A B-24 Mission to Ploesti in World War II

13th Jan 2015

451st-bombardment-b24.pngIt was 22 July 1944 and another mission for the men and the B-24 Liberators of the 451st Bombardment Group. The target for today was the oil fields at Ploesti, Rumania one of the most heavily fortified targets that the men of the 15th Air Force would face. While some easy targets became known as 'milk runs', Ploesti was anything but that, the flak towers that the Germans had setup comprised primarily of 88mm guns were as dense as any target in the European Theater. To complicate matters for the group and the bombardiers, the Germans had distributed hundreds of smoke pots that were lit creating a dark cloud covering that obscured the target rail lines, marshalling yards, refineries and cracking plants.

Even before the group had all taken off and reached assembly area, one aircraft crashed on takeoff killing five crewmen and injuring the other five. Other crews would takeoff in plain sight of the smoke from the wreckage a grim reminder of what they faced today.

Combat camera unit cameramen capture B-24s flight formation as the aircraft with their 4 Pratt & Whitney radial engines bite the air in relatively clear sky on their way to the target. One such Liberator is "Ice Cold Katie" tail number 42-7751 assigned to the 726th Bomb Squadron. The right waist gunner is seen on alert for enemy fighter aircraft before they take their stations when the B-24 enters the flak box over the target.

Dark black puffs of smoke, harbingers of death and destruction, begin to litter the sky around the Liberators as they approach the target and begin their bomb run. The bomb bays open and the general purpose bombs exit the plane headed for their target over 20,000 feet below. The sky has become darker as the Germans increase their rate of fire of their 88s and the sky shows thousands of explosions among the planes of the 451st. The flak explosions appear to float in the air as the B-24s fly through, determined to reach their objective. Below a large dark smoke 

The planes have flown straight and level over their target, then turned off toward a rally point where they close up formations to fill voids left by their compatriots who were hit by flak and dropped out of formation. The gunners return to their stations to again be vigilant in protecting their plane from enemy fighters for the nearly 4 hours it would take for them to make their way back to their base at Castelluccio Airfield in Italy. In a poignant scene, a lone white speck is seen drifting below the formation, it's a single parachute of one airman who exited his critically damaged B-24, his fate unknown to the men of the formation as they returned is seen rising from the target as the Liberators again have flown a successful mission.

This narrative is not fiction, it is one scene filmed by the men of the 1st Combat Camera Unit telling the story of the men and aircraft of the 451st Bombardment Group, 15th Air Force, World War II. This scene and many others like it are found on a new DVD containing identified footage of the 451st, researched, organized and brought to you by Military Cinema. 180 minutes of black and white, silent film footage. Order your copy for $29.99 at Order your copy today.