|Harold (Harry) F. Korger|
HAROLD F. KORGER
Lieutenant Harold F. Korger has arrived safely at his destination, North Africa, according to word received by his mother, Mrs. Anton Korger, 1403 Omaha Street.
Lieutenant Korger attended the Eau Claire State Teachers College and was graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a Bachelor of Music degree in 1940. He was director of public school music in the Eagle River Schools, until his enlistment in the Army Air Corps in December 1941.
On August 13, 1942, he was graduated from Midland Field, Texas, receiving his bombardier's wings and his commission as Second Lieutenant. Prior to leaving for duties overseas, Lieutenant Korger was stationed at various fields, the last being Morrison Field, Florida.
Mrs. Korger's youngest son, Private Anton C. Korger, is also in the Air Corps, training in Camp Pinedale, CA, and her son-in-law, Technical Sergeant Archie J. Kain, has been serving in England for the past year.
|Lt. H. F. Korger Missing in Action
September 14, 1943
Korger, 1403 Omaha Street, has been informed by the Adjutant General that her son, First Lieutenant Harold F. Korger, has been missing in action since
The telegram read: "War Department. The Commanding General of the Middle East regrets to inform you that your son, First Lieutenant Harold F. Korger, has been missing in action since the 3rd of September. If any information of his status is available at any time, we will inform you immediately. Signed: The Adjutant General."
Colonel "Killer" Kane, who was recently awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, was the pilot of the Liberator of which Lieutenant Korger was bombardier.
Lieutenant Korger, a graduate of Eau Claire State Teachers College and the University of Wisconsin, enlisted in the Army Air Corps in December 1941 and was graduated from Midland Field, Texas in August 1942, receiving his bombardier's wings and commission as Second Lieutenant. He left for overseas in February 1943.
On August 29, 1943, Lieutenant Korger wrote to his mother that he was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant. As a result of bombing missions he participated in, Lieutenant Korger was awarded the Air Medal with the Oak Leaf Cluster and the Distinguished Flying Cross with the Oak Leaf Cluster. He is squadron bombardier of a heavy bombardment squadron somewhere in the Middle East.
Mrs. Harold F. Korger, the former Beatrice Pride, is living with her parents in Eagle River, WI.
|State Flier Who Raided Rome, Saw Ploesti
"Hell," is Missing
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 1943
|The American air raid on the Rumanian oil fields at Ploesti was
"hell itself," a Wisconsin bombardier, who participated in the affair and who
since has been reported missing in action, wrote to relatives here.
First Lieutenant Harold Korger, 24, of Eagle River, WI, squadron bombardier for one of the Middle East Liberator groups, has been missing in action since September 3, his mother, Mrs. Anton Korger, Eau Claire, was notified Saturday. Lieutenant Korger's brother, Frederick, lives at 2129 North 16th Street.
In a letter to Frederick recently, Lieutenant Korger related that he flew with Colonel John R. Kane, former West Point all-American football player, on the Ploesti mission. "I saw old friends crash to a flaming death before my eyes," he wrote. "The Jerries were throwing up everything at us. Our plane was shot to shreds but, by sheer flying skill, Colonel Kane got us out."
"My bombs hit dead center on my target and we wiped the place out. Then, the fighters jumped us and more of our friends went down, but they took at least four or five Jerries down with them for every one of us."
They reached a friendly airfield, after flying on "a wing and a prayer, mostly prayer," Lieutenant Korger related.
In other letters, he told of the raids on Rome and on the Messerschmitt plane factory near Vienna, in which he participated.
