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Family stories:William Leonard - World War II Hero
Posted by: John McCloskey on Jan 3 2008 14:54

Ploesti Oil Fields, Air Raids on (1941–1944). Refineries located near Ploesti, Romania, provided one-third of the oil supply of the Axis forces in World War II, making the oil fields a crucial Allied target. Minor air attacks by the Russians in 1941 and the United States in 1942 were ineffective. The Germans, anticipating further strikes, increased their defenses.

By mid-1943 a force was available for a one-time attack. Three U.S. Liberator groups based in England joined Major General Lewis H. Brereton's two Ninth Air Force groups in Libya. Brereton planned a low-level attack; this unusual strategy required special flight training over a simulated Ploesti site constructed in the desert. At dawn on 1 August, 177 aircraft were airborne on a 2,300-mile mission. Simultaneous treetop strikes were planned against eight refineries. Fierce battles ensued in the developing inferno of the target area. Fifty-four aircraft were lost and fifty-five damaged by defending guns, fighters, airships, and bombs. Refinery production was reduced by about one-half.

Major General Nathan F. Twining's Fifteenth Air Force, based in Italy, struck the oil fields again in April 1944, opening a successful high-altitude campaign that continued until 19 August. Bomber crews dreaded meeting Ploesti's defenses, which included flak guns, German fighters, and smoke screens. Campaign bomber sorties numbered 5,287, with a 3.6 percent loss. The British contributed 900 night sorties. Combined with attacks on German refineries by other forces, the campaign deprived the Germans of a sizable quantity of the fuel essential for war.

A Tragic Story from Aviation History...
B - 24 D Liberator Hadley's Harem

PLOESTI RAID "1st of August 1943"

B - 24 D Liberator "Hadley's Harem" serial no. 41 - 24311 - L, was produced by Consolidated in 1941.
In August 1943, during the raid on the petroleum refineries in Ploesti, Romania, "Hadley's Harem" was part of the U.S. Air Force 98th Bomber Group "Pyramiders".

During this historical operation, "Hadley's Harem" was the first aircraft on the left flank of Col. John R. "Killer" Kane who was heading "Flight One" as group leader.

The crew of ten were on board:

Captain Gilbert B. Hadley
Co - Pilot James R. Lindsay
Navigator Harold Tabacoff
Engineer Russell Page
Bombardier Leon Storms
Radio - operator William Leonard
Gunner Christopher Holweger
Gunner Pershing W. Waples
Gunner Leroy Newton
Gunner Frank Nemeth

The target for the 98th Bomber Group was the Astro Romano refinery, the largest petroleum refining facility in Ploesti, code name "White Four".
The refinery was armed and protected by quite a few stationary anti - aircraft guns with an additional mobile anti - aircraft gun mounted on a train that went back and forth over the tracks around the refinery.

According to the flight plan, they would fly at high altitude in two groups until Romania and on approaching the refinery they would rapidly lose altitude and execute the raid as previously practiced on mock up models set up in the desert.

Since the two groups had become separated due to adverse weather conditions over the Adriatic, they had to break radio silence thus the Germans were prepared and inflicted heavy losses.

While "Hadley's Harem" was on its approach to the target, an anti - aircraft shell went through the nose section of the fuselage and exploded causing great damage. Bombardier Storms died instantly as a result of chest injuries received from shrapnel fragments Navigator Tabacoff was also wounded and engine no: 2 had also stopped. Engineer Page manually operated the bomb - bay and released the bombs.

The aircraft was seriously damaged. They set off on their return journey towards Benghazi. However after a while they realised this was not possible and changed their heading towards the British Air Base in Cyprus via Turkey.

Engine no: 3 stopped over Anatolia. At a position past the Taurus Mountains the oil pressure for engine no: 1 began to decrease rapidly. As it was clear that they were not going to reach Cyprus, they decided to land on Turkey's Mediterranean Coast. The aircraft lost its last two engines near Manavgat while trying to land. One of its wings touched the water causing the aircraft to crash and sink rapidly. The pilot and co - pilot could not come out of the aircraft.
The crew who survived, reached the coast by swimming. Their first medical aid came from the Turkish villagers who rescued them. The wounded were then transferred to the American Hospital (Admiral Bristol) in İstanbul. The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared these people "shipwrecked mariners" thus allowing them to leave freely once their treatment was completed.

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