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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 aviation 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-24D 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. After 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, Sunday, August, 1, 1943. He was assigned to fly with Group Commander Col. John R. "Killer" Kane as his copilot in the 98th Bomb Group's lead aircraft, 'Hail Columbia'. The 98th Bombardment Group and almost all of their element's planes successfully attacked and bombed their targets at Ploesti, including the Astra Romano oil refinery, code named, "White IV", The Steaua Romano refinery at Campina, Ploesti, "Target Red", and also "White V", the Columbia Aquila refinery.

Before the Ploesti mission, and after having already been shot down once by German fighters, Young's second regularly assigned aircraft was the B-24D # 41-11768, which 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 July, 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 North Africa, from Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. The 98th Bombardment Group squadrons bombed and strafed German Army land targets, troops, tanks, and trucks in the North African desert, Axis shipping in the Mediterranean Sea, ocean harbors and installations, enemy ports, and port facilities in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Crete, Malta, and Greece, to cut the enemy's supply lines to Africa, and to prepare for the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy. Flying for the British, the 98th's B-24Ds flew out in small groups from their bases in North Africa, unescorted, they were often attacked by Italian and German fighters. On one occasion, while flying low over the anchored ships 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, as he 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 sinking it.

On April 3, 1943, after a bombing mission over Naples and leaving the area, Young's B-24 fell behind, and he had to drop out of his formation of B-24s just off the island of Crete after one of his four engines failed. Separated and alone, he was soon attacked by eight German Focke Wulf 190 and ME-109 fighters looking for single stragglers. Young made a steep diving turn around, back toward land at Crete, and he and his crew began defending themselves against the German fighters in a running gun battle, eight against one. Using a trick he learned from the British Stirling bomber pilots he talked to in England, he initiated a steep, power off, spiraling corkscrew descent maneuver, when the fighters dove on him, to get his B-24 down to the Mediterranean water's surface quickly, to throw off their aim on the way down, and to rob them of their vertical plane of attack when he reached the ocean's surface. Once he reached low altitude, Young firewalled the throttles on his three good engines, trying to get back to land on the island of Crete, with the German fighters in trail making gunnery runs on his crippled airplane. For morale reasons, and mostly because he disliked it, 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, "We're all in this equally and together." He would, sometimes, go out in the heat of the day and work with his crew chief and mechanics as they worked on his plane, but confided, "They let me work with them, but, I was, mostly, in their way." When the German fighters dove on their B-24, his top turret gunner, Tech Sargeant Fred Weckessler and the other gunners called the breaks for him over the intercom, "Fighter 8 o'clock, Big John, break left !" or "Two fighters at three and four o'clock, Johnny, break right !", so he could execute turns into the approaching fighters, making for a difficult target, and so his gunners could get passing shots at the fighters as they flew past the tighter turning American bomber. Once clear, after the fighters flew past, Young and his copilot again turned back toward Crete. These tactics worked well enough for the ten or fifteen minutes of the fight, that Young's gunners shot down two of the attacking fighters and damaged two or three others. When Lt. Norman Whalen, his navigator and nose gunner blasted an FW-190 out of the sky with one of his .50 cal. nose guns, 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 it. Fortunately, the German pilots, were running low on fuel, or decided they had had enough, after two losses, and disengaged. But Young and his B-24 bomber, trailing smoke and gasoline, had taken hits, too, and was failing fast. Young and his copilot were able to get close enough to the island of Crete to successfully ditch their bomber in the shallow water just off the beach and swam to shore with no one hurt or killed. For his actions on this flight, Lt. Young was awarded the Silver Star and an oak leaf cluster to his DFC, and the rest of the crew were all awarded Distinguished Flying crosses for their actions in the air fight that day by shooting down two German fighters and defending their airplane against two determined German fighter squadrons.

