured, crippled, maimed, missing, or dead, starting with the replacement crewmen in Lt. Johnny Young's regular B-24D, the Kickapoo.

Col. John Kane wrote about Brereton's speech to his group's officers, in his autobiography about the war and the mission. He wrote how serious and quiet the men were, how pale and shocked they looked as they filed out of the briefing room. The desert stars were bright that night, as always, but, the mood was dark over the three airbases. No one slept very well, especially since the mechanics were replacing, running, and testing the B-24s' Double Wasp Pratt & Whitney engines, all night. But, if there had been any doubt about it before, now there was no doubt. They knew they were being asked to give everything they had for this mission, no matter what the cost would be. Both Col. Kane and Young had been in on the intelligence, planning, and the training for the mission from the beginning, and they both knew how steep the odds against them were going to be over Ploesti. Later that night, Col. John Kane went out alone to his regular thinking place out on the air base and sat next to Hail Columbia, under the desert stars, for a long time, all by himself. He was among those convinced he would not survive the mission. So were, pretty much, the rest of Kane's crewmen from the Kickapoo, including John Young, who would be their copilot on this mission, their bombardier, Lt. Harold Korger, and navigator, Lt. Norman Whalen, Lt. Raymond Hubbard, their radio operator, and gunners, Staff Sergeants Leard, LaBranch, and TechSgt. Weckessler, most of whom wrote as much to their families that night. Kane wrote farewell letters to his wife and to his parents. John Young wrote his goodbye to his parents. He had no one else to say goodbye to. Weeks earlier, his mother had written him that his high school sweetheart in Dallas had gone back east to college and married, Tom Slick, the son of a wealthy Texas oil man. Even with the desert stars shining so brightly, that night was a black one for the men of the 8th and 9th U.S. Army Air Forces, for the 98th Bombardment Group, and for the men of the other three bomb groups assigned to fly to Ploesti. And it was an especially dark one for Johnny Young. Even before he had left the States and deployed to North Africa, he had held onto the hope that, somehow, he would survive the war and return home to marry his high school girlfriend back in Dallas. But, he knew things were not well when she stopped answering his letters. Now, along with the rest of the men of the 8th and 9th Army Air Forces in North Africa, Young knew he had to let go of whatever hopes and dreams he had for any kind of future, and to stop thinking about them, as General Brereton had warned. The reality of the war, the deadly mission they faced, and General Brereton's pointed speech, had ended them. He knew that to hope for something better than the finality of this last mission would be a distraction he could not afford. Young kept to himself that night and resigned himself to whatever would come. He knew his friend, John Kane, had picked him as his copilot because of his respect for his flying skill and the aggressiveness and determination he had demonstrated in combat. He knew Col. Kane depended on him and honored him by doing so. Young knew his own crewmen, and all of the men in his own 98th Bomb Group, the 389th and the 44th Bomb Groups following them, also depended on both, Col. Kane, and himself, and Norm Whalen, their lead navigator, to lead the groups' planes following them, to their initial waypoints, and, then, to fly, strafe, and fight through a man made hell on the earth, to get them to their targets and accomplish the mission. And, like always, he was determined that he would not let his commander and his crewmen down. Young had heard Col. Kane tell his officers and the men of the 98th, the 44th, and the 389th Bomb Groups the same thing Col. Baker told his men in the 93rd Bomb Group. Just like Col. Baker had done, Kane promised his men, "I promise, I will lead you to your targets, or I will die trying !" Young had also made up his mind that he intended to do the same. As he put it, simply, "The night before the mission, after Brereton's speech, Col. Kane came to me and asked me, 'How are you doing, Johnny ?' I told him, 'Colonel, I'm fine.' He asked me how I felt about the mission. I told him, 'Killer, we've got a job to do, and we're going to do it.' And I could see in his eyes, he believed me, and he said, 'Okay, Johnny, we'll see you in the morning.' " That night Young wrote to his parents what he thought about the coming mission. "I believe the mission will be worth it", he wrote, "even if I don't come home. Love, Your son, Johnny "

