James E. Sipple
765th Bomb Squadron
Shot down 25 July 1944
Stalag Luft ?
Courtesy of Ray Sipple
Sleepy Time Gal
Ship No. - 21
Serial No. - 41-28867
My Last Mission Of The War
James Sipple - 765th Bomb Squadron
It was about 1 AM when our crew was awakened for what we thought would be just another mission, although it turned out to be a much tougher one than any that we had ever flown before.
As soon as we were up and dressed we were on our way to the mess hall for our breakfast: which would be our last meal for about 15 hours. We had one of our regular breakfasts which consisted of oatmeal, milk, french toast, jam, and some hot coffee. It isn't much of a meal but in the near future we would have really delighted sitting down to such a meal. After we had our breakfast we were off to the supply room for our heated flying suits. Then at about 3:30 AM we were awaiting the call for what was to be our last briefing. When we were finally called into the briefing room we saw, as before, our course charted out on the map on the wall of our briefing room. From the looks of things at the time it looked like a fairly easy mission. The intelligence officer started to give us whatever information that he had on the mission. He told us the course that we would follow and the opposition that we might expect to run into, the altitude at which we were to fly the mission, the time we would arrive over the target, what the target was, and also the expected time of our arrival back at the base. He also told us just what our fighter escort was to be and also where we were to meet up with them.
Now that our briefing is over we go outside and gather up all of our flying clothes that we had outside the briefing room in our A4 bags. We then threw them on the army trucks that were to take us to our planes down on the field. Upon our arrival we would get into our flying clothes and start to check out the radio, bomb load, fuel, guns and ammunition while we were waiting for the officers of the crew to come from their briefing.
By this time it is about 5:00 AM and the officers are arriving at the plane to join us. Of course our first words are concerning the mission. We are also anxious to hear if they might have heard anything more than we had heard concerning the mission. The bombardier is soon showing us the photo of the target and it's surroundings and the navigator is showing us the course that we are to follow. We also find out just where we are flying in the formation. We also find out just at what time we are to take off on the mission.
After we are all set and waiting to get the signal to get aboard for takeoff we sit around smoking a few cigarettes and having a bull session. But now it is about time to get on board and warm up the engines. It is now about 6:00 AM and we are awaiting our turn down the runway. We check out our headphones and throat mikes and soon hear our ship number called for takeoff, from the communications tower on the field. So then we are all waving a grand good-by to our ground crew, and out we go to the head of the runway, and get into position for take off.
Now we are at the end of the runway and are turning over the engines at full speed. They check out okay and as we get the signal from the traffic tower we start on our way down the runway. Half way down the runway we are doing about 75 miles an hour, now at 3/4 of the runway gone by we are starting to leave the ground at a speed of about 110 miles an hour. The pilot calls for the landing gear to be brought up into place, and as he gets up speed and altitude the flaps are pulled up into place by the co-pilot. The engineer checks the instruments and the armorer pulls the pins in the bombs as everyone else is getting into his respective position.
Now we are up about 5,000 feet and we're looking around for the rest of the formation, so that we can take our position in the formation, we quickly catch up with the formation and take our place. On the earlier missions we had been flying the lead or number 1 spot, but this mission we happen to be flying the number 5 spot, in box B. Now that we have our position in the formation the pilot is getting the necessary information of the course from the navigator over the intercommunications set. The pilot also is continually getting information from the gunners at their positions, on anything that might develop in the formation, such as another plane which might be having trouble, or it may be that some plane has turned back or left the formation to take the place of another plane in another formation.
Now we are in the air about 1 hour and have started on our way up the coast a few miles. We are still in safe territory and only on a joy ride this far, but we are only at the beginning of the mission and the fun is just about over, because from here on we will have to be on our toes.
We are now out over the water and we are climbing up to about 10,000 feet. The weather is about as nice as it could be for flying, and a clear sky is always a welcome sight to anyone who is flying, especially when you are flying on a mission. The vapor trails made by the planes are really a nice sight to see also. You can get a good look at everything above as well as below. While we are over the water we are always on the lookout for anything that might be moving. If we should ever see anything moving on the water or on land we call in to the navigator and he will mark it down on his map and when we get back from our mission we will report it to the interrogation officer.
So far things are going along as smooth as any of the other missions, except that now we are interrupted by the tail gunner and he is reporting that two of our planes have turned back.