By the time the rumors of the big mission to bomb Ploesti was announced later in 1943, Young and his crew had already fought and survived 27 combat missions and had over 300 combat hours logged. Like many of the 98th Bomb Group's men, they had more missions than the Army Air Force's 25 mission total requirement to earn a trip home. But the destruction of the oil refineries at Ploesti became viewed as critical to changing the direction of the war, so that Lt.Young and his crew were held over by Col. John Kane, along with many other pilots and crewmen in the 98th Bomb Group, and others, as well as the men and planes from the 8th Air Force in Britain, who were also badly needed for the mission, and had been brought down from Britain to fly the mission, as well. John 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 assigned to fly their B-24 all the way north to Britain to ferry military and government VIPs back to North Africa in preparation for the mission. After his second ferry flight to Britain, Young figured out that the top secret individual he had transported back to Benghazi was Winston Churchill, although he had suspected as much before it was later confirmed to him that it was Churchill because, he said, the back of his B-24 stunk of cigar smoke after they got back to Benghazi. Churchill wrote in his biography how he nearly froze to death in the subzero 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 Col. Kane to replace the first copilot assigned to him for the mission, Mission Commander General Uzal Ent, well known as a dangerously incompetent pilot. So, Ent was reassigned to the 376th Bombardment Group's Element Leader, Col. Keith K. Compton's airplane, 'Teggie Ann'. And Kane reassigned Lt. Young, to fly as his copilot in Kane's newly chosen B-24D, #41-11825, 'Grumpy', that he had renamed, 'Hail Columbia', for the second time, for the mission, and was now designated as one of the mission's lead airplanes. This reassignment proved fortunate for 'KICKAPOO's former command pilot, Johnny Young, and his crew, because Col. Kane also reassigned all of them to crew '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 in 'Hail Columbia' on the Ploesti mission, also 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 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 designated Young to start and finish the lengthy mission in the left seat as 'Hail Columbia''s command pilot during the mission's takeoff and during most of the long flight over to, and back from, Ploesti. As they approached Ploesti, Col. Kane switched seats with his copilot, so Kane could take the commander's left seat position to command 'Hail Columbia' and the following groups, and, also, to fire the four extra fixed forward firing .50 caliber machine guns installed in 'Hail Columbia''s nose. This plan, evidently, was for the "Killer" to be fresh for flying over the bomb target, and for leading his element's three Bomb Groups, the 98th, the 44th, and the 389th, following him, 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 wearing thin. The men in the 98th Bombardment Group were becoming more and more grim. After, at first, being told the mission was going to be a milk run, they had gradually learned just how deadly the ground defenses were, and what the specific defensive horrors at Ploesti, really were: high concrete flak towers, hundreds of hidden flak guns, and barrage balloons in large rings around the city, with cables and explosive charges hanging from the barrage balloons, designed to cut the American bombers to pieces or blow them up. There were 250 first class German and Romanian fighter pilots and planes 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 fighter escort, and bombing at a very low level, as low as 10 to 20 feet. They knew that getting hit by flak at 20 to 250 feet over their targets would rule out much hope of escaping their airplanes, especially, if they caught fire. The men were sick with dysentery and other desert diseases. They were mentally and physically war weary after months of constant combat missions and living in the harsh hot primitive conditions of the African desert. For over a year, they had been strafing and bombing the Italians and Germans over land and sea. They had lost airplanes and seen their friends die in the fighting. And, now, instead of looking forward to going home after having completed their 25 mission requirement, they were training to fly a mission against a target so dangerous that the mission was becoming viewed as suicide. Some of them felt betrayed by their commanders and the the 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, Malta, Italy, Greece, and the Mediterranean. We've flown every mission and done everything you asked of us. But, be damned if I'll 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 crewmen of the 98th were drinking and fighting at night over in Benghazi, sometimes inflicting serious damage on themselves and the Australian and British Army personnel they found there. Drunken pilots had been injured crashing their German motorcycles while racing with each other around the desert roads and the Benghazi airfields at night. One American bomber pilot nearly killed himself and injured several others riding with him in a landing accident they had on one of Lete's 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 done, or the mission could be compromised, or it might even fail.

