To Hell and Back
by Anthony Saunders
|Allied planners knew that just over a third of all Germany’s oil came from a single source – the oil fields at Ploesti, far to the east in deepest Romania. If the oilfields and refineries at Ploesti could be destroyed, then Hitler’s armies would be dealt a savage blow from which they might never recover.
The oil fields, however, were well out of range of the 8th Air Force bases in England. There was only one way the target could be reached: by operating from bases in North Africa. It would mean an exacting 2,000 mile round trip of maximum endurance, unescorted by fighters, much of it over enemy territory and the target was one of the most heavily defended areas in the Third Reich.
If that wasn’t enough, the attack would have to be carried out at low-level. The risks were enormous, the odds of success minimal, but should they succeed, the rewards were great. “We expect our losses to be 50%” said the Commanding Officer of the Ninth Air Force, but even though we should lose everything we’ve sent, but hit the target, it will be well worth it.”
Small comfort to the crews of the 178 B-24s detailed to fly the mission. As dawn broke over the dusty Libyan airstrips, the first B-24s lumbered awkwardly into the air but immediately the lead aircraft, engines clogged by sand, plunged into the sea. En-route things became even worse: thick cloud over Albania split up the bomber formations, some taking a wrong course. The carefully planned schedule was falling apart as German radar picked up the incoming threat. By the time the bombers arrived the element of surprise was lost, the enemy were waiting.
The flak was murderous, some of the worst encountered during the whole of World War II but, as the B-24s ran the deadly gauntlet, every crew held their course. Barely able to see through the pillars of flame and towering columns of dense black smoke, with airframes shaking as explosions lit up the sky, each bomb run became a rollercoaster ride through hell.
Anthony Saunders’ dramatic painting "To Hell and Back", specially commissioned to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of Operation Tidal Wave, pays tribute to the true heroes who flew the epic Ploesti mission.
Flying at low-level over the Astra Romana oil refinery, Lt James Merrick of the 98th Bomb Group powers his B-24 ‘Lil De-icer’ through the pall of burning debris as time-delayed bombs, dropped in error by a previous Group, explode beneath them. With any hope of surprise now lost, and taking heavy losses in the process, the crews of the 98th bravely hold their bombers on course
|Overall size: 23½" x 30½"||Available in the following editions|
|350||Limited edition||Signed by three aircrew who flew on the Ploesti mission||$165|
|25||Artist's proof||As above||$225|
|10||Double Remarque||As above||$715|
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|Captain Charles D. Cavit
Enlisting in the Army Air Corps the month after Pearl Harbor, Charles Cavit trained as a Pilot and was assigned to the 567th Bomb Squadron, 389th Bomb Group in March 1943. Arriving in the UK in July he was immediately dispatched to Libya, detached to the 98th Bomb Group. A Co-Pilot on the Ploesti Raid of 1 August 1943, his first combat mission, his B-24 ‘Jersey Jackass’ was shot down over Romania. Wounded, he was captured and taken to Bucharest as a POW.
|Captain Andrew W. Opsata
Joining the Army Air Corps in June 1940 and qualifying as a Pilot, Andy Opsata flew B-24 Liberators with the 389th Bomb Group, based in East Anglia in England. On 3rd July the unit flew to a temporary base outside Bengazi, detached to the 98th Bomb Group and he was Pilot of the B-24 named ‘The Stinger’ on the Ploesti Raid. Returning to England he completed a total of 25 missions by the end of his tour.
|Technical Sergeant Richard E. Tuttle
Richard Tuttle trained as a Radio Operator after enlisting in the Army Air Corps a few days before Christmas, 1941. After completing his training he was posted to England with the 44th Bomb Group, ‘The Flying Eightballs’ part of the 8th Air Force. On 28th June 1943 the Group, under the command of Colonel Leon Johnson (who would win the Medal of Honor at Ploesti) arrived in Libya from where he took part in the Ploesti Raid. Returning to England he completed 19 missions before the end of his tour.