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Mission Ready Airmen Case Studies: Operation TIDAL WAVE

  • Published
  • By Joseph Gangemi

Air Education and Training Command is reviewing moments of aviation history to reflect the importance of Agile Combat Employment, in addition to the warrior mindset and mission readiness its Airmen must sustain while preparing for the future fight.

The Air Force has decided to change things up from the usual respect for its history. Instead, they're learning from Operation TIDAL WAVE, a story that's both famous and a lesson. This historic mission, involving low-level assaults on Ploesti, stands as a pivotal event in Air Force history —garnering the bestowment of five Medals of Honor. However, the operation's strategic planning virtually ensured substantial losses.

The decision to navigate at low altitudes across central Europe, intended to evade radar detection, proved ill-suited for a large-scale raid like the Ploesti mission. Conducted under broad daylight, the raid's approach was easily identified.

Operation TIDAL WAVE's objective centered on debilitating Rumanian oil refineries in Ploesti and Campina, critical to hampering the Third Reich's access to indispensable petroleum for its military endeavors. Orchestrated by the Ninth Air Force, 178 B-24 Liberators from the Eighth Air Force embarked on a challenging journey from North African airfields, flying at dangerously low altitudes across hundreds of miles to partake in the mission.

Regrettably, 54 bombers failed to return, marking a detrimental toll. While the operation achieved some success, it came at a steep price, with approximately one-third of the entire force lost and more than half sustaining damage in the process.

"The Air Force's mission is so consequential that we can never afford to have a bad day. Every good day depends on the proactive engagement of each Airman, ready to step in when needed,” said Mr. Gary W. Boyd, AETC historian. “Airmen embrace tough challenges, Airmen comprehensively trained, acting across the spectrum, because Airmen can take it on now for Agile Combat Support."