Gen. Jacob Smart, 97; Planned Daring 1943 Raid on Refineries

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 17, 2006

Jacob E. Smart, 97, a retired Air Force general credited with planning the audacious, low-level raid over German-held oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, during World War II and who later helped to shape postwar Air Force doctrine, died Nov. 12 at his home in Ridgeland, S.C. He had congestive heart failure.

Gen. Smart was chief of flight training at Air Corps headquarters in Washington when the United States entered World War II in December 1941. He became a war strategy aide directly under Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold and participated in the 1943 Casablanca Conference with Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Then-Col. Smart was involved in planning the August 1943 raids over the industrial city of Ploesti, whose refineries produced a third of German oil.

As Gen. Smart later recalled: "Churchill turned to Gen. Arnold and said, 'Get it done.' Gen. Arnold, who was somewhat cavalier in his assignments, turned to me and said, 'You get this done.' "

Gen. Smart designed a plan, thought suicidal by many, to send nearly 180 B-24 Liberator bombers based in Libya on low-level runs over the refineries.

The heavy bombers, some of which flew at 200 feet and nearly crashed into Romanian smokestacks, endured what a military publication at the time called "merciless fire from almost every conceivable ground defense weapon," and the Allied casualty rate was high.

Several bombers experienced mechanical failures that caused them to crash or abort the mission. Of those that continued the 2,000-mile round-trip expedition, more than 50 were lost, another 50 had severe battle damage and 550 men were either killed, missing or made prisoners of war after their downing, according to the book "Ploesti: The Great Ground-Air Battle of 1 August 1943."

Five fliers received the Medal of Honor, among the most ever for a single military action.

The Ploesti raid inflicted great initial damage militarily and psychologically. However, slave laborers were sent to repair the refinery and the oil flow continued at a normal pace, according to the publication World War II.

Afterward, Gen. Smart became commanding officer of the 97th Bomb Group stationed in Italy. He flew 29 combat missions until his plane was downed by antiaircraft fire over Austria. Seven of 10 others on board perished, and Gen. Smart became a prisoner of war in Germany for 11 months.

In captivity, he was recognized as an important catch, and the Germans tried to elicit information -- which he knew -- of the upcoming D-Day invasion. All he revealed during harsh interrogation sessions, he later said, was that the invasion would occur "any day now" and waved vaguely at a map of Europe.

Jacob Edward Smart was born May 31, 1909, in Ridgeland, where his father was a railroad conductor. He was a 1931 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and joined the Army Air Corps as a pilot.

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