The following is an excerpt from the diary of Stanley F. Olson, with additions in brackets by his son, Terrance D. Olson. The first excerpt concerns the low-level Ploesti raid of 1 August, 1943. The second is information collected by Terrance Olson regarding the circumstances of Stan Olson being shot down on the raid over Wiener Neustadt on 1 October, 1943. All the crew escaped the plane except Stan. The eyewitness sources for the 1 October mission are Steve Bugyie (since deceased) and Edgar V. Roberts, co-pilot (still of Grass Valley, CA, as of April, 2005).|
July 31, 1943
Yesterday flew with Strong on a practice bombing trip about 60 miles out in the desert. We bombed wrecked tanks, planes, trucks. Evidently the Armies of the African Campaign passed through there.
Today General Brereton talked to us about tomorrow's mission. I don't know yet whether I will go with anyone. It is an important target and no one actually has any idea whether it will be a snap or a rough nut to crack.
[I now believe that when Strong took Stan with him out on that practice bombing run on 30 July, that he was testing Stan to see if he would have confidence in him as a co-pilot for the Ploesti raid. You see here he doesn't even know at this late hour if he will go. He does end up flying with Strong to Ploesti in "Baldy and his Brood." See the letter from Strong I have included under August 2, 1943.]
August 1, 1943
Too busy! !
August 2, 1943
Yesterday we had it! We flew 2400 miles round-trip to Ploesti, Rumania and back. One ofthe most important targets of the war. We wound our way over the mountains through Albania, Yugoslavia, Rumania and others -- they were hit.
When we neared the IP. I believe I was scared. The target area was covered with smoke; flak was bursting and it looked as if all hell was breaking loose.
As we turned on the IP, Strong gave it power and we overshot Bunker. However, we moved into attack position in trail of Bunker; I took over. With Strong handling the throttles, I was busy trying to keep the plane level, out of prop-wash, and hit the target. Once I swore we had been hit but we went on. I had the wheel turned upside down once trying to hold a wing up. Strong even gave right throttle trying to pull it up. Had trouble keeping the ship straight because of Nos. 1 & 2 having more rpms, but adjusted them.
Just as we dropped our bombs (we barely had time before having to turn oft), one ship went into a vertical climb, then quivering, rared back head first into the ground, bursting into flame. Two men bailed out, one jumped out without a chute. It was Houston's ship; he incidentally had finished his missions.
[All in Houston's ship were KIA, in spite of Stan having seen parachutes.]
Sixty airplanes are unaccounted for. So far we have 14 missing.
[In August, 1993, I received the following letter from Lt. Col. W. H. Strong, 20 Tremont Trace, Wimberley TX 78676
Dr. Terrance D. Olson 492 East 450 South Orem UT 84058
Dear Dr. Olson,
While attending our 44th Bomb Group reunion in Dayton last month I became reacquainted with Dick Larson, a fellow pilot on the Ploesti Raid 8-1-43. In all of our conversations your Dad's name came up and I was so glad to get your address from him.
Stan flew as my copilot on this mission as my copilot was ill. I remember that I was a little concerned as to his ability at flying especially at low level but we were great friends in a few minutes after takeoff. He flew a lot of that mission and my crew was very proud of him for his part. I thought he flew a second mission with me that we led the Group to Wiener Neustadt Austria but I am not certain.
Just wanted to let you know that I thought your dad was one great fellow and a dam Good pilot.
William H. Strong
Lt. Col. Air Force Res. Ret.]
[I have been told that Strong has passed away, but someone in the 44th told me he actually lives in Santa Fe now. I haven't documented that as of April, 2005.]
[From the Internet list:
Just some data regarding Axis fighter units around Ploesti during August 1943:
The Luftwaffe had I/JG4 at Mizil, Romania during the time of TIDAL WAVE. Their strength was approximately 50 Bf-1O9G-4's. The stab & IV/JG27 was based in Greece, with another 30 or so Bf-109G-4's. There was also a Night Fighter gruppe at Zilestea, Romania with about 20 Bf-110G-4's. This is in addition to any Romanian AF or Bulgarian units that opposed the Ploesti raiders on 8/1/43.
Both types of aircraft were reported to have attacked the various groups of B-24's, plus others...