So on the last of the evening briefings just before the mission, Gen. Lewis Brereton called the men from all the bombing groups into one of the very large aircraft maintenance tents to give them a final briefing and a closing speech about the mission. After the technical briefing he added, " I want to address a very serious problem that can affect the success of this mission, which might turn out to be the most important mission of this war ! I don't have to tell you how rough this mission is going to be. You already know it. You're thinking about home. You want to see your your wives and families, and you're worried you won't live to see them." Then, he said, "You can stop worrying about the mission. You can stop worrying about it because because I have some bad news for you. You're not going home after the mission. If that's not clear enough, get it straight right now that you are probably not going to survive this mission or the war ! Put all your thoughts and 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 were dead men 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 for us, then, you will not be able do your job, and you will not be able to accomplish your mission, which is critical to winning this war for the people back home that you love, and are fighting for ! Then, Brereton lowered his voice and said, "You have some time this evening and tonight. Take that time and think about what I just told you. Write your families, and tell them whatever you need to tell them before we fly to Ploesti. But, if you can't accept what I just said. If you can't make peace with it, then, come and see me in my office before morning, and we will see that you are relieved of your duties. And we will find someone who can ! Finally, I want all of you to know and understand how important this mission is. It can change the direction of this 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, the men were dismissed and filed out quietly. But they knew there were few, if any, replacements, to speak of, for the mission. And many of the men feared being left behind, more than they feared flying the mission. It isn't known if anyone, or how many, took Brereton up on his offer. But none of the men knew, then, that before the next day would be over, 446 of them would be injured, captured, crippled, missing, or dead, starting with the replacement crewmen in Johnny Young's regular B-24D, the 'Kickapoo' !

