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“PLOESTI - ODYSSEY OF THE UTAH MAN”
by GIL COHEN
Signed by Col Walter Stewart
The exhausted crew of the B-24, Utah Man, has returned to base near Benghazi, Libya, on August 1, 1943, after bombing the great oil refineries around Ploesti- a mission of more than thirteen hours in the air. The pilot, 1st Lt. Walter T. Stewart, is describing his mission experience to Major Ramsay D. Potts, who had returned earlier that day.
(Select the picture at the bottom of the page to view the artwork)
On August 1, 1943, three months before the Fifteenth Air Force was organized, Eighth and Ninth Air Force
B-24Ds had flown a historic low-level mission against Ploesti, suffering spectacular losses. Operation Tidal Wave cost 54 of the 178 Liberators destroyed or interned in Turkey.
In April 1944, the Fifteenth Air Force had begun a four-month campaign to destroy the petroleum refineries around Ploesti.
The largest Ploesti mission of the 1944 phase involved 485 aircraft dropping some 1,200 tons of ordnance on May 5. It was questionable, however, whether the damage done was worth the 18 bombers and crews lost. Even with upwards of 200 escorting fighters, the Axis defenses took a toll.
After 1,320 sorties and nearly 50 airplanes lost, the priorities changed. Seven of the 10 refineries circling the city stood within a mile of the rail yards, so it was easy to order a shift of bombing aim points. Nearly two weeks passed before another raid on Ploesti, this time attacking the refineries themselves. The new approach produced results: Persistent restrikes brought production at Ploesti to a near halt just before Bucharest capitulated in late August.
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