340th & 341st Fighter Squadron / 348th Fighter Group


Born in Springfield, Massachusetts on 7 August 1918, John Lolos was the son of Greek immigrants. His parents were Peloponnesians, both from Arcadia prefecture in southern Greece. Specifically, his father Spyros Lolos came from Lagadia, a village 66km north of Tripoli, while his mother Melpomeni Paparrigopoulou was born in the village of Daphne. Spyros Lolos' father (John's grandfather) was a builder and stonemason, one of the most common trades in the area. Moreover, the reputation of the Lagadians as stonemasons and builders of bridges, churches, houses, etc. was well known. However, Spyros did not want to follow his father's hard and difficult profession for the rest of his life. His search for a better future led him to America for the first time in 1903, at the age of 20. He often returned to Greece, however, and it was on one of these trips that he met Melpomene, whom he eventually married. The newlyweds remained in Greece until the birth of their first child, a daughter they named Eleni. Finally, a few months after her birth, they decided to emigrate permanently to the USA, having already secured hospitality and accommodation from a first cousin of Spyros, Giannis Doulchinos. There, Spyros Lolos studied chiropractic and became an outstanding professional, achieving professional success and social recognition as a respected member of the Greek community in Springfield and beyond. However, he never forgot the hardships he had experienced, and so he often helped newly arrived Greek immigrants, mainly from Lagadia, to settle into a home, but also to find work in the wider area. As a result, there is still a street named "Lagadia Street" in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, a town near Springfield. The couple had a total of seven children, John being the only boy in the family as he had six sisters. In order of birth, the Lolos children were: Helen, Coula, Bessie, John, Mary, Johanna and Emily. John graduated from Springfield Technical High School in 1936 and went to work for the More Drop Forging Company. This was one of the largest factories in the area, producing a wide range of tools. In February 1941 he was recruited by the Hartford Ordnance District and assigned to Colt's Firearms Hartford in Connecticut as an inspector. In this special weapons and ammunition manufacturing company, Lolos was responsible for the proper observance of the quality control process for materials used in the manufacture of ammunition, but also for solving technical problems in various rifles, machine guns and 37mm cannons. At the same time, however, he became fascinated by flying and aeroplanes, and the idea of becoming a pilot began to excite him more and more. In May 1941, he began private pilot training at Springfield Airport. There he trained in small Piper Cub aircraft and, after 40 hours of flying, received his pilot's licence. At the same time, however, he completed his studies and passed his exams, earning the necessary degree to enlist in the USAAF in January 1942, exactly one month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Aviation Cadet training programme was demanding and difficult and lasted nine months. Despite this, John Lolos successfully completed all of the primary, basic and advanced training courses and on 9 October 1942 he graduated as a pilot with the rank of Second Lieutenant and proudly received "his wings". It was now his turn to be assigned to a fighter squadron for operational training. His first transfer was to the 348th Fighter Group, then based at Westover Field, Massachusetts, where the unit received its first P-47Bs and P-47Cs.

