By Steve Liewer
Staff Sgt. Vincent Politte held no illusions about the chances of surviving his World War II bomber crew’s 23rd mission: a 2,400-mile suicide run, deep behind German lines, attacking a cluster of oil refineries in Ploesti, Romania, known as “Hitler’s Gas Station.”
The war planners called it Operation Tidal Wave. Today, it is considered by many historians the most spectacular air raid of the war: dozens of bombers flying hundreds of miles just above the treetops, to rain 35 minutes of hellfire on a critical cog in the Nazi war machine.
It was daring, and disastrous. One hundred seventy-eight of the twin-tailed B-24 Liberators took off from a rustic desert airstrip near Benghazi, Libya, early on the morning of Aug. 1, 1943. Fifty-four crashed or were shot down.
Of the 1,763 airmen who took off, 310 were killed, and 190 were taken prisoner. Eighty crewmen could not be identified, even after the war.
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