The next morning, in the mass take off for Ploesti, things went bad early for, Kickapoo, and it's replacement pilots. Lt. Bob Nespor and John Clark Reilly, crashed on takeoff and were killed with all but two of the rest of their crew. Like all of the B-24s on this mission, Kickapoo, was grossly overloaded with 500 or 1000 pound bombs, incendiary bombs, extra gasoline, ammunition, and two extra 400 gallon gasoline tanks in it's bomb bay. Each B-24 needed all four of it's Pratt & Whitney radial engines running at full power just to be able to reach takeoff speed and start a shallow climb, with all of the extra weight it was carrying. Engine failure on take off, with even one engine, especially an outboard one, would be disastrous. But, just after it's long takeoff roll, as it was beginning to climb out of ground effect, Kickapoo's #4 engine failed, seized up, and caught fire, a victim of the desert sand and heat. It's two young replacement pilots, Bob Nespor, from the 98th Bomb Group and John Young's own 344th Bombing Squadron, and Nespor's copilot, Lt. John Riley, a replacement pilot from the 93rd Bomb Group, began a slow turn out over the ocean and jettisoned their bombs. They probably should have bailed out or ditched in the shallow water off the beach at Lete. Nespor could have taken either of those options, but he had already made the decision to try to save his valuable airplane and began maneuvering for an approach back to Lete. He had to abort his first approach and go around because of all the dust in the air, and to miss the planes still taking off for the mission. As he attempted a second approach, his right wing became completely enveloped in flames. On short final approach back to Lete, his entire right wing caught on fire, and, losing power from his remaining three engines, Bob Nespor, John Clark, and, Kickapoo, sank to the runway, hit the ground hard, bounced, drifted off the center line, and hit a concrete light pole with their left wing tip, causing the plane to cartwheel off the runway, crashing into the desert in a fireball, severely burning, Bob Nespor, who died from his burns two weeks later. The fireball also killed Lt. John Riley, and the rest of the crew, except for two of the men, Lt. Russell Polivka , the navigator and S/Sgt. Eugene Garner, both of whom were badly burned, but escaped the wreckage and gradually recovered. (RTS). As the men taking off behind them, and those forming up above them, saw the crash wreckage and the pillar of fire and smoke next to Lete's runway, they knew that the men in that fire would probably not be going back home alive. Kickapoo, and it's crew were the very first casualties of the Ploesti mission before it even started, with 9 men killed (KIA) and 2 badly wounded (WIA). But they would not be the last. The crash of the, Kickapoo, was a bad omen for what was to come.

After climbing away from Benghazi, and during the long flight over the Mediterranean Sea to Romania, Col. Kane and Young in, Hail Columbia, led their three bomb groups, including their own 98th Bomb Group, "The Pyramiders", and the following 44th Bomb Group, "The Flying Eight Balls", led by Col. Leon Johnson, and the 398th Bomb Group, "The Sky Scorpions", going into Romania and the Ploesti area. They had lost sight of the third part of their element, Col. Jack W. Wood, and the 389th "Sky Scorpions" who had fallen behind Kane before they closed in on Ploesti. As they approached their first initial point coming into Ploesti, the situation ahead had deteriorated and had become even more chaotic and dangerous than they could have imagined. Flying down very low, now, down to 10 to 50 feet off the ground coming down the Danube River Valley approaching Ploesti, the 98th and 44th Bomb Groups began taking anti aircraft cannon fire from the outlying flak guns. And, in turn, they began firing their fixed and flexible .50 caliber nose guns at the enemy flak guns ahead and to the sides of them.

