Excerpt from “Combat Cameraman” by Jerry J. Joswick and Lawrence A. Keating ~~Ploesti~~

picture-combatcameraman-joswickNone of us had needed a map since the Danube. We kept seeing in our minds that Ploesti table model back at Bonina. A big river with two bridges . . . fields . . . twin hills . . . more flat fields, so on. They were all where they should be, unreeling like a ribbon. And so far, no flak.
Three Groups now flew abreast. The 389th pulled away toward their target. The 98th and 44th went on, 70 planes in one ground crawling cluster. Nearing the great field of refineries stretching some miles ahead, I saw two dozen barrage balloons floating lazily among them. A few fires had started and black oily smoke was forming a shroud. Then I could identify our first target by smokestack silhouettes. We were to hit the Phoenix Orion complex and just beyond it, Astra Romana.
My film gave out. Using daylight load, I quickly threaded another. The order came, “Incendiaries!” These were for the dozens of huge oil storage tanks and small out-buildings which almost scraped our belly as we let go the fire-sticks.
Far to the left I saw a bomber fly into the long cables that held two balloons captive. The first cable snapped as if cut by scissors. The second struck their outboard engine. Instantly the 24 whipped around. It circled the cable, going down it as if going down a corkscrew. A puffball of fire and smoke. The bomber was gone.
There was ack-ack now, those familiar puffs in the air that flashed out colors. A jar told me that Witch had been hit, but I could not guess where. We roared into our run.
The machine gun at my elbow chattered as if with ague while I got a balcony view through my finder. B-24’s were approaching their targets; some were over them; through dense smoke some were vaguely seen beyond. One, caught in an up-draft of a burning oil storage tank, threw its nose upward and vanished in spattering bits. Two were down over there in a field. A crewman standing beside one waved his cap, cheering us on.
Ahead, a 24 had a wing tank afire but she stayed on her target run. I saw her eggs dropping, delayed-action fused. The pilot turned aside, plainly seeking somewhere to crash-land. He chose a creek bed with only a trickle of water showing. Didn’t he see that bridge? He tried to pull up and over . . . failed.
Witch now flew through a dozen fires set by our own people in an earlier wave. Hadn’t anyone foreseen how this would be a thirty feet? Supposedly delayed-action bombs seemed to go off on contact. We were in our bombing run but blast tossed us the way a breeze wafts a sheet of paper. I envisioned both our pilots with all their strength hanging onto the controls.
Storage tank fires grew higher and hotter. We were heading straight at a 60-foot curtain of flame. I touched my goggles to make sure they were on, clamped the camera between my knees, clasped both hands under armpits and put my head down.
The cabin became an oven. The radioman yelled. Then we were through and out, relieved of 200 degrees of heat but with all exposed hair gone and skin scorched.
“Bombs away!”
The first dose went down. Witch rushed on toward the Romana complex. Meanwhile, it was plain our whole five-Group raid organization had fallen apart. Bombers actually crisscrossed each other. It was a melee. Here, there, yonder a B-24 was burning or crashing or being swallowed by curling billows of black oily smoke.
I found Leissring, the right-waist, shakily trying to thread a new ammo belt into his gray-hot weapon. The aircraft’s side was holed like the cap of a salt shaker. Leissring’s pantleg lopped open above the knee, and he seemed to be unaware of the bright, moist blood. Behind us, Klein was banging away and yelling oaths.
It was only seconds before we plunged into slow-billowing smoke around Astra Romana. We could see nothing. We three in the waist began to cough, but we kept shooting, two with guns, one with camera.
“Boss! Chimneys!” Leissring shrieked into his intercom.
Blyer must have seen those tall brick chimneys looming dead ahead at the same instant. Witch stood on her tail. Up . . . up she climbed with engines straining. Bracing myself to keep my feet, I marveled how we seemed to be crawling up that oncoming red brick steeple.
Witch flattened out. “Bomb away!” Just as our second dose went something exploded below, an entire refinery powerhouse. It splashed up at us in one, two, three blasts. Our delayed-action bombs going off two days later must have pulverized whatever was left.
As we flew on, the roof of the Ploesti railroad station, crammed with machine guns, gave us a hard time. Beyond that were the hovering fighter planes: at first look the sky seemed to be crowded with them. The ME-109’s were out, HE-111’s and the fast Italian-built Macchis. For the next endless three hours they slashed and lunged at us. For three long hours our machine guns scarcely ceased their chattering except for insertion of fresh ammo belts.
Klein gave a screech. “It’s a damned biplane! Honest. Look, look! It’s a biplane!”
The enemy were flying everything flyable, for it actually was a fragile old-fashioned army biplane. We riddled it and it slowly sank lower, lower burst afire and was gone. That scene on film would surely look spliced from an old-time movie.
Getting away from Ploesti sorely tried Witch and all of us aboard, but it was far easier than for several dozen other B-24’s. Fighters were everywhere. From one group of six bombers they shot down four.

'Sandman' Liberator

‘Sandman’ Liberator

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1 Comment

Filed under Literature, Non-Fiction

One response to “Excerpt from “Combat Cameraman” by Jerry J. Joswick and Lawrence A. Keating ~~Ploesti~~

  1. Jerry Joswick was from Chicago, Illinois, USA, born in 1923, and died in 1990, aged 67 years.
    The refineries and associated facilities at the oil fields in Ploesti, Romania provided Nazi Germany’s main source of oil, supplying almost 40% of the total. As such, Ploesti was the most heavily defended target against air attack in the entire Nazi empire.
    Coming in at low altitude was the key tactical element in the plan of attack.
    Of the 177 B-24s on the raid, 53 were lost, most on the raid, some which crashed and a handful interned in neutral Turkey. Official US Air Force casualty figures are as follows: 310 air crewmen were killed, 108 were captured by the Axis, and 78 were interned in Turkey.
    He was the only survivor of the 16 cameramen of the operation, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

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