781st Bomber Squadron /465th Bombardment Group

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Steve Chirigotis was born on August 3, 1924, in New Bedford, Massachusetts where he grew up and went to school. He was the son of Anthony Chirigotis and Pota Levakos, both from Githio Greece, who emigrated in the United States in 1912. During WW2 Steve, originally named as “Stavalus Tserigotis” enlisted in the United States Army Air Force and trained as a gunner/radio operator. He was posted for overseas duty in Europe, specifically the 15th AF and flew missions from Pantanella Army Air Base, Italy, serving with the 781st BS, 465th BG. He flew his first mission on 10 May 1944 during an attack on Aircraft Factory beaded in Wiener Neustadt, Austria. He was awarded the Air Medal in June 1944. His first mission was flown with the B-24 ‘Hells Belles’ which unfortunately lost while flown by another crew when it was shot down over Ploesti Oil Field, Rumania. His most memorable mission took place on (23/24th Mission) on 8 July 1944 during the bombing of the Florisdorfer Oil Refinery in Vienna, Austria where he received a Unit Citation and awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). The same month Staff Sergeant Chirigotis awarded an Oak Leaf Cluster to his Air Medal and the next month he gained two more. On September 2, 1944, he flew his 50th and last mission of his tour, a mission against Rail Yards, Nis, Yugoslavia. During his service with the 465th BG, he claimed two probable kills. Steve Chirigotis remained in active service and contributed to the Korean War were he was awarded the Korean War Medal with two Battle Stars. Upon his retirement on August 3, 1984, he rises to the rank of a Colonel of the United States Air Force and till our days he proudly recounts his days in WW2, as a member of the Greatest of the Generations.



"The Colonel and crew were cited by the US War Department and European Headquarters ETOUSA* for outstanding performance in armed conflict with the enemy. Colonel Chirigotis and crew of ten men were each awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the outstanding mission and performance of duty in the bombing raid on Florisdofer Oil Refinery and railroad marshaling yards at Vienna, Austria. On 8 July 1944, twenty-two (22) B-24 type aircraft, heavily loaded with 1000 pound bombs were launched by the 465th Bomb Group (H) from the home base in Southern Italy with destination Vienna. Enroute, due to mechanical difficulties, eight (8) bombers were forced to return to base, seriously weakening the defensive formation. Undaunted by seemingly overwhelming odds, the remaining ships were molded into a tight formation and the gallant crews continued on course. On approach to the target, the formation encountered an extremely heavy anti-aircraft barrage, effecting severe damage on the group. Heedless of the intense and heavy enemy fire, displaying superior coordination and outstanding professional skill, the courageous crews brought their aircraft through the fire alley for a highly successful bombing run, inflicting grave damage to vital installations and supplies. Leaving the objective, the group formation was aggressively attacked by approximately twenty-five (25) enemy fighters. The gallant gunners accounted for seven (7) enemy aircraft destroyed and three (3) damaged, with their losses held to a minimum of one (1) bomber. Thirteen (13) bombers and crews returned safely to base."

Top: Steve Chirigotis proudly poses with one of his brother in arms, Navigator, Barbour C. Stokes, showing his flight jacket, full of mission symbols. Steve had 50 missions above enemy territory and awarded with the Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross for his contribution to the final victory. He was also credited with two probable victories. (Steve Chirigotis)
Middle: Original 'Hells' Belle' crew. Standing L-R: Alexander G. Stephens (B), Barbour C. Stokes (N), John E. Ward (CP) and Jack Van Slyke (P). Kneeling L-R: David L. Downes (G), Reyer Swan (G), Gino J. Pelleschi (TG), Stavalus Tserigotis (G-R/O) (later changed his name to Steve Chirigotis), James F. Downs (G) (attached from Prince Crew). Not shown in the photo is the Engineer/Gunner Aubrey L. Barksdale. (Steve Chirigotis & www.b-24bestweb.com)   
Bottom: 'Hells' Belle' inflight photo during a mission over North Italy or Austria. Note the open bomb bay doors as well as the bombs hanging on their racks and the ball turret guns facing downwards. That means that the bomber is ready to unleash its fatal ordnance on its target when it bombardier or the lead bombardier of the formation gives the signal to drop the bombs.  (www.b-24bestweb.com)
USAAF, B-24H-15-FO, 42-52505, 'Hell's Belle', 781 BS, 465 BG was based Pantanella Airfield, Italy, and Steve Chirigotis flew his first mission with it. On June 6, 1944, while flown by another crew it was hit by AAA over Romania, specifically over Ploesti. The crew was and able to fly to Yugoslavia however it crashed near Belgrade due to engine failure. (MACR 5850). All 11 crew bailed out, 7 became POW, 4 evaded capture. The crew consisted by The crew was: 1st Lieutenant John F. MacFarlane (Arcadia, CA), 2nd Lieutenant Robert L. George (Tyler, TX) 2nd Lieutenant Sidney Weiss (Governors Island, NY), 2nd Lieutenant Howard L. Sapenoff (Brooklyn, NY), Technical Sergeant Albert P.McQuaid, Jr. (Salt Lake City, UT), Technical Sergeant Thomas R. Jackson, Jr. (Salt Lake City, UT), Staff Sergeant John R. Duke (Tampa, FL), Staff Sergeant Hoyt F. Adsit (Sherburne, NY), Staff Sergeant Ralph C. Finch (Old Greenwich, CT), Staff Sergeant Jarmer Jancarik (Cudahy, WI), and Technical Sergeant Melton L. Crawford (Jasper, MO) (Copyright Gaetan Marie and further info by https://www.ww2research.com & http://www.joebaugher.com/