Lieutenant Korger, a graduate of Eau Claire State Teachers College and the University of Wisconsin, won the Distinguished Flying Cross with the Oak Leaf Cluster and the Air Medal with the Silver Leaf Cluster. He was commissioned at Midland Field, Texas and went overseas last February. His wife, Bernice, lives with her parents in Eagle River.
|Berlin Radio Reports City Bombardier, Who Blasted Oil Fields in Rumania, Prisoner|
Korger, Eagle River, WI, received the following message from the War Department,
Office of the
Provost Marshal General:
"The Provost Marshal General directs me to forward to you the inclosed, short-wave radio message which was intercepted by government facilities. The War Department is unable to verify this message, and it is not to be construed as an official notification. If additional information concerning the above named person is received from any source, you will be advised. Signed, Howard F. Breese, Colonel, Chief Information Bureau."
Message From Germany
In addition to the letter received from the War Department, Mrs. Korger received identical messages from four other interested people in various states who heard the short-wave broadcast from Berlin on October 23.
On September 13, Lieutenant Korger's mother, Mrs. Anton Korger, 1403 0maha Street, was informed by the Adjutant General that her son had been missing in action since September 3.
Lieutenant Korger, a graduate of Eau Claire State Teachers College and the University of Wisconsin, enlisted in the Army Air Corps in December 1941 and was graduated from Midland Field, Texas in August 1942, receiving his bombardier's wings and commission as a Second Lieutenant. He left for overseas in February 1943.
On August 29, 1943, Lieutenant Korger wrote to his mother that he was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant. As a result of bombing missions he participated in, Lieutenant Korger was awarded the Air Medal with the Silver Oak Leaf Cluster and the Distinguished Flying Cross with the Oak Leaf Cluster. He was squadron bombardier of a heavy bombardment squadron somewhere in the Middle East.
Bombed Rumanian Oil Fields
"The fun started when we spotted a freight train sided at a railroad junction. There must have been 50 cars full of oil just inviting our personal attention...it probably marked the first time in history that a routine gun inspection resulted in a Nazi train being blown right off its tracks.
"About two miles from the target, the flak guns bellowed out a reception comparable to none I have seen in 330 combat hours against some heavily defended targets...The fire was plenty accurate.
"A mile and a half from the refineries, we opened up with our fifties, aiming at the oil tanks which held about 55,000 gallons of oil. They started to explode, throwing smoke and flames about 500 feet into the air. There we were, buzzing in at 20 feet, doing 200 miles per hour, flying through intensive flak and bouncing around between oil fires.
"After the bombs were away, we dropped back to 20 feet and about 50 Messerschmitt 109s and 110s jumped on us from the right. We were flying so low they couldn't dive on us but they did lazy eights all over our formation, causing trouble."
During this attack, Captain Young said the plane's radio operator suggested altitude because "we were collecting a mass of branches, leaves, and cornstalks. The Colonel investigated, and I'll be damned if (Lieutenant R. B.) Hubbard didn't hand him a cornstalk!"
The battle lasted 20 minutes, the Captain reports, adding: "We muddled through the fighter attack and staggered away from the target on two and a half engines.''
On a Wing and a Prayer
|Many Letters Received from Lt. Korger in Nazi Prison Camp|
|Wife and Mother Hear from Him Often|
letters and cards have been received from First Lieutenant Harold F.
American prisoner of war in Germany, by his wife Bernice, who lives in
Eagle River, WI, and his mother, Mrs. Anton Korger, 1403 Omaha Street,
Lieutenant Korger, who was reported missing in action on September 3, 1943, was squadron bombardier of a heavy bombardment squadron somewhere in the Middle East and took part in the famous August 1 raid on the Polesti oil refineries in Rumania.
He was bombardier in the lead ship of Colonel John "Killer" Kane, the first bomb group to pass over the target. As a result of bombing missions, Lieutenant Korger was awarded the Air Medal with the Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster and the Distinguished Flying Cross with the Oak Leaf Cluster.
Lieutenant Korger, a graduate of Eau Claire State Teachers College and the University of Wisconsin, enlisted in the Army Air Corps in December 1941 and was graduated from Midland Field, Texas in August 1942, receiving his bombardier's wings and commission as Second Lieutenant. On August 29, 1943, he was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant.
