B-24D - Lt. Russell W. Polivka, photo left, navigator, and SSgt. Eugene R. Garner, gunner, on the right. Both escaped the fatal crash of the B-24D, KICKAPOO, badly burned but recovered. This was the first crash and casualties of the Ploesti mission. The B-24D, KICKAPOO was Lt. John S. Young's regular airplane until the mission to Ploesti when he and his crew were reassigned to fly with Col. John Kane and his lead B-24D, HAIL COLUMBIA. KICKAPOO crashed in flames on takeoff for the Ploesti mission at Lete Air Base, Benghazi, Libya, killing the entire replacement crew, except Lt. Russell W. Polivka, navigator, and SSgt. Eugene R. Garner, one of the gunners, both badly burned by the flames of the burning aircraft. Aug 1 1943
- The B-24D - Kickapoo, with it's regular crew, and pilot, Lt. John S. Young on the far right, before the mission to bomb Ploesti. Lt. John Young and his regular crew member's lives were spared when Group Leader Col. John R. Kane reassigned them to fly with him in his plane, Hail Columbia, on Operation Tidal Wave over Ploesti. Kickapoo crashed and burned on takeoff for the Ploesti mission, killing the two replacement pilots and all but two of it's replacement crew, Lt Russel Polivka, navigator, and SSgt Eugene Garner, gunner. - Aircraft Destroyed - Lete, Libya - 1 Aug 1943
Kickapoo's reassigned crew for the Ploesti bombing mission : ---
1st Lt. Robert J. Nespor - Pilot - (KIA) - 98th BG - Died two weeks later from his burns 2nd Lt. John C. Riley - Co Pilot (KIA) Detached Service from 93rd BG - Died from his burns
2nd Lt. Russell W. Polivka - Navigator (WIA) D.S. from 93rd BG - Severely Burned - Recovered after long rehabilitation
T/Sgt. Vaun D. Wenrich -Engineer/Top Turret (KIA) D.S. from 93rd BG - Died of his injuries
T/Sgt. Armand R. Massart - Radio Op (KIA) D.S. from 93rd BG - Died of his injuries
S/Sgt. George W. Lawlor - Gunner (KIA) D.S. from 93rd BG - Died of his injuries
S/Sgt. Edwin G. Sliwa - Gunner (KIA) D.S. from 93rd BG - Died of his injuries
S/Sgt. Eugene R. Garner - Gunner (WIA) D.S. from 93rd BG - Badly burned - Survived and recovered after long rehabilitation.
S/Sgt. John P. D'Armour - Gunner (KIA) D.S. from 93rd BG
B-24D, Kickapoo - First casualties of Operation Tidal Wave. Engine failure on takeoff. Crashed at Lete Airfield. Pilots, Lt. Robert Nespor and Lt. John C. Riley and all but two of the crew were killed (KIA). Two crewmen, Lt. Russel Polivka and SSgt Eugene Garner, were badly burned but recovered (WIA) (RTS) . Number 4 engine failure - 8 KIA / 2 WIA. Aug 1, 1943
Crew member SSgt. Eugene Robert Garner flew on Operation Tidal wave and was one of two survivors of the crash of the B-24D, KICKAPOO, on takeoff for the Ploesti mission. He was assigned as part of a replacement crew for the B-24D, KICKAPOO, from the 344th Bomb Squadron, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 9th Air Force. Flown by replacement pilot, Lt. Robert Nespor, also from the 344th Bomb Squadron and the 98th Bomb Group, the KICKAPOO crashed shortly after takeoff for the Ploesti mission. The airplane lost an engine just after getting airborne and caught fire while attempting to land back at the Lete airfield. On Nespor's second approach, on short final, his left wing hit a concrete pole, crashing the aircraft into the desert, exploding in flames. Only two crew members survived their burns caused by the crash, Lt. Russell Polivka, and SSgt. Eugene R. Garner
Squadron: 93rd BG - TDY 98th BG
SSgt. Garner's Awards: Air Medal - Purple Heart.
Pilot 1st Lt. Robert J. Nespor - KIA
Target: Ploesti - White IV - Astra Romano Refinery
Missing Air Crew Report Details
Date Lost: 1-Aug-43
Serial Number: 41-11768
Aircraft Model B-24D
Aircraft Letter: D
Aircraft Name: KICKAPOO
Location: Crew of 10 - 8 KIA - 2 WIA - RTD
Cause: KICKAPOO aborted the mission due to mechanical difficulties.