As they flew toward the city, with scattered rain cells around the area, Kane and Young could see ahead of them what, at first, looked like thunderstorm clouds and lightening over Ploesti in the distance. It was, in fact, their principal target, the Astra Romano Refinery complex, already exploding and on fire, pouring flames and boiling black smoke into the sky, as it was being attacked and bombed by the rogue planes that had broken away from their Group Leader, K.K. Compton, who had inexplicably, turned away from his targets at Ploesti. These 93rd and 376th Bomb Group airplanes, had come in from the West, and were bombing the 98th's assigned target ahead of them. What had looked like dark thunderstorm clouds and lightning over Ploesti from farther away, were the explosions, fires and smoke, over the already fiercely burning and exploding oil tanks of Kane's target, White IV. The flashes that looked like lightning were caused by the flames and the green flak tracer rounds streaming up into the sky. And what had looked like thunder clouds, was the smoke of the burning oil tanks. As the planes of the 98th Bomb Group got closer, John Kane, looking intently ahead, out of his windscreen, and concentrating hard, so as not to miss his ground checkpoints leading to his target, was trying to make sense of what he was seeing, and said to himself, as much as to his young copilot, "God almighty, look at that !". But, John Young, Col. Johnson, the leader of the 44th Bombing Group in, Suzie Q, behind him, Lt. Robert Sternfels, the pilot of, The Sandman, in the 98th's 345th Squadron, three flights behind, Hail Columbia, and all of the pilots of the planes following them, could now see clearly, what they were facing ahead. Just ahead of them, the attacking 93rd Bomb Group's B-24s were flying directly toward them and closing fast, some on fire, trailing flames, vapor, and smoke, at the same low 20 to 50 foot altitude as the 98th, after bombing the 98th's target, White IV, and others. And they could see the full effects of the German anti-aircraft defenses already shooting at and blowing the 93rd's and 376th's planes out of the sky. There were huge oil tank fires, bomb and secondary explosions obscuring their views all around and over their assigned target areas. All of this was caused by the 93rd Bomb Group's leader, Col. Addison Baker, Major Ramsey Potts, and Lt. John Palm, along with Col. Walter Stewart, and the planes from the 376th Bombing Group, also ahead of them, all of whom were strafing and bombing White IV, White V, and the area around it, blocks of which were on fire with walls of flames shooting hundreds of feet into the air, with huge explosions from the delayed action 500 and 1000 pound bombs exploding ahead of the 98th and the 44th Bomb Groups, as their entire element of the two bomb groups began a slow coordinated formation turn into their heavily compromised targets, their throttles pushed to their maximum war emergency power stops, and flying at 50 feet over the ground and over 190 miles per hour.

Southeast of them and also heading straight for them, Maj. Walter Travis Stewart in his B-24D, Utah Man, had just taken over leading the 93rd Bomb Group after his Group Leader, Col. Addison Baker and his copilot, Major John Jerstad in their B-24, Hell's Wench, were shot down and killed ahead of him just minutes before, crashing in an explosion of flames into Ploesti's Columbia Aquila refinery, as the Kane's leading Flight 1, of his 98th Group were making ready to bomb his targets at White IV. After having bombed White IV, on his own, Major Stewart, in his B-24D, Joisey Bounce, he had renamed, Utah Man, and the rest of the 93rd's planes following him, converged with, and flew right through the 98th's formation, all at the same low altitude in the chaos created by a catastrophically wrong turn AWAY from Ploesti that had been ordered earlier by Mission Commander, Gen. Uzal Ent, and faithfully executed by his pilot, Col. Keith K. Compton, in the B-24D, Teggie Ann, leading both the 93rd and the 376th Bomb Group's formations south and east and AWAY from Ploesti !

Still, Col. Kane in, Hail Columbia, Col. Leon Johnson, in his plane, Suzie Q, and the rest of the 98th Bomb Group's "Pyramiders", with Col. Jack Wood and the 389th's "Sky Scorpions" north of Ploesti now heading for the city of Campina, all without discussion or hesitation, they continued following their attack plans, the 389th into the refinery at Campina, "Target Red", and the 44th into "White V"'s walls of smoke, flames, and explosions over the booming flak guns all around and south of Ploesti. These men were all quite determined to bomb their targets, just as Kane and Col. Baker had promised to lead them there, the day and the night before. Col. Addison Baker, and his copilot, Major John Jerstad, and their crew, were among the first of those who did "die trying" when their bomber, Hell's Wench, took multiple direct hits by the deadly flak rounds, caught on fire, pitched up into a climb and, then, crashed into the ground, instantly killing everyone on board their airplane.