Excerpts of his letters sent from his prison camp and cards follow:
October 15th, a card: "Darling Bernice: I'm looking forward to your letters and packages. Send me lots of milk chocolate and vitamin pills. We are supplied with most other things by the Red Cross and the Germans. Use my address as listed on the other side. See the Red Cross if you need any more details. John and I are both fine but have become separated from Hoover. We are with British officers--they're fine boys."
A letter on October 19th: "My Darling: The days are passing more quickly now. A school has been established and I'm taking several subjects. Many of the instructors are former college professors. We also pass time by playing a great deal of bridge and reading everything obtainable. John, I, and the other Americans here have made many friends among the English and Dominion officers of the camp--they're mostly swell boys. It's not a happy thought, contemplating spending Christmas and Thanksgiving away from you, Honey, but I should be grateful just to be alive and unhurt. Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to the time we can be together again and pick up life where we left off so long ago. I'd like you to send me a nice photo of yourself, Honey, but send it unmounted. Also snapshots, and smile for me, Darling. Also send milk chocolate and a toothbrush. I have one picture of you (in the leather folder) that I had with me when I went down, but that is all. Keep Mom informed of my whereabouts and give her my address. We have quite a nice set-up here now and, except for being very lonesome for you, I really can't complain. Tell Doc and Helen 'hello' from me and that I think often of them and of all the good times the four of us used to have and will have again some day."
Letter on October 23rd: "I hope you're getting my letters regularly now, Bernice. The Red Cross will help you if there is anything you don't understand. We get a food package every week through the Red Cross and it's really excellent, but I'll still be very glad to get chocolate from you. You might include a cigar or two also. We have organized a very fine chorus in camp--lots of good talent here. We're learning soccer from the British officers and are teaching them softball, in return. I could use a couple of pencils; squeeze them into your package somewhere. I hope your dad is feeling better and your mother, too. I always remember them in my prayers. Write to my Mom and Bussy, too. Write to me as often as you can and tell my folks to do the same. Save all the newspapers for me--I'll want to catch up on all the back news when I get home again."
A card on November 3rd: "We have moved again and are now in an American POW camp in Germany. Our gang is still together and getting along fine. Am spending my time reading, playing bridge, football, etc. Singing in a choir and playing in an orchestra. Could use razor blades, phonograph needles, cigars and chocolate. Send some pictures of yourself."
On November 11th, a card: "We had a very good supper tonite, and that, plus an afternoon of football, followed by a hot shower, has put me in a relatively good mood. This is my Mom's birthday—seems like I'm spending lots of birthdays in the bag. Was captured on yours and celebrated mine with a bread pudding of my own concoction. Send me some cheese and homemade jam."
A card on November 24th: "Tomorrow's Thanksgiving Day and, while the conventional turkey will be conspicuous by its absence, we still are going to have quite a nice meal. I guess I still have plenty to be thankful for. I'm alive and healthy ,and I have the most wonderful girl in the world waiting for me."
A card on November 25th: "Dear Mom, Mera, and All: Well, this was my first Thanksgiving Day without a turkey dinner, but we had a very fine meal just the same. Hot Prem, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots, bacon and eggs, apple pudding and hot tea—not bad, eh? We're getting along fine here, and the time is passing quickly. Of course, I miss all of you and especially Bernie. I think of you always. Write. Harry."
A card, dated November 28: "My darling—We had a fine Thanksgiving dinner here, but I sure missed you. Honey, could you send me a fountain pen and a bottle of ink in your next package. Also, send me a pound of coffee in every package— you know how I love good coffee! Our orchestra is coming along fine and will put on a concert next week. John and I are both fine. I'm becoming quite a cook. Write often."
|Officer Conducts Choir in Nazi Prisoner of War Camp|
Harold F. Korger, son of Mrs. Rose Korger, 1403 Omaha Street, is now
conducting a choir in a German prisoner of war camp.
