Operation Tidal Wave
the B-24 attack on the oil refineries in Rumania on 1st August 1943
Models and dioramas by Bjørn Jacobsen
Operation Tidal Wave was an air attack by USAAF bombers based in Libya on nine oil refineries around Ploiești, Romania on 1 August 1943. It was a strategic bombing mission to deny petroleum-based fuel to the Axis.
This mission was one of the costliest for the USAAF in the European Theatre, with 53 aircraft and 660 aircrewmen lost. It was the second-worst loss ever suffered by the USAAF on a single mission and its date was later referred to as "Black Sunday".
German air defences
In June 1942, 13 B-24 Liberators attacked Ploiești. Though damage was small, it was a wakeup call for the Germans. The oil production around Ploiești counted for 1/3 of all oil delivery to the Third Rich. And they could not risk an armada of enemy bombers destroying this vital production site.
The Germans knew those bombers had to come in low for maximum effect and started immediately to strengthen the defences around Ploiești.
The result was one of the heaviest and best-integrated air defence networks in Europe. The defences included several hundred large-calibre 88 mm guns and 10.5 cm FlaK 38 anti-aircraft guns, and many more small-calibre guns. The latter were concealed in haystacks, railroad cars, and mock buildings.
The Luftwaffe had three fighter groups within flight range of Ploiești (52 Bf 109 fighters and Bf 110 night fighters, and some Romanian IAR-80 fighters).
They were ready for the American bombers!
Operation Tidal Wave
The B-24 Liberator was chosen for the raid on Rumania
oil fields for its range and bomb load capacity.
The Ninth Air Force (98th and 376th Bombardment
Groups) was responsible for the overall conduct of the
raid, and the Eighth Air Force provided three additional
bomb groups (44th, 93rd, and 389th).
The operation was to consist of 178 bombers with a total
of 1,751 aircrew, one of the largest commitments of
American heavy bombers and crewmen up to that time.
The planes were to fly from airfields near Benghazi,
Libya. They were to cross the Mediterranean and the
Adriatic Sea, pass near the island of Corfu, cross over
the Pindus Mountains in Albania, cross southern
Yugoslavia, enter southwestern Romania, and turn east
Reaching Ploiești, they were to locate pre-determined
checkpoints, approach their targets from the north, and
strike all targets simultaneously.
Early on the morning of 1 August 1943, the five bomber
groups lifted off from their home airfields around
When they reached the Adriatic Sea, one of the bombers
suddenly lost height and crashed in the sea.
This caused some confusion among the bombers which
had to maintain strict radio silence.
Ten other aircrews returned to friendly airfields after the
incident. The remaining aircraft started to climb over the
Pindus mountains, which were shrouded in cloud cover.
Although all five groups made the climb around 11,000 ft
(3,400 m), two of the groups used high power settings
and pulled ahead of the trailing formations, causing
variations in speed and time which disrupted the careful
synchronisation of the group attacks.
Mission leaders, however, deemed these concerns to be
less important than maintaining security through radio
The American leaders were unaware that the Germans
knew of their presence, though not of their target.
Although the Americans' orders would have allowed them
to break radio silence to rebuild their formations, the strike proceeded without correction, and this proved costly.
When approaching Ploiesti, several of the bomber groups made navigational errors and many crews choose to break radio silence and draw attention to the navigational error.
On their way over Bulgaria, the B-24s were intercepted by Luftwaffe and Bulgarian fighter groups.
And even worse: hundreds of radars directed flak batteries awaited the low-flying B-24s Liberators.
Group, squadron and element leaders, pilots and bombardiers had to improvise and do the best they could. Some of the Liberators arrived almost 20 minutes later than the first bombers, and were forced to bomb burning targets, further adding to the day’s chaos.
The alerted German and Romanian defenders found the Americans’ low-flying bombers easy targets, and Liberators fell with terrifying frequency.
Tidal Wave succeeded in destroying only two of the refineries and damaging three others—at the terrible cost of 53 Liberators. After nearly 16 hours and some of the most savage and desperate fighting ever seen in the air, 310 men were dead, more than 300 wounded and 108 taken prisoner in Romania. More was imprisoned in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, or interned in Turkey.
Only 88 B-24s returned to Libya, of which 55 had battle damage.
