Sins of Omission

Operation Tidal Wave

It seems that Benghazi is remembered today only for the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic mission there.  In the 1940’s and 50’s, though, it was known for launching the planes that conducted Operation Tidal Wave, a brilliant example of the heroism of American airmen, and an equally brilliant example of Murphy’s Law.  The former resulted in the awarding of five Medals of Honor, more than any other air mission in history, and the latter in the loss of one third of the planes that participated.

The mission’s objective was the bombing of nine oil refineries at Ploesti, Rumania, which produced about 35 percent of Axis supplies.  There had been a minor air raid on the refineries in 1942, but with the Americans in control of Libya by the summer of 1943, it was thought a propitious time to launch a major strike from airfields at Benghazi.  Two Bomb Groups from the Ninth Air Force, the 98th and 376th, and three Bomb Groups from the Eighth Air Force, the 44th, 93rd, and 389th, would do the job.  Because of its fuel capacity, the B-24 Liberator would be used.  A high-wing, four-engined converted seaplane, the B-24 was not the most stable bomber, and its flight characteristics were dramatically compromised when the plane took hits.

Since the handful of bombers that attacked the refineries in June 1942 encountered only limited antiaircraft fire, it was thought that the attack...

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