All of this chaos was caused, partly, because south and east of Ploesti, Mission Commander Gen. Ent had deliberately failed to fly toward Ploesti at his second Initial Point outside the city. Instead of staying on course to bomb his assigned targets, he decided the defenses over the targets were too formidable and ordered his pilot, Col. Compton, to turn southeast toward Bucharest, and refused to answer the desperate radio calls from Ramsey Potts, and Maj. Walter Stewart in, Utah Man, just behind him in the 93rd Bomb Group, and he even ignored the calls on his own interphone from his own navigator, Capt. Harold Wicklund, warning Compton and Ent that they had made a disastrously wrong turn away from Ploesti !

Col. Addison Baker, behind them, had also seen the wrong turn and quickly decided to break formation and take his planes to bomb Ploesti on his own, just like he had said he would ! He deliberately led part of the 93rd Bomb Group's planes, who followed him, and turned back west toward the refineries at Ploesti. Walter Stewart and Ramsey Potts were also both in shock and disbelief at what they had just seen Ent and Compton do. They also disobeyed their attack plan orders to stay with Ent and Compton. And they, also, turned back north and west following Col. Baker, all of them determined to attack Ploesti on their own initiative, in spite of Compton's wrong turn, away from their targets.

But Col. Compton with General Ent, in, Teggie Ann, twenty minutes after having turned south and east toward Bucharest, and leading the 376th planes that were still following them, were circling around Ploesti east of the city, instead of attacking their targets. They could see off to the west, thousands of the green German flak tracer rounds streaming into the sky, the smoke, explosions, and the fires of the exploding bombs dropped by the 93rd, the 44th, and the 98th Bomb Groups. And they could see the American planes now being attacked by German and Romanian fighter planes, and being shot out of the sky. And they could see their friends' B-24 bombers burning, exploding, and crashing into the ground in flames, south of, Ploesti's refinery area.

Major Norman Appold in the B-24, G.I. Jennie, his wingman, Lt. John Palm, piloting Brewery Wagon, and two other ships from the 376th Bomb Group's formation had also seen the mistaken turn that Compton and Ent had made and had quickly decided that they, too, would bomb Ploesti on their own. So they, also, disobeyed their attack plan orders to stay with their assigned formation, and also left the 376th Bomb Group's main formation led by Col. Compton, and turned their planes back to the west, with their four plane section, looking for targets to bomb. On their run into the refinery area, they decided to attack Target White II, the Concordia Vega Refinery, Col. Addison Baker's assigned target. After bombing White II, Major Appold's surviving planes, along with Major Potts and the 93rd's planes, now fleeing the area, also passed right through John Kane’s 98th and the 44th Bomb Groups still heading for White IV. The confusion resulted in more ongoing moments of terror and violent maneuvering as three layers of formations of B-24 bombers from the 98th, the 44th, the 93rd, and Major Appold's planes from the 376th Bomb Group, all desperately maneuvered their airplanes vertically, pulling up or pushing their yokes forward to barely avoid mid air collisions with each other's planes, as the converging planes all flew through Col. Kane's formation from two different directions in the mad confusion of the broken mission that Operation Tidal Wave had become.
Lt. John Palm was also one of the rogue pilots from the 376th Bomb Group, who had elected to turn away from Bucharest toward Ploesti, and was heading for targets of opportunity at tree top level. But he never made it that far. He took a number of direct flak hits and had to release his bombs just to keep his crippled and sinking ship in the air, when he suffered another direct 88mm explosive flak hit on Brewery Wagon's nose, instantly killing his navigator and his bombardier up front, destroying flight control cables, and taking out two engines. Now, with his plane descending, on fire, and he himself seriously wounded with his right leg blown halfway off, and being attacked by two ME-109s, Lt. Palm crash landed his failing B-24 into an open field, to be captured alive, along with three other surviving crew members.

