Operation Tidal Wave: U.S. forces attempt risky air raid on Axis oil refineries

On August 1, 1943, 177 B-24 bombers took off from an Allied base in Libya, bound for the oil town of Ploiești, Romania, nicknamed “Hitler’s gas station”. The daring raid, known as Operation Tidal Wave, saw five men receive the Medal of Honor – three of them posthumously – but failed to deliver the fatal blow that its planners had planned.

Operation Tidal Wave began worryingly, with one overloaded bomber crashing shortly after takeoff and another plunging into the Adriatic Sea. 167 of the 177 original bombers went to Ploiești, whose oil fields and refineries supplied the Germans with more than 8.5 million tonnes of oil per year. While most of the Allied bombing during WWII was carried out at high altitude, the bombers that attacked Ploiești flew unusually low in order to evade the Germans’ radar. However, the bombers lost the element of surprise when a group veered in the wrong direction, forcing the others to break radio silence to get them back on track. This unforeseen adjustment also led the bombers to approach from the south, where the Nazis had concentrated their anti-aircraft batteries.

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