Col. John Kane wrote about that night after Brereton's speech in his autobiography about the war and the mission. He wrote how quiet the men were, how pale and shocked they looked as they filed out of the briefing area, and how dark the mood was over the Lete airbase that night. No one slept very well, especially since the mechanics were test running and testing the B-24s' big Pratt & Whitney engines, all night. But, if there had been any doubt about it before, now there was no doubt. They were asked to give everything they had for this mission. Both Col. John Kane and Lt. Young had been in on the intelligence, planning, and the training for the mission from the beginning, and they both knew the steep odds against them over Ploesti. That night Col. Kane went out alone to his regular thinking place out on the air base and sat next to his airplane, 'Hail Columbia', under the desert stars, for a long time by himself. He was among those convinced he was not going to survive the mission. So were, pretty much, the rest of "Killer" Kane's crewmen from the 'Kickapoo', now assigned to 'Hail Columbia', including Lt. 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 gunner, Staff Sargeants Leard, LaBranch, and 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 to his parents. He had no one else to say goodbye to. Weeks earlier, his mother had written him that his high school friend and sweetheart in Dallas had gone back east to college and had met and married the son of a wealthy Texas oil man. That night was a dark one for the men of the 8th and 9th U.S. Army Air Forces, for the 98th Bombardment Group, and for the men of all of the other bomb groups assigned to fly to Ploesti. And it was an especially dark one for Johnny Young. Even before he had left the United States to deploy to North Africa, he had held onto the hope that, somehow, he would survive the war and return home to marry his sweetheart back in Dallas. Now, along with the rest of the men of the 8th and 9th Army Air Forces in North Africa, he knew he had to let those hopes and dreams go. Reality, the war, the coming air battle, and General Brereton's speech had ended them. Young kept to himself that night and resigned himself to whatever would come. He knew Col. Kane depended on him. His own crewmen, and all of the men in the the 389th and 44th Bomb Groups following them, depended on both, Col. Kane and himself, to fly their Lead B-24, 'Hail Columbia' all the way to the IPs of the following groups, and, then, to fly through hell to their own targets, and accomplish the mission. Young had heard Col. Kane tell his men of the 98th, the 44th, and the 389th Bomb Groups the same thing Col. Addison Baker told his men of the 93rd Bomb Group, that he would "... lead them to their targets or die trying !" Young had made his mind up that he intended to do the same. As he put it, simply, "The night before the before the mission, Col. Kane came to me and asked me, 'How are you doing, Johnny ?' I told him I was 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." 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 for 'Kickapoo' and it's replacement pilot, Lt. Robert Nespor, Lt. John Clark Reilly, and rest of his replacement crew. Like all of the B-24s on this mission, 'Kickapoo' was grossly overloaded with extra gasoline, extra ammunition, two extra gas tanks in it's bomb bay, more than a full bomb load, and extra .50 cal. guns for the lead ships It needed all four of it's four 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. Losing power, on takeoff, in even one engine, especially an outboard one, would be disastrous. But, just after it's long takeoff roll, as it was beginning to climb, 'Kickapoo''s #4 engine failed suddenly and caught fire, a victim of the desert sand. It's two young replacement pilots, Lt. Nespor, from the 98th Bomb Group and Young's own 344th Bombing Squadron, and copilot Lt. John C. Riley, a replacement copilot from the 93rd Bomb Group, began a slow turn out over the ocean and jettisoned their bombs. Then, as they turned back toward Lete Field, two more engines began losing power. Nespor could have ordered a bail out, but he had already decided to try to save his valuable airplane and maneuvered for an approach back to Lete. He had to abort his first approach and go around, because of all the red dust in the air and to miss the planes still taking off for the mission. He attempted a second approach with his right wing now on fire. On short final approach, burning, and losing power from his remaining three engines, Nespor, Clark, and the 'Kickapoo' sank to the runway, bounced hard, drifted off the center line, and hit a concrete 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 his copilot, John Riley, and all of the rest of the crew, except for two of the men, who were also badly burned, but escaped the wreckage and gradually recovered. As the men behind them took off, they saw from the wreckage and the pillar of smoke and fire next to Lete's runway, that some of their friends, for sure, would not be going home alive. 'Kickapoo' and it's replacement crew were the very first casualties of the Ploesti mission, 9 KIA and 2 WIA before it had even started. But they would not be the last. The crash of Johnny Young's B-24, '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, as Col. Kane and Lt. Young in 'Hail Columbia' led their three bomb groups, including their own 98th Bomb Group, "The Pyramiders", and the following 44th Bomb Group, led by Col. Leon Johnson, the "Flying Eight Balls", and the 398th, the "Sky Scorpions" going into 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 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 hidden outlying flak guns. And, in turn, they began firing their .50 caliber guns back at the enemy flak guns. As they flew toward the city, Kane and Young could see ahead of them what looked like thunderstorm clouds and lightening in the distance over Ploesti. It was, in fact, their principal target, the Astra Romano Refinery, that was already on fire and pouring flames and boiling black smoke into the sky, as it was being attacked and bombed by the rogue planes from the 93rd Bomb Group's airplanes, who had come in from the West and were bombing the 98th's target ahead of them. What looked like dark thunder clouds and lightning over Ploesti from farther away, were the fires and smoke over the already fiercely burning and exploding oil tanks of Kane's target, White IV. And the flashes that had looked like lightning were caused by the flames, explosions, and flak tracer rounds streaming up into the sky. As the planes of the 98th Bombing Group got closer, John Kane, looking ahead intently out of his windscreen at Ploesti, concentrating to make out his ground checkpoints leading to his IPs, and trying to make sense of what he was seeing, said to himself, as much as to his young copilot, "Almighty God, Johnny, look at that !". But, John Young, Col. Leon Johnson, the leader of the 44th Bombing Group behind him, Lt. Robert Sternfels, the pilot of 'The Sandman' in the 98th's 345th Squadron, three flights behind 'Hail Columbia', could all see clearly, what they were facing ahead. The attacking 93rd Bomb Group's B-24s were flying directly toward them after bombing the 98th's target, White IV, ahead of them, and they could see the full effects of the German anti-aircraft defenses already blasting the 93rd's planes out of the sky, and the huge oil tank fires, bomb explosions, and secondary explosions obscuring their views of 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, and the area around it, blocks of which were now covered with smoke and walls of flames shooting hundreds of feet into the air, and huge explosions from the 93rd's delayed action 500 and 1000 pound bombs exploding ahead of the 98th and the 44th Bomb Groups, as their entire element of two bomb groups of airplanes began a slow coordinated formation turn into their heavily compromised targets, with their throttles pushed to their maximum war emergency power stops, 50 feet over the ground, and 190 miles per hour.

