Oi continued to be essential for fueling the Nazi war machine. The Ploesti oil refinery in Romania produced a third of all Axis oil in Europe. On August 1st, 1943, Colonel John “Killer” Kane led the 98th bomber Wing on Operation Tidal Wave – the bombing raid on the Ploesti oil refinery.
Flying from Benghazi, Libya, Kane’s B-24 Liberator bomber squadron planned to strike their targets from tree-top level. But, Ploesti proved to be a tough target with multiple anti-aircraft guns surrounding the sprawling facility.
After Col. Kane’s aircraft dropped its bombs, flames from the burning refinery shot up through the open bomb bay doors as Kane’s “Hail Columbia” as he struggled to keep the plane from hitting the ground. Anti-aircraft rounds hit his plane more than 20 times.
With an engine out, running low on fuel and unable to make it back to Libya, “Killer” Kane struggled back to a remote base in Cyprus. He descended to a landing strip where “Hail Columbia” crashed when attempting to land. Kane perished in the crash.
Operation Tidal Wave proved to be one of the costliest in WWII, with 53 aircraft and 660 air crewmen lost. It was the second worst loss in a single USAAF mission. (“Black Thursday, October 14th, 1943 is at the top).
For their brave actions at Ploesti, 56 bomber crewman received Distinguished Service Crosses. Colonel John Kane and four other B-24 pilots received the Medal of Honor – three were posthumously. This was the most issued for any single air action in history and more than on D-day.
Colonel John Kane’s actual Medal of Honor provides silent testament to the courage and sacrifice of the U.S. Army Air Force during the War in Europe.
His citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry in action and intrepidly at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 1 August 1943. On the date he led the third element of heavy bombardment aircraft in a mass low-level bombing attack against the vitally important enemy target of the Ploesti oil refineries. In route to the target, which necessitated a round-trip flight of over 2,400 miles, Col. Kane’s element became separated from the leading portion of the massed formation in avoiding dense and dangerous cumulous cloud conditions over mountainous terrain. Rather than turn back from such a vital mission, he elected to proceed to his target. Upon arrival at the target area it was discovered that another group had apparently missed its target and had previously attacked and damaged the target assigned to Col. Kane’s element. Despite the thoroughly warned defenses, the intensive antiaircraft fire, enemy fighter airplanes, extreme hazards on a low-level attack of exploding delayed action bombs from the previous element, of oil fires and explosions and dense smoke over the target area, Col. Kane elected to lead his formation into the attack. By his gallant courage, brilliant leadership, and superior flying skill, he and the formation under his command successfully attacked this vast refinery so essential to our enemies’ war effort. Through his conspicuous gallantry in this most hazardous action against the enemy, and by his intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, Col. Kane personally contributed vitally to the success of this daring mission and thereby rendered most distinguished service in the furtherance of the defeat of our enemies.”