B-24D LIBERATOR PILOT
409th BOMBARDMENT SQUADRON
93rd BOMB GROUP
DIOSCURI - SONS OF ZEUS
Lieutenant Nicholas Stampolis story is a sad story, nevertheless, a story that reminds us of the sacrifices made by young men all over the world during the fight against the Axis in WW2. It’s also a story that's totally dependent on the story of his best friend, also Greek American USAAF pilot, Arthur (Athanasios) Sougas, or Andy as he was known to his friends. There is no way to refer to one of them without mentioning the other. Nicholas was the first child and son of Peter Stampolis and Chrysoula Mechalas Stampolis followed by two sisters, Corina and Stella, and one more brother, Anthony. Μost information regarding their early days became known from the article "The Fall of Hermes" published for the first time in Air Classics Magazine, issue, July 2004 by Gerard Pahl.
"Nicholas Stampolis and Arthur Sugas were inseparable. The boys typically went through the school system and at one time attended McKinley Elementary where, perhaps, both received their introduction to aviation, for it was there that movies were shown on the outside wall of the school on warm summer evenings. Sometimes an aircraft would visit what was then the Lindbergh Field at Kalamazoo and offer 50-cent airplane rides and according to fellow Greek American, Mrs. Georgiou the boys went up for spins during one or more of these occasions. Both Art and Nick had balsa and tissue models hanging from their ceilings and helped other kids from the Greek American community to build their own. Arthur and Nick also liked to hunt. Myrsine Vangelakos Petrie, another of Nick's friends, remembered that Nick's father was quite the hunter. The two boys were very popular and were involved in their Greek Orthodox Church, especially in an organization called the "Sons of Pericles," which was a youth organization dedicated to keep young Greeks together so they would not lose touch of their culture and involved in social activities - softball, bowling, etc. In 1939, both friends attended Western Michigan College of Education (now Western Michigan University), Nick studied engineering and it was there where they went through the Civilian Pilot Training Program. They knew the US would enter the war soon - in fact Pearl Harbor was right around the corner - and their time would come. Another factor, which may have impacted their actions was that Italy had invaded Albania in late October 1940, but Ms. Georgiou feels it was out-and-out patriotism that governed their actions. Her eyes sparkled as she spoke about how the Greek community embraced everything for which the United States stood and that its young men were eager to defend their adopted country when the time came. Arthur shipped out for Pine Bluff, Arkansas on October 29, 1941, for primary training, and Nick soon followed joining the USAAF in February 1942. He went through primary, basic, advanced, and multi-engine school schools, receiving his wings on 9 October 1942 in Lubbock, Texas, and was promoted to first lieutenant on 15 March 1943."
ENTER THE 93rd BOMBARDMENT GROUP
Nick was chosen for a bomber pilot while Art became a fighter pilot and soon started to fly missions with the 63rd Fighter Squadron of the 56th Fighter Group, manning the cockpit of the powerful P-47 Thunderbolt. Stampolis and his crew were at Tucson in February 1943 as part of the Goodman-Freeman Provisional training group. This group was used to train crews that would serve as replacements for existing bomb groups. Many of the crews in this group would join the 93rd, 44th, and 389th BG’s shortly before the groups deployed to North Africa in June 1943. After Nick completed his training he was attached to the 409th Bomber Squadron, 93rd Bomb Group, during May 1943. The 93rd BG had seen its combat debut on October 9, 1942, attacking factories near Lille, France. It spent much of the fall of 1942 attacking German U-boat pens on the Bay of Biscay on the French Atlantic coast. A large detachment from the group was sent to North Africa in December 1942 to supplement the fledgling Twelfth Air Force, which had been recently activated in North Africa. From Gambut Main, an airfield in Libya, the 93rd BG flew missions against German and Italian targets on both sides of the Mediterranean in support of the North African Campaign in collaboration with the 98th BG and the 376th BG. The group remained in Africa until late February 1943, when orders came down to return to England and resumed bombing missions with the Eighth Air Force and the 44th BG, which at the time was the only other B-24 group in England. In early June the two groups along with the newly arrived 389th Bomb Group were taken off of operations to begin training in very low-altitude operations. On June 27 the group moved again, Terria, a base in Libya. The three Eighth Air Force B-24 groups joined the 98th and 376th of the Ninth Air Force as every available B-24 in the ETO was concentrated in North Africa. After their arrival in Libya, the 93rd joined other Liberator groups on missions to Italy and Sicily in support of the invasion of Sicily, which took place on July 9. However, Nick and his crew flew their two first combat missions on July 5 and July 7 flying their B-24D-80-CO 42-40617, JOSE CARIOCA. The day after the invasion he flew a mission against Vibo Valentia, a target which he revisited on July 13. Two days later he participated on a mission targeting Foggia and on July 17, against Naples. The latter mission was the only one in which Nick and his crew traded their beloved JOSE CARIOCA for the B-24D-80-CO 41-23754, U, Little Lady. On July 19, Stampolis flew again, this time bombing Rome. A few days later he and his colleagues would fly their last mission, and their names would pass to eternity as a tribute to their sacrifice.