"For outstanding performance of duty in armed conflict with the enemy. During the intensive aerial campaign against the Axis oil and communications centers, the Group was ordered to attack and destroy the Florisdorf Oil Refinery and Marshalling Yards at Vienna, Austria. Successful completion of this important mission would deprive the enemy of vitally needed gas and oil supplies for her mechanized ground forces and her air force at a most critical period in the war. Although sustained operations to targets deep in the enemy territory had grounded many of the Group's aircraft, the ground crews labored tirelessly and efficiently throughout the night prior the attack, to ensure that their aircraft were in the best possible mechanical condition for the operation. On 8 July 1944, twenty—two (22) B—24L type aircraft, heavily loaded-with maximum tonnage, were airborne and set com for their destination. Mechanical difficulties forced eight (8) of the bombers to return to base thus seriously weakening the defensive formation. Undaunted by the seemingly overwhelming odds, molding the remaining ships into a tight formation, the gallant crews continued the course. Approaching the target the formation encountered an extremely heavy anti-aircraft barrage which inflicted severe damage on the Group before it reached the objective. Headless of the intense and heavy enemy fire, displaying superior coordination and outstanding professional skill, the courageous crews brought their aircraft through for a highly successful bombing run, inflicting grave damage to vital enemy installations and supplies. Leaving the objective, their formation was aggressively attacked by approximately twenty—five (25) enemy fighters. In the ensuing fierce aerial battle, maintaining a perfect formation to enhance the effective defensive fire, the gallant gunners of the Group accounted for seven (7) enemy aircraft destroyed and three (3) damaged, with their losses hold to a minimum of one (1) bomber. Later reconnaissance revealed that the Florisdorf area was rendered inoperational at a time when the war was approaching a critical stage. By the outstanding gallantry, airmanship and grim determination of the combat crews, together with the outstanding technical skill and devotion to duty of the ground personnel, the 465th Bombardment Group has reflected great credit upon itself and the Armed Forces of the United States of America."

