Jacob Smart, a retired U.S. Air Force general credited with planning the audacious low-level raid over German-held oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, during World War II and later helped shape postwar Air Force doctrine, died Nov. 12 at his home in Ridgeland, S.C. He was 97 and had congestive heart failure.
Smart was chief of flying training at Army Air Forces 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 Roosevelt.
Then a colonel, Smart was involved in planning the August 1943 raids over Ploesti, whose refineries produced a third of German oil.
As Smart later recalled it: "Churchill turned to Arnold and said, 'Get it done.' Gen. Arnold, who was somewhat cavalier in his assignments, turned to me and said, 'You get this done.' "
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, 50 had severe battle damage and 550 men were either killed, missing or captured, 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, Smart became commanding officer of the 97th Bomb Group, stationed in Italy. He flew 29 combat missions before his plane was downed by antiaircraft fire over Austria. Seven of 10 others on board perished, and Smart was held as a prisoner of war in Germany for 11 months.
He was considered an important catch, and the Germans tried to elicit information — which he had — of the upcoming D-day invasion.
During harsh interrogation sessions, he later said, he waved vaguely at a map of Europe and said only that the invasion would occur "any day now."
Jacob Edward Smart was born May 31, 1909, in Ridgeland, S.C., 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 as a pilot.
After the war, he became executive assistant to Arnold and helped plan for the separation of the Air Force into an independent military branch. A revered strategist, he was the Tokyo-based deputy for operations of the Far East Air Force during the Korean War.
Capt. Gailyn Whitman, a military historian at the U.S. Air Force Academy, said Smart persuaded his superiors that foxhole warfare reminiscent of World War I, with entrenched fighting, was not enough. Borrowing from the Ploesti raid, he successfully advocated an interdiction strategy of bombing deep within North Korea to attack supply lines, including fuel depots, train tracks and hydroelectric facilities.
In the early 1960s, Smart was commander of U.S. forces in Japan and commander in chief of Pacific Air Forces, based in Hawaii. That last assignment overlapped with the rapid increase of American military advisors in Vietnam.
In his final active-duty assignment, from 1964 to 1966, he was deputy commander in chief of U.S. European Command, overseeing all U.S. forces in Europe.
His decorations included the Army's Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross and four awards of the Air Medal.
After his military retirement, he spent several years as a NASA executive in Washington.
Survivors include two children, William Smart of Whitehall, Mont., and Jacklyn Freeman of Ben Lomond, Calif.; 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.