A portion of an article, written by Lowell Bennett, International News Service correspondent, who is a prisoner of war in the same camp, after having been shot down in an RAF raid over Berlin on December 2, 1942, mentions the local officer.
"Under the professional directorship of First Lieutenant Harry F. Korger (whose family lives at Eau Claire, WI), our Kriege Glee Club has expanded into one of the most important entertainment and morale factors in camp. The club began in April, with a double quartet, and now is 36 men strong and has put on five king-size shows.
The club, which incorporates the Catholic choir, handles all types of music--from Negro spirituals through military medleys to popular dance songs. Korger, who was a high school band director in Eagle River before the war, does all the arrangements from memory, with the help of First Lieutenant Marshall E. Tyler of Indian Falls Road, Corfu, New York, who studied music at the Eastman School of Music and who is the club's accompanist.
"Korger, an old-timer here—he was shot down September 3, 1943— has written a ballad, which he calls All Through the Night, and a march, Kriegies on Parade, both of which were enthusiastically received here. Korger also plays the third saxophone in our Round the Benders Swing Band.
A copy of the ballad, All Through the Night, dedicated to his wife, Bernice, who lives in Eagle River, was received by her February 5. In a letter dated October 20, Lieutenant Korger wrote: "My show On the Air is making a big hit with all the fellows, and I'm very happy about it. I made arrangements for the glee club for a medley from This Is the Army, Sleep Song, Battle of Jericho, and Marching Along. The orchestra played Smoke Rings, Kalamazoo, Silent Love, Slow Swing (written by our tenor man, Eddie Edwards), Sentimental Over You, etc. Several comedy skits round out the program. Emcee is Lieutenant Simms."
In a letter of September 3, 1944, Lieutenant Korger wrote: "My choir sings High Mass every other Sunday and really do a nice job--eighteen voices and the whole thing is A Capella. I've also written and arranged a few hymns that we sing. The glee club of 36 voices will put on another concert soon. Our orchestra, now augmented to 12 pieces, plays for chow every other night. We have 4 saxes (and clarinets), 3 trumpets, guitar, bass fiddle, piano, drums, and a trombone. Several of the boys have played with big name bands in the states. Our biggest drawback here is the lack of music—we have to arrange most of our own and it becomes a job at times.
"An amusing note was this: We received some glee club music but, to our astonishment, it was all arranged for mixed voices (female and male)."
Red Cross work is highly praised in every letter received from Lieutenant Korger, particularly in their distribution of food packages, without which the POW menu would be extremely meager, his mother says.
|Liberated from German Prison|
|LT. HAROLD F. KORGER
First Lieutenant Harold F. Korger, son of Mrs. Rose Korger, 1403 Omaha Street, has been liberated from the Stalag Luft 1 prison camp in Germany, according to word received here, and is awaiting return to the United States.
Lieutenant Korger and First Lieutenant La June Wilk, son of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Wilk, 1119 Second Avenue, were interned in the prison camp together.
Lieutenant Korger entered the service in December 1941 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant at Midland, Texas in August 1942.
He went overseas in February 1943 as a B-24 bombardier. On September 1, 1943, his plane was shot down over enemy territory.
While in the German prison camp, he conducted a choir which was an important morale builder in the camp.
His wife, Bernice, lives in Eagle River, Wisconsin.
|FIRST LT. HAROLD KRUGER
First Lieutenant Harold (Harry) Korger is visiting his mother, Mrs. Rose Korger, 1403 Omaha Street, after being liberated from a German prisoner of war camp by the Russian army, after 20 months internment. He is on a 60-day leave.
Lieutenant Korger was shot down over Suloma, Italy on September 3, 1943, during his 30th mission. He was a squadron bombardier in a B-24 group stationed in Bengasi, Libya and led the Ninth Bomber Command in such famous raids as Ploesti, Rome, and Wiener Neustadt raids.
Lieutenant Korger holds two Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Air Medal with five Oak Leaf Clusters, two group citations, and four Battle Stars on his European Theater Ribbon.