Sgt. Garner flew as a replacement gunner on the B-24D, KICKAPOO, on Operation Tidal Wave, one of the most daring raids of WW2, flying into their targets at tree top level to destroy Romanian oil refineries. 1 Aug 1943.
The aircraft, KICKAPOO, was flown by replacement pilot, 1st Lt. Robert Nespor and a crew of 10 on loan from the 93rd Bomb Group. Briefed to fly in the extreme right position on first wave, Flight 1, attacking Target White IV. KICKAPOO's number 4 engine failed on take off. Lt. Nespor, after jettisoning his bombs at sea, was guided in for an emergency landing back at Lete. Due to conflicting aircraft on the runway, Nespor was forced to abort and approach the field a second time from the West. While doing so, his right wing caught on fire, and, on short final approach, he lost power on two more engines, sank and hit the runway hard, bounced, and drifted off the centerline, hitting a concrete pole, and exploded in flames on impact with the ground, killing all but two of the crew members, Lt. Russel Polivka and SSgt Eugene Garner, who were badly burned, but survived, recovered from their injuries and eventually returned to duty. RTD
Lt. Russell Polivka briefed the accident board of inquiry that Nespor lost two engines on his starboard side and, then, on the Port side just as they were coming in. He spent one and a half years in the hospital and went through many surgeries recovering from the burns he had suffered. Engineer Garner went through numerous plastic surgeries too. He survived 29 combat missions and three airplane crashes, including the crash of KICKAPOO.
Eugene Garner died October 25, 2005.
Lt. Robert Nespor was an original 98th copilot who was grounded with dysentery so he could not finish his tour with the rest of the original crews. Lt. Polivka revealed the fact that Nespor could have easily ditched in the Mediterranean but wanted to save the plane, as this was his last mission. He had been cleared by the tower to return for an abort landing.
Crew of KICKAPOO on Operation Tidalwave :
1st Lt. Robert J. Nespor - Pilot
2nd Lt. Thurman L. Ward - Bombardier
2nd Lt. John C. Riley - Co Pilot
TSgt. Vaun D. Wenrick - Engineer
SSgt. Eugene R. Garner - Gunner
TSgt. Armand R. Massart - Radio Operator
SSgt.Edwin J. Sliwa - Gunner
SSgt. George Warren Lawlor - Gunner
SSgt. John D'Amour - Gunner
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...
Military | Second Lieutenant | Navigator | 93rd Bomb Group
Lt. Russell W. Polivka was a navigator, and part of the replacement crew assigned to the B-24D Liberator, 41-11768, KICKAPOO, of 344th Bomb Squadron, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 9th Air Force, for Operation Tidal Wave over Ploesti, Romania. Flown by...
Military | Second Lieutenant | B-24 Co-Pilot | 93rd Bomb Group
2nd Lt. John Clark Riley was a B-24D pilot in the 9th Air Force, the 93rd Bomb Group, and the 330th Bomb Squadron at Benghazi, Libya, in the Mediterranean theater (MTO) during WWII. Lt. Riley and his command Pilot Robert Nespor from the 98th Bomb...
Units served with
Eighth Air Force Bomber Command became the Eighth Air Force on February 1944, it oversaw bombardment of strategic targets in Europe until 1945.
93rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) was activated 1-March-1942 at Barksdale Field, Louisiana. On 15-May-1942 the Group moved to Ft. Myers, Florida to continue advanced flight training and also to fly anti-submarine patrols over the Gulf of Mexico; they...
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...
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...
||Musgrove County, OK
||11 April 1923
Son of Elias and Martha Ada [Davis] Garner.
||Kansa City, IL,
Kansa City, Illinois
||1943 – 1944
Assigned to 344th BS, 98th BG, 8th AF.
||1 August 1943
Crew member B-24 liberator 41-11768 'Kickapoo' of 344th BS, 98th BG, 9th AF. Crashed shortly after take-off for the August 1, 43 low-level Ploesti, Romania mission. She lost an engine just after getting airborne and then caught fire while banking back toward the field to land, then a wing touched the ground and she smashed into a concrete pole and burst into flames. WIA.
||1 August 1943 – 1 February 1945
Year and a half reconstructive surgery for burns from accident.
||25 October 2005
||Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery
Dallas, Dallas County
||28 October 2005
Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery
Dallas, Dallas County