Piper Cub Shot Down in Hurtgen Forest October 1944
In October 1944, an American Piper Cub plane was shot down during the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest. While researching this, I found out more about the pilots and events surrounding the crash. This article provides more details about the Piper Cub plane and its crew.
The Piper Cub
The Piper Cub is an American light aircraft that was built between 1938 and 1947 by Piper Aircraft. The civilian version is the J-3 model. The aircraft has a simple, lightweight design which gives it good low-speed handling properties and short-field performance. The Cub was originally intended as a trainer and had great popularity in this role. Due to its performance, it was well suited for a variety of military uses such as reconnaissance, liaison and ground control.
The L-4 “Grasshopper”
Piper developed a military variant, variously designated as the O-59 (1941), L-4 (after April 1942) and NE (U.S. Navy). All L-4 models were collectively nicknamed “Grasshoppers”. The L-4 was used extensively in World War II for reconnaissance, transporting supplies, artillery spotting duties and medical evacuation of wounded soldiers.
The L-4 Grasshopper was mechanically identical to the J-3 civilian Cub, but was distinguishable by the use of a Plexiglas greenhouse skylight and rear windows for improved visibility. It accommodated the pilot and one additional passenger, usually a Forward Observer. When carrying only the pilot, the L-4 had a top speed of 85 mph (137 km/h), a cruise speed of 75 mph (121 km/h), a service ceiling of 12000 ft (3658 m), a stall speed of 38 mph (61 km/h), an endurance of three hours, and a range of 225 mi (362 km). Some 5413 L-4’s were produced for U.S. forces.
October 1944 – Hurtgen Forest Battle
During October 1944, the 39th and 60th Infantry Regiments were fighting a hard fight to take control of the main B399 road between Monschau and Duren, and a series of crossroads in the Raffelsbrand / Deadman’s Moor area. On the 6th of October, these two regiments moved out. The 39th Infantry Regiment advanced on the northern part and the 60th Infantry Regiment pushed through the Deadman’s Moor area. Both regiments fought towards the town of Germeter, located on the B399 main road. After 6 days of fighting, the 60th Infantry Regiment were moving south towards the Raffelsbrand junction. On this day, October 12th, there was a lot of enemy artillery and mortar fire in the area as well. The infantry men requested artillery support. The 26th and 60th Field Artillery Battalions had positions near Zweifall, from where they could fire into the battle area of the advancing infantrymen.
The Field Artillery Battalions made use of the Grasshoppers. As stated here, the Cub was used for reconnaissance and artillery spotting duties. One pilot and one Forward Observer would fly over the battlefields in order to map out the location of friendly troops and possible enemy targets. After the infantry men requested Field Artillery support, two men of the 60th Field Artillery Battalion readied themselves to fly their L-4 Grasshopper to reconnoiter the battle area.
At 13:25, a radio message came in.
1325: “Nutmeg 5 to Notorious 3. One of Nuptial’s cubs was hit, possibly by friendly mortar fire. Situation given”.
The message translates to:
1325: 60th Infantry Regiment (call sign “Nutmeg”) to the 9th Infantry Division HQ (call sign “Notorious”). One of Nuptial’s (Nuptial is the call sign for 60th Field Artillery Battalion) was hit, possibly by friendly mortar fire. Situation given.
A sad message where we see that this Cub plane was most probably hit by friendly fire.
On the next day, October 13th 1944, another radio message came in.
1314: I & R to Nutmeg 5. Found Cub plane at 996327. Could not find the pilot, but there are 2 other casualties nearby.
1430: I and R 6 to Nutmeg 5. Found Cub pilot killed at 996327. Lt. Orazo.
The message translates to:
1314: Intelligence & Reconnaissance to 60th Infantry Regiment. Found Cub plane at 996327 (map coordinates). Could not find the pilot, but there are 2 other casualties nearby.
1430: Intelligence & Reconnaissance to 60th Infantry Regiment. Found Cub pilot killed at 996327 (map coordinates). Lt. Orazo.
The Cub plane had been found in the middle of the battlefield at the Deadman’s Moor area. The map coordinates where the plane and the pilot were found point to this location:
In September 2021 I was contacted by a man named Bart Sijmijnck, who is the owner of an original L-4 Piper Cub plane. After reading this story on my website, he looked up the coordinates as well, and flew over the crash location and took this picture. How special this is, to see this picture, taken from the exact same plane type and over the exact area that Severson and D’Orazio saw last when they were shot down.
The Grasshopper crew
As stated before, 2 people could man the L-4. One pilot, and one passenger, usually a Forward Observer. The report states that the pilot has been found, and we see the name of Lt. Orazo. My friend Dennis helped me looking for this Lieutenant, and came up with a 2nd Lt. named Romey B. D’Orazio. It often happened that a name was misspelled during those days. Then we saw that Romey B. D’Orazio served with the 9th Infantry Division Artillery, and was killed on the 12th of October, 1944. This surely is the same person. 2nd Lt. is buried at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium at Plot D, Row 1, Grave 12.
