Col. Thomas M. Seymour, 387th Bombardment Group
Thomas M. Seymour
Born in Dubuque on Sept. 27, 1916, Tom was the son of Victor Seymour (making him Alan’s first cousin) and had his early education at St. Anthony’s School and then attended Loras Academy from where he graduated in 1934. Four years later he completed his college course at Loras College and received his Bachelor of Science degree with a mathematic major and a physics minor. He attended CMTC Camp in Des Moines, Ia., for four summers, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the reserve in 1936 just after completing his second year of college. At Loras College, Tom was a member of the vested choir for four years, on the staffs of the Spokesman and The Loran, and played in the band.
On July 11,1939, he enlisted in the Army Air Forces at Des Moines, and was sent to Spartan Aeronautical School, Tulsa, Okla., for a three months course. Following completion of this, he was transferred to Randolph Field, Tex., and from there to Kelly Field, Tex., where on March 23, 1940, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the regular Army and awarded his fighter pilots wings.
For three months following his graduation, Tom served as an instructor at Kelly Field, and then was sent to Mitchell Field, FL. for two months instruction on the two-motored bomber school located there. In November 1940 he completed his course as a bomber pilot, and was transferred to Langley Field, Va. for four months further study.
An article in the Telegraph Herald described one of Tom’s missions:
Dubuquer Aided Hunt
For Lost CAF Plane
Lieut. Seymour Flew One of 9 Bombers Sent to Canada
The dramatic search by U. S. Army bombers for six Royal Canadian Air Force fliers, who bailed out of their Atlantic Patrol plane just before it crashed in the desolate bush country near East Lake, Quebec, Nov. 17, was described in letters received here from Lieutenant Thomas M. Seymour, of Dubuque, who aided in the hunt.
The son of Mr. and Mrs. Victor F, Seymour, of 1710 Asbury Street, Lieutenant Seymour piloted one of nine U. S. Army Douglas bombers that scoured the rugged terrain under difficult flying conditions in search of the missing men.
Three Still Missing
Three were found and three are still missing.
It was the U. S. plane in which Major H. L. George, commander of the American squadron, was riding, that caught the first glimpse of the wreckage of the Canadian plane just inside the United States. A member of the plane’s crew saw the marked tail of the crashed plane, but so dense was the forest and underbrush that the Americans could not confirm the fact that the wreckage was below for another 20 minutes.
“In order to obtain a sufficiently clear view of the terrain it was necessary to fly very low so that the propellor blast of the searching plane would blow aside the tree tops, permitting a view of the ground,” according to a story of the search received here from Lieutenant Seymour.
Long Flights Made
Lieutenant Seymour was one of 4 officers and crew members who flew to Canada from Langley Field, Va., in nine bombers to join in the search at the request of the Canadian government.
The squadron was grounded the first day by low ceiling and scattered snowfalls, but on the second day Lieutenant Seymour covered 300 square miles in his plane. Similar long flights were made during the next two days.
Canadian newspapers said one of the squadron narrowly averted a crash Nov. 22, just before returning to the airport at Montreal. Following a valley in the East Lake area, and flying close to the ground, the man at the controls took a sharp turn to the right. Suddenly the valley ended and a steep climb was necessary to avoid hitting a hill.
One of the officers was quoted as saying: “For a moment, it seemed that the hill was gaining altitude faster than the plane.”
The difficulty of spotting a parachute was very great “With the snow on the tops of the fir trees, it seems as if there are a million parachutes down there,” one of the pilots remarked.
The Canadians were forced to jump from their big Digby bomber when they ran out of gas and iced up badly, just inside the Maine border. The crew jettisoned the plane’s load of bombs over desolate woodlands before they jumped.
Lieutenant Seymour’s last letter from Montreal said hope for the three men still missing had virtually been abandoned.
In March 1941, he was sent to the Jackson, Miss., Army Air Base, where he was stationed as an instructor and operations officer until December, 1941, when he was transferred to San Francisco, Calif., to go overseas. His orders were changed, however, and after three months in California, he was transferred to Wright Field, Dayton, Oh., where he served as test pilot on B-26’s for three months. From Wright Field, he went to Barksdale Field, La., where until January 1943, he served as group operations officer. From Barksdale Field, Tom was promoted to Major and sent to MacDill Field, Tampa, Florida. There he joined the 387th Bombardment Group (M) with its four member squadrons, the 556th, 557th, 558th and 559th as group S-3.