A brother, Staff Sergeant Anton Korger, is in Manila.
Mrs. Korger, the former Miss Bernice Pride of Eagle River, is with him in Eau Claire.
|Former City Man Improves Air Navigation!|
|COL. H. F. KORGER
Colonel Harold F. Korger, son of Mrs. Rose Korger, 2223 Somona Parkway and a 1936 graduate of the Eau Claire High School, has been assigned as Commander of the 725th Strategic Missile Squadron at Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado. The squadron is a unit of the Strategic Air Command's 451st Strategic Missile Wing.
Colonel Korger is a former student at Wisconsin State College at Eau Claire and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin with a Bachelor of Music degree. He was a music teacher at Eagle River in 1941, when he entered the Air Force where he earned navigator's wings.
During World War II, he was the bombardier for the lead squadron in the Ploesti oil field raid. He was later shot down and spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner.
In 1948, he came to the Strategic Air Command as a B-29 navigator, later serving on B-47 and B-52 jets. He has made several contributions to jet-age navigation, having documented, for the first time, precision procedures for high speed celestial navigation and low-level bomb delivery and navigation techniques. He also simplified the bomb tables of SAC. He is the developer of a celestial motion computer, which is now in the final phase of testing by the Air Force.
Colonel Korger has written a number of papers for the Institute of Navigation and was twice selected as SAC's nominee for the Thurlow Navigation Award, presented annually to the man who does the most to promote navigation. While attending school here, Colonel Korger delivered the Daily Telegram on the northside from 1934 to 1938. He is married to the former Bernice L. Pride of Eagle River and they have three children. Colonel Korger has a brother, Anton, and a sister, Mrs. John Menard, living in Eau Claire, and a sister, Mrs. Bruce Watson, of Rice Lake.
Written by Harold (Diz) Kronenberg
Colonel Harold Korger
The person who said, "you can't tell how good a soldier will be until you see him in action," was probably right. The fragility of life and the courage of ordinary and common people in extraordinary situations is not detected, until a person is held accountable for them. Sometimes, the biggest and loudest person and the one who proclaims to be the toughest turns out to be the weakest, while the guy who says very little ends up being the fellow you would want next to you in a foxhole.
If you had known Harold Korger of 1401 Omaha Street (the southeast corner of Omaha and McDonough Street) you would think it improbable that he would be the outstanding officer and soldier that he was.
His parents were typical Depression Era parents of German descent--strict, hard working, well- disciplined, and devout Catholics. They raised seven children--three boys and four girls. The boys, Fred, Harold, and Anton (Tony) were all master musicians. Harold and Tony, at one time, played in the US Army Band. The girls were Agatha, Elmira, Rosemary, and Anita. The youngest, Anita, died of pneumonia when she was in the eighth grade. Rosemary married John Menard Sr., a math instructor at the local college. Their son, John Menard Jr., is the racecar magnet and the building materials entrepreneur.
Harold graduated from the Eau Claire State Teachers College and then transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he graduated with a degree in music. He taught school briefly in Eagle River, Wisconsin, and then, in 1941, enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He was sent to Midland Field, Texas, where he graduated as a bombardier, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He was shipped overseas in February of 1943.
The father was a tailor and operated a cleaning establishment in downtown Eau Claire. He invented, and received a patent on, a steam press that ironed pleated skirts, etc.,
A little background to the Ploesti mission:
This story about the Ploesti, Romania air raid was borrowed from a book written by Edward Jablonski. I took the liberty of adding a few minor items and including Korger's participation in this famous (some would think infamous) air sortie.
