B-17G LEFT WAIST GUNNER
612th Bomber Squadron / 401st Bombardment Group
Above: On left John S. Katsaros poses in an official WWII portrait photo while on right he poses during his combat service in England wearing his Combat Cold Weather Flight suit. (John Katsaros)
Below: Dunaway crew during their training in the United States before posting overseas for duty with the famous 8th Air Force. The Trigger III B-17 acts as a background, however, no details for this fortress is available to our team. From L to R: John W. Crowley - Walter R. Rusch - John Katsaros - Henry Kane - Jack A. Dunaway - Theodore J. Krol - William G. Mock - Marvin H. Benz - Sterling J. Nichols ( replaced by Harry C. Horst jr. ) - Frank J. Mastronardi. (John Katsaros)
John Katsaros was born on July 6, 1923. He was the son of Spiros S. Katsaros and Eleni Christos Christopoulos. Spiros was from Patra, Greece, in the Northern Peloponnese and entered the United States of America for the first time at the age of 12 in 1894, specifically in Boston, and settled in Haverhill, Mass. (30 miles north of Boston). Three years later he returned to his hometown of Patras in Greece where he opened a grocery store. Seeking a better future he later worked for the famous wine company of Achaia Claus where he managed to succeed, however, he was stricken by malaria and severe nose bleeding. One of his uncles who was a doctor advised him to seek treatment in the United States so he was forced to return back to Haverhill, Mass. At the age of 23, he worked in restaurants before he opened his own shoe factory until the Depression in the ’20s forced him to close it. However, his knowledge and skills gave him the opportunity to work in large shoe companies until his retirement. Eleni emigrated to the United States in 1908 at age 17 and settled in Peabody Mass. She married Spiros in 1915 and they were blessed to have six children, two girls, and four boys. John took the name of his uncle who was a Royal Hellenic Army Officer who was killed by a German sniper one week before the end of the hostilities during WWI. John attended and graduated from Haverhill High School and he knew that the war was coming fast. After all, the Greeks all over the United States were alarmed because of the Greece capitulation from Germany after the successful campaign against the Italians. As John Katsaros told us:
"Every Greek was very proud of the Greek Evzones and Army that defeated the Fascists' Italians."
On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, he joined the Navy Pilot Air Cadet Program however he did not pass the preliminary examinations because of a failed Ishihara color test, because of a color perception problem. With patriotism jumping through his veins he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps on Dec. 7, 1942, and volunteered to fly combat on a B-17 Flying Fortress as an aerial engineer, gunner, and photographer, for the famous 8th Air Force, stationed in England. During his training, he managed to get his hands on B-17 controls.
"On several occasions, I would ask the pilot, Jack Dunaway, for permission, much to the dismay of co-pilot Lt. Kane, to ﬂy the big B-l7 once the airplane was taken up to the scheduled cruising altitude. I was enthusiastic about ﬂying and wanted to be certain that I could handle the aircraft in the event of an emergency, to keep the B-17 ﬂying while the crew bailed out. I had no prior ﬂying lessons or experience, not even in a single-engine plane and here I was asking to fly the B-17 Flying Fortress with four powerful engines. Lt. Dunaway began to give me some instructions and one day, he called me up to the cockpit where I was allowed to sit in the left seat, the pilot’s seat, to fly the plane most of the way to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fortunately, that emergency never arose, not even in combat, to require me to take control of the plane."
John flew 7 missions as waist gunner before his last one in which his bomber was shot down by Luftwaffe fighters. During his first mission, he damaged a FW190 and he was commended for heroic action. According to the citation:
"While flying on the operational mission to Frankfurt, Germany, on 11 February 1944, Sgt. John (NMI) Katsaros, left waist gunner, was called on the interphone and asked to check the tail gunner, who had not answered. The A/C, #9979, Was then at 27,000 ft and about 20 minutes before the IP. Sgt. Katsaros carrying a walk-around bottle found the tail gunner unconscious and with his mask off. Sgt. Katsaros gave him emergency oxygen and attempted artificial respiration. While making these attempts, the oxygen supply in the walk-around bottle gave out, since it had previously been used by the other waist gunner who was not sure of his main oxygen system. Sgt. Katsaros had to go to the waist to secure another bottle. When the tail gunner, suffering from anoxia, was partially revived, he became temporarily crazed and resisted efforts of Sgt Katsaros to assist him. Sgt. Katsaros was forced to wrestle with him for from (5) to ten (10) minutes. The pilot then ordered the navigator, Lt. William G. Mock, to go back to the tail to help. Lt. Mock and Sgt. Katsaros finally fully revived the tail gunner. By this time, however, the aircraft's oxygen supply had been dangerously depleted, and the supply in the tail was exhausted. Not being sure that the interphone system functioned properly, Sgt. Katsaros made his way forward without oxygen to inform the pilot. It became necessary to pass bottles to the rear from the forward part of the ship. In this action the radio operator and other members of the crew took part.
