THE AIR WAR     [ Page 1  |  Page 2 ]

Kuroki with recruiting posterKuroki began his service career as a clerk-typist. He was assigned to a unit that was to become the 93rd Bomb Group, training first at Barksdale Field near Shreveport, Louisiana, but moving to Fort Myers, Florida, later in 1942, then on to Grenier Field in New Hampshire, the "jumping off" point for overseas combat. The difficulties Kuroki faced in staying with his unit as it moved toward overseas battle are detailed in the "Fighting to Fight" section of this site.

The 93rd, as was typical with the Air Corps, was made up of four squadrons, designated the 328th, 329th, 330th and 409th. Each squadron was assigned 10 to 15 planes. The 93rd was the first B-24 unit to arrive in England in the November of 1942, joining a few other Eighth Air Force B-17 heavy bomber units that had been flying missions since late summer.

The Consolidated B-24 Liberator four-engine heavy bomber was produced in greater numbers than any other American aircraft and saw combat in all theaters of war -- more than 18,000 were built. The B-24 and the B-17 Flying Fortress were the main U.S. heavy bombers at the beginning of World War II. Both bombers usually carried between nine or ten crewmembers, with as many as five gunners.

Becoming a gunner

Eventually, as the air war took its psychological toll on young men not prepared to operate machine guns from planes in war conditions, positions opened up and Kuroki -- who had voluntarily attended a two-week class on operating 50-caliber machine guns -- became a Sergeant on flying status as a gunner.

The task of gunners on these planes was dangerous and uncomfortable. There was so little room that gunners could not wear a parachute. Without pressurization and temperature control, weather conditions inside the B-24 were often not much different than those outside. Nevertheless, Kuroki was happy -- he was fighting for his country.

Three squadrons of the 93rd had moved to North Africa by December 1942. Most of the planes returned to England in February 1943, but Kuroki's plane somehow got lost on the way back home, ran low on fuel, and eventually crash landed in Spanish Morocco. The whole crew was captured and interned. Kuroki managed to escape, but was quickly recaptured. After three months in captivity the U.S. State Department allegedly traded new Buick cars for the release of the men, who then returned to England.

The Ploesti Mission

The 93rd returned to North Africa in the summer of 1943, joining the 9th Air Force to prepare for the raid on the Ploesti oil fields. Kuroki volunteered to participate in this dangerous mission, the longest and largest low-level bombing attack in air combat history. They were told that as many as half of them might return from the mission.

Almost 200 unescorted B-24 Liberators took off On August 1, 1943 to fly the 1,200 miles from their Libyan base to bomb German oil refineries in and around Ploesti, Romania.

The attack was code-named "Operation Tidal Wave." The raid remains fascinating to military historians in part because a wrong turn caused most of the first group of planes (the 376thBomb Group) to miss reaching Ploesti altogether, while the 93rd corrected the wrong turn to approach the target from the wrong direction.

Nearly one-third failed to return 53 B-24s were lost, 440 men were killed and 220 were taken prisoner during the 13-hour round-trip mission. Only two out of nine planes in Kuroki's squadron returned safely.

Five more!

Kuroki finished out his full tour of 25 missions and flew back to England. But to the consternation of his crew members, he asked for another full tour of duty. Doctors examining him agreed to let him keep flying, but lowered his "tour" to just five more mission. Kuroki said he flew these missions in honor of his brother, Fred, not allowed to serve overseas.

[ See a list of Kuroki's missions ]

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