Nick Stampolis proudly poses wearing his uniform with his Silver Wings on his chest. On the back of this photo, he wrote to his friend, Greek American Myrsine Petrie: "Here is something to remember me by during our struggle in which each is helping in his own way. Although we may be separated by many miles of land and later on oceans, no one can separate us in our hearts. Friendship is everlasting. Love, Nick." (Myrsine Petrie via Gerard Pahl)
Arthur Sugas climbs to his P-47 cockpit in an official USAAF photo. Arty was Nick's best friend. They both served in the Army Air Force and both were killed in action, a few days apart. More about Sugas you can also read in the following link: https://www.greeks-in-foreign-cockpits.com/pilots-crews/fighter-pilots/arthur-sugas/ (www.56thfightegroup.com)
Two photos showing Stampolis during his stateside training, the left on the B-24 cockpit while the other along with his crew in front of the B-24, 42-63769. (Kerry Fox via Alex Kandel)
OPERATION TIDAL WAVE
The need to cripple the German war machine was always the utmost priority for the Allies. The idea for bombing Ploesti, Romania solidified at the Casablanca Conference from January 14 to 24, 1943. Romania produced roughly 35% of the liquid fuel used by the Axis powers and it was imperative that it be disabled. Operation Tidal Wave was planned for August 1, 1943, on nine oil refineries on the outskirts of the city of Ploesti. This mission was not the first nor the last to this region – a previous raid had occurred in June 1942 and the Germans prepared accordingly for future attacks. Hundreds of anti-aircraft guns were placed in and around the refineries (many well-hidden in rail cars and fake buildings) and three Luftwaffe fighter units were placed within range of Ploesti. These fortifications helped make Operation Tidal Wave the deadliest single air mission in USAAF history. Although the 9th Air Force was in charge of planning the mission, the 8th Air Force provided three additional bomb groups – the 44th, 93rd, and 389th – all made up of B-24 heavy bombers. In an effort to avoid German radar detection and achieve the crucial element of surprise, it was decided that the bombing would be done at a very low altitude, with strict radio silence, and without fighter support. This style of approach would also minimize the time the bombers would be in the range of the anti-aircraft guns. The attacking force was made up of 178 heavy bombers, the largest contribution of American planes on a mission to date.
After practicing low-level bombing over the African desert, they left from Benghazi, Libya, and flew across the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas, over the Pindus Mountains of Yugoslavia and into Romania. The 2,000-mile mission got off with an uneventful start with all five groups taking off without incident, but over the Adriatic Sea, things began to fall apart. The lead pilot of the formation suddenly began flying erratically and abruptly plunged into the sea. (According to Alex Kandel, 1st Lt. Brian W. Flavelle, 'WONGO WONGO' B-24D did not fly erratically but collided with his wingman, therefore he crashed West on the Ionian Sea and the wigman returned to base). The bomber stream continued on but the formation got further spread out on the climb over the Pindus Mountains, which threw off the critical timing. All five groups cleared the first checkpoint and the 389th turned off for their separate, but a coordinated attack from a different direction. En route to the next checkpoint, Col. Keith Compton and General Uzal G. Ent made a significant error. Ignoring the advice of their navigator, Col Compton followed the wrong rail line and took his 376th bomb group and 93rd towards Bucharest (According to Alex Kandel, Col.Compton, did not ignore their Navigator advice but was engaged in discussing with Gen.Ent. Their Navigator Capt Wicklund was distracted while discussing with the bombardier Lt.Hester). Some groups broke radio silence to point out the error but the two groups ended up facing the tremendous anti-aircraft defenses around Bucharest in addition to the defenses surrounding Ploesti. The subsequent chaos and disorganization led to General Ent ordering the 376th to bomb targets of opportunity while reaching near Bucharest, while the 93rd bomb group made it to their assigned refineries. Some planes flew over their targets as low as 50 feet, with at least one plane that was leaking fuel igniting from the flames below. Steven J. Zaloga describes the moment in which the 93rd reached the target in his new book, Ploesti 1943: The great raid on Hitler's Romanian oil refineries.
