Ten Embarrassing American Military Disasters the Government Wished the Public Hadn't Discovered
Ten Embarrassing American Military Disasters the Government Wished the Public Hadn’t Discovered

Ten Embarrassing American Military Disasters the Government Wished the Public Hadn’t Discovered

Larry Holzwarth - December 3, 2017

Ten Embarrassing American Military Disasters the Government Wished the Public Hadn’t Discovered
A Liberator flies over a Ploesti refinery during Operation Tidal Wave. US Army

Ploesti, 1943

As part of the United States Army Air Force’s strategic bombing campaign, oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, were designated to be priority targets. The USAAF wanted to deny access to oil to the German military and to war production. Nine refineries around Ploesti were targeted as a single raid conducted on August 1, 1943.

Called Operation Tidal Wave, the USAAF launched 177 B-24 Liberator heavy bombers at the oil refineries from their bases in the Libyan desert near Benghazi. The flight to the target area was executed at low altitudes and in strict radio silence. These factors contributed to the aircraft becoming strung out during the flight to the targets. Navigational errors by lead planes led to others breaking from the formation to follow the correct flight paths, further weakening the overall formation.

Heavy anti-aircraft fire over the targets and the approaches to them combined with strong fighter attacks on the unescorted bombers to inflict heavy damage to the mission. Many of the bombers failed to find their targets completely and resorted to striking targets of opportunity. Some of the bombers flew so low over their targets that the machine gunners in the B-24’s engaged anti-aircraft gunners on the ground.

Of the 177 bombers which took off on the mission (one was lost in an accident on take-off) 88 returned to their Libyan bases. Of those, more than fifty had extensive battle damage. Three hundred and ten aircrew were killed and another 108 were captured by Axis troops after bailing out or crashing in Romania. Several of the Liberators were forced to land in neutral Turkey; their aircrews were interned.

USAAF officials estimated that up to 40% of the refining capacity at Ploesti was destroyed. They were wrong. Most of the damage sustained was repaired within a few weeks and by September it was admitted that there had been “…no curtailment of overall product output…” at the refineries. By the end of September output of refined oil at Ploesti had actually increased above the rate before the raid.

Ten Embarrassing American Military Disasters the Government Wished the Public Hadn’t Discovered
A fanciful depiction of the Paoli “Massacre”. In reality the American troops quickly fled the field. Wikipedia

Paoli, 1777

During the Campaign to defend Philadelphia from capture by the British Washington’s army, soundly defeated at the Battle of Brandywine, redeployed to protect the city from the troops under British commander William Howe. Washington placed a division under Mad Anthony Wayne near Chester, Pennsylvania, to harass the British line of march and possibly capture the enemies supply wagons,

Wayne encamped at Paoli, near the British lines, with about 1,500 men. His encampment was about a mile from that of a larger encampment of Maryland militia, about 2,000 men. Wayne believed his position to be unknown to the British, who had moved little since the Battle of Brandywine. Loyalist spies soon reported Wayne’s position to Howe, who determined to attack the attachment.

On September 20 a British contingent of about 1,200 men approached Wayne’s camp, armed only with bayonets, with the flints removed from their muskets to ensure that no chance shot would give away surprise. They attacked the sleeping Americans shortly before midnight, and Wayne’s men, facing a surprise bayonet attack, were quickly routed. The British drove the Americans from their camp and during pursuit ran into the larger militia encampment, which they quickly routed as well.

About 3,500 American troops were driven from the field by a force one third their size, armed only with bayonets, unable to fire their muskets. The British suffered a total of 4 men killed and seven wounded while thoroughly defeating an entire division.

American losses were over 200 killed or wounded and another 71 captured by the British. The attack at Paoli became known as the Paoli Massacre, largely because of the British use of the bayonet as the sole weapon, but no massacre took place there. The loss of Wayne’s division contributed to the demoralization of the Americans who would soon abandon Philadelphia to Howe.

Ten Embarrassing American Military Disasters the Government Wished the Public Hadn’t Discovered
A German E-Boat in 1945. They operated in the English Channel throughout the war. Wikipedia

Exercise Tiger, 1944

Exercise Tiger was one of the many full scale rehearsal exercises conducted by the Allies in preparation for Operation Overlord. Tiger was developed to provide training for the American troops scheduled to invade France at Utah Beach, using the British beach at Slapton Sands.

On the morning of April 28, 1944 a flotilla of eight LSTs loaded with American troops, combat engineers, and equipment were operating in Lyme Bay, on the English Channel, when they were attacked by nine German E-Boats. E-Boats were similar to the American PT-Boats and were armed with machine guns and torpedoes. One of the vessels assigned to protect the LSTs was not present due to its having been damaged in a collision with an LST. A replacement escort had not yet arrived.

Four of the LSTs were attacked by the E-Boats. One of the LSTs was damaged by friendly fire as the Americans attempted to engage the E-Boats. Another was set afire by the German attack but managed to make it to shore, although over one hundred Navy officers and sailors were lost. LST-531 was sunk by a torpedo attack, over 400 Army and Navy personnel were lost.

A fourth vessel, LST-507, took the lives of another 202 US Army and Navy servicemen when it sank. Many of the casualties were from hypothermia in the cold waters of Lyme Bay. Others, in a grim foreshadowing of the D-Day invasion, drowned when the weight of their combat gear pulled them underwater.

All survivors of Exercise Tiger were placed on maximum security to ensure word of the disaster did not become known prior to the actual invasion. A total of 749 US Navy and Army personnel died during the dress rehearsal for the invasion of Utah Beach. By comparison, 197 American servicemen were killed in the actual invasion of Utah Beach.