Southeast of them and also heading straight for them, Maj. Walter 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 93rd also began bombing Kane's target at White IV, ahead of Kane's 98th Bomb Group, and completely out of the attack plan. After bombing White IV, Major Stewart, in his B-24D, 'Utah Man', and the rest of the 93rd's planes following him, converged with, and flew right through the 98th's approaching formation, all at the same low altitude, in the chaos created by a catastrophically wrong turn away from Ploesti that had been ordered half an hour earlier by Mission Commander, Gen. Uzal Ent, and faithfully executed by his pilot, Col. Keith Compton, in the B-24, 'Teggie Ann', leading both the 93rd and the 376th Bomb Group's formations south and away from Ploesti.

Still, Col. Kane in 'Hail Columbia', Col. Leon Johnson, in his plane, 'Suzie Q', and the rest of the 98th "Pyramiders", with Col. Jack Wood and the 389th's "Sky Scorpions" north of Ploesti and now heading for the city of Campina, and Col. Leon Johnson's 44th "Flying 8 Balls" Bombing Groups, without discussion or hesitation, continued following their attack plans, the 389th into the refinery at Campina, "Target Red", and the 44th into White V's walls of smoke and flames, explosions, and over the booming flak guns all around and south of Ploesti. All of these men were also quite determined to bomb their targets "or die trying", just as Kane and Col. Baker had promised to lead them to their targets the day 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 direct multiple 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 continue flying north 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 had ordered his pilot, Col. Keith Compton, in their B-24, 'Teggie Ann' to turn south toward Bucharest, and refused to answer the desperate radio calls from Maj. Ramsey Potts, and Maj. Walter Stewart in 'Utah Man' just behind him in the 93rd Bomb Group, and the calls on his own interphone from his 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 decided to break formation and take his planes to bomb Ploesti on his own, just like he had said he would, and deliberately led the part of the 93rd Bomb Group's planes, who followed him, to turn away from the 376th, back west toward the refineries at Ploesti ! Major Walter Stewart and Ramsey Potts were also, both, in shock and disbelief at what they had just seen Ent and Compton do, and also disobeyed their attack plan orders to stay with Ent and the rest of the 376th Bomb Group ! They also turned north and back to the west following Col. Baker, all of them determined to attack Ploesti on their own initiative in spite of Compton's inexplicable, wrong turn, away from their target.

But Col. Compton with General Ent in the B-24,'Teggie Ann', twenty minutes after having turned south and east toward Bucharest, and still leading the 376th planes that were still following them, were circling around Ploesti east of the city, instead of flying their attack plan. They could see off to the west, thousands of the green German flak tracer rounds streaming into the sky. They could see the smoke, explosions, and the fires of the exploding bombs dropped by the 93rd, 44th, and 98th Bomb Groups. And they could see the American planes being attacked by fighter planes, and being shot out of the sky by the defending German flak guns and airplanes. 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. Ginnie', his wingman, Lt. John Palm, piloting the '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, trying to 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 had drawn a "jinxed" plane for the mission, the 'Brewery Wagon', and was also one of the rogue pilots from the 376th Bomb Group, who elected to turn away from Bucharest toward Ploesti, and was also heading for Ploesti and targets of opportunity at treetop level. But he never made it that far. After taking a number of direct flak hits, he 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, bleeding, with his right leg nearly blown 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 only three other surviving crew members.

