Smart, Jacob Edward

1909–November 12, 2006

In 1943 Smart was assigned to the 9th Bomber Command in the Middle East, duty for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. While a colonel with the 9th Bomber Command, Smart conceived of the strategy for the daring World War II bombing raid on the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. Smart’s idea called for bombers to fly exceedingly low to bomb the tightly defended refineries, which were believed to be producing one-third of the fuel oil for Nazi Germany.

Air Force general, strategist. Smart was born in Ridgeland, South Carolina, in 1909, and he was educated in the public schools of South Carolina and Georgia. He attended Marion Military Institute in Marion, Alabama, and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1931.

Smart entered flying training after his graduation from West Point. After completion of Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas, in 1932, Smart served successively in pursuit, observation and flying training units at Albrook Field, Canal Zone, and Randolph Field, Texas. In December 1941 he became chief of flying training, Air Corps Headquarters, Washington, D.C. In July 1942 he was selected to serve on the Air Corps Advisory Council. As a member of this council, he participated as a planning officer at the Casablanca, Washington, and Quebec conferences, and he was awarded the Legion of Merit for his service on the advisory group.

In 1943 Smart was assigned to the 9th Bomber Command in the Middle East, duty for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. While a colonel with the 9th Bomber Command, Smart conceived of the strategy for the daring World War II bombing raid on the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. Smart’s idea called for bombers to fly exceedingly low to bomb the tightly defended refineries, which were believed to be producing one-third of the fuel oil for Nazi Germany. Smart argued that one of the plan’s advantages was greater accuracy. In the face of protests by the five group commanders who were to lead the raid, Smart’s plan of flying at treetop level was accepted by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander.

The mission took place on Sunday, Aug. 1, 1943, and was declared a success, though 54 of the 177 bombers that took part were lost, and 53 more were heavily damaged. The refineries’ output was greatly curtailed, and five participants received the Medal of Honor, the most for any single American military action. Smart was not allowed to fly on the Ploesti mission because his superiors believed that his knowledge of Allied war plans and secrets was too great to risk his capture.

In February 1944, after graduating from the Army-Navy Staff College, Washington, D.C., Smart was transferred to the 15th Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, as commanding officer of the 97th Bomb Group, which was stationed in Italy. While flying his twenty-ninth combat mission, Smart’s aircraft was destroyed by anti-aircraft fire, and he was wounded and made a prisoner of war for the next eleven months. Magazine pictures showing Smart with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill indicated to the Germans that he was of considerable significance as a source of military intelligence. As a result Smart was repeatedly interrogated. Although he knew details of the Normandy invasion, he divulged nothing. For his combat and noncombat duty prior to being taken prisoner, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal four times.

Returning to the United States in September 1945, General Smart was again assigned to Air Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C., as secretary of Air Staff and later as executive assistant to the commanding general of the Army Air Corps. In November 1946 he was assigned to Headquarters, Air Defense Command at Mitchell Field, N.Y., serving finally as deputy for operations.

Smart graduated from the National War College, Washington, D.C., in June 1950 and was assigned to Stewart Air Force Base in New York as commander, 32nd Air Division, and later as vice commander, Eastern Air Defense Force. In June 1951 he was transferred to the Pacific area and assigned as deputy for operations of the Far East Air Force.

During the Korean War, Smart was wounded again. He was awarded the Decoration of Ulchi by the Republic of Korea, was designated an honorary Commander of the British Empire, and also awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by the United States.

In June 1955 Smart returned to the United States as assistant vice chief of staff, Headquarters, U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C., and in September 1959 he was transferred to Waco, Texas, as commander of the 12th Air Force, Tactical Air Command. In January 1960 he became vice commander of Tactical Air Command, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia.

Smart returned to the Pacific area as commander, U.S. Forces, in Japan in August 1961. From August 1963 until July 1964 he served as commander in chief, Pacific Air Forces, with headquarters in Honolulu, Hawaii. He then began his duty as deputy commander in chief, U.S. European Command, in July 1964, a post that involved personal dealings with President Charles de Gaulle of France, who sometimes deigned to speak in English to General Smart and who was then preparing to withdraw his forces from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. After retiring from the U.S. Air Force in 1966, Smart held several high positions at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where he worked on the Hubble Space Telescope project. He died on November 12, 2006, in Ridgeland, S.C.

“Gen. Jacob E. Smart, Ploesti Raid Strategist, Dies at 97.” New York Times, November 16, 2006.

“General Jacob Edward Smart. Retired July 31, 1966. Died Nov. 12, 2006.” U.S. Air Force Biographies. Accessed June 12, 2012. http://www.af.mil/information/bios/bio.asp?bioID=7165

Smart, Jacob Edward. South Carolina Hall of Fame Files. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, S.C.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Smart, Jacob Edward
  • Coverage 1909–November 12, 2006
  • Author
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date December 10, 2022
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 3, 2016
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