Col. Harry Dennis (Ret) was a 2nd Lt. Bombadier in the 387th and he said he “Met Maj. ‘Whip’ Seymour early in January of 1942 at MacDill Army Air Field, Tampa, FLA new Bomb Group was in the process of activation to be designated as the 387th Bomb Grp (M) B-26 Martin Maruader. The Group Commander, Col Carl Storrie had appointed Major Seymour Group Operation Officer and in the process challenged him a low altitude skip Bombing Competition to take place on Avon Park FL. Bombing and Gunnery range.
“My role was bombardier for Col Storrie while a former Bombardier in the RAF (tranferred to AAF) was to fly with Whip Seymour. Col Storrie and I emerged as winner with the lowest CEP (circular error) out of ten practice bombs each and the winner of a bottle of good whiskey as well. The scoring personnel on the range reported they had never seen such spectacular flying by both pilots”
The 387th was named the “Tiger Stripe Marauder Group” due to the slanted yellow stripes painted on the vertical stabilizers of the planes. The men and planes arrived in England in July 1943. Some of the missions that Col. Tom was involved in were described in a history of the 387th :
“Two noteworthy missions were flown in November (1943) against a new type target - the ‘noball’.
“These objectives consisted of rocket guns and ‘pilotless’ aircraft installations in the Pas de Calais area of France. The installations had a two-fold handicap for the bombardiers: (1) Because of their comparatively small area and expert camouflage, they were very difficult to spot from the air, especially if the weather was hazy; (2) Because of the small area covered, they were extremely hard to hit. They required excellent ‘pinpoint’ bombing. The first noball target hit by the 387th was Vineyesques, France near Cape Gris Nes on November 5. The second was against Martinvast in the Cherbourg area on November 11. Results were fair to good. The ‘noballs’ offered a real challenge to pilot-navigator-bombardier crews in teamwork and coordination. Bombing accuracy steadily improved; and after the invasion forces had landed on the continent, results could be evaluated. Mediums, again, had proved the effectiveness of ‘pinpoint’ bombing technique. “On November 3 the group achieved its best bombing results up to that date. With good visibility and little flak, the formation, led by Lieutenant Colonel Seymour and Lieutenant William Tuill, hit the airdrome at St. Andre de L’Fure with excellent results. The aiming point was a group of repair shops and living quarters. Of the forty-five buildings in the area thirty-six were destroyed and several more damaged by the concentration of bombs that fell in perfect pattern. Four planes were damaged by flak. “With only fifteen operational days during April the group achieved excellent bombing results. Targets included ‘noballs’, marshalling yards, and for the first time since September, a number of coastal defenses. The first of these occurred on April 10 when Colonel Caldwell led a thirty-six ship formation over Le Harve. The bombardiers had not lost their accuracy; for all strikes were seen to hit the target area, and one scored a direct hit on a gun emplacement. The same afternoon Lieutenant Colonel Seymour led the attack on the Namur marshalling yards. Following a formation of ‘window’ ships, the 387th dropped incendiaries which started numerous fires. “The joy crews felt after the two highly successful missions of the 10th was short-lived. Two days later, leading a formation over coastal defenses near Dunkerque, Colonel Caldwell and his crew were shot down by enemy flak….Colonel Caldwell was succeeded as commanding officer by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas M. Seymour, who had been with the 387th since MacDill Field.”
Bill Redmond kept a diary against regulations and here is one excerpt:
“Mission #56 – May 24, 1944: In the afternoon we went after 6 – 88mm naval guns north of Le Touquet. We bombed in 6’s. 1st 6 hit military installations north of guns. 2nd (our high flight) hit 2 guns and disabled 3rd gun. 3rd 6 poor and 2 other flights got fair results. Col. Seymour rode as our co-pilot. No flak.”
“…On the social side the various squadrons staged several enjoyable parties. Accommodations at the field were being improved, and the presence of English girls and American nurses continued to be a welcome change. A decided uplift in the morale of the combat crews at this time was felt by the return to the United States of several veteran combat teams for well deserved rests.”
Col. Gayle L. Smith recalls his association with Col. Tom. Smith was born on a farm near Arlington, Iowa and graduated from Upper Iowa University where he majored in Math and participated in baseball, basketball, football and band and orchestra.