Scanning a couple of the 389th BG Sortie reports for 8/1/43, here are some of the comments on enemy fighters:
"Me-1O9, had yellow cross".
"Saw two with fixed landing gear".
"Saw Me 110 shot down 5 minutes after target".
"Saw 1 Fw 187, black; also saw one Me 1O9F".
"2 Me 109's, Grayish - yellow, were uneager".
"1 Me 110, 2 Me 1O9's, grayish in color, one was eager".
"Saw 4 Me 109's of dark green color; seemed eager and made one attack".
Of the 42 B-24's lost to enemy action on the TIDAL WAVE mission, approx. 12 can be attributed to enemy fighters.
The B-24's claimed 51 enemy fighters destroyed, while in actuality the Axis lost about 4 German, & 8 Romanian fighters, with another 20 damaged.
Here is the last entry in Stan's diary, regarding the second trip to Africa after having returned from Bengazi to England on August 27th:
Left Shipdham Sept. 17 for Africa in 201. At St. Mawgan had to change No.3 engine which took only 24 hrs. Left there the 20th and arrived here the 21 st. Yesterday and today have done formation practice. Slough turned back so I led and sitting on the far side I had a bad time trying to fly close.
1 October, 1943
[Two months after the Ploesti raid, and on the last raid before the group was transferred back to England, Stan was lost in #857 on a second mission to Wiener Neustadt, Austria. Both the 93rd and the 44th Bomb Groups went, but unlike the earlier raid in August, great flak and fighter resistance was encountered. Of 25 B-24s, only nine made it back to base. Others crash landed at various sites. Six were downed over the target, including Stan, and two more were unaccounted for. It was his 23rd mission.]
This account is from Edgar W. Roberts, co-pilot with Stan on the raid to Wiener Neustadt, in a telephone conversation with Terry Olson in September, 1998:
"We were flying straight and level over the I.P. when Ole grabbed my arm and pointed to a ship to our left whose bomb bay was on fire. Ole said, 'Boy that would sure be a tough situation to be in.' No sooner had Ole said that, than one of the crew appeared on the flight deck to announce, 'Our bomb bay is on fire!'" Sure enough, their own plane was ablaze as well. Stan hit the alarm to tell the crew to bailout, and kept flying the plane. Roberts went back to help the crew and found one man trying to climb out a top hatch. He convinced him to jump through the flaming bomb bay. Then Roberts looked around and said, "Your dad was visible, still flying the plane, and I jumped through the flaming bomb bay. I no sooner cleared the plane than it exploded. I had caught fire from going through the bomb bay flames, and hoped by not pulling the rip cord right away that I would be able to get the fire out." Roberts landed safely and evaded capture for a time, but needed medical attention once he was a POW. He said he ended up in Stalag Luft III, and was transferred to a barracks new to him. On the first or second night there, he saw all these civilians corning into the room, and someone removed the stove to reveal a tunnel entrance. It was The Great Escape. This had to be in March of 1944.
Another account of the fate of the plane on 1 October, 1943, carne from Steve Bugyie, a ball turret gunner with Stan's crew that day. This account was given by telephone in the mid 1980s to Terry Olson:
"I heard the alarm to bailout and climbed out of the ball turret to see that the bomb bay was in flames. I had been hit by flak, and had liquid aluminum coming out my cheek, when I reached for my parachute hanging on the side of the fuselage. I grabbed a metal buckle which was hot from the fire, and I dropped the 'chute into the ball turret. I had to reach down and retrieve it. I looked out the waist gunner opening and saw parachutes already open. I climbed out the waist gunner opening and began counting, one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, --and the plane exploded [This sounds like Bugyie and Roberts left the plane at virtually the same time, through different exits.] I decided I did not want to be strafed by German fighters, which had been rumored to happen occasionally, so I delayed opening my chute for almost too long. When I finally pulled the rip cord, the chute opened, I swung twice and then hit some trees. I had opened my chute so far away from the others that I eluded the Germans for four days before being captured, and then I was sent to a different POW camp than all the others on the crew."