1. In spite of the above-mentioned difficulties, Lt. Dunaway and his crew bombed the target and returned safely from enemy territory. This was the first combat mission for Lt. Dunaway's crew.
2. The devotion to duty and the determination to do their assigned job by these crew members is exemplary. It is desired that this commendation be included in the permanent records."
His last mission was on March 20, 1944. According to his words:
"Our plane, named Man O’ War, the lone bomber, successfully destroyed the FW-190 aircraft factory at Frankfurt, Germany. Flying a return flight back to England, we ran out of ammunition in a firefight with a German group of attacking aircraft. Several enemy ME-109 fighters shot down our B-17 with cannon and .50 cal. machine-gun fire. Three crewmen were killed on station, two engines, blown out and the wing was in flames when the alarm was given to bail out. The navigator was the first to bail out. His chute “candled” and he did not survive the landing. I was seriously wounded, but assisted crewmates with their wounds, and bailed out, only to experience the fear of pursuit by the Gestapo, after a bone-cracking landing from a 25,000-foot free-fall."
His bomber was hit by the fire of Paul Schauder guns while flying his Me109G probably Wr. Nr and that was his17th kill from a total of 25 he achieved during his wartime service. Schauder later commanded both II. and III Gruppe of JG 26.
Above: Paul Schauder poses in front of his Me109G-6, Wr.Nr.16402 tail which has 11 kill markings painted on the rudder. There are possibly more behind the pilot so the photo is actually taken during 1944. The "Man O' War" was his 15th kill. (Avions Magazine 038, page 61)
Below: The "Man O' War" a Douglas-Long Beach B-17G-25-DL Flying Fortress (s/n 42-38033) from the 612th BS, 401st BG, 8th AF, coded SC-M taking care by her ground crew. The one bomb mark on the photo, suggesting it might have been taken 14 January and 3 February 1944. (NARA 65557AC)
⦁ 19/11/43 - Delivered Cheyenne
⦁ 15/12/43 - Grand Island
⦁ 21/12/43 - Presque Is
⦁ 6/1/44 - Assigned 612BS/401BG at RAF Deenethorpe, coded SC-M
⦁ 14/1/44 - Sortie #1 - Mission #15 to Gorenflos, Gaston M. Fox Crew #1. Mission reports indicates "B-17 SC-M landed safely on instruments after the pilot ordered the crew to bail out over the field. No crew members were injured."
⦁ 03/02/1944 - Sortie #2 - Mission #19 to Wilhelmshaven (shipyards) - James F. Goodman Crew #1. Over 1,100 fighters and bombers participated in the attack on the great port and fighter base at Wilhelmshaven. The 401st emerged unscathed, and the results of the bombing were good. This was the first Group lead for "Hi Ho" Silver, who later became Deputy Commanding Officer of the 401st.
⦁ 11/02/1944 - Sortie #3 - Mission #23 to Frankfurt (engineering plant) - Gaston M. Fox Crew #1. Group combat report: "One aircraft (#026) landed at 1111 hours after being shot up by one of our own B-17's, running off the runway with a flat tire and all rudder controls gone. All other operational aircraft were back by 1555 hours. Captain Donald McCree led the Group to Frankfurt, the site of important aircraft and manufacturing plants. He reported a very successful mission, stating: "We could see the target area, and our bombs smacked right into it. The fighter support was superb."
⦁ 20/02/1944 Sortie #4 - Mission #24 to Leipzig (aircraft plant) - James F. Goodman Crew #1. Colonel Bowman led the 1st Bomb Division in an operation to Leipzig, where the 8th Air Force struck the greatest blow yet to German aircraft production. For this achievement, the 401st received messages of commendation from Generals Doolittle and Williams.
