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One of the Most Daring WWII Air Raids Targeted Hitler's Critical 'Gas Station'

July 10, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

U.S. airmen were awarded five Medals of Honor for this risky, low-flying bombing mission.

In the early morning hours of August 1, 1943, a total of 177 B-24 Liberator bombers took off from Allied airfields near Benghazi, Libya, heading northeast over the Mediterranean Sea with more than 1,700 U.S. airmen aboard. Operation Tidal Wave—one of the most daring, and costly, raids of

‘Bloody Sunday’ Deemed Heroic But Unsuccessful

A gasoline refinery and storage facility used by Nazi armed forces in flames after a bombing raid by the U.S. 9th Army Air Force.

Of the original 177 Liberators that departed Benghazi for Operation Tidal Wave, only 92 returned. Germans destroyed 54 of the bombers, while others were able to land in other Allied airfields. More than 300 U.S. airmen were killed in the raid, with more than 100 captured by the Germans and nearly 80 interned in Turkey after their planes were forced to land there.

Despite the bravery on display on “Bloody Sunday,” as historians dubbed it, the Ploesti mission was a strategic failure. “Hitler’s Gas Station,” though damaged, was not destroyed; the oil refineries were back at full production within weeks. “It took many more missions, mostly done at a high altitude, to eventually knock out that oil field,” says Michael Sellers, a filmmaker whose late grandfather, John L. Sullivan, served as a bombardier navigator in the 93rd.

By war’s end, the “Traveling Circus” would fly 396 missions, more than any other bomb group in the Eighth Air Force. Members of the 93rd, along with later generations of their family members, have met for decades in reunions in the United States as well as at Hardwick, the former air base in England where the group made its home during the war. Sellers chronicles the ongoing reunions (the first one of which he attended with his grandfather in 2001) and the 93rd’s wartime service in his documentary Return to Hardwick: Home of the 93rd Bomb Group.

Avendano, Duran’s great-uncle, survived the Ploesti mission, but was killed during a test flight in England in January 1944. “It was not just to remember my uncle, but all the veterans that served in the Army Air Force, and specifically in the 93rd Bomb Group,” Duran says of his work researching Operation Tidal Wave, as well as his visits to Hardwick and other reunion activities. “It was our wish to keep …read more


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