Finding the other crew member
Through my research I have been closely involved in the historical fact checking for the World War 2 diaries of Chief Warrant Officer Frank Lovell. Lovell served in the 60th Field Artillery Battalion and kept a diary and took many pictures during his service years. He is pictured on the first photograph for this article. He also kept track of his fellow men, and noted many of the names down, including notes. I had a look at his diaries and checked for the entries he wrote around the 12th of October 1944. Sure enough, on 14 October he wrote this:
“Before dinner I went to Roetgen, to the Division Artillery Air Observation Post. I talked with pilot Lieutenant Tom Hall. He said Captain Severson was shot down in one of the Piper Cubs. He is Missing In Action. The Lieutenant (observer) with him was killed“.
So, from this entry we learn that the man found by the I & R, Romey D’Orazio, was not the pilot but the Forward Observer in the passenger’s seat.
The man mentioned in the diaries, Captain Severson, is in fact Captain Robert Allen Severson. A newspaper article was written about him being killed in Germany, and the article reveals another story, which makes all of this even more sad.
We can read about Captain Severson’s wife, Mrs. Helen Jo Anderson Severson, who was also killed during a plane crash.
Helen was born in Marvin, South Dakota. She graduated from Summit High School as the 1936 class valedictorian. She got her B.A. with honors in Political Science from South Dakota University. Helen had received her Masters Degree in Library Science from University of Illinois and learned to fly in her spare time. At South Dakota State University, she completed Civilian Pilot Training. She managed the Urbana Municipal Airport and became a member of the CAP, the Civil Air Patrol.
By now a 2nd Lieutenant, Helen and another female pilot in training were only 11 days away from graduation. It was August 30th, 1943. They were with their instructor in an AT-17 on a flight from Sweetwater to Big Springs to practice radio navigation. Helen was flying under the hood (the pilot using a hood to restrict visibility outside the cockpit while simulating instrument flight) at the time of the accident. An accident investigation blamed the crash on structural failure. Later that evening, some of their classmates gathered around a vine that Margaret and Helen had planted in March. It now covered the rear wall of a barracks.
After I published this article, I managed to find a nephew of Captain Severson. We wrote a couple of times and Mr. Kling helped me to get a beautiful picture of Robert and Helen Jo that he was able to obtain through his sister, Lisa Willner.
His family said that Robert became deeply depressed by the death of Helen and volunteered for what seemed like a suicide mission. Flying a Cub Plane at low altitude over a battlefield where constant rounds of mortar and artillery fire were filling the air, sure did not sound like a safe mission.
Captain Robert Severson was brought back to the USA, where he was reunited with Helen. He was buried next to his wife at the Greenwood Cemetery Brookings in Brookings County, South Dakota at Block 8, Lot A3, Grave 2. Here, they rest peacefully together.
This story all started with just a small entry in a radio log while researching the events for the 60th Infantry Regiment. It turned into this sad, heartfelt story. By writing this story, I hope we can remember 2nd Lt. Romey D’Orazio, Captain Robert Severson and 2nd Lt. Helen Anderson Severson.
A little bit more information about the Air Section for the 9th Division Artillery. The wartime Table of Organization and Equipment for the Air Section was made up of the Field Artillery Battalions. After discovering this information through an old letter by pilot Robert Krause, I found out that Robert Severson was in fact the Assistant Commander for the Division Artillery Headquarters. The Table of Organization looked like this:
Division – Artillery Headquarters:
Major William C. Bowen, Commander
Captain Robert Severson, Assisting Commander (KIA)
Captain Thomas Hall, Assisting Commander (replaced Captain Severson after he was KIA)
26th Field Artillery Battalion:
Ray Dugan, Liaison Pilot (KIA)
George Close, Pilot
34th Field Artillery Battalion:
Dick Gallagher – Pilot
Robert Krause – Pilot
60th Field Artillery Battalion:
Russell Reykylyn – Pilot (KIA)
Joe Bolt – Pilot (Replaced Russell Reykylyn after he was KIA)
1st Lt. Alfred Lemire – Pilot
84th Field Artillery Battalion:
Joe Killhenny – Pilot
Herb Sheidy – Pilot
John T. McCutcheon – Pilot.
Ayue – Pilot (replaced Ray Dugan when KIA after grounded with wounds received near Liege, Belgium)
Romey D’Orazio – Pilot (KIA)
Thank you and source notes:
Thank you to my friend Dennis de Munck for finding the correct name for D’Orazio, which really opened this research.
Frank Lovell and his daughter Mary Lovell. Reading the Frank Lovell WWII Diaries really gave me more clues to what had happened.
Thank you to https://www.togetherweserved.com/ for the information and story on Helen Jo Anderson Severson.
Thank you to https://www.findagrave.com/ for additional images of the graves.