Republishing my father’s story…
On this Memorial Day, in honor of the memory of my father.
"Day of Valor" tells the story of Operation Tidal Wave, the EXACT story my father told us in the 50's at dinner as he wiped tears from his eyes: hundreds of B-24's flying so low they skimmed the corn stalks...and huge bombers flying between the oilfield smokestacks.
August 1, 1943, 4AM. Tripoli, Libya, and 24 year old Lt. Andrew "Andy" Anderson, has been "cooling his heels" for the last 3 hours in the cockpit of Maternity Ward, his B-24 Liberator, awaiting orders to take off. This would be Andy's 7th mission and the 98th Bomb Group's most famous: Operation Tidal Wave.
The target: the complex of oil facilities in Ploesti, Romania, which was the largest supplier of oil and petroleum to Hitler's war machine. It was estimated that it supplied nearly 40% of the Reich's petroleum needs.
Intelligence reports indicated the operation would meet little resistance and our bombers would take the Germans defending the city completely by surprise. Andy was piloting the Liberator named "Maternity Ward" that day, one of 178 B-24's that arrived at their target only to find the Ploesti defenses on full alert. Yet despite fierce resistance and withering fire from the ack-ack guns, they completed their mission and destroyed nearly half of the refinery's capacity.
Maternity Ward was lucky enough to drop it's payload and survive the raid, but was pursued by German fighters over the waters of the Aegean where they blew his Liberator out of the sky and into the Sea.
Andy was still strapped in his seat when he regained consciousness, 50' feet underwater. The windshield had blown out and the other pilot's seat was empty. He unbuckled and made his way back through the cabin...only to find his radio man pinned by wreckage. Though he tried desperately to free him, Andy had to leave his friend to drown...or die with him.
He swam out of the submerged wreckage of Maternity Ward, only to surface in the midst of burning oil all around him. Off in the distance a life raft popped up and he was able to swim to it and clamber aboard. Moments later he heard the pilot, who had been thrown through the B-24's windshield upon impact, calling to him in the distance.
Of the 10 airmen aboard Maternity Ward, only the two pilots survived. Little did they know, the worst was still ahead of them: they spent the next 14 days (!!!) adrift in the Aegean Sea in a life raft with NO water and the only rations they had were a box of bullion cubes. I leave it to your imagination, what "liquid" they mixed with those dry bullion cubes...in order to survive in the blistering heat.
On the morning of the 14th day a Greek fisherman rescued the pair and brought them back to a little island where they spent the next month recuperating. As fate would have it, shortly after they started feeling better the German army captured the island and took Andy and his co-pilot back to Germany, where they spent the rest of the war in prison camp. (As a VERY cool footnote, Dad was able to visit the island and meet the family of the fisherman who saved his life...some FIFTY years later!)
Though deemed a success, Operation Tidal Wave was one of the most costly individual battles of the entire war: 178 bombers with 1,728 crewmen took off that morning, 54 planes were lost & 514 men gave their lives. The battle was described by the Air Force War College as "One of the bloodiest and most heroic missions of all time," and more Medals of Honor were awarded in that one action than any other battle in World War II...even D-Day...with EVERY airman awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
There are countless stories of individual acts of heroism that arose out of the war, yet try as I might: I. Simply. Cannot. Imagine being as courageous as these brave young men were.
Thanks, Dad, and a MOST sincere Thank You to ALL who serve or have served.
Here's a clip of a screenplay about the raid. It is exactly as Dad told us it happened, back in the 50's.