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2nd Lt. Kenneth D. Barney
723rd Squadron
Kenneth Barney


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 shelter.

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 oil.

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.

Information courtesy of Marshall Samms, 720th Squadron

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