Well now we are at about 15,000 feet and are starting to cross the European coast. The crew is now on the look out for almost anything from flack to enemy fighter planes. So far we haven't run into any flack as sometimes we do when we are crossing the coast of Yugoslavia. We have now been in the air about 3 hours and have still about 2 more hours of flying before we get to our target.
The crew is now plenty alert and looking for anything to happen at anytime. The nose gunner reports a railroad with a large freight train moving over it. As we get a little farther inland we report that there is a string of barges moving down the river below us. Then we finally get a bit of good news for a change from the top turret gunner as he reports that he has sighted a group of our fighters which are our escort. That is always the kind of news we are eager to hear, and are looking for it on almost every mission.
Now that we have our escort we are feeling a little more free and we are more relaxed, than we have ever been since we have gotten into enemy territory. Now we are getting pretty close to our target. So far I haven't said just what our target was for this mission. Well, the target is the Herman Goering Tank Plant, located in Linz, Austria. This is our first raid on that factory and city, so we don't know too much about the surroundings. We are now starting to climb to 22,500 feet which is the altitude that we are to do our bombing from and it is getting pretty cold. We are going about 165 miles an hour.
We are now nearing our target and the bombardier is checking his sights for the target. As we make the turn that will line us up for the run on the target and we start to make our bomb run, the fighter escort has gone out ahead of us and is throwing out some window chaff or tinfoil, which we use to help make the radar less accurate and also to do some strafing on the ground.
Now our escort has left us and we're starting to make the bomb run. The bomb bay doors have been opened and we are waiting for either some flack or enemy fighters to start hitting us any minute. Well we don't have to wait very long because the tail gunner just called the crew on the interphone and said enemy fighters attacking at six o'clock level. Now everyone is getting anxious to get a shot at one of the fighters. They started attacking in a group of about 5 or 6 planes. The rattle of our machine guns as the first wave or group of planes make their attack. The nose gunner calls in that one bomber is on its way down in flames. Then another wave came in and I reported that two more bombers are on their way out.
About this time the bombardier calls bombs away. So now our bombs are out and away.
About this time I imagine that I can see smoke back near the bomb bay and so I decide to take a whiff of oxygen as my hose had been disconnected in the shuffle of firing the guns. But after getting some oxygen I decide that I am not seeing things and so I go back again to see if I can locate any fire. But I didn't see anything
Then as I start back to my position I see the left waist gunner opening the hatch and already has his parachute on. I also hear the final warning bell and see the ball gunner getting out of his turret. By this time I decide it is time to go get into my chute and bail out the same as the rest are doing. As I got back to my station I saw an ME-109 coming in at about 2 o'clock high with his belly up and since I didn't have a shot until now I decided to stay and give him a blast before leaving. I used about 25 to 50 rounds of ammunition and saw the tracer bullets going into the nose of the plane and then a roll of smoke and he went down under our plane and out of sight. By this time the left waist gunner was already out of the plane and the ball gunner was on his way out. I started for the escape hatch and as I got there the tail gunner was putting on his chute and coming for the hatch. I left and he was right behind me. After I dropped about 5,000 feet I pulled my rip cord and when I looked around I saw only two other chutes besides my own. I noticed that when the ball gunner left he had rubbed his head on the floor of the plane and then I began to wonder if maybe he had struck it hard enough to knock himself out, and then of course he would never been able to open his chute. As I was falling in my chute I went over the Danube River. I was in the air a short time when a German ME-109 came in close to me and for a minute I thought that he was going to strafe me but instead he tried to spill my chute.
It sure was a relief once I got the parachute on an even keel once again. As I was on my way I also saw a German soldier on a bicycle coming down the road just below me. As I was nearing the ground I saw that I was going to land between a few houses and on one side there was a clump of trees and bushes so I decided that as soon as I had my parachute off, I was going to head for that bit of cover until it became dark enough for me to start out for Italy, but as soon as I had my chute off a German soldier was there to greet me with his rifle.
He searched me and along with a few civilians he took me toward the few houses that were nearby. As we got there he told me to sit down on a plank that was across two stumps. We sat there for a while and finally he started to ask me some questions in German, and that is when I made my first mistake. I told him in German that I didn't understand German. But naturally since I had said something to him in German he thought that I knew the German language. So he asked me a few more questions in German and when he found out that I wasn't answering him he gave up. About this time the German soldier that was on the bicycle came up and started to question me in German. But when he didn't get any answer from me he decided to take a swing at me. As he did I ducked under his swing and he didn't touch me. About this time the soldier that captured me stepped between us and sent the other soldier on his way. Then we both smoked an American cigarette of mine.
