On Aug. 1, 1943, Operation Tidal Wave took off for the oilfields of Ploesti, Romania, to make a dent in the German war machine. Second Lt. Lloyd "Pete" Hughes was in the last of the formation and despite the consequences, completed the mission. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. (U.S. Air Force illustration)
During Operation Tidal Wave, the most highly decorated military mission in U.S. history, 179 B-24s took off on an 18-hour, 2,400 mile round trip mission to destroy the largest of the Nazi-held oil refineries at Ploesti, 30 miles north of Bucharest, Romania. This day, Aug. 1, 1943, would end with five U.S. Air Force Airmen, including 2nd Lt. Lloyd H. Hughes, earning the Medal of Honor for bravery; three, including Hughes, posthumously. Fifty-four aircraft never returned.
Hughes was born in July 1921 in Alexandria, La., and graduated from Refugio High School in Texas. He attended Corpus Christi Junior College in Corpus Christi, Texas and Texas A&M University in College Station. He entered the military service in San Antonio on Jan. 28, 1942, and appointed an aviation cadet the same day. He attended preflight school at Kelly Field, Texas. He attended flight school at Tulsa and Enid, Okla. After advanced training, he received his pilot's wings at Lubbock, Texas, on Nov. 10, 1942.
He was called to extended active duty with the Air Corps, and transferred to Fort Worth, Texas to attend Combat Crew School. He served for short periods at Salt Lake City, Utah and Davis-Monthan Field, Ariz. In 1943, he was assigned to the 389th Bombardment Group at Biggs Field, Texas, with the duties of pilot. He went to Lowry Field, Colo., with the unit and then went to the Army Air Field in Lincoln, Neb.
Hughes went to the European Theater of Operations with assignment as a pilot in June 1943 and participated in five combat missions in the Italy-Romania area.
During the Aug. 1, 1943 bombing mission over the Ploesti oil fields in Romania, Hughes was the pilot of the B-24 "Ole Kickapoo" heavy bombardment aircraft, flying in the last element of a formation.
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 airplane received several direct hits from both large and small caliber antiaircraft guns that seriously damaged his aircraft. Sheets of escaping gasoline streamed from the bomb bay and from the left wing. The leak was so heavy that it was blinding his waist gunner's view. The damage was inflicted prior to reaching the target when 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. Knowing the consequences of entering the inferno when his airplane was leaking gasoline in two separate locations, Hughes elected not to make a forced landing or turn back from the attack. Instead, rather than jeopardize the formation and the success of the attack, he flew into the wall of fire at about 30 feet above the ground and dropped his bomb load with precision.
After successfully bombing the objective, he emerged from the conflagration with the left wing of his aircraft on fire. He attempted to pull up and away from the action, trying to save his plane and crew. He successfully slowed the plane's speed form 225 to 100 miles an hour. It looked as if he was going to be able to crash land when suddenly the left wing flew off and the plane cartwheeled into the ground. Even though some reports showed that no parachutes were seen, two of the crew survived and were captured as prisoners of war. Hughes and five others in the aircraft died that day.
The posthumous Medal of Honor approved on Feb. 26, 1944 was presented to his wife at Kelly Field, San Antonio.
His citation reads:.."For conspicuous gallantry in action and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. On 1 August 1943, Lieutenant 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 airplane 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 Lieutenant 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 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, Lieutenant 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 airplane crashed and was consumed. By Lieutenant 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."
His other decorations included the Purple Heart (posthumous), American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three Bronze Service Stars for participation in the Air Offensive Europe, Sicily and Air Combat Campaigns, World War II Victory Medal and Distinguished Unit Citation Medal.
Sources compiled from military personnel records, Texas A&M University, and Rebecca Ann Jordan.