Aviation

The P38-Lightning’s Blackest day

It’s great leaning new things. Never knowing everything makes life more interesting. For instance this post is actually a day late but I didn’t know yesterday about the blackest day for the P-38 Lightning. June 10th 1944, an attack was launched on the oil fields of Ploesti with forty six P-38 Lightnings of the 82nd FG of the 95th, 96th and 97th Fighter Squadrons and forty eight P-38Js 1st fighter groups of the 27th, 71st and 94th fighter squadrons. The forty six fighters were carrying 1,000 lb bombs under one wing and a 310 gallon fuel tank on the other wing. The fighters of the 1st fighter groups were providing top cover for the fighter bombers of the 82nd. They were to make a low level run across Yugoslavia and into Romania to destroy the oil fields of Ploesti. However the Germans air radar picked them up over Yugoslavia before they entered Romania.

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Due to the low level flying, aerial maneuvers were quite impossible for the lightnings as the already aware enemy had the advantage. The battle lasted only a few minutes between the lightnings, in which the two groups never made the rendezvous, the IAC 80’s and the BF-109’s, at an altitude of only a couple hundred feet. Among the BF-109 pilots that took part in the fight aces included I/JG 53 Gruppenkommandeur Knight’s Cross holder Maj. Jurgen Harder with 64 victories, Lt. Rupert Weninger, Lt. Erich Gehring and Uffz. IAR 80 ace Capitan Dan Vizante with 15 kills, leader of Grupul 6, lifted off of from Popesti-Leordeni airfield for his debut in the fight. 23 P-38’s failed to return to their bases around Foggia, Italy. Only 14 Romanian loses occurred while 10 of those were actual fighters. It would go down as the blackest day for the combat history of the P-38 lightning with a 30% loss rate. It represented the worst loss rate during a single mission of any American Fighters during WWII. The 15th Air Force would go on to destroy the fields and air bases around Ploesti later on in 1944 and 1945.

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