Above: A B-24 Liberator (serial number 41-28904) of the 465th Bomb Group flies with a B-24H-15-FO #42-52337 'Cuddles' Code: M fly as one of their comrades burns in mid air. The burning a/'s is unidentified, however it is known that it was being flown by the Frederick Smith Crew at the time it was set afire by enemy fighters on this mission of 16 June 1944. Only three crewmen survived. (Roger Freeman Collection, FRE 8751 - American Air Museum in Britain)
Below: Bombing of Ferrara, Italy by Consolidated B-24 Liberators of the Fifteenth Air Force on June 5, 1944. Smoking target on the ground below. Closest aircraft is B-24H-15-FO #42-52456 'Memories' Code: A. That mission was the 11th for the Greek American Gunner and the last one with his beloved 'Hell's Belle'. (http://465th.org)
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Above: Col. Chirigotis holding a model of his favorite 'Hells' Belle'.
Right: A 781st BS, 465th BG drops its bombs on a target. It was constituted on 19 May 1943 and activated on 1 Aug 1943. The Group prepared for duty overseas with B-24's and moved to the MTO, Feb-Apr 1944; the air echelon received additional training in Tunisia before joining the ground echelon in Italy. Assigned to the 15th Air Force, the Group entered combat on 5 May 1944 until it's last mission, 26 April 1945. As the war progressed more objectives were set for targets associated with preparing for the Invasion of Southern France which would take place on 15 August 1944. Attacking marshaling yards, dock facilities, oil refineries, oil storage plants, aircraft factories, and other objectives in Italy, France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, and the Balkans. On two different missions - to marshaling yards and an oil refinery at Vienna on 8 Jul 1944 and to steel plants at Friedrichshafen on 3 Aug 1944 - the group bombed its targets despite the antiaircraft fire and fighter opposition, being awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for each of these attacks. Other operations included bombing troop concentrations and bivouac areas in May 1944 to aid the Partisans in Yugoslavia; attacking enemy troops and supply lines to assist the drive toward Rome, May-Jun 1944; striking bridges, rail lines, and gun emplacements prior to the invasion of Southern France in Aug 1944; bombing rail facilities and rolling stock in Oct 1944 to support the advance of Russian and Rumanian forces in the Balkans; and hitting troops, gun positions, bridges, and supply lines during Apr 1945 in support of Allied forces in northern Italy. In the year the 465th was engaged in combat the Group accomplished the mission assigned. It helped knock out Germany’s refineries, aircraft, and munition factories as well as shooting down several Nazi Fighters in the sky. It also participated in knocking out strategic gun positions in France paving the way for the invading US 7th Army. Moved to the Caribbean area on June 1945. The Group was inactivated in Trinidad on 31 Jul 1945.
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110 - 05 - 19443:40B-24H-15-FO, 42-52505, 'Hell's Belle'Aircraft Factory, Wiener Neustant, Austria
212 - 05 - 19446:45B-24H-15-FO, 42-52505, 'Hell's Belle'R.R. Marshalling Yards, Parma, Italy
314 - 05 - 19445:40B-24H-15-FO, 42-52505, 'Hell's Belle'R.R. Marshalling Yards, Mestre, Italy
423 - 05 - 19444:00B-24H-15-FO, 42-52505, 'Hell's Belle'Troop Concentrations, Valmontone, Italy
5/624 - 05 - 19446:25B-24H-15-FO, 42-52505, 'Hell's Belle'Airfield & Repair Hangers, Wiener Neustant, Austria
725 - 05 - 19448:25B-24H-15-FO, 42-52505, 'Hell's Belle'R.R. Marshalling Yards, Givors, France
827 - 05 - 19448:30B-24H-15-FO, 42-52505, 'Hell's Belle'R.R. Marshalling Yards, Nimes, France
9/1002 - 06 - 19447:30B-24H-15-FO, 42-52505, 'Hell's Belle'R.R. Marshalling Yards, Cluj, Romania
1105 - 06 - 19445:10B-24H-15-FO, 42-52505, 'Hell's Belle'R.R. Marshalling Yards, Ferrara, Italy
1207 - 06 - 19446:20B-24 LiberatorHarbor and R.R. Marshalling Yards, Leghorn, Italy
1310 - 06 - 19446:05B-24 LiberatorHarbor and R.R. Marshalling Yards, Trieste, Italy
1411 - 06 - 19445:05B-24 LiberatorOil Refinery, Smederovo, Yugoslavia
15/1614 - 06 - 19445:35B-24 LiberatorDetfurdo Oil Refinery, Vesz Preni, Hungary
17/1816 - 06 - 19446:50B-24 LiberatorLobau Oil Refinery, Vienna, Austria
19/2023 - 06 - 19447:30B-24 LiberatorOil Dock Facilities, Giurgiu, Romania
2125 - 06 - 19448:35B-24 LiberatorOil Refinery and Storage, Balarug, France
2205 - 07 - 19447:20B-24 LiberatorSubmarine Pens, Toulon, France
23/2408 - 07 - 19446:55B-24 LiberatorFloridsdorfer Oil Refinery, Vienna, Austria
2512 - 07 - 19448:25B-24 LiberatorR.R. Marshalling Yards, Nimes, France
2614 - 07 - 19445:55B-24 LiberatorOil Storage, Porto Marghera, Italy
2722 - 07 - 19448:20B-24 LiberatorOil Refinery, Ploesti, Romania
2828 - 07 - 19444:15B-24 LiberatorOil Refinery, Ploesti, Romania
2930 - 07 - 19445:15B-24 LiberatorDuna Aircraft Factory & Tokol Airfield, Budapest, Hungary
30/3103 - 08 - 19447:30B-24 LiberatorAircraft Factory, Fredrichshaven, Germany.
3206 - 08 - 19448:15B-24 LiberatorR.R. Bridge, Avignon France
33/3407 - 08 - 19448:10B-24 LiberatorSynthetic Oil Refinery, Blechhammer, Germany
3512 - 08 - 19448:35B-24 LiberatorCoastal Guns Emplacements, Sete, France
3613 - 08 - 19448:35B-24 LiberatorCoastal Guns Emplacements, Sete, France
3714 - 08 - 19446:30B-24 LiberatorCoastal Guns Emplacements,St. Tropez, France
3815 - 08 - 19449:05B-24 LiberatorRhone River Highway Bridge, Letek, France
39/4022 - 08 - 19447:30B-24 LiberatorKorneuburg Oil Refinery, Vienna, Austria
41/4224 - 08 - 19448:10B-24 LiberatorFanto Oil Refinery, Pardubice, Czech
43/4425 - 08 - 19447:30B-24 LiberatorAirdrome, Prostejov, Czech
45/4628 - 08 - 19446:20B-24 LiberatorSzony Oil Refinery, Komorom, Hungary
47/4829 - 08 - 19447:20B-24 LiberatorR.R. Marshalling Yards, Moravska - Ostrava, Czech
4901 - 09 - 19446:05B-24 LiberatorR.R. Bridge, Szatol, Hungary
5002 - 09 - 19445:00B-24 LiberatorR.R. Marshalling Yards, Nis, Yugoslavia

Researched and Written by Peter Vergados




Peter Vergados personal correspondence with USAF Col. (ret.) Steve Chirigotis

American Air Museum in England

B-24 Best Web

The 15th Air Force