449th Header

Significant Missions

HEADQUARTERS 47TH BOMB WING
APO 520 US ARMY

24 July 1944

GENERAL ORDERS)

NUMBER 16)

Commendation of Unit……………………I

SECTION I – COMMENDATION OF UNIT

The outstanding performance of duty of the 449th Bombardment Group (H) under extremely adverse conditions during the period 8 January 1944 through 24 July 1944 is deemed worthy of the highest commendation. One of the Heavy Bombardment Groups ordered into the Mediterranean Theater to form the strategic Air Force for the purpose of bombing industrial centers in Northern Italy, Germany, and enemy occupied countries, it was ordered to occupy an airdrome not released as operational by the Corps of Engineers, however the 449th Bombardment Group continually carried out operational missions despite all handicaps.

The loyalty and devotion to duty of the personnel of the organization was demonstrated on 4 April 1944 when it was called upon for a maximum effort to aid in the destruction of one of the major targets in Romania. To supply her armies in Romania and South Russia, Germany must route all rail traffic through the Balkans. This necessity brought into first priority status such vital centers of communications as Bucharest, Budapest, Sofia and Ploesti, the hub of all Romanian rail lines is Bucharest.

The complete destruction of the marshalling yards at Bucharest would disrupt entirely the normal flow of supplies to the Southern Russian front where the enemy was being sorely pressed. Despite the fact that the field was in poor operational condition due to recent rains and adverse weather, on 4 April 1944 the 449th Bomb Group took off to bomb the vitally important Bucharest marshalling yards.

Rendezvous was made with other groups participating in this mission, however bad weather soon caused all the groups to become separated. Because of insufficient range, many of the fighter escort were unable to penetrate the heavy overcast and returned to their base. The 449th Bombardment Group continued to the target alone. Enemy fighters were sighted approximately thirty (30) miles Northwest of Bucharest. For a period of over one and one half hours there ensued fierce air battles.

The Group was attacked by approximately one hundred (100) enemy fighters in two (2) sustained and aggressive waves of forty (40) and fifty (50) each. The first attack continued for over forty five (45) minutes. The enemy fighters were exceptionally aggressive and experienced. Attacks were made from all angles and levels. Every weapon including aerial bombs, cannon, rockets and machine guns were used. As a result of the vicious attacks this group lost seven (7) ships to enemy fighters. However, in the air battles this group performed with such heroic gallantry that they succeeded in destroying forty (40), probably destroying thirteen (13) and damaging six (6), enemy fighters.

Photo reconnaissance and bomb strike photos showed that the main weight of the bombs was very well aimed causing yremendous damage to railroad yards, tracks, facilities and other communication points. By engaging and destroying such a large number of enemy fighters in the air the 449th Bombardment Group materially contributed to the dewstruction of the German Air Force.

The damage inflicted on the Bucharest Marshalling Yards was a direct factor in breaking down the communications network of the Balkans. The outstanding performance of the leaders on this difficult and hazardous mission, the gallant and heroic efforts of all the men in inflicting tremendous damage to the enemy, together with the indefatigable and enthusiastic work of all the ground personnel of the 449th Bombardment Group (H) was an amazing exhibition of esprit de corps and extraordinary gallantry in the face of overwhelming odds. This Groups extraordinary heroism and superior performance of duty has upheld the highest traditions of the Military Service and has reflected great credit upon the Armed Forces of the United States of America.

By Order of Colonel RUSH:

ERNEST L. WALTERS,
Major, Air Corps,
Adjutant.

449th BOMBARDMENT GROUP. For outstanding performance of duty in armed conflict with the enemy. During a period of sustained operations against vitally important strategic targets, this Group was ordered to attack and destroy the Concordia Oil Refinery at Ploesti, Rumania. As the second largest refinery in Rumania, the Concordia Oil Refinery contributed large amounts of fuel to the Axis war machine, making its destruction of paramount importance. Realizing that the enemy was utilizing smoke screens as a defense for their important targets, the Group trained diligently in order that they might overcome this handicap. While still continuing on regular operational missions, they carefully prepared the lead crews and undertook practice missions to perfect the use of synchronous PFF methods. Through special briefings, the crews were given additional target instruction to assist them in overcoming this newest obstacle to the successful completion of their mission. Prior to the operation, the ground crews worked determinedly and skillfully to have their aircraft in excellent mechanical condition to insure the ultimate success of the attack. On 9 July 1944, twenty-eight (28) B-24 type aircraft, heavily loaded with maximum tonnage, were airborne and set course for their destination. Long before approaching the target the profuse smoke screen that the enemy was using became visible. Because of its effectiveness, other units were unable to bomb successfully and thus it became of prime importance that the 449th Bombardment Group succeed. Approaching the target, an intense, heavy and accurate barrage of enemy antiaircraft fire was encountered by the entire Group from this heavily defended target which destroyed three of the bombers. Despite this heavy and relentless enemy opposition, displaying outstanding courage and determination, the gallant crews fought their way through the heavy enemy defenses over the smoke covered target, where the planes employed synchronous PFF methods and successfully hit the target. By overcoming the defensive measures of the enemy, together with the heavy enemy fire encountered, they succeeded in inflicting grave damage to vital enemy installations and supplies at a time when they were of the utmost importance to the enemy. Photographic reconnaissance revealed that the Concordia Vega Plant was very heavily damaged thus dealing a heavy blow to the enemy and hastening the collapse of the Axis in the Balkans. By the outstanding gallantry, professional skill and determination of the combat crews, together with the exceptional skill and devotion to duty of the ground personnel, the 449th Bombardment Group has upheld the highest traditions of the Military Service, thereby reflecting great credit upon itself and the Armed Forces of the United States of America.