The Allies estimated a loss of 40% of the refining capacity at the Ploiești refineries, although some refineries were largely untouched. Most of the damage was repaired within weeks, after which the net output of fuel was greater than before the raid
The Luftwaffe's losses were four aircraft over Ploiesti and two over Greece.
Given the large and unbalanced loss of aircraft and the limited damage to the targets, Operation Tidal Wave is considered a strategic failure of the American side.
A B-24 Liberator in the Libyan Desert
Practising the low-level attack in Libya.
From the low-level attack on the Ploiesti refineries
Building the B-24 Liberator
The model I used was the Hasegawa
B-24J. The bomber I was going to make was the D-model, and all the part I needed for making the D-version was in the J-model box.
The building was easy, and the quality of the plastic parts was great.
The entire nose section was made of clear plastic which made the windows in that part easy to do; it was just a question of masking.
For not to be a tail-sitter, the model needed a lot of extra weight in the nose.
The cockpit is basic with decals for the instrument panel.
The bomb bay that can have the doors posed open or closed.
The turrets can be installed after the airframe is done, which made the painting easier.
None of the decals in the box fitted the aircraft bound for Ploiești which I was building, so I had to find what I needed in my decal scrapbook.
I needed the propeller to be spinning and sanded and lubricated the “propeller shaft” with dry graffiti until they rotated freely when blown on.
On all pictures of the aircraft in the air, the propellers are spinning with the help from a hairdryer.
The model was built with wheels extended and placed on the airfield for photographing.
The wheels were retracted, all wheel-doors closed and the lower gun-tower was lowered when the aircraft was in flight.
The colour on most of the B-24 stationed in Libya was “Desert Pink”
(or “Tittie Pink”, as the crews called it). You can get the Desert Pink from several paint manufacturers, but I was not happy with those, and decided I wanted to mix it myself.
The main ingredients were Flesh and Slin tones, mixed with US Olive Drab, Hemp and a little Grey/Black and White.
The undersides were painted light grey.
The only weathering I did was oil stains from the engines.
The fuselage is ready. Note the clear plastic in the cockpit and nose part
Masking and priming
Painting the aircraft in Desert Pink
The Spinning Propellers
The propeller “shaft” was sanded and lubricated with dry graphite until they rotated easily when blown on.
On all pictures of the aircraft in the air, the propellers are spinning with the help from a hairdryer. An easy and cheap way to make the propeller spin - and it looks good on pictures
Building the Flak explosion
The plane was hit by 88 mm Flak between engine #1 and #2. The result was fatal. The wing was torn apart, and the aircraft crashed.
The diorama shows the explosion of the 88 mm shell hitting the wings midsection.
A 10 mm clear acrylic tube was used to keep the plane in place on the diorama. The tube was glued into the fuselage and placed in a drilled hole in the base.
The lamps I used for the explosion was 12V 4W LED lamps. The electrical wires went from under the base and up the tube to the fuselage. Then out through the wing to the lamps.
Thin metal sheets were glued to the edges of the torn wing to make the aircraft skin more realistic.
Then chicken wire was fixed around the lamps, and yellow cellophane and cotton were placed on the wires.
The cotton was stiffened by hairspray, so it would not move when the hairdryer was used to spin the propellers.
The Vehicles and the Figures.
I needed both ground crew and support-vehicles in the airfield diorama.
The vehicles were from the 1/72 USAAF Bomber Re-Supply Set from Airfix, which consisted of a fuel trailer, a bomb service truck and a bomb trailer.
The Jeep was from the Academy Light WWII Vehicles kit.
The crew was some figures I found in my scrap box and re-painted for the diorama.
The clear rod from the Liberator was fixed to the base, the LED light was on, the hairdryer was doing its job, and everything was photographed.
The background for the Ploiești diorama was painted on an
80 x 50 cm cardboard.
The additional bombers (in the background) are photos of the model pasted into the picture by help from a photo editing program.
And here is my story of the
B-24 Liberator and the fatal
low-level attack on Ploiești.
On the airfield in Libya, preparing for the attack
The take-off in a cloud of desert sand – creating a constant problem for the engines.
Luckily through the bomb run – hoping the worst is over…
…but then – a direct hit from an 88 mm Flak between engine #1 and #2. The wing is ripped off, and a fatal crash is imminent.
Five Medals of Honor and 56 Distinguished Service Crosses along with numerous others awards were awarded to Operation Tidal Wave crew members.
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