Baker, Pilot of the B-24 Hellís Wench led the left side of the first
wave on the Ploesti oil refineries in Romania, August 1, 1943.
George Brown had turned his element and was able to slide into position on
the right side and slightly behind Bakerís lead element. Baker flew the
flagship lower, endeavoring to get below the flak. The rest of the
formation followed very close to the deck.
aircraft was aiming for the nearest refinery complex on the south west ,
the corner of Ploesti. Within seconds the aircraft came into range
of more German guns and Hellís Wench took a direct hit in the
nose. Most likely the hydraulic lines were ruptured by the shell,
and fire blossomed in the nose of Hellís Wench.
and co-pilot Maj. John Jernstad held the B-24 on course in spite of the
horrendous damage. Hellís
Wench took another hit in the right wing near the inboard engine which
punctured the fuel tank, and the engine caught fire.
To make matters worse, another shell slammed into the B-24 just
below the flight deck. Hellís Wench shuttered from the impact.
wounded and badly crippled B-24 wavered then continued towards the
refinery which lay only a few minutes away. Walt Stewart, pilot of Utah
Man watched his leaderís aircraft from his position to the left.
ďSomeone called, ĎLook at the Colonel, Look at the
Colonel.í His #3 and #4
engines were on fire. It
streaked all the way back past the horizontal stabilizer.
We pulled up on the Colonel. We waved at him, trying to get him out
to get him to belly land or pull up so his crew could get out.Ē
Others in the formation saw the plight of Hellís Wench and
wondered why Baker didnít try to save himself and his crew.
the shattered cockpit, a hand reached down and pulled the bomb salvo
lever. Hellís Wench gave a small sigh of relief as the bombs
tumbled from her belly. Observers saw a figure tumble from the nose wheel
doors. The chute opened in the slipstream as the badly burned jumper
hit the ground.
Bakerís flaming plane approached the refinery, another direct hit
smashed into the B-24. The
plane wavered again and began a climb for altitude. The fire burned
through the wing and it began to drop.
The climb was cut short by the wing losing lift and dipping towards
the ground. Several figures fell from the helpless flagship as
Hellís Wench fell from the skies, crashing into a railway marshalling
spur on the edge of the Columbia Aquila refinery.
Pilot, Addison Baker and John Jerstad had kept the promise and led
the B-24ís to the target despite the odds. None of the crew survived the
crash or the jump.
their gallant leadership and extraordinary flying skill, both Lt. Col.
Addison Baker and Maj. John Jerstad received the Medal of Honor
Ploesti Raid, nicknamed ďOperation Tidal WaveĒ was costly with 54 of
the 177 bombers lost and 532 of the 1,726 personnel engaged listed as
dead, missing or interned.
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