⦁ 22/02/1944 - Sortie #5 - Mission to Oschersleben (aircraft mfg plant) - William M. Rumsey Jr. Crew #1. Major (later Colonel) W. T. Seawell led the Group on a mission that involved a coordinated attack by the 15th Air Force from its bases in Italy. As a result of heavy flak and fighter attacks, aircraft piloted by Lt. Loy M. Shanks (# 42-31930) and Lt. Vernon A. Arneson (# 42-38002) were shot down. Lt. Arneson's tail gunner, S/Sgt. R. G. Schmitt, was unable to bail out with the other crew members because his parachute was riddled by machine-gun fire but survived without injuries when the B-17 landed itself in a field.
⦁ 02/03/1944 - Sortie #6 - Mission #29 to Frankfurt (engineering plant) - John A. Dunaway Crew #1. In this operation, 1,900 tons of bombs were dropped on Frankfurt by the 8th Air Force. B-17 "Sac Hound" (# 42-31467), piloted by Lt. W. G. Sheahan was forced down when attacked by a swarm of German fighters. Lt. Sheahan, his bombardier, Lt. D. M. Conway, and his Engineer, T/Sgt. R. W. Rickey escaped capture and were hidden for five months in Belgium.
⦁ 03/03/1944 - Sortie #7 - Mission #30 to Wilhelmshaven (targets of opportunity) - John A. Dunaway Crew #1. 20 aircraft were airborne by 0845. The mission was recalled at 1200 with indications that the ships would be returning between 1300 and 1400 hours. When the mission was recalled at 1200 hours, the Group dropped its bombs on targets of opportunity on the return. The mission was led by Capt. Carl Hinkle.
⦁ 06/03/1944 - Sortie #8 - Mission #32 to Berlin/Templin (ball bearing works)- William J. Kelly Crew #1. The briefing took place at 0445 hours. 24 operational aircraft took off by 0839. On return, one aircraft, "Spaceport J", nosed over after landing but righted itself, with minor damage. The 401st formed the lead box of the 94th Combat Wing. Several aircraft aborted, and several more returned early because of mechanical difficulties. The primary target was Erkner, outside Berlin, but because of bad weather, the Group bombed Templin, northeast of Berlin. Numerous enemy attacks by from 60 to 150 enemy aircraft occurred from the target area all the way home. Lt. Claude M. Kolb and his crew, flying 42-38136, were lost in action.
⦁ 18/03/1944 Sortie #9 - Mission #38 to Landsburg Am Lech (aerodrome) - John A. Dunaway Crew #1. It was necessary for Captain Hinkle, the 401st Air Commander, to take over lead of the Wing when the Wing Leader was forced to abort. The 401st flew the High Box in the 94th Combat Wing formation. Crew observations and strike photos showed excellent bombing results. About 20 German Me-109's and Me-110's mounted continuous attacks on the formation, and meager but accurate flak was also encountered.
⦁ 20/03/44 - Sortie #10 - Mission #40 to Frankfurt (engineering works). John A. Dunaway Crew #1. John Dunaway, Co-pilot: Henry Kane, Radio Operator: Francis Mastronardi, Ball turret gunner: Walter Rusch (4 Prisoner of War); Bombardier: Theo Krol, Waist gunner: John Katsaros (2 evaded capture); Navigator: Bill Mock chute failed, Flight engineer/top turret gunner: Harry Horst, Waist gunner: John Crowley, Tail gunner: Marvin Benz (4 Killed in Action); enemy aircraft, crashed near Brueil, 14 miles W of Rheims, Fr; MACR 3332. 401BG Mission report: "Briefing was conducted at 0500 hours. 20 operational aircraft were off by 0846, but the last plane could not take off until 0925. However, because of the long assembly time, all 21 made the formation. A recall of the mission was ordered at 1200 hours. The 401st put up the Lead Box of the 94th Combat Wing. After a difficult assembly, due to bad weather over England, the Group encountered solid undercast and overcast over the Continent, which could not be surmounted at 24,500 feet. Consequently, the mission was recalled, and the Group brought its bombs back to Deenthorpe. Notwithstanding rather inaccurate flak over the coast and no fighter opposition, one 401st aircraft (42-38033), piloted by Lt. John A. Dunaway, was lost."
⦁ The yellow fin band is reported to have been applied in midsummer 1944, so 42-38033 should not have them.
⦁ Late enclosed and staggered waist gun positions
⦁ The aircraft and squadron codes appear to have been painted in different colors on 401 BG aircraft: light grey, yellow, and perhaps white. In the case of Man O' War, light grey seems most likely.