During his training John had two accidents, but fortunately no injuries. On the afternoon of 19 November 1942, as John was coming in for a landing after a tiring flight, he forgot to lower the landing gear and crashed! It was a common mistake made by many young pilots, as landing is probably the most difficult and stressful part of a flight, but it could well be fatal! To make matters worse, Captain Moore, the formation leader who had landed first, was trying to talk to him on his aircraft radio at the same time as the controller in the tower was shouting at him to abort the landing. The fact that two people were trying to talk to him on the radio at the same time caused confusion on the frequency, with the young pilot anxiously trying to understand who was talking to him and what they were saying. So anxious was Lolos that he did not see the red light that the control tower had switched on, nor did he hear the sound of the horn that was built into the exterior of the plane. Finally, the Thunderbolt hit the runway on its belly and crawled for several metres with an eerie noise. As the P-47C came to a stop, Captain Moore again asked John on the radio if he was OK and what had gone wrong. Shocked and angry at himself, John simply replied that he had not lowered the wheels. The aircraft suffered minor damage to the engine radiator, some damage to the underside of the fuselage and wings, while all four propeller blades were twisted. A few days later, during a night training flight in formation with other aircraft, it "lost" its engine due to a drop in oil pressure. The fact that he was flying over the city of Providence made it impossible to abandon the P-47, as a crash into a residential area would have resulted in human casualties. Finally, after a perilous flight, he managed to reach the airport, where he made a dead stick landing. Enraged by his misfortune, he left the cockpit for the second time in as many days and began kicking and cursing his plane. When he finally calmed down, he walked away with only a small cut over his left eye. Flights continued without incident for the next few weeks. On the 9th of February 1943, Lolos and his colleagues were nearing the end of a three-month training period on the P-47C, they had now accumulated some 180 hours of flying time on the type and their confidence had naturally soared. That day, John was in the Thunderbolt's cockpit preparing for a local training flight from Westover Field to Green Field, Rhode Island. The route passed over his hometown of Springfield, so he decided to make a small addition to the flight plan. He would fly over his neighbourhood as a surprise to his family! According to his relatives and himself, on the first pass of the Thunderbolt, the neighbours came out to see what was happening. As the pilot gained altitude, he looked out into the yard of his house, but did not see any of his family coming out. For a moment he was disappointed, but being stubborn, he decided to try a second pass. Unfortunately, what he did not know was that his whole family was not at home at that moment! His father was at work, his younger sisters were at school and the older ones had gone shopping with his mother. The second passage was even deeper than the first, and the roar of the engine filled the neighbourhood. Most of the frightened neighbours thought the plane flying overhead was going to fall on their houses! As John recounted years later, on his third and final pass, he flew so low that a neighbour probably saw the code letters on his plane, or the serial number in the tail, and reported him to the authorities. When his parents later learned of their son's 'achievements', they were at first startled and frightened, but eventually took a rather humorous view of the incident. However, the Commander-in-Chief of the New York Air Force was not joking when he signed the fine imposed on him a month later! The episode was written in "black letters" in the pages of family history, and when they would get together from time to time to reminisce and discuss the old days, the veteran pilot would smile like a child who had made a mischief. When his daughter Joanne once asked him if he regretted what he had done after the fine and if he would do it again, he smiled at her and replied excitedly: "Yes, I would do it again!"

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Lieutenant John Lolos is photographed proudly wearing his "Wings" on the left side of his uniform. The Greek-born pilot graduated from Moore Field Air Force Base, Texas, on 9 October 1942 as a Class 42-I fighter pilot. (Joanne Lolos Zimakas)
John in front of his personal Thunderbolt, a P-47D, 42-8081, which was named 'HI-TOPPER', in 17-Mile Drome, New Guinea. John was credited with 5 kills for which he was awarded with the DFC and an Oak Leaf Cluster. Although his fifth kill didnt mentioned in his DFC citation during the war, neither in the recent kill lists, it is mentioned in his separation record, dated December 18, 1945: "Destroyed 5 enemy fighters in aerial combat". (Greeksinforeigncockpits via Joanne Lolos Zimakas)
Silver Wings
The first Thunderbolt assigned to John Lolos was the P-47D-2-RE, 42-8081, named "HI-TOPPER". Although it carries the typical USAAF camouflage, the tail was painted all white, a standard practice followed by USAAF in the Pacific Theatre of Operations. The fin tip was painted red to indicate the aircraft belonged to the 341st FS. The nose art shows a Top Hat painted in American flag colors with 'HI-TOPPER' written below it. 42-8081 was lost during a forced landing in the sea in Redscar Bay by the Greek American pilot, after his aircraft was engulfed in flames when he tested his guns. (Copyright Gaetan Marie)
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Lieutenant Lolos poses on the wing of his first aircraft, a P-47D named "Hi-Topper" with serial number 42-8081. This Thunderbolt is currently resting on the seabed of Redscar Bay, New Guinea, where it was ditched on 10 October 1943. (Joanne Lolos Zimakas)
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In November 1943, John Lolos returned to the 341st Fighter Squadron after being wounded and fully recovered. Here he is photographed in front of his new P-47D, named "Naughty Nadine", giving us the opportunity to admire the nose art on the right side of the aircraft. Although Naughty, Nadine proved to be extremely loyal to her pilot and at her controls, Lieutenant Lolos succeeded in all five of his aerial victories! Initially, the serial number of the plane was a bit of a mystery as the veteran pilot could not remember it and had no record of it. However, after thorough research by his friend and collaborator Dimitris Vassilopoulos, the serial number 42-22607 was discovered. The aircraft's code number, written on the tail fin and engine, was "36". (Joanne Lolos Zimakas)
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Inside his cockpit, ready for a mission on the South West Pacific theater of war. The bulky Thunderbolt was a very effective airplane in the fighter bomber role in every major front of the WW2. The birdcage canopy in the photo soon replaced on the D-Model with a bubbletop one, improoving dramatically the all-around view in the cockpit. (Joanne Lolos Zimakas)

