THE INDIANAPOLIS NEWS
Bombing of Ploesti by 800 U.S. War Planes Recalled
PLOESTI, Romania (UPI) – On a
sunny June day in 1944, a 23-year-old American Army Air Corps bombardier named
Kenneth Barney pressed a button in one of a might fleet of 800 B24s dumping
bomb after bomb on this Romanian oil city.
At the same time, a Ploesti factory worker named Panait Chircu jumped from a bus and raced across the main
square to an underground bomb shelter.
Both men survived that day 25
years ago, but still recall the horror of the bombing of Ploesti. The city's
oils wells and pipelines were vital to the Nazi cause and their destruction was
one of the major aims of allied planes in World War II.
The raids began on Aug. 1, 1943, when 175 B24s from bases in Libya flew 900 miles to drop 300 tons of bombs on Ploesti in the biggest low level air raid. The first big
attack was followed up by others.
Chircu is now the prosperous
and graying deputy mayor of Ploesti. Barney, a minister from Houston, returned
to Romania this year to revisit the villagers in nearby Cesteti who rescued him
after he was shot down.
"There were hundreds of
bombers," Chircu recalled, gesturing from his office window toward the rebuilt
square where he took refuge. "The ground vibrated so much it seemed as though
the earth was boiling."
Ploesti, then a sea of blazing
oil and black smoke, lost 60 per cent of its homes and 70 per cent of its
industry in the raids of that 1944 summer.
Today it is nearly rebuilt,
with a population of 170,000, compared to the 80,000 people who lived there
during the war. Its officials proudly claim an industrial production 18 times
higher than in 1938. Oil wells, refineries and other industries make Ploesti one of Easter Europe's major industrial centers.
The arms factory where Chircu worked
was leveled. On its site today is a factory making oil-drilling machinery which
is exported to 70 nations.
Below Chircu's office windows
lies the new city square with formal gardens in place of the demolished city
center that he and the other Romanians saw when they climbed out of the bomb
Blocks of apartments with
modern shopping centers march across what one was rubble. A new house of
culture and two hotels are planned for construction and Ploesti is building
acres of hothouses for growing winter vegetables with thermal heat from the
Chircu recalls, "the bombing
came on Sunday at midday, probably because people would be at lunch and not in
the factories. I was on my way home to eat when the alarm sounded. Nazi soldiers
were in the streets, running every which way."
To the American bombardier from
the 450th Bomb Group based in Bari, Italy, Ploesti was "the most
heavily defended target of the war."
"We were jumped on my enemy
fighters and lost an engine due to flak," Barney recalled.
Barney and the rest of the
crew, except for a trapped gunner, bailed out and were captured by Romanian
soldiers in the fields.