Identifying remains from the World War II Ploesti raid

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Identifying remains from the World War II Ploesti raid

A great story in the Omaha World Herald about the work of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency:

Staff Sgt. Vincent Politte held no illusions about the chances of surviving his World War II bomber crew’s 23rd mission: a 2,400-mile suicide run, deep behind German lines, attacking a cluster of oil refineries in Ploesti, Romania, known as “Hitler’s Gas Station.”

The war planners called it Operation Tidal Wave. Today, it is considered by many historians the most spectacular air raid of the war: dozens of bombers flying hundreds of miles just above the treetops, to rain 35 minutes of hellfire on a critical cog in the Nazi war machine.

It was daring, and disastrous. One hundred seventy-eight of the twin-tailed B-24 Liberators took off from a rustic desert airstrip near Benghazi, Libya, early on the morning of Aug. 1, 1943. Fifty-four crashed or were shot down.

Of the 1,763 airmen who took off, 310 were killed, and 190 were taken prisoner. Eighty crewmen could not be identified, even after the war.

Now, 76 years after the raid, 4,000 bones of the Ploesti airmen are lying on examination tables at Offutt Air Force Base in one of two laboratories of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

As a sort of side note, 5 men on the mission would receive the Medal of Honor, 3 of them posthumously.  Colonel Leon Johnson (later General Johnson) would survive to receive his:

For conspicuous gallantry in action and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 1 August 1943. Col. Johnson, as commanding officer of a heavy bombardment group, led the formation of the aircraft of his organization constituting the fourth element of the mass low-level bombing attack of the 9th U.S. Air Force against the vitally important enemy target of the Ploesti oil refineries. While proceeding to the target on this 2,400-mile flight, his element became separated from the leading elements of the mass formation in maintaining the formation of the unit while avoiding dangerous cumulous cloud conditions encountered over mountainous territory. Though temporarily lost, he reestablished contact with the third element and continued on the mission with this reduced force to the prearranged point of attack, where it was discovered that the target assigned to Col. Johnson's group had been attacked and damaged by a preceding element. Though having lost the element of surprise upon which the safety and success of such a daring form of mission in heavy bombardment aircraft so strongly depended, Col. Johnson elected to carry out his planned low-level attack despite the thoroughly alerted defenses, the destructive antiaircraft fire, enemy fighter airplanes, the imminent danger of exploding delayed action bombs from the previous element, of oil fires and explosions, and of intense smoke obscuring the target. By his gallant courage, brilliant leadership, and superior flying skill, Col. Johnson so led his formation as to destroy totally the important refining plants and installations which were the object of his mission. Col. Johnson's personal contribution to the success of this historic raid, and the conspicuous gallantry in action, and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty demonstrated by him on this occasion constitute such deeds of valor and distinguished service as have during our Nation's history formed the finest traditions of our Armed Forces.

Anyway, there is some fairly good footage of the raid out there, including this military documentary:

And now, Offutt is working on the 80 unidentified:

Romanian citizens gathered and buried the bodies of more than 200 dead crew members from 22 B-24s, like the Semper Felix, that crashed near their targets. Remains of the 80 men who could not be identified were turned over to the American Graves Registration Service and buried as “unknowns” at U.S. military cemeteries in France and Belgium.

Today at Offutt, it is the job of Megan Ingvoldstad, a forensic anthropologist at Offutt, to catalog the bones, assemble them, submit DNA samples for comparison with those submitted by families, and identify them.

The Offutt lab so far has received 49 caskets of remains. Forty more are expected to arrive in 2020. Ingvoldstad said the fact that there are more caskets than missing crewmen indicates there may be some additional bones from airmen who already have been identified or from later raids against the same targets.

Anyway, it is a great article so go give it a read.

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thanks basile

It was the 8th Air Force and he was the CO of the 44th bomb group from the home base at Shipdham in the UK

LTC Addison Baker, from Akron, OH, commanded the 93rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) on a raid on Aug 1, 1943. His group was the second of five that day. The aircraft carrying the overall mission navigator crashed at sea and the first group made a wrong turn before the target, so LTC Baker assumed overall mission navigation. His plane was hit by Flak before the target, but he maintained formation to guide the rest of the bombers to the target. He dropped his bombs, avoided the first group which had come to the target from a different direction, and tried to climb to provide altitude for his crew to bail out. His plane crashed, killing all 10 crewmembers. He received the MOH posthumously. Their bodies were never recovered. I hope the MIA accounting agency is able to identify him or his crew. God bless them.

My family owned a substantial financial interest in the Ploesti oil wells and refineries before Germany confiscated the property and the US destroyed the refineries. The family fled Romania and landed in the US where they prospered without recovering their investments in Romania.

Ancient tale, specific details long forgotten, a Brit gunnery instructor volunteered to man a nose turret in one of the lead aircraft. He was attributed to as a savior for countless lives as he was credited with dusting-off flack towers from a half mile stand off and beyond, in bound to target !

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.