By July 1943, the 348th Fighter Group had moved to the New Guinea front to take on the Japanese. The Greek/American pilot served with the 341st Fighter Squadron, based at Durand Drome Air Base, 17 miles from Port Moresby. Over the next two months, from early August to early October, John flew 25 combat missions, escorting C-47s and strafing enemy installations and supply lines. On the 10th of October 1943, the young pilot had one of the most terrifying experiences of his life, which made his previous training accidents seem insignificant. On that day, Lieutenant John Lolos was returning from a C-47 escort mission in the Nadzab area. As he approached the Redscar Bay sea area, he requested and received permission from the formation leader to conduct a test firing exercise with his machine guns on a group of rocks jutting out of the sea. It was a common practice for all pilots, when conditions allowed, to hone their skills. The formation leader asked him if he wanted to be expected, but he replied in the negative. He would fire the stones and catch them later. But what happened next he certainly could not have predicted. Flying at 50 feet above sea level, he opened fire on the rocks. Suddenly, after a few bursts, he realised to his horror that the entire underside of his P-47D Hi-Topper had caught fire! The air currents carried the flames to the tail of the aircraft, while tongues of fire came from the cockpit floor, burning his feet! It seems that one of the tracer rounds fired at the rocks had ricocheted and pierced the external fuel tank on the belly of the P-47D. With no other choice, the unfortunate pilot was forced into a ditch, his face caught in the gunfire. With minor burns on his right leg, bleeding from his nose and gashes in his left eye and upper lip, Lolos tried to get out of the cockpit. The plane floated for a few seconds, and as the cockpit filled with water, the pilot managed to eject and fall into the sea. But as the P-47D began to sink with its nose down due to the weight of the engine, coming into a vertical position, John saw the tail of the plane coming over him! Indeed, part of the tail feather struck him in the left shoulder, dragging him several metres below sea level. Fighting desperately, kicking and pushing with his hands, he finally managed to break free and rise to the surface. He inflated the Mae-West lifejacket he was wearing, only to find that only half of it could inflate, the rest having been punctured. His next move was to take off his parachute and remove the plastic rubber cushion that was built into it to help him float more comfortably. Then he pulled the parachute cord and opened it in the water. He hoped that by creating a larger surface area in the sea, the planes that would come looking for him would be able to locate him more easily.