By command of Major General Twining.

449th Missions of “Big Week” — February 20 – 25, 1944

In late 1943, Strategic Air Forces Headquarters formulated plans for an intensive, coordinated campaign to bring the combined strength of the 8th AF and the 15th AF to bear against the German Air Force and its supporting industrial base. The plan — known as OPERATION ARGUMENT — was executed during the period February 20-25, 1944. The dual objectives of OPERATION ARGUMENT were to destroy the German aircraft-production facilities on the ground, and to force large-scale air battles to destroy the enemy fighter forces in the air. These six days subsequently became known as “Big Week,” and were eventually viewed as the operation which effectively “broke the back” of the German Air Force. During this period, 3,800 bomber sorties were launched by the combined 8th and 15th Air Forces against targets deep inside the Third Reich. The 15th Air Force contributed 500 sorties to this total effort, and lost 89 heavy bombers in the process. The 8th Air Force losses were listed as 137 heavy bombers.

The 449th Bomb Group carried out three missions in support of OPERATION ARGUMENT. On February 22, the 449th launched its first attack on a strategic target inside the German homeland: the ME-109 manufacturing complex known as Obertraubling at Regensburg, Germany. When the planes in the Group’s formation arrived over the Regensburg area, they found the target to be completely obscured by cloud cover. The Group dropped its bombs by ETA. Bombing results were unknown. The Group was met by an enemy fighter force estimated at 35 to 40 planes. Four B-24s went down over enemy territory in the ensuing air battle. Two others received mortal damage — the crew of one bailed out over friendly territory and the other crashlanded at a friendly field. On the 23rd, the 449th launched an attack on the ball-bearing factory — known as Steyrwaffen Walzergerwerke — located at Steyr, Austria. Tragedy struck during take off when the B-24 with Jeutter’s crew aboard went down immediately after leaving the runway. As the Group reached the target area, it was attacked by a force of 30 to 40 enemy fighters which succeeded in downing one of the B-24s. Bombing results were excellent. Direct hits were scored on the ball-bearing factory buildings with the result that “only one building appeared to be standing” at the time the last aircraft in the formation reached the target. A Group stand down was ordered on the 24th. On the 25th, the 449th made its final contribution to “Big Week” as the Group attacked the Prufening Messerschmitt complex at Regensburg. The 37-1/2 tons of 500-pound bombs hit “right in the middle of the target. Immediately thereafter, a huge column of very black smoke rose to a height of 4,000 to 5,000 feet.” As soon as the bombers rallied off the target and emerged from the flak, the formation came under heavy attack from a mixed enemy fighter force. The enemy fighters were “extremely aggressive,” and “attacked in pairs, threes, fours and fives.” The attacks were “continuous from the target to the mountains at the Austrian border” and “were pressed home with great vigor.” Three 449th B-24’s were lost to the enemy fighters.

The 449th paid a heavy price for its contribution to “Big Week” — eleven B-24’s were lost. The 716th Squadron bore the brunt of the losses having lost seven planes. A total of fortythree 449th airmen died during the course of “Big Week,” and seventeen became POWs. Thirty-one other airmen successfully evaded capture after bailing out over enemy territory.

The narrative reports, filed on the day of each mission, listed the total number of victories scored by Group gunners against the enemy fighters. For the three missions the results were thirty-one enemy fighters destroyed, eleven probably destroyed, and three damaged. — Bill Shepherd, 2nd Generation, Nephew of Charles Shepherd, Porter’s Crew, 718th SQ,

[table id=24 /]

Notes:

1 – Crew bailed out over friendly territory
2 – Crashlanded on return near Foggia, Italy
3 – Crashed on take off

The Ploesti Missions

“Ploesti, Ploesti, Ploesti! Among the combat crew members this bugaboo target awakened many from their sleep” — this was the way the 449th War Diary recorded the effect of Ploesti at the early morning mission briefs. Ploesti was the chief petroleum producing center for the Axis. No less than thirteen oil refineries were located in the Ploesti area. The refineries and the marshalling yards of the railroad system were thus principal targets for the 15th Air Force. Between April 5th and August 19th, 1944, the 449th flew twelve missions against targets at Ploesti — four against the marshalling yards and eight against the oil refineries. Among the 449th flyers, a mission to Ploesti was known as a “Big One.” It was an eight-hour mission fraught with danger from flak and fighters. At the height of the campaign during May, June and July, the enemy was capable of sending as many as 100 fighters against Fifteenth Air Force formations. In addition, more than 200 heavy, anti-aircraft guns defended the area, together with an effective, large-scale smoke screen. The campaign against the Ploesti oil refineries, distribution system and infrastructure was one of the epic battles of the war. A mission to Ploesti was a “double credit” mission until the latter part of July 1944 when it was removed from the list of double-credit mission targets — the rationale being that the enemy fighter threat had by then become almost negligible. The flak, however, remained formidable. The absence of enemy fighters over the target did not lessen the displeasure of the combat crews for the single-sortie rule. This collective displeasure was perhaps best summed up by J. F. Scroggs’ crew during the post-mission debrief following the July 15th mission: “We invite the General to visit Ploesti on our next mission — single sortie! No flak vest will be issued.”

The 449th lost a total of 14 B-24s from all causes during the twelve trips to Ploesti with total casualties being: 24 KIA, 60 POW, and 38 Evaded. [Source, Book II Database]

[table id=25 /]

Notes:

1 – Turned back before target
2 – Crashed approaching Gioia
3 – Crashed approaching Grottaglie