"Col Addison Baker in 'HELLS WENCH' led the 93rd Group. The group followed behind Compton’s lead formation when it made its mistaken turn towards Bucharest. As soon as the turn was made, navigators aboard several aircraft broke radio silence and pointed out the error. With the turn already underway, Baker felt obliged to maintain the course behind Compton in spite of growing doubts. After six minutes and 20 miles, Ploesti was visible to the left of the group. Baker decided to correct the wrong course and began making a turn towards the target area. It took several minutes for the 37 bombers to execute this maneuver. Aside from the unexpected course change, the new heading meant that the group would have little chance to hit their intended targets, the Concordia Vega, Standard Petrol, and Unirea Sperantza refineries (Targets White II and White III). Instead, they aimed at the most obvious targets, the refineries on the southwest corner of Ploesti. 'HELLS WENCH' was in the lead of the formation and flew towards the nearest refinery, Colombia Aquila. This was one of the first Tidal Wave aircraft to face the Flak belt around Ploesti, and it took a horrible pounding on the approach. A Flak hit in the nose injured the bombardier and navigator and started a fire. Another Flak hit the right-wing ruptured a fuel cell and set the inboard engine ablaze. The fuel ignited, and soon the outboard engine was also on fire. Baker salvoed the bombs early in the hopes of leading his group over the refinery. The crippled aircraft lurched upward, perhaps to gain altitude to help the crew escape. At least one crewman leaped from the forward nosewheel doors but the fire-damaged wing buckled. Engulfed in flames, 'HELLS WENCH' nearly collided with another B-24D whose crew recalled that "flames hid everything in the cockpit. Baker went down after he flew his ship to pieces to get us over the target." The aircraft crashed into the Uzina de Creuzot plant nearby with no survivors. Both Baker and co-pilot Maj John Jerstad were awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for their determined leadership on this mission. The aircraft to the left of Baker’s, 'EUROCLYDON', piloted by Lt Enoch Porter Jr, took a direct Flak hit in the bomb-bay, igniting the fuel tank there. The aircraft’s fuselage broke in half aft the wing due to fire damage, crashing near the village of Plopu to the northeast of Ploesti. The aircraft following Baker attacked targets on the southwestern side of Ploesti. Lt Nicolas Stampolis, piloting 'JOSE CARIOCA' was also hit in the bomb bay while approaching the Colombia Aquila refinery. After releasing the bombs, the blazing aircraft became uncontrollable and crashed into a women’s prison in the city, killing 61 and wounding another 60 on the ground, the highest civilian casualties of the day."