⦁ Only 1 bomb mark on the photo, suggesting it might have been taken 14 January and 3 February 1944.(Copyright Gaetan Marie)
"Twice captured by the Gestapo and twice escaped with the assistance of the brave Free French Resistance who hid me over three months while nursing me back to health, and assisted me in my travels from north of France, south to climb the Pyrenees Mountains to Spain and freedom, only to be locked up by the Spanish Constabulary. My medical treatment in France, while on the run, is owed to a Dr. Levy, a Jew who was hiding out from the Gestapo in the cellar of his clinic. With the insistence of the Free French Underground, punctuated by a pistol to his head, Dr. Levy performed three surgeries within two days on my gangrenous arm to save it and my life."
Little did the Resistance know, when they stormed “La Bonne Maison” farmhouse near Reims and rescued Katsaros in a blaze of gunfire, that their daring rescue would have such far-reaching impact—linking men, nations, and generations.
"I owe my life to the French Resistance", said Katsaros, who formed a deep bond with all his helpers, especially the three Resistance leaders who executed his first rescue: Pierre Demarchez, leader of the Chaumuzy cell, Jean Joly, leader of the Reims cell, and René Felix, Reims cell. "These men were focused, shrewd, and calculating in their strategy. They were fearless, driven only by their love for France and their love of freedom."
His second rescue was orchestrated by the Reims police chief, another Resistance leader. Katsaros, captured at the bakery run by Pierre and Julienne Demarchez, was being transported when . . . A clever ambush of the German convoy. A surprise blockade. Official vehicles. A stunned Gestapo. And Katsaros sped away in a cloud of dust! Not a shot was fired!
Often instructions came one at a time. "Follow me." "Go to..." "Look for a man who…" "Wait there until..." People slipped in and out of his life, whispering instructions, giving messages.
Katsaros assumed many disguises: deaf-and-dumb nephew injured in a British air raid, police deputy, 'gendarme' (military police) who walked the beat with his rescuer, a French citizen with photo ID and documents expertly forged.
"These men and women showed me what courage is. Their boldness gave me strength and hope. “I never felt lonely because I became part of their family. From them, I learned how to survive: devise plans, avoid capture, escape when seized, endure hardships, and never lose hope. This was not just my war. It was our war, and we fought it together, side by side. They felt it was their duty to protect me, save my life, and send me home safely."
He became the beloved son of Pierre and Julienne Demarchez, who nursed him to health in their home for several weeks, at great risk to themselves. When discovered, Julienne was tortured by the Gestapo, but steadfastly refused to reveal anything. Later imprisoned at Ravensbruck, she said she would do it all over again for the cause of freedom. Katsaros became also a vital link exposing enemy secrets as he moved within the vast network of cells within the Resistance. Newly declassified government documents reveal his espionage among them: Hitler’s top-secret weapons, including the Me 262 Jet Fighter, the V-2 bomb and the Ho 229 He uncovered the European-wide holocaust of Jews, Catholics, and Gypsies; sites of German stalags (POW camps), names of German commanders, transport of POWs and their number; anti-aircraft machine-guns stationed along key railway routes. He was also engaged in a sabotage mission to destroy a captured P-51 in France. On his three-month, 3,000-mile escape through enemy lines, he gathered extensive, strategic military information for the USAAF Intelligence and Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), founded by Winston Churchill. The escape route Katsaros followed was mapped out by the British SOE working with the French Resistance. They code-named him 'Burgundy', and smuggled him in various disguises from the north of France near Reims, where his B-17 was shot down, to the south, across the Pyrenees into Spain, then Gibraltar and England. He flew home on President Roosevelt’s personal plane.
On September 6, 2011, in Haverhill, in a ceremony attended by military and political dignitaries, Staff Sergeant John Katsaros, USAAF (ret.), received the Chevalier in the French Legion of Honor for his “outstanding contribution to the liberation of France from Nazi occupation in World War II.”Consul General of France, Christophe Guilhou, granted this prestigious medal to Katsaros, on behalf of French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who signed the decree. The medal was created in 1802 by Emperor Napoléon. “This honor,” the Consul General said, “is a token of France’s eternal gratitude. France has never forgotten the tremendous sacrifice and contribution that went into helping liberate our country. Mr. Katsaros, thank you for your courage, perseverance, and dedication. You are a true hero.” As Consul General Guilhou pointed out, “It is imperative we honor men such as Mr. Katsaros for their courage and sacrifices. Moreover, younger generations must never forget that it is due to their sacrifices that we are able to live in a free and democratic world today.” French Ambassador to the United States, Pierre Vimont, wrote to Katsaros: “The French people will never forget your courage and devotion to the great cause of freedom . . . and your personal, precious contribution to the United States’ decisive role in the liberation of our country.”