Col. Jack Wood leading the 398th "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. 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 engulfed in flames. Pete tried to crash land his burning B-24 in the Prahova dry river valley. But, his left wing folded, crashing his ship 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, 2nd Lt. Lloyd "Pete" Hughes was posthumously awarded the Medal Of Honor. He had given everything he had to accomplish his mission.

Col. John Kane and 2nd Lt. Johnny 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, to fly around and between the oil fires and smoke pouring skyward from the huge fires, explosions, 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 on the nose of 'Hail Columbia''s nose, operated by John Kane, spraying every flak gun he could hit. The top turret was modified for Tech Sargeant Fred Weckessler, to fire his two .50 cal. guns forward, and, also, the waist gunners and tail gunner were firing out of the sides and the back of their B-24. 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, turning between and around the obstacles ahead of them, and trying to control the pitching, bucking, rolling, and vibrating monster that 'Hail Columbia' became, approaching their target at almost 200 miles per hour, in and out of the huge updrafts through White IV's rough air, boiling with flames, smoke, and explosions around and under them 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 tracer rounds coming at them from all directions, hitting their plane, and crossing in front of them. They could see their friends, including Col. Baker in 'Hell's Wench' being hit, crashing in flames off to their left, front, and off their right side, and behind them, with others, like their friends in the B-24D, 'Raunchy', being shot down to the left of them, as 'Hail Columbia', too, was being hit hard now by the deadly accurate flak rounds. They saw planes catching on fire simply by flying through the 300 foot high flames, hitting the barrage balloon cables, and being blown up from both the flak rounds and the explosions from the 93rd's delayed action bombs now 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 'Hail Columbia', Norm Whalen, firing his nose mounted .50 cal. gun at the flak guns ahead of him, while 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 could make it out of there alive !" Just like Pete Hughes had done, Kane flew 'Hail Columbia' right through one of the huge columns of boiling flames he couldn't avoid, which reached up even higher than his plane's 250 feet of altitude and burned his left arm resting on 'Hail Columbia''s left side sliding window sill. Yet, somehow, the flames did not ignite the gasoline leaking from 'Hail Columbia''s wings and the gasoline fumes inside it's fuselage. With determination and flying skill, and by some kind of miracle, Kane, Young, and Harry Korger, their bombardier, were able to visually locate, line up on Korger's target, and drop their bombs on the Astra Romano refinery complex. But, 'Hail Columbia' was still being hit hard by the German flak guns shooting at them from point blank range. A direct flak hit completely destroyed their #4 outboard engine, knocking it partly off it's mounts. Kane called for Young to secure the dead engine and feather the engine's propeller. Then, their #3 engine's propeller was hit and holed by a small caliber round and began vibrating. The #2 engine's propeller on the left side was also hit and damaged, but with three engines still running. Now, with things going bad for Kane, 'Hail Columbia', and her 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 that had just killed Col. Addison Baker, Major John Jerstad, and their crews, just south of Ploesti. Although several crewmen in 'Hail Columbia' were hit and injured by flak splinters, and with over one hundred and fifty flak holes in their fuselage, wings, and stabilizers, the crew members were wounded and bleeding, but still alive. As they began leaving the refinery area behind them, they had been flying through the destruction around the greater Ploesti area for a very long half hour !