“Our mission in combat was to attack missile sites, coastal fortifications, military air fields, anti aircraft installations, ammo and fuel supply points, transportation facilities, research and manufacturing facilities and after the invasion assist our army by denying access on escape by destroying roads, bridges, and railheads. In other words prevent the enemy from advancing as well as retreating to regroup.
“...Col. Thomas Seymour. He was the Group Operations Officer for a B-26 training group at Barksdale Field, Shreveport, LA. when I first met him. He was a Major then (Aug. 42) and was responsible for establishing and monitoring combat crew training in the B-26 Martin Marauder. In this position he had already established himself as an excellent pilot in the B-26 and was highly regarded as an authority in its operation. My contact with him, as a 1st Lt., was in the capacity of an assistant Squadron Operations Officer and an instructor pilot. I would have meetings with him a couple times a week until late Jan. 43. At that time we both received orders to report to the 387th Bomb Group-a unit that was in the early stages of formation for overseas. His orders specified his assignment as S-3, Group Operations Officer-my order specified as Asst. Group Operations Officer. (I have often wondered as to whether he was instrumental in selecting me or not. He never said and I never asked) I don’t know if Tom knew I was from Iowa or not. He would have access to my records when I would not have access to his. A discussion of our backgrounds never took place.
“Now in our new jobs, I worked directly for him from Feb. 43 until 17 April 44 at which time he elevated to be Commander of the 387th.
“In his position of Group Operations Officer he was responsible for organizing all of our combat missions, ie. crew briefing, airplane formations, routes to target, assembly procedures and emergency procedures. The two of us worked together as one-catching sleep in the office. A typical day would consist of receiving the next day’s targets from 10pm throughout the night. We had to work with intelligence for route information; material for aircraft availability; squadron operations for crew availability; armament for loading of guns in the specific aircraft; ordnance for bomb loads in these a/c; lead crew assignments; specific position of each aircraft in the formation; plane takeoff time to make a specific time over target; and brief the crews on what to expect in the way of enemy action.
“In addition to working all night Col. Tom would fly lead aircraft for the entire group (periodically). That would normally consist of two 18 ship formations and sometimes three 18 ship formations. He never asked anyone to do anything that he wouldn’t do. Statistics as to the number of mission that he flew; the targets etc. are unknown to me but should be reflected in his personnel records…
“Col. Seymour developed the confidence in my capabilities to the extent that he was instrumental in my promotions to Capt. and Major, plus becoming the Group Operations Officer when he took over command of the entire group.
“Col. Seymour was an outstanding pilot. He knew the B-26 and the potential dangers involved. I really don’t know the cause of his crash. I do know that he passed over the airfield on single engine (the other engine was feathered-shut down). He made a 180 degree turn to fly downwind parallel to the run way and he crashed on that downwind leg. I don’t know why he didn’t land instead of flying on single engine over the runway. I don’t recall any radio transmission that indicated he was in trouble and can only surmise that he flew over the field to alert the crash crew-fire wagon to be on alert and to let the tower know that he will be making an emergency landing.
“His death was a great loss to out group, and to me personally, since we had worked together so long. I experienced three of these tragedies during my tour, Col. Seymour and two of my 4 man tent mates. You never forget having to pack up the personal effects of your close buddies.”
Col. Robert Keller was a squadron C.O. (a Capt.) in Col. Tom’s Bomb Group. He recalled:
“We first met when he (Tom) was assigned to the 387th Bomb Group as Group Operations Officer, in charge of all the flight training and operations of the group. He was a handsome officer, always meticulously dressed, and a very capable and demanding officer. He was later promoted to the position of Deputy Group Commander.
“On April 12, 1944 the Group Commander, Col. Caldwell, was leading the Group on a mission to Dunkirk when he was shot down by anti-aircraft fire and all hands were lost. Col. Seymour was selected to be the new Group Commander.
“Not much is known about the accident on the night of July 17 when about 1030 hours he (Tom) crashed near the airfield while flying on one engine.”
The Telegraph Herald ran a front page article on Tom’s death which in part read:
Col. Seymour Dies In Crash
27-Year-Old Dubuquer Killed In England
Col. Thomas Martin Seymour, 27, United States Army Air Forces, son of Mr. and Mrs. V. (Victor) F. Seymour, 1710 Asbury Street, a B-26 Martin Marauder pilot and commanding officer of the Tiger Stripe Marauder Group “Somewhere in England,” was killed July 17 while returning to his base after an administrative flight to another airdrome, when his plane developed engine trouble and went out of control into a crash three miles from the field.