Upon our arrival at the concentration camp we were directed into a large court yard with high concrete fences. It was getting dusk when we arrived and we still had not had any food or water since being taken prisoner. We saw fellow crew members from other planes also had been picked up after they had bailed out of their planes as we had done. So since we were now apparently all picked up by the German home guard army, except for the few crew members unaccounted for, we were to spend the night here. Some of the crews had some injured members among them in our immediate area of the camp and we tried best to tend their wounds and make the German guard nearest us understand that we wanted to have a doctor take look at, and treat the wounded. This, of course, was to no avail, and so we decided to ask for water and food which was also useless. Finally after a few hours pass and it draws near midnight we are told by a German officer we get up and follow him and his guards. This, of course, we did hoping that we may be fed, and possibly be put under roof for the night. We soon found ourselves going into a building that had about 10 ft. ceilings with a long center hall running the length of the building and numerous doors leading off to each side of the center hall. As we entered the center hall we marched single file down the hall, with guards along side of us. As we approached a door the guard would unlock it and in would go five of us prisoners for the night.
Once inside these cells we found it a bit cramped as each room or cell was only about 3 ft. wide, 8 ft. long and about 10 ft. high. The only thing in the room was a 5 gallon can used for a latrine, if you could call it that. Since one member put in the cell I was in had been injured landing in his chute. We made him as comfortable as possible by letting him lay down on one side of the room. This of course took up almost half the cell, so that meant that the other four of us had to sit one behind the other in the other half of the cell.
A short time after we were all secured in cells for the night a guard came around with a piece of brown bread equal to about three slices of bread served in the states, and a piece of lard on it, at least that is what we called it. We also were given some water with this bread. We attempted to eat it but with little success since our stomachs were not used to this food we didn't succeed in eating very much or this mixture. Some of us ate what we could force down and later some of us also threw it right back up. I guess we just weren't hungry enough. The next morning we were marched from these cells and taken to a train and sent on to an interrogation camp. When we arrived at this camp we were put into barracks that had small rooms about six feet wide and eight feet long. Each room had a cot in it with a blanket over it, and a small window in the rear with steel bars over it. Each prisoner had a room to himself in this camp, and food, bread and water was brought around by a guard to each room as had been done in the previous camp. After a few days there we were all sent into an office for interrogation by a German officer. He was very well educated apparently as he could speak our language very well. Before the interrogation started he offered me a cigarette which I turned down. Then he asked me for name, rank, serial number, group, and other military info regards to our operation and mission on which we were shot down. Since I didn't give him any more information than my name, rank and serial number he asked me to fill out a questionnaire which contained such questions as group, squadron, base, target, bomb load, type aircraft and also where we were shot down, by what means the aircraft was disabled, who picked us up and other such stuff.
The only thing I filled in was the same information I had given to him previously such as name, rank and serial number. After he had it back he wanted to know if this was all that I knew, and when I told him yes he said "Surely you know who picked you up"? That I answered by telling him a German soldier. Since I would not give him any more information then he preceded to show me a book he had made up with all the various squadron markings on the various bomber groups and told me that he had gotten the information from some of the other prisoners and that if I didn't fill out the form I failed to fill out the last time it was given to me, that when it was turned over to his superiors that I was to be held for further questioning & treatment until I had supplied what ever information they wanted, before I would be released and sent to a permanent prisoner of war camp with my fellow crew members for the duration of the war.
With him satisfied that I was not going to cooperate any more he had me taken back to my cell. I presumed that I would be later sent for more interrogation by other officers and maybe not be quite so fortunate next time however, I was wrong because in a few hours I was taken with other prisoners to a railroad station and put onboard for a trip to another camp. Enroute we had a night on board the train which we spent in what we believed to be Berlin. While in a railroad yard outside of Berlin we had the opportunity of going through a bombing raid. It was quite an experience because some fellows got real curious and were peaking out of the window curtains which we pulled down once we heard the alert sirens go off. So naturally we jumped on those who let out any light from the train by pulling open window curtains or lighting cigarettes. However after about 10 or 20 minutes the all clear was sounded and we had survived without any casualties.