As he began to adjust to the bad situation he was in, he tried to think calmly about the causes of the fire on his plane and what had gone wrong. The hit from a ricocheted bullet was one possibility, but he also remembered that during the mission there had been strong fuel fumes in the cockpit, which did not rule out the possibility of a leak. After the forced landing, which took place at 11:30, the unfortunate pilot began to swim towards the shore, which was not easy to reach as it was several kilometres away. After an hour of hard work, he miraculously found a raft floating nearby, made up of 7-8 small tree trunks! Apparently it belonged to some locals and had been washed ashore during a storm. So he lay down on it and although his feet were in the water, he was happy because he was able to rest and regain his strength. The hours passed slowly, and the currents had taken him far enough away from where he fell, without bringing him closer to the shore. At one point he saw two P-47Ds looking far out to sea, but unfortunately they were not heading towards him. Throughout the afternoon John saw P-47Ds and RBY Catalina aircraft looking for him, but in the wrong places, and he often saw several P-47Ds firing at the same rocks he had shot at a few hours earlier. Trying to calculate the distance, he realised that there was a gap of about fifteen seconds between the time he saw the flashes of their guns and the time the sound reached his ears. Calculating five seconds for every mile, he concluded that he was at least three miles from the rocks. A storm broke out in the late afternoon and the rain forced the planes to abandon the search and return to their bases. During the night, the tired and hungry pilot tried to sleep on the raft, waiting for the next day when the search would resume. Unfortunately for him, the night was not easy. The rain continued to fall and the sea was now rough, with the raging waves threatening to break the fragile raft and eventually loosen three of its eight hulls. With great difficulty he managed to keep the rest of the raft together with the few means at his disposal, while sleep was a real ordeal as he slept and woke constantly. The next morning the storm had passed and the sea had calmed down, but unfortunately there were no aircraft on the horizon. The time was 10:00am and Lolos realized that his only hope of salvation was to try to swim to shore. John checked out the Mae-West life jacket and inflated it as best he can, checking for air leaks. He removed the cable with the neck microphone from his leather air helmet and tied his air goggles with their case, which bore his name, on the raft. He estimated that if he drowned, at least whoever found the raft would know his name. Earlier, he had thrown his personal revolver into the sea for reasons of self-protection. He had heard that many castaways, had committed suicide either due to delusions or because they cannot endured the hardships! Taking with him the plastic pillow he fell into the sea and started swimming towards the shore, calculating that he would get there after two hours. Unfortunately, he was wrong. After two hours the shore seemed closer but the distance was still far enough. He continued to swim at a steady pace, sometimes forwards, sometimes on his back, changing position every fifteen minutes. Suddenly the blood in his veins froze. A few metres beside him he could see the fin of a shark swimming with him. John caught up and turned to face the shark as it slowly moved towards him. Terrified, he pushed it hard with his hands and waited anxiously for its next move. The shark swam forward for a few metres, then turned and came back towards him in a more exploratory mood. Lolos started hitting the water hard with his hands and feet, which finally drove the shark away. Another two hours of painful swimming followed when he spotted two or three sharks behind him again, but they did not come close. Regretting the gun he had thrown, John continued to swim, keeping an eye out for any attacks. Eventually the "big babies", as he later called them in an interview, decided to leave without bothering him.

John in front of his personal Thunderbolt, a P-47D, 42-8081, which was named 'HI-TOPPER', in 17-Mile Drome, New Guinea. John was credited with 5 kills for which he was awarded with the DFC and an Oak Leaf Cluster. Although his fifth kill didnt mentioned in his DFC citation during the war, neither in the recent kill lists, it is mentioned in his separation record, dated December 18, 1945: "Destroyed 5 enemy fighters in aerial combat". (Greeksinforeigncockpits via Joanne Lolos Zimakas)
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John Lolos flying jacket with his name and the 341st Fighter Squadron insignia. (Joanne Lolos Zimakas)

