Remember ... Returning is Secondary
by Roy Grinnell
Before the 'Tidal Wave' mission, a pep talk was given by VIP Generals. They gave pep talks about getting to the target, not about getting back. A lot of talk was about “if the target was wiped out and none returned, the mission would still be a success.” “Remember…Returning is Secondary.”
Addison Baker, Pilot of the B-24 Hell’s Wench led the left side of the first wave on the Ploesti oil refineries in Romania, August 1, 1943.
Baker’s aircraft was aiming for the nearest refinery complex on the south west, the corner of Ploesti. Within seconds the aircraft came into range of more German guns and Hell’s Wench took a direct hit in the nose. Most likely the hydraulic lines were ruptured by the shell, and fire blossomed in the nose of Hell’s Wench.
Baker and co-pilot Maj. John Jernstad held the B-24 on course in spite of the horrendous damage. Hell’s Wench took another hit in the right wing near the inboard engine which punctured the fuel tank, and the engine caught fire. To make matters worse, another shell
The wounded and badly crippled B-24 wavered then continued towards the refinery which lay only a few minutes away. Walt Stewart, pilot of Utah Man watched his leader’s aircraft from his position to the left. “Someone called, ‘Look at the Colonel, Look at the Colonel.’ His #3 and #4 engines were on fire. It streaked all the way back past the horizontal stabilizer. We pulled up on the Colonel. We waved at him, trying to get him out to get him to belly land or pull up so his crew could get out.” Others in the formation saw the plight of Hell’s Wench and wondered why Baker didn’t try to save himself and his crew.
Within the shattered cockpit, a hand reached down and pulled the bomb salvo lever. Hell’s Wench gave a small sigh of relief as the bombs tumbled from her belly. Observers saw a figure tumble from the nose wheel doors. The chute opened in the slipstream as the badly burned jumper hit the ground.
As Baker’s flaming plane approached the refinery, another direct hit smashed into the B-24. The plane wavered again and began a climb for altitude. The fire burned through the wing and it began to drop. The climb was cut short by the wing losing lift and dipping towards the ground. Several figures fell from the helpless flagship as Hell’s Wench fell from the skies, crashing into a railway marshalling spur on the edge of the Columbia Aquila refinery. Pilot, Addison Baker and John Jerstad had kept the promise and led the B-24’s to the target despite the odds. None of the crew survived the crash or the jump.
For their gallant leadership and extraordinary flying skill, both Lt. Col. Addison Baker and Maj. John Jerstad received the Medal of Honor posthumously.
The Ploesti Raid was costly, with 54 of the 177 bombers lost and 532 of the 1,726 personnel engaged listed as dead, missing or interned.
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