Col. Jack Wood, leading the 398th's "Sky Scorpions", and Lt. "Pete" Hughes had fallen behind Kane before their run into Ploesti, but all of them found and bombed their targets north of Ploesti at Campina, Romania, including Target Red, the Steaua Romano refinery, with Col. Wood losing four of his group over their targets. Pete Hughes had his B-24's wings and fuselage set aflame after flying right through a wall of fire between himself and Target Red after two direct flak hits on his approach into his target, north of Ploesti. Pete ran out of luck after bombing his refinery, with his plane a blow torch of flames. He tried to crash land his burning B-24 in the Prahova dry river valley. But, before he could, his left wing folded, crashing his plane into the ground in a fireball, instantly killing him and all but two of his crew, who, somehow, crawled out of the flaming bomber badly burned, but survived. For his bravery, his leadership, and his absolute determination to bomb his target, Lt. Lloyd "Pete" Hughes was posthumously awarded the Medal Of Honor. He had given everything he had, including his life, to accomplish his mission.

Col. John Kane and Lt. John Young, leading the 98th and the 44th Bomb Groups, and their followers, made their final sweeping formation turn into their bombing run, and began making more large sweeping formation turns, weaving back and forth, individually and in groups, flying around and between the oil fires, explosions, and smoke pouring skyward from the huge fires, and other obstacles in their way, as they pressed home their attack, looking for the waypoints to their targets at the Astra Romano refinery complex. All this time, the lead planes' pilots and gunners were strafing the flak guns ahead of them with their .50 cal. machine guns, and the four extra fixed .50 cal. guns in the noses of their planes, operated in Hail Columbia by John Kane, destroying every flak gun he could hit. his top turret was modified for Fred Weckessler, to fire his two .50 cal. guns forward, as well. The waist gunners and tail gunner were also shooting at flak guns out of the sides and the back of their B-24s. All this time, Col. Kane and Lt. Young were working hard just to keep their airplane flying. Kane wrote that it took all of his and Young's combined arm strength to manhandle Hail Columbia's yokes and rudder pedals, to turn between and around the obstacles ahead of them, and trying to control the vibrating monster that their airplane became in White IV's rough air, boiling with flames, smoke, and explosions around and under them, in and out of the huge updrafts and the wake turbulences from the 93rd's airplanes, and, yet, still managing to avoid the other American B-24 bombers flying through their formation. At the same time, Kane and Young could see the enemy's flak rounds crossing in front of them from all directions and feel them hitting their plane. They could see their friends, including Col. Baker being hit and crashing in flames off to their front, their right sides, and behind them, with others, like their friend, Lt. Sam Neeley and his crew in the B-24D, Raunchy, blown up by a barrage balloon cable's explosive charge to the left of them. They saw planes catching on fire simply by flying through the 300 foot high flames and being blown up from both the flak rounds and the explosions from the 93rd's delayed action bombs exploding under them, with other planes crashing into the oil tanks and the refinery buildings on the ground. As the 93rd's delayed action bombs began exploding in front of and under them, Norm Whalen, firing his nose mounted .50 cal. gun at the flak guns ahead of him, and watching all of this out of his forward nose position, wrote later, "I thought I was going to die right there. I thought we all were. I never thought any of us would make it out of there alive !" Just like Pete Hughes had done, Kane flew his plane right through one of the huge columns of boiling flames he couldn't avoid, which reached up even higher than his airplane's 250 feet of altitude and burned his left arm resting on his left side sliding window sill. Yet, somehow, the flames did not ignite the gasoline leaking from Hail Columbia's wings or the gasoline fumes inside it's bomb bay and fuselage. By some kind of a miracle, Kane, Young, and Harry Korger were all able to visually locate, and line up on Korger's target, and drop their bombs on the Astra Romano refinery complex. Just then, Hail Columbia, took a direct flak hit in it's number 4 outboard engine, destroying it and knocking it partly off it's mounts. Kane called to John Young to secure the dead engine and feather the engine's propeller, which he did. Then, their #3 engine's propeller was hit and holed by a small caliber round and began vibrating. The number 2 engine's propeller on the left side was also hit and damaged. With things going bad for Kane and his crew, with one engine out, and two more engines vibrating with propeller damage, coming out of White IV, they were heading into the heaviest flak area, south of Ploesti, that had just killed Col. Addison Baker, Major John Jerstad, and their crews. Kane had been flying at war emergency power for much longer than placarded. When his copilot pulled the three good engines' throttle levers back slightly, Kane asked, "What are you doing, Johnny?", who answered, "We've got to save the engines, Killer, we'll lose them.", to which Kane yelled back, "God damn it, make them save us first, then, we'll save them !" and slammed the three good engines' throttle levers back to full power. By that time, several of their crewmen had been hit and injured by flak splinters and were wounded and bleeding, but not seriously injured. As they began leaving the refinery area behind them, the 98th Bomb Group had been flying through the destruction around the greater Ploesti area for a very long half hour.