The pilot of Lieutenant Korger's crew was the legendary Colonel "Killer" Kane, an all-American football player at West Point. Kane's superb flying ability made it possible for the badly damaged Hail Columbia to make it back safely to an emergency airbase in Turkey. Kane flew the B-24 Liberator back on three engines, but only after Korger had dropped his bombs on target (one of the few who did). In another plane, the crew members were flown safely back to their airbase in Benghazi, Africa, the jumping off point for their ill-fated mission. For his actions, Colonel Kane received the nation's highest award for heroism, the Congressional Medal of Honor. Four other officers received the Medal of Honor--three of them posthumously. Korger received the Distinguished Flying Cross--he would receive an Oak Leaf Cluster to the Distinguished Flying Cross later.
Lieutenant Korger continued to fly combat missions, once writing home and telling of his participation in the bombing of Rome. Perhaps the significance of that was because he was Catholic, and he emphasized that they bombed only the marshalling yards there. Rome was not an "open city," and the Allies bombed only the marshalling yards and the airfield.
On September 3, 1943, Korger went on a mission from which he did not return. His parents received word that he was "Missing in Action." His commanding officer informed the parents that "if any information as to his status becomes available, we will inform you immediately."
The Lieutenant survived the mission but was captured and taken prisoner by the Germans and spent the rest of the war in a German prison camp.
As one of the leaders in the prison camp, he often took part in soldiers' talent shows, organized by the internees to entertain their fellow prisoners. Because of his musical background, he took it upon himself to write the music for those shows. Some of that music is played today.
Another Eau Claire resident, Dr. Ray Vlasnik DDS, was also involved in the ill-fated Ploesti raid but not as an active participant. He was one of the ground crewmen, responsible for readying the Liberators for the mission and for repairing the badly damaged planes upon their return. Ray was for many years a dentist at Hillside Dental located on Main St.
THE PLOESTI, ROMANIA AIR RAID of AUGUST 1943
A TRAGIC VICTORY by Edward Jablonski
"Another such victory...and we are finished" Brigadier General Uzal Ent
On July 20, 1943, all B-24 Liberator heavy bombers of the 9th Air Forces stationed in Africa were ordered off regular operations to begin intensive training for a secret strike against the enemy. The training was to take place near Benghazi, Libya.
It would be an unusual training program--the crews of the high-altitude Liberator, affectionately called "the pregnant cow" by its men, began training exercises at extremely low altitude. The flying characteristics of the B-24 were not suited for low-level flying and this worried the airmen. Besides, there was the danger of flying through prop wash, a sometimes dangerous practice. Since they were not told what the mission would be, it was confusing to them. Only the top brass knew that the mission target was Ploesti, Rumania, situated in the heart of the oil-producing regions that supplied Nazi Germany with more than half of its crude oil supply. Without oil, Germany could not function militarily. Most other Nazi oil came from Germany's synthetic oil plants.
The groups assigned to the Ploesti mission were commanded by Major General Lewis Brereton, a small, cocky, sometimes brash man who commanded the 9th Air Force. However, Colonel Jacob Smart conceived the idea of the low-level mission. He believed that surprise would be achieved by the low-level flying, and thus the mission would be a resounding success; this, despite the fact that the Liberator was not designed for low-level flying. The success of the mission depended on secrecy and the ability of the Liberators to hit the target before the German "ack ack" gunners and fighter pilots could be alerted. Most group commanders had serious reservations about a low-level attack, including Brigadier General Uzal Ent, the man entrusted with the detailed planning of the mission. Despite all the skepticism, General Brereton permitted no discussion, whatsoever, among his commanders. Any individual showing displeasure would immediately be replaced. The importance of the mission could be measured by General Ent's comment that the mission would be a success "even if none of the bombers returned." Just before take-off on mission day, General Brereton told the crewmen, "you should consider yourself lucky to be on this mission." Over three hundred airmen probably would not agree. They were dead the following day.