Official photo of Nick Stampolis from the aviation cadets yearbook. The Greek American pilot looks happy, considering that he fulfilled one of his dreams during his very young days. (Myrsine Petrie via Gerard Pahl)
409th Bomb Group ground crews, pose in front of the JOSE CARIOCA nose art. (via Alex Kandel)
Stampolis crew back row left to right Ivan Canfield co-pilot, Bryon R. Michener (Nick Stampolis (P), Max E. Dailey, front row left to right Milo G. Nelson (Radio), Raymond R. Roger (G), Glenn D. McCarty (G), Walter N. Newport(T.G), Elton L. Gomillion (E), Gene W. White(G) (Dan Paxton). The background B-24 isn't their 42-40617, 'JOSE CARIOCA' but an earlier serial Liberator. According to Chriss Gregg, in one of his posts on the 93rd Bombardment Group Facebook Page, it must be a block 15 model and serial 41-23xx9, most probably 41-23999. (Dan Paxton)
B-24D-80-CO, 42-40617, N, "JOSE CARIOCA' was Nick Stampolis assigned Liberator. He flew 7 from his 8 missions, including his last over Ploesti, on August 1, 1943. The first model was produced on a large scale; ordered from 1940 to 1942, as a B-24C with better engines (R-1830-43 supercharged engines). The D model was initially equipped with a remotely operated and periscopically sighted Bendix belly turret, as the first examples of the B-17E Flying Fortress and some early models of the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber had used, but this proved unsatisfactory in service and was discontinued after the 287th aircraft. Production aircraft reverted to the earlier manually operated "tunnel" mounting with a single .50 caliber (12.7 mm) machine. The tunnel gun was eventually replaced by the Sperry ball turret, which had also been adopted by the later B-17E Fortresses, but made retractable for the Liberator when not in use as the ventral area of its fuselage was very close to the ground on landing. In late B-24Ds, "cheek" guns mounted on either side of the forward nose, just behind the framed "greenhouse" nose glazing were added.. (Copyright Bertrand Brown aka Gaetan Marie, further info by Wikipedia)
A more detailed view on the 'JOSE CARIOCA' and it’s crew last moments were written in the Operation Tidal Wave book, by Vincent DePaul Lupiano.
"Five miles from the target, José Carioca takes a massive jolt in the bomb bay’s Tokyo tank. Carioca shimmies and shutters. Flames indicate disaster. Pilot Nicholas Stampolis and co-pilot Ivan Cranfield feel the heatwave from the blast and their eardrums ring from the concussive shock wave. Smoke in the cockpit obscures their vision. A second shell hits Carioca, and flames spread from the cockpit to the tail gunner’s station. They fly on to their assigned target, aflame for the next three minutes; it is impossible to extinguish the fire. This is the first combat mission for Lieutenant Stampolis and Lieutenant Stanfield. They told one of the mechanics at Benghazi that they wanted to get on with it, that they wanted to notch twenty-five missions and go home. Immediately after takeoff from Benghazi, they had a leaking fuel cap, returned, and then hustled to rejoin their formation. They arrive over the target now, toggle their bombs, then fly toward the city of Ploesti. The fire spreads throughout their plane, burns through control cables, melts hydraulic lines and aluminum fuselage. Approaching Ploieşti, Stanfield and Stampolis see a tall building that they must surpass; they do. But their efforts are futile. José Carioca is not doing any more flying today. Her glowing belly crunches and slides and slams over roof chimneys and parapets in a spray of bricks, flames, and brightly-hued sparks. Down below rooftops and skidding on Redului Street, wings shear off, flaps, ailerons spiral away. Flames, plane parts, smoke, trail Carioca’s path until she slams nose-first into the Ploiesti Women’s Prison with deadly finality. Political prisoners and American fliers commingle in the firestorm. Her nose hits so hard and explodes so loud, people a mile away hear the tragedy; some make the sign of the cross. Ten crewmen are killed; five crewmen’s remains will be recovered. There are sixty-one dead and eighty wounded. The fire burns for the rest of the afternoon."
Something that is wrongly repeated in almost all the books and articles regarding Operation Tidal Wave is that Nick flew his first combat sortie during that fateful mission, something already discussed previously above. Apart from the references on the books above, most interesting are the official statements on 7 July 1944 concerning Missing Aircraft #42-40617 B-24D, 1 August 1943. The witnesses were John R. Colvin (co-pilot on Kendall's crew in 41-24215 'LUCKY'] and Raymond C. Wierciszewski (who shortened his name to Raymond Wier after the war) engineer on Desert's crew in 41-24105 'TUPELO LASS' who was flying near Stampolis as they made their bombing run.
"1. On the mission of 1 August 1943, Aircraft #42-40617-N was flying on the right element of the wave ahead of us. On entering the outskirts of the city, at approximately 1400 hours, while flying at a height of 25-50 feet, 617-N appeared to receive a direct hit in the forward section of the bomb bay from flak. In all probability, the bomb bay tanks were hit and caught fire.