In contrast, after having been in the area for over 20 minutes, Col. Compton, Gen. Ent, in, Teggie Ann, and the main force of the 376th Bomb Group who stayed with them, finally, dropped their bombs harmlessly over the hills north of Ploesti and headed southwest for home, undamaged and intact.

But not so intact were the men and the planes of the rest of the 98th, the 44th, the 389th Bombing Groups, and the rogue planes from the 93rd and the 376th Bombing Groups led by Major Appold, Major Potts, and John Palm, that had all been thoroughly decimated by the German defenses over their targets. As these remnant survivors were still trying to escape the area alive, they were attacked by German and Romanian fighters, who dove down on them and shot down several more of the American bombers. Kane had to make defensive turns to throw off the German fighter planes' aim, and they did avoid being hit by any of them. Several other shot up, or just straggler planes, including Robert Sternfels' plane, The Sandman, Col. Walter Stewart in, Utah Man, Gib Hadley in, Hadley's Harem, and later, Lt. Royden LeBrecht and his plane, The Squaw, all joined up with John Kane with his excellent lead navigator, Lt. Norman Whalen, who navigated the slow group of survivors south, all the way out of Ploesti, through Turkey, over the Pindus Mountains, and down to the Aegean Sea, then, all the way to the British airbase at Nicosia on the Greek island of Cyprus, where the planes, still flying, landed safely. As the group was approaching Cyprus just after dark and just before they got to Cyprus, Lt. Gib Hadley lost the fight with his damaged, failing, shot up B-24. Just as they all reached the Aegean Sea, and flew past the Turkish coast in the darkness, toward safety at Cyprus. But, low on gas and engine oil, Hadley realized he couldn't make it to Cyprus and radioed a goodbye to Col. Kane and the other planes, and turned back to the Turkish coast. He crashed into the sea in the dark descending, trying to ditch his plane in the ocean just off the coast. After surviving the fight at Ploesti, escaping the south Ploesti flak area, and getting so close to safety, Lt. Gilbert "Gib" Hadley was killed, trapped in his crashed and sinking B-24, with all but three of his crew. Seven others escaped from Hadley's Harem, and swam to shore. The rest of those in the planes still with Kane made it to the British air base at Nicosia, Cyprus, and landed safely, with Kane and Young crash landing after hitting a ditch running across the airbase's runway threshold. Somehow, minus Lt. Hadley and most of his crew, they had all survived the mission to Ploesti ! Robert Sternfels gave both Col. Kane and Lt. Young rides back to Benghazi in The Sandman after the mission.
A few weeks after the Ploesti mission, Johnny Young and his crew, flew, first, back to Britain, and later back to Fort Worth, Texas, in the B-24D, The Blue Streak, along with Walter Stewart and his crew flying the B-24D, Bomerang, and Royden LeBrecht and crew flying his plane, The Squaw, on a nationwide war bond tour, telling American's about their desperate mission over Ploesti. After returning to America, John Young was promoted to Captain. He reunited in Dallas with his high school sweetheart, who was divorced by then, and married her. He continued to serve as a flying officer in the Army Air Corps until he was honorably discharged from the Army in 1946 with the final rank of Major. In civilian life, he became an officer and a vice president of the First National Bank in Dallas for many years and later became the owner and president of Herrin Motor Freight Trucking Company in Dallas, until he retired. John Young died in 1983.

Service

People

  • Herbert Arens

    Military | First Lieutenant | B-24 Command Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    2nd Lt. Herbert W. Arens was a B-24D command pilot in the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 344th Bomb Squadron. He flew the B-24D Liberator bomber, SN 41-11803, named, Rosie Wrecked 'Em, on the mission to destroy the oil refineries at...