This news came Monday morning to Col. Seymour’s parents from Brig. Gen. Samuel B. Anderson, Headquarters, Ninth Bomber Command, who was Col. Seymour’s commanding officer. The Seymours have not had official War Department news of their son’s casualty.
Eulogized by General Brig. Gen. Anderson’s letter read as follows: “The War Department will have informed you by now of your son’s death in an aircraft accident which occurred in England on the evening of 17 July. I realize that nothing I can say will alleviate your grief but I want you to know that your loss is shared by myself and by all your son’s many friends in this command. Ninth Bomber Command and the Army Air Force have lost an excellent Group Commander and an outstanding leader.
“I am sure you would like to know how the accident occurred. Tom was returning to base after an administrative flight to another airdrome when he experienced engine trouble. He called the control tower and reported he was going to pass over the field, turn on his bad engine so as to take advantage of its remaining power and make a normal two-engine landing. He did pass over the field but lost control of the airplane shortly thereafter and crashed about three miles from the field. He was instantly killed in the crash.
“Since Tom joined our command a year ago,” the Dubuquer’s commanding officer continued, “1 have been in close and continual association with him. As a great pilot for aggressiveness in combat and gentlemanly qualities, Tom commanded the warmest allegiance and regard of the men who worked with him...”
“You have my deepest sympathy in you loss. No one can replace Tom and I shall never forget him.”
In England 14 Months
He was last home in August, 1942. He was a member of St. Anthony’s parish where a requiem high mass of memoriam is being said next Saturday morning at 8 o’clock.
The last two letters Col. Seymour’s parents received from him were dated July 16 and 17. In the former one, he stated that he had just found out that he was the youngest colonel in command of a B-26 group over there. The letter of July 17, the day he was killed, arrived in Dubuque five days after it had been written.
Surviving, other that his parents, are his wife, a Women’s Army Corps corporal stationed “Somewhere in Australia”, a Philadelphia girl to whom he was married there on Dec. 31, 1942; three sisters, Pat and Mary at home, and Mrs. James (Ann) Martin, Fort Belvoir, Va.; and several aunts and uncles.
The Dubuque pilot was termed “one of the best B-26 pilots in the business”, and Ninth Air Force headquarters had stated that, under his tutelage, many Marauder pilots at his base “learned to handle the fast medium bomber. He had been awarded the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Distinguished Flying Cross and had figured prominently in the briefing of all medium bomber groups in the invasion of France.
A recent story about Col. Seymour in the field paper. ‘The Bombay,’ applauded the Dubuquer for maintenance of his high standard of skill and ability since his transfer to the Ninth Air Force group in England.
In a tragic government snafu, Tom’s father learned of his death over the radio. Victor sold subscriptions to the Dubuque Telegraph Herald to farmers in the rural areas. He stopped alongside the road to eat his paper sack lunch and listen to the noon news when he learned of his son’s death.
The Official Report of the accident provides little information on Col. Tom’s crash:
Pilot’s Mission - Cross Country
Nature of accident – Crash into trees and open field.
Cause of accident – One engine feathered. Apparently there was a loss of power in the good engine and the pilot was unable to hold altitude to land on the airdome.
Description of accident – Pilot called in while still several minutes from field stating that he was on single engine. Eye-witness report that the airplane passed over field with one engine feathered and appeared to be going around for a landing. On what would normally be a base leg, airplane lost altitude and crashed. Cause of accident is undetermined.
This board has no further recommendation other than the memorandum which states that a minimum crew of Pilot, co-pilot, Engineer and Radio-operator be complied with on all flights.
Lt. Col. Wright’s father was shot down in “El Capitan” in May 1944 but was told about Col. Tom’s crash from others when he returned after the war. Col. Wright says: “this is unconfirmed; it is only from 50+ years’ memory: Col. Seymour took an aircraft up and was doing a demo flight and made several low passes. The last pass was a bit low and the props impacted the ground at approximately the 3000 foot marker and the aircraft stopped at about the 5000 foot marker and burst into flames.”
After the war, Col. Tom’s remains were returned from Cambridge, England and interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 12, Grave 1242 on July 23, 1948.
During the war General Jimmy Doolittle said that the Group Commander was the most important job in the Air Force.
Three Group Commanders: Seymour, Brown & Caldwell
“Black Jack” Caldwell (left) with Col. Tom
Col. Tom (far right) at the Officer’s Club