Story of Ploesti Air Raid & Cornell Iliescu
On August 1,1943, 178 B-24s left North Africa to bomb the oil refineries around Ploesti, Romania. Operation Tidalwave was a daring, low-level raid that cost the lives of 301 crewman. Fifty-eight aircraft were lost. Nevertheless, the raid reduced the total refining capacity of the six targets by 46 percent. Unfortunately, the defending forces had been alerted in advance and were waiting for the approaching bombers. Anti-aircraft crews firing at point-blank range sent up a virtual wall of deadly flak; machine guns, and even small arms fire, were used. The Americans ignored the obvious danger and pressed home the attack, in spite of the fierce opposition. No less than five Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded for their heroic action on that mission; some were awarded posthumously. On the ground in the little village of Ploesti was a small boy whose father was the transportation manager for the Concordia Vega refinery. That refinery was one of the targets assigned to the 93rd BG. It received minor damage that day, but the boy still has vivid memories of standing on the roof of his house watching the planes, explosions, fires and dense black smoke that covered the area.Because of the strategic importance of the stopping German’s oilsupply, Ploesti was hit many times during the war. That small boy, Cornell Iliescu, has not forgotten another bombing raid that occurred many months later.
Here is his story of that fateful day By Cornell Iliescu.
Ploesti Air Raid
I was only 6 years old, but I’ll never forget that day. The sirens sounded in my home city of Bucharest. They were warning the civilians to take cover because an enemy bomber force – the American USAAF – was approaching. The threat of a bomb attack was real and everyone took the warning seriously.. During WWII Romania supplied all of the Nazis’ European oil. The Americans often targeted the small ton of Ploesti because several oil refineries surrounded it. My father was the transportation manager for the Concordia Vega refinery and he knew he would be needed there as soon as the raid was over. He took me in his car, and we started to drive to our other house in the little village of Ploesti, an hour away from the capital, Bucharest. While my father and I were heading Northwest toward Ploesti, we scanned the sky for bombers. As we were approaching the village, my father spotted a smoking B-24 bomber flying at low altitude. It looked like the plane was going to crash-land on the highway right in front of us. As it descended, the plane veered toward a cornfield that ran alongside the highway. The B-24 crash-landed, but there was no explosion or fire. My father jumped out of the car with me in his arms and rushed to the wreckage. He placed me on the B-24 outer wing so he could go into the plane to rescue any crew members who needed help. He was able to extract three aviators and rushed us all into the wooded area nearby. My father then went back to the aircraft to see if he could save the rest of the crew. As he returned, he saw – too late – that Romanian soldiers had arrived at the crash site. I was now hiding in the woods with the three American crewmen. One of them gave me a pair of pliers to play with and then told me to be very quiet. I did as I was told, and he rewarded me with my first Hershey’s candy bar. We were still hiding when my father and the rest of the crew from inside the bomber were arrested. We four were eventually found in the woods by a Romanian army search party and arrested, too.. The Americans were taken prisoner and I was taken to the local police station to spend the night. My father was released the next day and found me – still at the police station with my new American friends and the pliers they had given me as a toy. (I still have those 15th AF pliers today) After a few minutes of talking to my father in the police station, one of the Americans told me in English that I “was a tough kid.” I did not understand what he said until one of the Romanian officers translated it from English for my father. In turn, my father explained to me that the Americans had given me a high compliment. These memories have stayed with me throughout my life. The few hours that I spent with the American airmen would inspire me to think of nothing else going to the United States. I was finally able to escape from communist Romania in 1969 and found my way to the United States in January 1970. I have spent the last 54 years looking for any surviving members of that crew. I want to thank them for my first American toy and in a round-about way, for making me a U.S. citizen in 1975.
Thanks, guys, wherever you are!