2. Within 15-30 seconds the complete bomb bay was enveloped in flames and the aircraft started down. In another 30 seconds, the aircraft had crashed and exploded in the center of town starting a large fire.
3. It is very improbable that any of the crew members survived the explosion. None were seen to bail out.
"1. Approaching the target, Aircraft #42-40617 was flying to the right of our ship, 42-24105, and a little ahead of us. Just as we passed over the target, 617 was evidently hit in the bomb bay, because from that point on a streak of flame poured out from underneath the fuselage of the plane, appearing as if the bomb bay tank was hit by incendiaries. As the aircraft flew on toward the center of the target it seemed to be heading towards the ground in a very definite glide. Suddenly the whole bomb bay enveloped itself in flames and not more than 15 seconds later I saw 617 crash into a flat, large building almost in the center of the city. Upon crashing it immediately exploded.
2. I didn't notice any of the crew attempting to bail out prior to the crash and I believe it was too low for anyone to escape. in that way. After the plane crashed into the building it would have been impossible for anyone to have gotten out of it.
3. The aircraft must have hit the building at an airspeed of 250 miles per hour or more."
One more account was given to our team by Dan Paxton, whose uncle, Sgt. Glenn D. McCarty, was a gunner of Nick’s crew. While researching his uncle service and loss he came in contact with Mack Fitzgerald, who flew with B-24D-45-CO 42-40265, 'HONKY TONK GAL'
"Dan. I just read your inquiry regarding Glenn. I regret to say that I did not know him. However, I did watch his plane as it struck and entered the women's prison. That will always be etched in my memory. I was the flight engineer on "Honky Tonk Gal". As an engineer, I was assigned to the top turret. That gave me a clear view of everything that was happening. We were just behind and to the left of his plane. Noting that they were losing altitude, and heading straight toward the building, I watched as they hit the end of what appeared to be a 3 or 4 story brick building. A large hole and a puff of smoke came out. I can assure you he did not suffer. Being at the window in the back, He most likely never knew what happened. However, I know the five up front know what their fate would be. Shortly after that, we were hit several times and lost power. We cleared the target and crash in a wheat field. The lost navigator and the pilot lost his foot in the crash. I know this info is not what you are looking for. However, I did want you to know that I was there and watched as he, and his crew, left us."
In recent years controversy arose regarding the way JOSE CARIOCA was brought down. From eyewitnesses in the bombers next to it, it was hit by anti-aircraft fire. However Romanian pilot Anastasescu claimed that he destroyed two bombers, one of them being Nicks plane, which he rams. Although some flak crews supported his claims it’s almost impossible that none of the crews of the bombers flying next to Stampolis plane didn’t see the enemy fighter, especially when the fighter collided with the bomber according to some Romanian sources. Most probably Anastasescu IAR-80 was hit by the same flak which destroyed JOCE CARIOCA. Recently other Romanian aviation history researchers report that the incident was made up of propaganda and Anastasescu kept claiming those kills. In fact, his account for the infamous Ploesti raid and his kills was reproduced by many Western books.
The news of Nick Stampolis death on his 7th mission was devastating for his family and the Greek American community of Kalamazoo. For his actions, the Greek American pilot was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and the Purple Heart. It is not known if his best friend, Arthur, learned about his death. A few days later, on August 17, 1943, Sugas was killed during the infamous first Schweinfurt raid by the German Experten Johannes Naumann, while flying his final mission. It was a tragic end for both friends. They lived together and died together on the line of duty, defending freedom and honoring their adopted country United States and Greece.