When we finally arrived at the next camp it was quite different from the previous ones we had encountered as it was run very much like our own army camps. We saw later that the reason for it was that lots of the supervision was carried on by American prisoners who were you might say permanent party in this camp by now. They directed us to barracks and we were issued clothing which came in suit cases issued by the Red Cross. The feeding system was run the same as our own camps in the states. One barracks was set aside for a mess hall and tables set up and the food was combined into the mess hall for those in charge to prepare and serve. So in this way we had fairly good meals. During one of the meals here we got to talking with a negro boy who had been a P-38 pilot and he gave us quite an interesting story of his interrogation. When he was being questioned the German officer asked him how come he was capable of being an American fighter pilot being that he was colored. The German people always chose only the most educated men as material for air force personnel, and they were very surprised to see him as a pilot. They asked him "How did he know so much about flying?" In reply he told the German officer who was interrogating him that he was not so bright, and didn't know very much about flying. He told him he was told that there were two lights in the cockpit of the plane. One was Red, and one was Green, and that so long as the Green light stayed lit he was OK, but the minute that he saw the Red light come on, that he was told to return to base and have the mechanic service the ship. We all got a big laugh out of this little story, and he said it seemed to satisfy the German officer questioning him, as he was released for transfer to a permanent camp.
After a few days in this camp we were finally sent out by train again this time it was to be to our permanent prison camp. We were put into first only tents or about 10 persons to a tent. In about 3 months time enough room had been made to get us into barracks. The barracks were similar to ours except that it had a center hall with rooms off to each side. Each room was about 18 feet square, with a coal stove (Pot Belly type) in it, a table, and four double-decker bunks made of wood using 4x4 as posts and wood planks with wood shaving filled burlap bags for mattresses. The bunks were built to sleep four persons, just as if it were double beds in double deck form. In this way we had 16 people in a room.
When morning came all barracks fell out for roll call in front of their respective barracks. Actually it was just a count of heads, to be sure no one had escaped during the night. The same procedure took place each night at dusk just before we were locked up inside to determine that all were accounted for at the close of the day. At meal time a member of each room was designated to make a trip to the chow hall with a bucket to get our soup, stew, potatoes, or whatever was on the menu.
Every once in a while we would have the security team come to each barracks to pass on whatever information might have been put together regarding the latest situation on the war. This information was compiled by what information the latest prisoners could give us, some by radio, (unknown by Germans) and some received by a few of the German guards that could be trusted. Each time a report was given by the security team lookouts would be posted at doors, and windows to watch for any approaching "goons" (German guards) as we called them. This was pretty much the routine day in and day out in our camp as we waited for the day of liberation to come. We had very little mail coming into our barracks as it took quite some time before the folks back home ever knew where we ended up as POW's. We were allowed to send two form letter blanks and 4 post cards out of the camp each month.
The big problem of course was killing time which seemed plentiful. During the day we spent our time visiting other fellow prisoners in other barracks of our compound. Some of us managed to make up a substitute football and played football in the center of the compound.
Of course, many other forms of sports were dug up to help us pass the time such as baseball, strong horses, leap frog, and most any thing we could think up for amusement.
The nights we spent in the barracks of course are the hardest periods for us to pass the time. Some fellows would play cards, smoke, read (if you were lucky enough to have any reading material), and some fellows even mended clothes knitted caps and other domestic deeds were performed during the night while inside the barracks.
Well now we have been in the camp for about 7 months and all we did to pass the time was either play ball, read books, play cards or take a walk around the compound in the camp and maybe stop in and chat with a buddy who was in another barracks. It was a pretty long time and now we get the word that either in a week or two we would be put on the march through Germany.
On the morning of 6 February, we were awakened early and told to be ready to leave about 7:00 AM. Once we got on the road we would march anywhere from 10 to 45 km a day, and sleep in a barn during the night. Out on the road our food was even more scarce than when we're in the camp.
We were liberated one afternoon near Buchen, Germany. During the trip we covered about 700 miles altogether. One boy died on the trip due to exhaustion and exposure. It was really a pretty rough trip for all of us on it.
We were liberated on the day of 2 May, and it was by the British army. We were then sent to a British camp and were fed and deloused and then given some British uniforms to wear. Finally we got into American hands and went through the same routine as we were put through by the British and we were due for a nice long boat ride back to the good old U.S.A. once again.
On 11 June we arrived at Boston, Mass. From there to Camp Miles Standish for the night and the next morning we were on our way to Camp Dix, New Jersey. We were only there for about three days and on 14 June, we had our 60-day furlough and we were on our way home. Happy days once again.