In marked 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, almost 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 Lt. 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. Young later wrote, "We had ME-109s and 110s doing lazy eights all over us." Col. Kane and Young again had to pull steep 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 otherwise crippled straggler planes, including Lt. Robert Sternfels in 'The Sandman', Col. Walter Stewart in 'Utah Man', Lt. "Gib" Hadley in 'Hadley's Harem', and later, Lt. Royden LeBrecht and his plane, 'The Squaw', all joined up with 'Hail Columbia' and it's excellent lead navigator, Lt. Norman Whalen, who navigated the group of survivors south, all the way out of Ploesti, through Turkey, on over the Pindus Mountains, and down to the Mediterranean Sea, then, all the way to the British air base at Nicosia, on the Greek island of Cyprus, where the planes still flying, landed safely. Sadly, as the group was approaching Cyprus just after dark, just before they got there, Lt. "Gib" Hadley finally lost his fight with his failing, shot up B-24. Just as they all reached the Mediterraenean Sea, past the Turkish coast, in the darkness, and low on gas & engine oil, Hadley radioed a goodbye to Col. Kane and the other planes, and turned back to the coast. He crashed into the sea in the dark trying to ditch his plane in the ocean just off the coast. After having survived the fight at Ploesti, escaping the south 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, who escaped and made it to shore. The rest of those in the planes still with Kane and 'Hail Columbia' 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 one of the airbase's runway thresholds. 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' the day after the mission.
After the Ploesti mission, John Young returned to his home in Dallas, Texas, and was promoted to Captain. For a year, or so, after returning home, he served on a war bond tour across America, with his friend, Lt. Royden LeBrecht and Col.Walter Stewart, along with LeBrecht's crew and his B-24D, 'The "Squaw", and the B-24D, 'The Blue Streak' telling American's about their desperate mission over Ploesti. Capt. John Young happily reunited with his high school sweetheart in Dallas, 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

  • Gilbert Hadley

    Military | First Lieutenant | B-24D Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    First Lieutenant Gilbert Benny Hadley was a B-24D Liberator bomber pilot with the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group, "The Pyramiders", and the 344th Bombing Squadron, from Texas, based at Cairo, Egypt, Tobruk, and Benghazi, Libya, in the Mediterranean...

  • 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 took part in Operation Tidal Wave, the raid on Ploesti on 1 August 1943, flying as a Waist Gunner and...

  • 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 | Bombardier Navigator | 98th Bomb Group
    Lt. Harold Korger was a bombardier in the 344th Bombardment Squadron, 98th Bomb Group, 9th Air Force. He flew on the famous mission, Operation Tidal Wave, Aug 1, 1943, to knock out the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. ...

  • Royden LeBrecht

    Military | Captain | B-24 Command Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    Lt. Royden Louis LeBrecht was a B-24 Command pilot of the B-24D, #4111761, The 'Squaw' in North Africa in 1942-43. Lt. Lebrecht flew on Operation Tidal Wave, the Aug 1 1943 Ploesti raid, with the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bombardment Group, and the 344th...

  • Samuel Neeley

    Military | First Lieutenant | B-24D Command Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    Pilot Lt. Sam Neeley flew his B-24D, named, 'Raunchy' on "Operation Tidal Wave", the famous bombing raid to destroy the German held oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, one of the most desperate and daring bombing raids of WWII. ...

  • Robert Nespor

    Military | First Lieutenant | B-24 Command Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    1st Lt. Robert James Nespor, Jr. was a B-24D command bomber pilot in the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bombardment Group, "The Pyramiders", and the 330th Bombing Squadron. For the huge mission to bomb the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, on Operation...

  • Norman Whalen

    Military | Major | Navigator / Nose Gunner | 98th Bomb Group
    Norman Whalen joined the Army Air Corps in 1941. After graduating from Navigator School in Monroe, Louisiana, he received his commission as a Second Lieutenant and was assigned to the 9th Air force, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 344th Bombing Squadron...

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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

  • 42-40402 'The Sandman'

    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24D, named 'The Sandman' and flown by Lt. Robert Sternfels in the 9th Air force, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 345th Bomb Squadron, flew on the famous mission to destroy the German held oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. Lt. Sternfels flew in...

