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Ossian Arthur Seipel

2nd Lt Ossian Arthur Seipel took part in the USAF air raid on the railway bridge between Maisons-Laffitte and Sartrouville on June 24, 1944. He bailed out after his aircraft was hit by German flak and landed in a field in Epône near Paris.

You will find below an extract from his memoirs where he tells what happened on June 24, 1944:

"I was getting discouraged about not having a crew of my own.  I felt a lot better about flying when I was in charge.  I don’t know how the others felt having somebody else flying them through all this stuff, but I wanted to do all the flying.  I thought about it really hard for a couple of days and finally submitted a request for transfer to a P-38 group.  I had always been pretty much a go with the flow kind of guy, and did what I was ordered to do without question, but in this case I just wanted to get in to a fighter group.  I picked P-38s ‘cause they were twin engine and I felt I could handle it ‘cause I had had the twin engine experience.  Major Frank Wood, the squadron CO said he’d work on it.

 

Lt Ossian Arthur Seipel receiving medal
2nd Lt Ossian Arthur Seipel receives medal in 1945. From left to right: his mother, an unidentified officer, 2nd Lt Seipel, his daughter and his wife.  -  Photo Lynn Dobyanski

I flew co-pilot for a guy named Knox for the next week or so.  He was an older guy about twenty seven I think.  We got along all right and I flew a lot of the time,  but it still wasn’t what I wanted.  I checked with Major Wood again and he told me that Knox was being groomed for a group leader position and that he and his crew would get promotions when he became group leaders, and Knox wanted me as his co-pilot.  I told him I was flattered, but I still wanted a transfer.  He explained that it wasn’t that easy and he’d have to arrange for someone from the P-38 group to give me a check ride before it would even be considered.  Great, bring him on, I was ready.

After evening mess on the 23rd of June I noticed I was assigned to fly with Knox and his crew, the next day, and there was a photographer assigned to accompany us.  That didn’t seem right to me.  Not too long ago I flew with another photographer and he got killed.  I just had a bad feeling about the whole thing.  We always tried to guess what the mission would be before it was announced at the briefing, and someone suggested Paris.  I said something to the effect that “if it’s Paris I won’t be coming back”.  I then proceeded to burn all of the letters I had been saving and gave away some of my stuff, in the event I didn’t make it back.

Next morning at briefing I was the most surprised guy in the place when they announced the Maisons-Lafitte railroad bridge near Paris as the target.  This was the groups 58th mission and my 31st.  The guys I had been guessing with the night before gave me some really strange looks.  Operations said it  would be heavily defended, and could probably expect fighters on the way in.  I had a funny feeling all through the briefing and up until we got airborne.  Everything was going well and I thought maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.

As we approached the target area we could see that it really was defended with an awful lot of flak, hanging like a bunch of small dark puffy looking clouds in an otherwise cloudless sky.  The bomb run had to be made at 9,000 feet, and that’s where the flak was.  We were flying number two position in the low box and flying through the heaviest flak to date.  The plane in the number three position took a direct hit and disappeared.  The nose of the lead plane turned a bright red just about the time he dropped his bombs.  The rest of the flight dropped when he did so we had a successful mission to this point.

An immediate left turn got us about half way around to our homeward flight course when we took a hit in the left engine.  Knox shouted that it was on fire so I feathered the engine to prevent windmilling, flipped the switches and checked the instruments.  The mainifold pressure had dropped to zero in the left engine and we were only drawing about half of what the right engine should read.  We had taken a hit in the right engine as well.  The hydraulic pressure was gone and we couldn’t close the bomb bay doors.  All in al we had had it.  We were losing altitude at about a thousand feet a minute and couldn’t keep with the formation.  At 6,000 feet, with an engine on fire, we agreed that we should leave the plane as quickly as possible.

I hit the alarm bell to signal, abandon ship, and moved my seat back to let the bombardier out of the nose, then followed him back to the bomb bay.  He jumped and I crossed the catwalk between the bomb racks, through the rear bomb bay to the waist section where I saw that the rest of the crew and camera man were already out.  I made my way back to the cockpit noting the damage to the radio compartment.  There was a hole about eight inches in diameter in the floor and also in the ceiling on the left side.  Back in the cockpit while telling Knox that everyone was out and about the rest of the damage, I grabbed my chute from behind my seat.  He got his and we made our way back to the bomb bay where we snapped them on.  I can remember standing with one foot on the catwalk and the other on the open door examining my chute to see if there were any holes in it.  It had always been a fear of mine that I’d some day have to use my chute and find it destroyed.  I still have dreams about that, but not so often these days.

