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  • Writer's pictureJacksonville Museum

This Week in Military History - Russell D. Huntley and the Ploesti Bombing Raid.





In the spring of 1944, the U.S. Army Air Forces were in the middle of a four-month campaign to destroy the petroleum refineries around Ploesti. This was in addition to the campaigns the U.S. and its allies had launched at Ploesti since mid-1943. All efforts had been met with resistance by the Germans, delayed or failed actions due to weather, and the ones that had been successful had not had the damaging effects that the Allies had been anticipating. The Army Air Forces realized that a “restrike” policy was needed. The first attempt launched by General Twining was on April 5, 1944. Three bomb wings were sent out to attack the railroad marshaling yards but had to turn back due to poor weather.


A B - 17 bombing the Ploesti Oil Refinery


            While good in theory, the attack on the railyards was ineffective. Railroads were difficult to take out and easy for the enemy to repair. The next attempt was on May 5, 1944, when General Twining sent out five bomb wings with 485 aircraft dropping roughly 1,200 tons of ordnance. The plan was considered unsuccessful and not worth losing 18 bombers and crew. The unnecessary loss of aircraft and life made the U.S. Air Forces decide to change tactics. General Ira Eaker ordered a shift in the target for the bombing raids. Instead of the railroads and railyards, the B-17s focused on oil refineries.

Article from the Blytheville Courier

The 2nd Bomb Group mission summary for April 24 illustrates the variety of opposition the raiders encountered over Ploesti:


A 40-minute fighter attack started at the initial point. Approximately 20 to 30 e/a [enemy aircraft], consisting of Me 109s, FW 190s, and DW 520s, attacked aggressively and caused damage to five B-17s. Flak at the target was both tracking and barrage, which resulted in damage to 28 B-17s [of 36] and injury to one man. Flak was described as intense and accurate.” 


The Allied gunners were credited with downing two 109s and a Dewoitine D.520.

They continued to bomb Ploesti, encountering attacks from the Axis forces, combating smoke screens, and being shot down by Axis forces until June 23, 1944, when the Fifteenth Air Force sent 761 bombers to attack the oil refineries. Romania was devastated and unable to regroup. The oil refinery would operate at 20% capacity until Romania surrendered on August 23, 1944.


A radio/top-turret gunner named Russell D. Huntley was on board one of the B-24s and participated in the raid. Although Huntley was not born in Arkansas, he spent much of his adult life here and died in Jacksonville in 2003. He was born in Newport, New Hampshire, on December 7, 1924. Huntley left school in 1940, at age 16, to join the Canadian Army. He was too young to join the American military, and he knew that his mother would never sign to allow him to join. He was with the Canadian Army in England when America entered WWII. The American Embassy tracked him down and informed him he had to join the American military or he would lose his citizenship.


He joined the Army Air Corps and was assigned to the 8th Air Force as a radio operator/top turret gunner. During the raid, his aircraft was shot down over the Ploesti. Everyone except for the copilot survived the crash and was quickly taken prisoner. Russell was held in Timisul, a Romanian prison, for 13 months. After several escape attempts, the prison was liberated by Allied forces. Upon his return to the States, Huntley married his high school sweetheart, Charlotte. He had three children, graduated as a second lieutenant from Officer’s school, and served for 22 years before retiring as a Major. After retirement, Huntley moved to Jacksonville and started his own business, Modern Chemical, Inc., managing it for 30 years until he turned it over to his daughter in 2002, a year before he died in 2003.

            Our museum displays a book on Ploesti, a wrist compass, a dagger, and other items that we believe belonged to Major Huntley.

 


Works Cited

 

 

"Bomb Ploesti Oil Area." The Kansas City Star (Kansas City), June 24, 1944. https://www.newspapers.com/image/655774538/.

"Ploesti's Oil Output Slashed." Fort Pierce News-Tribune (Fort Pierce, Florida), June 5, 1944. https://www.newspapers.com/image/884937801/?match=1&terms=Ploesti.

"Romanian Oil Installations Again Raided." Blytheville Courier News (Blytheville, Arkansas), June 23, 1944. https://www.newspapers.com/image/18259/?match=1&terms=Ploesti.

Tillman, Barrett. "Ploesti - The Rest of the Story." Historynet. History Net, September 6, 2013. https://www.historynet.com/ploesti-the-rest-of-the-story/.

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