  • 41-24198 'THE VULGAR VIRGIN' - 'Hell From Heaven' - 'Shoot You're Faded'

    B-24 Liberator
    - Not to be confused with #42-30406, 'THE VULGAR VIRGIN' of the 8th Air Force - 93rd Bomb Group - 328th Bomb Squadron - Also flew on the Ploesti mission by Pilot Lt. Claude Turner - Interned Turkey Aug 1, 1943 - Lt. Turner escaped from the Turks and...

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

    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24D, 'Hail Columbia', # 41-11825, originally served in the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 344th Bombing Squadron. It was, first, 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, '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 and was Lt...

Missions

  • Operation Tidal Wave

    1 August 1943
    Operation TIDAL WAVE. B24D 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 B...

Associated Place

Events

Event Location Date

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
23 February 2021 10:50:13 Kickapoo Changes to biography
Sources

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

Date Contributor Update
23 February 2021 10:46:56 Kickapoo Changes to biography
Sources

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

Date Contributor Update
23 February 2021 10:41:24 Kickapoo Changes to biography
Sources

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

Date Contributor Update
23 February 2021 10:24:47 Kickapoo Changes to biography
Sources

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

Date Contributor Update
18 February 2021 19:34:30 Kickapoo Changes to biography
Sources

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

Date Contributor Update
04 February 2021 21:16:29 Kickapoo Changes to biography
Sources

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

Date Contributor Update
02 February 2021 00:28:30 Kickapoo Changes to place associations
Sources

Into The Fire - Duane Schultz

Date Contributor Update
26 January 2021 10:00:24 Kickapoo Changes to awards
Sources

Personal Archives - John S Young Jr

Date Contributor Update
23 January 2021 09:14:11 Kickapoo Changes to awards
Sources

Personal Archives - John S Young Jr

Date Contributor Update
23 January 2021 09:07:59 Kickapoo Changes to awards
Sources

Personal Archives - John S Young Jr

Date Contributor Update
23 January 2021 08:46:50 Kickapoo Changes to biography
Sources

Personal Archives - John S Young Jr

Date Contributor Update
23 January 2021 08:19:18 Kickapoo Changes to biography
Sources

Personal Archives - John S Young Jr

Date Contributor Update
10 January 2021 17:45:01 Kickapoo Changes to biography
Sources

Personal Archives - John S Young Jr

Date Contributor Update
01 January 2021 13:17:35 Kickapoo Changes to biography
Sources

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

Date Contributor Update
31 December 2020 06:08:26 Kickapoo Changes to biography
Sources

personal archives - John S Young Jr

Date Contributor Update
28 December 2020 13:19:48 Kickapoo Changes to biography
Sources

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

Date Contributor Update
26 December 2020 11:23:41 Kickapoo Changes to biography
Sources

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

Date Contributor Update
26 December 2020 11:11:57 Kickapoo Changes to biography
Sources

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

Date Contributor Update
26 December 2020 11:06:30 Kickapoo Changes to biography
Sources

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

Date Contributor Update
26 December 2020 10:54:40 Kickapoo Changes to biography
Sources

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

Date Contributor Update
23 December 2020 10:44:04 Kickapoo Changes to person associations, unit associations and place associations
Sources

personal archives - John S Young Jr

Date Contributor Update
23 December 2020 10:21:32 Kickapoo Changes to awards
Sources

personal archives - John S Young Jr

Date Contributor Update
23 December 2020 10:18:59 Kickapoo Changes to person associations, unit associations, aircraft associations and mission associations
Sources

personal archives - John S Young Jr

Date Contributor Update
23 December 2020 09:51:02 Kickapoo Changes to biography
Sources

personal archives - John S Young Jr

Date Contributor Update
23 December 2020 00:03:23 Kickapoo Changes to service number, highest rank, role and awards
Sources

personal archives - John S Young Jr

Date Contributor Update
22 December 2020 23:15:33 Kickapoo Created entry with surname, middlename, firstname, nickname, nationality and biography
Sources

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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