After a couple of seconds we looked at each other and just dropped out. I caught a glimpse of the plane going down in a steep glide to the left with the left engine still afire.  I tumbled through the air for what seemed like a long time and to stop the tumbling I pulled the rip cord and prayed.  The chute opened and I think I swung once and then hit the ground in a field at the intersection of a railroad track and a highway.

I remember how bewildered I felt standing in a plowed field with a parachute strung out in front of me, and being so alone.  It was so quiet.  It was like I was in some kind of dream.  I could see a column of trucks in the distance and some people working in the field, but what got me was the quiet.

I immediately rolled up my chute and tried to hide it in a hedge row.  My boots had come off during the jump but I didn’t realize it until I started to walk on the plowed field.  There were about a dozen French men working in the field and I asked them in my Army taught French “ou et les Allmange”.  I think it was suppose to mean, “where are the Germans?”  They all just put their arms out to each side and turned kind of from side to side, indicating they were all around

There was a convoy of German military vehicles on the highway and two trucks pulled off and headed my way.  As I stood there wondering if I could make a fight of it with my pistol, a sharp blow to the middle of my back caused me to pitch forward to my knees, and when I looked back there was a German soldier pointing a pistol at my head.  He had come from the railroad signal tower.  He made me stand up and with the pistol poking into my back he marched me about fifty yards across the field to the waiting trucks, each with sixteen soldiers with rifles aimed at me.  A Jeep like vehicle pulled up carrying a driver and an SS major who got out of the vehicle and formally took me prisoner by saying in almost perfect English “for you the war is over”.  There is something intimidating about a big tall blond headed German officer in a black uniform and an emblem of a skull on his hat.

He asked me to unbuckle my service pistol and hand it over.  He looked at it and grinned as he said “this is a beautiful souvenir, I thank you for it”.  He told me to get in the vehicle beside him in the back seat.  The soldiers in the truck began to shout something and he stood up and spoke to them in German, probably “shut up”, ‘cause they did.  As we drove off he said that they had wanted him to turn me loose so that they could shoot me, but since I had furnished him with such a nice souvenir he'd take me to the village and turn me over to the German garrison instead.  We then drove off to the village.  I think he called it Elizabethville, or something like that.

I didn’t quite know what to think.  I do remember hearing in one of our training sessions that if you were ever taken prisoner, you were still an American soldier and the enemy was still the enemy.  As long as you remain alive they have to have some one to stand guard over you.  That guard is one who won’t be at the front, fighting against our troops.  It was our duty to try to escape, but not at the expense of our lives.  Dead we were no threat to them.  We were committed to harassing the enemy at every opportunity, and keep them occupied with us as much as possible.


Captivity


It was a short ride into the quaint little village.  We passed an older Frenchman* walking along the road, and he gave me the “V” sign with his right hand.  I waved back to him just to let him know that it wouldn’t be too much longer till it was over.  The major had the vehicle stop and the soldiers picked up the old man and took him with them in the truck.  The dirt road turned into a cobblestone road in the village and the tires made a rougher sound.  We stopped in front of a single story house set back about fifty feet off the road.  I was led into the house and it was quite dark.  The only light came from the two small windows.  The walls seemed to be about a foot thick and made out of dried mud.  The roof was made out of straw.  There was a table in the main room where I was told to sit.  Pretty soon a German corporal came in and started to ask me a lot of questions, but I gave him only my name, rank and serial number.  He typed that information on a sheet of paper and took off to the back room.  I was then led through a small door to another dark room with only one window and three chairs.  Knox was sitting on one of them, but we didn’t show any signs of recognition that might some how link the two of us together.  We didn’t speak, just sat there.

Pretty soon they brought in our camera man who immediately greeted us both.  We tried to ignore him thinking he’d get the hint, but he kept talking. His name was Orenstein, and he was the first one of us called in for interrogation.  The corporal shoved him through the door and prodded him with an automatic pistol. 

After about five minutes they came for me, and when the corporal gave me a shove the major stopped him and chewed him out pretty good.  It was all in German, but you could tell the major was upset.  In the German army, a corporal couldn’t touch an officer like that and the major let him know it meant any officer.  The major asked me a lot of questions about the group and what was our target and stuff like that, but I told him that all I could give him was my name, rank and serial number.  He said he knew that but sometimes people talk without thinking.  He was concerned that someone named Seipel would be fighting against the fatherland.

I was taken back to the other room while he had a go at Knox, and then they brought Knox back to the room too.  We never did see the cameraman again."

 

 


Further reading: Ossian Seipel's Memoirs

 

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