Thursday, August 01, 2013

TFH 8/1 Flight 2: Second Lieutenant Lloyd H. Hughes, USAAF and "Ole Kickapoo"

Lloyd Herbert Hughes was born in Alexandria, Louisiana on July 12, 1921. His family returned to his mother's native Texas not long afterwards, and he grew up and graduated from high school in the town of Refugio in 1939. Hughes, known as "Pete" to friends, attended Texas A&M University where he studied petroleum engineering. He heard his nation's call not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor and enlisted on January 28, 1942 and accepted into the United States Army Air Forces as an aviation cadet.

He married the former Miss Hazel Dean Ewing on November 8, 1942 and had his pilot's wings pinned on two days later. Hughes was assigned to the 564th Bombardment Squadron of the 389th Bombardment Group (Heavy), flying the Consolidated B-24D Liberator. The group was posted to North Africa in June 1943 and he flew during five combat missions in June and July.

On Sunday, August 1, 1943, he and his crew boarded B-24D serial number 42-40753, named Ole Kickapoo, for the attack on the oil refineries surrounding Ploesti, Romania - operation TIDAL WAVE.

The 389th's target was the Steaua Română refinery in the town of Câmpina north west of Ploesti. As they approached the target, the crews knew that something was very wrong. There was much more defenses than they'd been told to expect. Also, from the smoke they saw rising in the distance, it appeared that one of the other groups had already bombed the target - a result of the aircraft becoming scattered on their way to the target from Africa, then by navigation errors by the lead group causing them to seek out secondary targets or targets of opportunity after realizing their mistake.

As Lieutenant Hughes began guiding Ole Kickapoo on the low-level bomb run, they were hit by enemy fire. The B-24 developed a massive fuel leak. Ahead of Hughes and his crew - who were flying at maybe 200 feet above the ground - lay their target in flames from previous bombers who had already attacked.

From the book Into The Fire: Ploesti, the Most Fateful Mission of World War II, a crewmember on a bomber right behind Ole Kickapoo related what he saw to the authors:
The ship ahead dropped its bombs on one of the refinery's boilers, which exploded upward, sending a huge column of flame directly in the path of the plane with the gas leak. The pilot faced a quick choice: stay on course and bomb his assigned target, which meant that his plane would certainly catch on fire, or take evasive action to avoid the flames and drop his bombs elsewhere.
All the aircrews for TIDAL WAVE had been briefed that the Ploesti refineries were the most important targets to strike. They had been told that destroying them would shorten the war. Dropping their bombs elsewhere was simply not an option for Hughes and the crew of Ole Kickapoo. The Into the Fire account continues:
The navigator of a nearby plane watched; he knew his friend Pete was the pilot. "My stomach turned over. Poor Pete! Fine, conscientious boy, with a young wife waiting for him at home. He was holding formation to bomb, flying into a solid room of fire, with gasoline gushing from his ship. Why do men do such things." 
Pete made his choice and hit the target, but the plane was a flying torch, on fire from nose to tail. He headed for a dry creek bed and managed to maintain control, but a wingtip struck the bank of the creek. The ship cartwheeled end over end, leaving a spiraling, flaming trail of debris.
I think you know what eventually followed.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (G-L):


Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 564th Bomber Squadron, 389th Bomber Group, 9th Air Force. Place and date: Ploesti Raid, Rumania, 1 August 1943 (Air Mission). Entered service at: San Antonio, Tex. G.O. No.: 17, 26 February 1944. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry in action and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. On August 1, 1943, 2d Lt. Hughes served in the capacity of pilot of a heavy bombardment aircraft participating in a long and hazardous minimum-altitude attack against the Axis oil refineries of Ploesti, Rumania, launched from the northern shores of Africa. Flying in the last formation to attack the target, he arrived in the target area after previous flights had thoroughly alerted the enemy defenses. Approaching the target through intense and accurate antiaircraft fire and dense balloon barrages at dangerously low altitude, his plane received several direct hits from both large and small caliber antiaircraft guns which seriously damaged his aircraft, causing sheets of escaping gasoline to stream from the bomb bay and from the left wing. This damage was inflicted at a time prior to reaching the target when 2d Lt. Hughes could have made a forced landing in any of the grain fields readily available at that time. The target area was blazing with burning oil tanks and damaged refinery installations from which flames leaped high above the bombing level of the formation. With full knowledge of the consequences of entering this blazing inferno when his airplane was profusely leaking gasoline in two separate locations, 2d Lt. Hughes, motivated only by his high conception of duty which called for the destruction of his assigned target at any cost, did not elect to make a forced landing or turn back from the attack. Instead, rather than jeopardize the formation and the success of the attack, he unhesitatingly entered the blazing area and dropped his bomb load with great precision. After successfully bombing the objective, his aircraft emerged from the conflagration with the left wing aflame. Only then did he attempt a forced landing, but because of the advanced stage of the fire enveloping his aircraft the plane crashed and was consumed. By 2d Lt. Hughes' heroic decision to complete his mission regardless of the consequences in utter disregard of his own life, and by his gallant and valorous execution of this decision, he has rendered a service to our country in the defeat of our enemies which will everlastingly be outstanding in the annals of our Nation's history.

The remainder of Lieutenant Hughes' aircrew were all awarded the second-highest award for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross, making them one of the most decorated flight crews of the war and in history. Their citations can be read by clicking the links to Military Times' Hall of Valor.

Of the crew, all except Staff Sergeants Hoff and Smith were killed in the crash of Ole Kickapoo or died of injuries soon afterwards. Hoff and Smith were both captured and held as prisoners of war by the Germans.

Lieutenant Hughes' remains were recovered after the war and today are interred in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas. Of his crewmates, SSgt. Dalton, 2d Lt. Helder, and TSgt. Mix are buried in a communal grave at the Fort McPherson National Cemetery. Both 2d Lt. McLoughlin and SSgt. Wilson rest at the Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium.

It appears that the remains of TSgt. Kase and 2d Lt. Pear may never have been recovered and/or identified.

Staff Sergeant Thomas Hoff passed away on August 11, 2001 at age 77. He is buried in the Summit Cemetery in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Staff Sergeant Edmond Smith passed away at age 69 on March 18, 1988 and is buried in the Rock Island National Cemetery.

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