  • Neville Benson

    Military | Staff Sergeant | B-24 Waist Gunner | 98th Bomb Group
    SSgt. Neville C. Bensen took part in Operation Tidal Wave, the raid on Ploesti on 1 August 1943. He was a waist gunner in the Element Lead B-24D Liberator, 41-11825, Hail Columbia, piloted by Col. John R. "Killer" Kane and Lt. John S. Young. He...

  • Gilbert Hadley

    Military | First Lieutenant | B-24D Command Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    Name : Gilbert Ben Hadley ...

  • Kittredge Hamlin

    Military | Captain | B-24 Co-Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    Lt. Kittredge "Kitt" Hamlin was assigned as CoPilot on the B-24D Liberator bomber, 41-11803, Rosie Wrecked 'Em, in the 344th BS, the 98th BG, and the 9th AF, "The Force For Freedom", in the MTO in North Africa. He flew on the Ploesti oil refinery...

  • Raymond Hubbard

    Military | First Lieutenant | Radio Operator | 98th Bomb Group
    Lt. Raymond B. Hubbard was assigned to the 9th Air force, the 98th Bombardment Group, and the 344th Bombing Squadron in Libya, North Africa, 1943. He flew in Operation Tidal Wave, the raid on Ploesti on 1 August 1943, flying as a Waist Gunner and Radio...

  • John Kane

    Military | Colonel | Commanding Officer, Command Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    John Riley Kane (January 5, 1907 – May 29, 1996) was a colonel in the United States Army Air Corps and later the United States Air Force. He received the U.S. military's highest decoration, the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II, for his...

  • Harold Korger

    Military | Colonel | B-24 Bombardier | 98th Bomb Group
    Lt. Harold Francis Korger was a bombardier in the 344th Bombardment Squadron, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 9th Air Force, based in Benghazi, Libya. He flew on the B-24D, Hail Columbia, with Group Leader Col. John R. Kane, on the famous mission,...

  • Joseph LaBranche

    Military | Staff Sergeant (3rd Grade) | Gunner | 98th Bomb Group
    Took part in Operation Tidal Wave, the raid on Ploesti on 1 August 1943, flying in B-24 Liberator 41-11825, Hail Columbia. 1 Aug 1943.

  • Frederick Leard

    Military | Technical Sergeant | Right Waist Gunner | 98th Bomb Group
    Technical Sgt. Frederick A. Leard was a waist gunner assigned to the Element Lead B-24D Liberator bomber, named 'Hail Columbia', SN # 41-11825, flown by Col. John R. "Killer" Kane and Lt. John S. Young on Operation Tidal Wave, the large mission to...

  • Royden LeBrecht

    Military | Captain | B-24 Command Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    Lt. Royden Louis LeBrecht was a B-24D command pilot in the 9th Air force, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 344th Bomb Squadron. He flew his B-24D, he named, The Squaw, on Operation Tidal Wave, the large mission to destroy the German held oil refineries at...

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Units served with

  • 9th Air Force
  • 98th Bomb Group

    98th Bomb Group

    Group
    The 98th trained for bombardment missions with B-24 Liberators during the first half of 1942. ...

  • 344th Bomb Squadron

    344th Bomb Squadron

    Squadron
    The 344th Bombing Squadron was first activated at MacDill Field, Florida as one of the original three squadrons assigned to the 98th Bombardment Group. The 344th soon moved to Barksdale Field, Louisiana, where it began to train as a Consolidated B-24...

Aircraft

  • 41-11613 Florine JuJu - Liberandos - Teggie Ann - The Blue Streak

    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24D, 41-11613, named, Florine JuJu, The Blue Streak, Liberandos, and Teggie Ann, in the 376th Bomb Group, should not be mistaken for the B-24D Liberator bomber, 42-40664, also named, Teggie Ann, and flown as the Lead Aircraft, piloted by Col. K.K...

  • 42-40402 The Sandman

    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24D Liberator bomber, named, The Sandman, was flown by Lt. Robert Sternfels and his copilot, Lt. Barney Jackson, in the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 345th Bomb Squadron, on Operation Tidal Wave, the famous mission to destroy the...