'JOSE CARIOCA' flying low during training flights in extreme low-level practice in England. Note that the tail has the group marking consisting of the letter B, inside a white circle. (Kerry Fox via Alex Kandel)
A map of the city of Ploesti, with the women prison in which Nicks bomber crashed, marked. (Alex Kandel)
Photograph taken from a 389th BG B-24, during a low-level bombing mission to the oilfields at Ploesti, Romania, on August 1, 1943. (MC371/188,USF3/1 - https://digitalarchive.2ndair.org.uk)
IAR80 B no222 was flown by Lt. Anastasescu Carol during Operation Tidal Wave on August 1st, 1943. While attacking two B24s over Ploiesti, he was hit by enemy fire and supposedly ramed one of the bombers. As a result, he crash-landed in an open field near Vega refinery. The badly wounded pilot who survived the incident was found near his plane where he was thrown out of the cockpit. Although this story was presented in many English books on the subject, from the eyewitnesses as well as Romanian sources it proved wrong. After long research, it was found out that Anastasescu didn't shoot down any bomber. In fact, his story was all made up for propaganda during those times, a story which he gladly embrace, not only back then, but in the years to come. His plane was flown in the bomber stream of the 93rd, not sure if that was also deliberate, and was most likely hit by flak during the crossing of Ploiesti. The pilot managed to force land the plane but fainted in the process. He woke up a few days later in a hospital with his heroic story already in the wartime axis media.. (Romanian WW2 Aircraft Archeology FB page via Dan Melinte and Marius R. Simion. The artist of the profile is unknown)
Left: This photo was taken by Robert Sparks, Tail Gunner, on 'BOMERANG' as they are turning north towards Ploesti after Addison Baker broke off from following the 376th in the wrong turn. The B-24 behind 'BOMERANG' is 'JOSE CARIOCA' 42-40617 also turning north. Moments later, 'JOSE CARIOCA' was hit by AA fire and burst into flames. Stampolis and Canfield continued to fly Jose Carioca until they bombed Columbia Aquila Refinery finally crashing into the Women's Prison. (Roy Martin via Joe Gonzales via Alex Kandel)
Right: Four pictures from the personal archive of Alex Kandel, showing the debris in Ploesti women's prison, after the crash of Nick Stampolis 'JOSE CARIOCA' upon it. (Alex Kandel)
"The guns of August were a blazing Juggernaut in the sky,
That caused our brave heroic Eagles to fall and die,
Bright silver wings, lying broken, on a far foreign soil,
Rueful award, for a loving dear, mother's long toil,
Life with it hardships and travesties leaves many hurts and scars,
Death is only a brief incident to those who travel among the stars,
Tho our thoughts may sometimes wax and wane in a dream resemblance,
Their heroic deeds bring to mind God's dearest gift, remembrance."
Poem written in remembrance of Nick Stampolis and his best friend Arthur Sugas
Nicholas P. Stampolis
Max E. Dailey
Byron R. Michener
Milo G. Nelson
Gene W. White
Walter N. Newport
Glenn D. McCarty
Elton L. Gomillion
Raymond R. Rogers
NICHOLAS P. STAMPOLIS COMBAT MISSIONS
|GROUP MISSION |
SERIAL & NOSEART
|1||05 - 07 -1943||?||B-24D-80-CO, #42-40617, 'Jose Carioca'||Messina,Italy|
|2||07 - 07 -1943||?||B-24D-80-CO, #42-40617, 'Jose Carioca'||??|
|3||10 - 07 -1943||?||B-24D-80-CO, #42-40617, 'Jose Carioca'||Vibo Valentia, Italy|
|4||13 - 07 -1943||?||B-24D-80-CO, #42-40617, 'Jose Carioca'||Vibo Valentia, Italy|
|5||15 - 07 -1943||?||B-24D-80-CO, #42-40617, 'Jose Carioca'||Foggia, Italy|
|6||17 - 07 -1943||?||B-24D-5-CO, #41-23754, L, 'Teggie Ann'||Naples, Italy|
|7||19 - 07 -1943||?||B-24D-80-CO, #42-40617, 'Jose Carioca'||Rome, Italy|
|8||01 - 08 -1943||?||B-24D-80-CO, #42-40617, 'Jose Carioca'||Ploesti, Romania|
Special thanks to Alex Kandel (Ploesti Low Level and High-Level Campaigns Historian) for his invaluable help, Dan Morison (93rd Bomb Group Historian), and Dan Paxton (nephew of Glenn McCarty) for their assistance.
1. Missing Air Crew Report MACR 06464
2. Operation Tidal Wave Vincent DePaul Lupiano
3. Ploesti 1943: The great raid on Hitler's Romanian oil refineries
9. Romanian WW2 Aircraft Archeology @rww2aa
10. Air Classics Magazine, issue, July 2004, "The Fall of Hermes" by Gerard Pahl