While Allied and Axis forces were battling in Sicily, the USAAF staged one of the war's most daring heavy bomber raids. The target was the Ploesti oil fields in Rumania, estimated to be supplying 60 percent of Germany's crude oil requirements.
Shortly after dawn on Aug. 1, 1943, USAAF B-24s took off from bases in Libya and headed northward toward the heavily defended target, deep inside enemy territory a thousand miles away. Over Bulgaria, clouds broke up the B-24 formations and the bombing elements became widely separated. Tracked by German radar, which alerted Rumanian defenses, the B-24s arrived over the target at treetop height without the planned element of surprise.
Despite intense defensive fire from the ground and from the Axis planes, the AAF pressed the attack. In the confusion of battle, some B-24s made bombing runs through heavy smoke over targets that had already been attacked and were caught in the bursts of delayed action bombs dropped several minutes previously. Although overall damage to the target was heavy, the cost was high. Of 177 planes and 1,726 men who took off on the mission, 54 planes and 532 men failed to return.