[When crews are debriefed after a mission, Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) are filled out by those returning. What follows are excerpts from reports which included eye witness accounts from various crewmen on other planes. Some of these men were in POW camps for over a year, and so some of these reports were not gathered immediately, for obvious reasons]
Approximately 125-150 enemy fighters made vicious attacks on the formation at IP at approx 1130 hours at 4740 N 1635 E. Aircraft #857 [Stan's plane] was seen to be hit individually by five Me 1O9's from 1200 which pressed attacks very close and peeled off towards 0900. 857 was seen to drop their bombs and peel to right with a fire blazing in bomb bay & also No 2 engine. As #857 peeled off to the right it was seen to be pursued by 5 E/A [enemy aircraft]. No chutes were seen to come out and further observations were impossible due to heavy antiaircraft fire and E/A air attacks. [recorded by John A Hess, 11 January, 1945, from information provided by 1st Lieutenant Davenport (pilot of A/C #833, behind Stan), and 1st Lieutenant Van Ess, co-pilot of A/C #779 G, piloted by Lt. Taylor, who was further back in the flight.]
Encountered flak over Italian mainland. Left waist gunner noticed one B-24 turn back when about halfway across Italian mainland. Pilot saw one B-24 salvo bombs and turn back just before reaching Italian coast. Noticed A/C #877 [Hobson] pull up in middle of formation then start falling back. Lost sight of at IP. Definitely was not ghost ship reported.
Left waist gunner saw X [Stan's aircraft] on fire in bomb bay. Flew steady for awhile then started losing altitude. No chutes observed. [Actually, nine got out] Also saw B-24 on extreme left get tail shot off by E/A, and go down in a flat spin.
First flak was to left ofthis ship. Formation then turned into flak to hit target. 20 mm hit in waist at this time and took oxygen supply for left hand side of ship and all men on left hand side. [This is probably from copilot VanEss, in #779]
On IP our A/C, X, caught prop wash and was zig zagging. 2 groups of Me 109s on company attacks. X disappeared. [This is from W H Strong, pilot of A/C #201, with whom Stan had flown as co-pilot on the Ploesti raid. On this raid, Strong was piloting the lead ship of the second box of three bombers, whereas Stan was the rear left hand ship (#2 slot) of the box of three bombers in front of Strong. Stan was #2 on MCAT. However, Stan's X aircraft was actually a bar- X --an X with a line over the top of it, and on this mission was also an aircraft with a plain X) #816. However, that aircraft, although also shot down on this mission, is diagramed as being hit over the target, and not at the IP, which is where Stan's plane was hit. Moreover, 10 chutes were reported as from #816, whereas no chutes were seen from Stan's plane (even though many got out). The only thing that makes me think Strong is talking about Stan's plane is that it disappeared at the IP, which is before the target.]
Original position [of Davenport's aircraft] #2 in second element, high formation. [Stan was #2 in the first element, high formation, so was ahead of Davenport, in the same slot] Stayed #2 on Strong throughout.
At IP, 5 E/A, Me 109's attack at 12 o'clock individually, peeled to 9 o'clock. #857 disappeared on this attack. An unidentified A/C probably #857 peeled to right dropped bombs, being pursued by 5 E/A. [This is from Davenport]
[Finally, an excerpt from an intelligence report of the raid, using information from Lt Irby (pilot of #764) and Captain McAtee (pilot of #283--#1 slot in Stan's element), both of whom emergency landed in Palermo-Boccadifalco Field for gasoline.]
Both B-24's [McAtee and Irby] reported a B-24 without identifying markings flying five miles to the left of formation after making landfall. Lt. Young (member of McAtee's crew) stated that this B-24 kept the altitude of the lead group until it was over the target then it dropped down to the level of the third group thus indicating it was giving altitude to flak batteries. No E/A attacked this lone B-24. No aerial bombs or rockets were used. [This signed by F. W. Schaub, Major, Air Corps, Group S-2]
Note: At the 60th anniversary reunion of the five bomb groups who participated in the Ploesti raid of 1 August, 1943 (held in Salt Lake City in July-August 2003), I talked with James McAtee, a pilot of a plane in Stan's squadron. He told me that a member of Stan's crew, while still in a POW camp in Germany, had sent McAtee a letter in which he said, "If you ever meet Stan Olson's son, tell him his father was a hero. One of the crew members got hung up in trying to bailout of the plane, and it caused a delay. Stan kept the plane flying straight and level until everyone got out, but the delay meant it was too late for him."
It is nice to be a part of that kind of example across generations.