Keesler heritage: Ploesti Drive

  • Published
  • By Ken Dodd
  • 81st Training Wing Historian
During 1954, Keesler was active in a memorialization project for naming buildings and landmarks for distinguished Air Force personnel and campaigns. Five buildings were dedicated to honor distinguished personnel: Thomson Hall, Vandenberg Hall, and Westover, Andrews, and Mitchell Theaters. In addition to the five buildings, one street was memorialized.

According to the "History of the 3380th Technical Wing,", Ploesti Drive was the first street to be renamed on the installation and was dedicated to the personnel who participated in the famous low-level bombing raids on the Ploesti oil installations in World War II. The street dedication ceremony occurred on April 7, 1954.

During World War II, the U.S. Army Air Forces and the British Royal Air Force brought together a sustained day and night massed bombing campaign - combined bomber offensive - that selected enemy military and industrial targets for destruction. As petroleum and distribution systems were high priority targets, the Allies decided in January 1943 to bomb the refineries in Ploesti, Romania. The plan for the bombing of the Ploesti oil refineries was named Operation Tidal Wave and called for a "low-level massed raid on the nine most important Ploesti refineries by five B-24 bomb groups."

By July 1943, the Allies had put together the five B-24 "Liberator" bombardment groups at Benghazi, Libya, to perform the bombing campaign. Benghazi was chosen because B-24s taking off from England could not reach Ploesti. At Benghazi, the groups conducted low-level bombing training in preparation for the Ploesti raid.

On August 1, 1943, 178 B-24s departed Benghazi and followed a route across the Mediterranean and crossed the Pindus Mountains into Romania. Over the Mediterranean the airplanes split into two bombing formations. Because of radio silence, the two formations never came together over Ploesti and they lost the ability to attack in a single mass. All five groups hit targets in Ploesti and a separate refinery at Campina. The raid reduced Ploesti oil production by 49 percent, but only for several months as Germany proved resourceful in repairing the damage and returning refineries back to full production.

Although the campaign was somewhat successful, the toll to Airmen and aircraft was steep. Anti-aircraft fire and German fighters took a toll. Some bombers were able to land at Allied air fields and others sought refuge in Turkey. Of the 178 bombers that left Benghazi on Aug. 1, only 88 returned. Personnel losses during the raid included 310 Airmen killed, 108 captured, and 78 interned in Turkey. Five officers were awarded the Medal of Honor.

At Ploesti, the B-24 crews demonstrated excellence and service. They did the job they trained to do. It is no different today. Keesler trains men and women to perform jobs that enable the Air Force to perform its core missions. Today, as was true in 1943, the Air Force is a profession of arms. It needs- no, it requires- Airmen (active, Guard, Reserve, and civilians) that "share a common bond among all comrades in arms" and for them to understand that "they are the glue that unifies the Force and ties us to the great warriors and public servants of the past."

Note: Sources for this article are: History of the 3380th Technical Wing, Jan. 1, 1954 through June 30, 1954; Keesler Air Force Base Then and Now, For Half A Century, A Leader in Technical Training, 1941-1991; and U. S. Air Force Fact Sheet, Operation Tidalwave, The Low-Level Bombing of the Ploesti Oil Refineries, Aug. 1, 1943.