The war in Europe would be over in less than two weeks, and at most bomber stations in East Anglia, there was an air of victory permeating around the bases. The end was in sight and it was just a matter of time and a few milk runs.
It was April 13, 1945. Friday the 13th!
Summer had come to England. Sunny, warm, clear.
The long miserable winter was over. Forgotten were those cold, dark, dank days. Forgotten were those 3 a.m. wakeup calls by the CQ and the eerie walk to the chow hall. Even those grim memories of the Battle of the Bulge in December January were beginning to fade.
Today would be a milk run to end all milk runs, and takeoff would be at the respectable hour of 11:40 a.m.! As we might have said 43 years later, a piece of cake.
The target was to be the ammo dump at Bad Klenen. No fighters were expected and no flak batteries were known to be in this obscure part of Germany. No wonder the airmen were giddy and playful as the hour approached.
And to be sure, the optimistic scenario was followed to the letter as the group formed over Debden at 8,000 feet and proceeded toward the target at 20,000 feet.
The group leader was Capt. Tom Marchbanks, who later in his career would rise to the rank of Major General. His pilot in the 601 lead aircraft was Art Taylor.
It was not a big thing, as it happened all the time. Bad Klenen, the primary target, was obscured. Change course to Neumunster and its marshalling yards. German transportation had come to almost a complete stop, so here was one more "stop courtesy of the 398th!
Some years later, a young English historian from Nuthampstead, Ozzie Osborn, would write these words in his newsletter:
The Grim Reaper was always looking over the shoulders of the bomber crews up there over enemy air space and oftentimes extracted a grim harvest.
Friday the 13th 1945 would be no exception.
It was mission No. 188 for the 398th Bomb Group and it would result in the most unbelievable, freakish, tragic mission of the war. Many of the crewmen involved never really knew what happened? All they remember was flying easily and happily over Neumunster, seeing the bombs drifting toward the target. Some of these bombs, known as RDX, carried such markings as To Adolph from FDR.
President Franklin Roosevelt had died the day before, and these greetings were in his memory.
The story from this point will be told by those who were there. Men who in a brief instant of an orange flash witnessed the near dismemberment of the 601st Squadron.
Your editor acknowledges the contribution made by Paul Brown of Burnsville, MN, without whose energy and research this story might never have been told. And whose determined bird-dogging resulted in the re-uniting of his crew, piloted by Sam Palant, of Miami, FL.
Special thanks, also, to Mason Dicks, Keewatin, MN, who flew only one mission with the Palant crew (his last). Dicks volunteered to assemble and correlate the vast amount of information that began surfacing once the decision was made to publish the RDX story.
Rather than create a conventional story, your editor opted to present the events in composite form, using the first-person comments of the people who were there.
The original RDX story was printed in the January 1988 Flak News. For those early years there was no electronic text version of the articles, which covered a large portion of that issue. The events of the RDX mission have always been of special interest to Lee Anne Bradley, our current 398th Group Historian. Her father, Frederick Bradley, was on that mission and he used to remember that experience with her. In 2003, Lee Ann transcribed those RDX stories from the January 1988 Flak News for publication on the 398th Web Pages.