The leaders of this historical and dramatic mission were Colonel John "Killer" Kane, who headed the 98th Bomb Group (Pyramiders). The bombardier on his plane, named the Hail Columbia, was Lieutenant Harold Korger from 1403 Omaha Street, Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Leading the 44th Bomb Group, nicknamed "The Eight Balls," was Lieutenant Colonel Leo Johnson. Leading the 93rd Bomb Group, known as "The Traveling Circus," was Lieutenant Colonel Addison Baker. The fourth group, the inexperienced 389th Bomb Group, had taken the name "Sky Scorpions," and was led by Colonel Jack Wood. The final group leading the mission would be the 376th Bomb Group, headed by Colonel Keith Compton. They called themselves "The Liberandos."
Despite the dust storms and frequent cases of dysentery and a few cases of malaria, everything was done to build up the confidence and morale of the men. After two weeks of intensive training, the men appeared to be ready for the mission.
At dawn on the day of the mission, the men were told about Ploesti--where and how many "ack ack" guns to expect over the target and how many German fighters they might encounter. Both estimates were grossly inaccurate, as the crews would soon find out.
On Sunday morning, August 1, 1943, the first plane, Wingo Wango, lifted off and, after assembling with the rest of the planes, headed for Ploesti. One hundred seventy-eight Liberators followed, with 1725 American airmen aboard. Wingo Wango, leading the groups, suddenly dipped and dived, and flew straight into the Mediterranean Sea. Since radio silence had been imposed and was not to be violated, no one would ever know what happened to the ill-fated ship. The lead navigator went down with the plane; this would prove to be particularly costly.
Before they completed the Mediterranean crossing, 13 planes had either crashed or, for various other reasons, had aborted the mission. The remaining 165 turned inland and began to gain the altitude necessitated by the 9,000-feet mountains in their path. As they gained altitude, they encountered heavy cloud accumulations. Two groups chose to go through the clouds at 16,000 feet, while Colonel Kane, with two groups trailing, went through at 12,000 feet. The first groups gained some tail winds, while Kane and his following groups bucked heavy headwinds. The two formations became hopelessly separated, after emerging from the cumulus. Radio silence made it impossible to reassemble for the final leg of the mission. It was at this point that the most fatal incident of the mission occurred.
The lead groups not only missed the IP (Initial Point) but also the final IP. Parts of the two groups mistakenly headed for Bucharest, while the others, realizing their mistake, headed for the correct targets. By doing so, they were heading directly into the muzzles of the flak guns awaiting them. They dropped their bombs, but on targets assigned to other crews, so that later, when Kane's planes arrived, coming from the right direction and on target as briefed, they ran into heavy smoke and a raging inferno. Liberators, trailing sheets of flame, crashed into the ground; others simply blew up, while some others struck balloon cables and had their wings torn off before slamming into the ground. Others flew through the inferno, flying hardly off the ground and racing at 200 miles per hour.
The surviving planes, that made it through, now met Rumanian and German fighters. When the Hail Columbia, piloted by Kane and with bombardier Korger in the nose, emerged from the flame-blackened chaos, they were flying on only three engines. Of the forty-one planes that flew with Kane's formation through the sheets of flame, only nineteen emerged. Most, however, successfully dropped their bombs in the target area. They now faced severe fighter attacks. Other planes had not yet reached the target but, when they did, they suffered the same harrowing experiences. One pilot summed it up succinctly when he said, "It was like flying through hell. I guess we'll go straight to heaven when we die. We've had our purgatory."
The total plane loss for the tragedy of Ploesti was 54, with another 30 barely able to fly again. The loss of men was 540. The magnitude of this "successful debacle" is clearly shown in the awarding of five Medals of Honor, the highest number ever for any single air action. Receiving the awards were Colonels Johnson and Kane and, posthumously, Addison Baker, John Jerstad, and Lieutenant Lloyd Hughes. As heroic as these men were, just as heroic were the deeds of everyone on that mission. The true achievement of the mission could only be measured in courage because there were no decisive results. General Brereton claimed it 80% successful; then changed that to 60%. Later intelligence reports showed it to be about 40% successful. Perhaps the best barometer for judging the results of the mission was in the statement, "Another such victory.. .and we are finished."