John Katsaros heads as president of The international Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society (AFEES) which includes living WWII airmen and helpers who saved them. We wish him health and prosperity and we are more than honored for getting to know him and allowing us to include him in our group.
If you would like to order your copy today you can contact John at JKatsaros@comcast.net. If you would like to speak to him directly, please call John at 978-869-3035.
Above Left: At M/M Pierre Demarchez', Chamuzy, France Safe House. Me in French Civilian Disguise, arm in a cast. French/Jew Dr. Levy, hiding in his clinic cellar performed 3 operations in 26 hours to save my Gangrened Arm and Life. (John Katsaros)
Above Right: Disguised in a Paris "Gendarme" Suit, (Police Officer). (John Katsaros)
Centre Left: My Coverall flight suit over my Electric Heated Blue Suit. (John Katsaros)
Centre Right: John S. Katsaros holding a copy of the painting regarding 'Man O' War' last moments after
taking fire by JG26 fighters. (John Katsaros)
Below: John Katsaros posing in one of the few remaining B-17s in flying status. (Sun Sentinel)
Right: John Katsaros receiving France's Highest Chevalier Medal Award. (John Katsaros)
Code Burgundy-The Long Escape”, edited by G. Steve Chirigotis, Col USAF (Ret); is a true story authored by John Katsaros, a 20-year-old aerial gunner on his 11th bombing mission, flying on the B-17 “Man O' War”, piloted by Lt. Jack Dunaway, out of England 20 March 1944 on a raid to destroy an FW-190 aircraft factory at Frankfurt, Germany, is shot down by enemy ME-109 aircraft cannon and machine-gun fire. Three crewmen are killed on station during the attack, two engines are blown out and the wing is in flames when the alarm is given to bail out. The Navigator is the first man to bail out, his chute “candled” and he did not survive the landing. John, seriously wounded with a splintered right arm, assists his crew-mates with their wounds before he bails out from 27,000 feet. Only John experienced the fear of pursuit by the Gestapo after his rib-cracking landing, from a 25,000-foot free-fall. Twice he is captured by the Gestapo and escapes with the assistance of the brave Free French Resistance who hid John over a three month period to nurse him back to health and to assist him in his travels from the north of France, south to climb the Pyrenees and to Freedom, only to be locked up by the Spanish Constabulary. John, "under the secrecy of oath by the government and, under heavy penalty of punishment", was unable to reveal his story until recently when the oath of secrecy was lifted. John's medical treatment in France, while on the run, is owed to a Dr. Levy, a French/Jew, who is hiding out from the Gestapo in the cellar of his clinic. With the insistence of the Free French Underground, punctuated by a pistol to his head, Dr. Levy performed three surgeries within two days on John’s gangrenous arm to save it and his life. By a decree signed by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the French Republic, on 20 September 2010, John Katsaros was named a 'Chevalier' of the Legion of Honor, France’s Highest Award. On 6 September 2011 the Consul General of France, Christophe Guilhou, arrived at a reception at Haverhill, MA to decorate John. He said, "It is such a commemorative event that one can see the special bond that unites France and the United States".
JOHN S. KATSAROS COMBAT MISSIONS
|GROUP MISSION |
SERIAL & NOSEART
|1||11-02-1944||023||B-17G, #42-39979, SC-H||Frankfurt Germany|
|2||20-02-1944||024||B-17G, #42-39943, SC-F 'Lassie Come Home'||Leipzig Germany|
|3||21-02-1944||025||B-17G, #42-39765, SC-A|
'Baby Lu III'
|4||02-03-1944||029||B-17G, #38033, SC-M|
'Man O War'
|5||03-03-1944||030||B-17G, #38033, SC-M|
'Man O War'
|6||16-03-1944||037||B-17G, #42-39979, SC-H||Auqburg Germany|
|7||18-03-1944||038||B-17G, #38033, SC-M|
'Man O War'
|Landsburg Am Lech Germany|
|8||20-03-1944||040||B-17G, #38033, SC-M|
'Man O War'
Dimitris Vassilopoulos personal correspondence with John S. Katsaros.
Missing Air Crew Report: 3332
Special Thanks to Peter Vergados for letting me learn more about a real magnificent person like Mr. Katsaros through his book. We urge all the readers to buy John S. Katsaros book and feel how the war was fought in the air and on the ground, through his exceptional writing.