His waterproof watch, his only consolation during those difficult hours, which at least helped him to keep track of time, continued to work and showed him that it was 19:00. It had been nine hours of relentless effort since he left the raft. It was getting dark and John now thought he was going to collapse. His legs and arms seemed to move of their own accord, without him being able to control them. Finally, at 21:00, he could hear the characteristic sound of the waves on the shore. Using his last ounce of strength, he began to swim faster in the darkness until he finally felt his feet hit the sandy bottom of a beach. John was almost unconscious and unable to stand on his feet. So he let the waves wash him ashore. He then dragged himself out in the sand for a few metres and passed out among some bushes. He had swum in the sea for 12 hours from the time he left the raft! Trembling with fever, he slept and woke at intervals, vomiting twice from the sea water he had drunk, while hallucinating that he had two of his mates with him! Finally, the next morning, having regained some of his strength, he tried with difficulty to make his way inland. But he was barefoot, having thrown his shoes into the sea when he left the plane, and combined with his exhaustion, walking proved to be an extremely painful endeavour! But he was lucky and soon met some local workers who were working on a nearby plantation owned by an Australian. The natives sent someone to help, and soon a vehicle with four Australian soldiers arrived to pick up the exhausted man. He was taken to the plantation owner's house where, after a terrible adventure of about three days, the distressed pilot finally received some care. The military authorities were then informed by radio. Another detail Lolos recalled with emotion was that a few hours after the signal was sent to his squadron to rescue him, some P-47Ds from the 341st Fighter Squadron flew low over the plantation, filling the area with noise to boost his morale and show their support. The next day a PBY-Catalina picked up the injured pilot and took him to a hospital in Port Moresby. He was then transferred to an Australian hospital where he was eventually treated for ten days.

Meanwhile, back in Springfield, his parents and sisters were experiencing their own mild anxiety upon learning that John had been declared missing. Fortunately, he had taken care to prepare them psychologically for such an eventuality in a letter he had sent them a few weeks earlier. Among other things, he said in his letter: "Do not forget that if a person is declared missing, it does not necessarily mean that he has been killed. The regulations require that your next of kin be notified if you are missing for more than 24 hours. But many missing pilots have been found alive after many months in the jungle. So if you ever hear something like that about me, do not be in a hurry to lose hope. On 22 October, his parents were finally told that their son was in hospital in Australia, slightly injured but out of danger. Lieutenant John Lolos returned to his squadron on 10 November 1943. His colleagues greeted him warmly and asked him about his adventures. But John was also looking forward to hearing details of the combat missions they had been involved in during the last month of his absence. After a short period of adjustment and reintegration into the squadron, John resumed his involvement in combat operations. After the loss of the P-47D "Hi-Topper" s / n 42-8081, the new aircraft assigned to him to fly on missions was another P-47D named "Naughty Nadine" s / n 42-22607. On 27 December 1943, he scored his first victories by shooting down two Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zeros over the island of New Britain in the Arawe sector. A few months later, on 2 March 1945, he shot down three more Zeros during an offensive patrol in the Admiralty Islands. But this is another story, which is described in detail in our book "Greeks In Foreign Cockpit Volume I", published in July 2014. Everything described in this text is just a small part of a very detailed 22-page article, with many unpublished photographs, contained in our book, concerning the life and operational history of John Lolos. He is the fourth ranked Greek ace pilot of the Diaspora, based on the number of their air victories, after John Plagis, Steve Pisanos and Vassilios Vassiliades. On 10 October 1983, the veteran pilot was in the maternity hospital where his daughter Joanne gave birth to her first child. An excited grandfather, he held his newborn grandson in his arms and remembered that 40 years earlier, on 10 October 1943, he had almost died when his plane crashed into the sea! Joanne often asked him about those years, but John avoided talking about them, feeling that the bad experiences of war were not the best thing for a father to talk about with his child. But this time, moved by chance, he began to tell her everything. The fire on the plane, the fall into the sea, his near drowning and the sharks that surrounded him. Joanne listened in silence and when he finished she took his hand and said: "But you did it, Dad! You did it!
Lieutenant John Lolos died on 1 March 2016 at the age of 98. Today, on the 10th of October 2020, on the occasion of the anniversary of his adventure with a happy ending, it is worth remembering once again a great Greek aviator of the Diaspora, whose story is still unknown to a large part of the general public. May his memory live forever!

Further Details for John Lolos service can be reached on a detailed long page chapter in our first volume of GREEKS IN FOREIGN COCKPITS series of books.