  • 41-24198 The Vulgar Virgin - Hell From Heaven - Shoot You're Faded

    B-24 Liberator
    - The B-24D, 41-24198, named, The Vulgar Virgin, flown by Capt. Wallace Taylor, in the 9th AF, the 98th BG, and the 344th BS, based in Benghazi, Libya, should not be confused with Lt. Claude A. Turner's B-24D, 42-40608, also named, The Vulgar Virgin...

  • 41-24311 Hadley's Harem

    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24D, named, Hadley's Harem, was Lt. Gilbert Hadley's personal airplane and the one he flew on the mission to destroy Hitler's oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, in 1943. As Hadley was approaching his target refinery, code named, "White IV",...

  • 41-11819 Raunchy

    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24D Liberator, Raunchy, 41-11819, was in the 344th Bomb Squadron, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 9th Air Force, based at Benghazi, Libya, North Africa, in early 1943. ...

  • 41-11825 Hail Columbia - Little Chief Big Dog - Grumpy

    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24D, Hail Columbia, 41-11825, was assigned to the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 344th Bombing Squadron. It was first assigned to the 344th Squadron's CO, Col. John R. Kane's, personal aircraft until Kane became the 98th Bomb Group's...

  • 41-11768 Kickapoo

    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24D Liberator, 41-11768, named, Kickapoo, was piloted by Lt. John S. Young from Dallas, Texas as part of the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 344th Bombing Squadron, which arrived in North Africa in early 1943. This airplane was...

  • 41-24194 'Ubangi Bag'

    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24D, named 'Ubangi Bag' was originally assigned to the 14th Air force, the 308th Bomb Group, and the 374th Bomb Squadron. It was sent back to the united states in late 1943 on a War Bond Tour.

Missions

  • Operation Tidal Wave

    1 August 1943
    Operation TIDAL WAVE. B-24D Liberators attack the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. The bombers flew low to avoid radar detection and dropped time delayed bombs. Out of the 177 B-24s that took part in the raid 167 managed to attack their targets. 57...

Associated Place

Events

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Black Sunday - Michael Hill ---- The Great Ground-Air Battle Of 1 August 1943 - James Dugan & Carroll Stewart ---- Personal Archives - Kickapoo

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Wording, punctuation, and spelling of aircraft names, and other details changed for accuracy and clarity - John S Young Jr

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Best Web - B-24 - 'Bomerang'

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Black Sunday - Michael Hill ---- Personal Archives - John S Young Jr ---- The Great Ground-Air Battle Of August 1, 1943 - James Dugan & Carroll Stewart

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The Great Ground-Air Battle of August 1, 1943 - James Dugan & Carroll Stewart

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Black Sunday - Michael Hill ---- Personal Archives - John S Young Jr

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The Great Ground -Air Battle Of 1 August 1943 - James Dugan & Carroll Stewart ---- Personal Archives - John S Young Jr

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The Great Ground-Air Battle Of 1 August 1943 - James Dugan & Carroll Stewart ------ Black Sunday - Michael Hill ~ Personal Archives - John S Young Jr

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Into The Fire - Duane Schultz

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personal archives - John S. Young Jr ---- Lt. Lloyd H. Hughes - Wikipedia

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personal archives - John S Young Jr

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personal archives - John S Young Jr ---- The Great Ground-Air battle Of 1 August 1943 - James Dugan & Carroll Stewart

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personal archives - John S Young Jr ---- The Great Ground-Air battle Of 1 August 1943 - James Dugan & Carroll Stewart

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personal archives - John S Young Jr ---- The Great Ground-Air battle Of 1 August 1943 - James Dugan & Carroll Stewart

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personal archives - John S Young Jr ---- The Great Ground-Air battle Of 1 August 1943 - James Dugan & Carroll Stewart

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personal archives - John S Young Jr ---- The Great Ground-Air battle Of 1 August 1943 - James Dugan & Carroll Stewart

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personal archives - John S Young Jr

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personal archives - John S Young Jr

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personal archives - John S Young Jr

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Ploesti The Great Ground-Air Battle Of August 1 1943 - James Dugan & Carroll Stewart ---- Into The Fire - Duane Schultz Persoanl archives - John S Young Jr

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