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508TH'S LAST "COMBAT" MISSION

Darrell Apple reports, "Occasionally I read about the last jump of the 508th from Frankfort that is referred to as the 'aborted mission'.  It was before the the last unit jump which was a demo jump for the Russians in Berlin.  It has to be in the HQ HQ Regimental records.  I've read in the newspaper where it was referred to as the aborted jump because the Russians withdrew their tanks. This, as Winston Churchill stated, was to prevent Stalin from sending his tanks into Vienna. 

For the HQ&HQ the mission was not aborted. We were two C-46's of Pathfinders (my team) and staff officers including a Colonel that was new to us. I recall his name was Jack Shannon.   I was a Pathfinder and communications T-5.  We were about 72 total and set up HQ and two drop zones.  After the Troopers set up the circle of defense and dug in, we waited.  Some of the Troopers fraternized with the Russian tank troops. 

The Regiment was already preparing to go stateside and about all we had for "heavy" were some 40mm Bazookas and 50mm machine guns. There was a great rush as the Pathfinders were departing at 2 a.m. from a grass field, with about 3 hours lead time.  If the jump was more than four Companies the Pathfinders usually jumped 36 on two zones with 18 to a C-47 per drop zone.

This drop was different. We had 2 C-46s (double doors) and my plane had a new Colonel and 36 total. We knew this was a biggie because the cooks served us hot mush with butter and milk at the airfield. The Catholics got Last Rites and the Protestant Chaplin passed out two bandoleers of 30 cal. to each, plus 4 hand grenades. This was not a monthly training mission.

We flew south several hours and got into mountains. We passed over a couple castles, circled over a beautiful two lane divided highway and dropped on a plain very near a castle.

We were told to look out for a radio jeep dropped along with other gear packs. Sgt. Paszek drove the jeep into the compound but he and I could not get the radio going as neither had training on that equipment.  Col Shannon was pacing and finally came over and said, "If you start the engine the S.O.B. will work".  Bingo!!

We usually encoded messages but Col Shannon went voice to Frankfort (where General Eisenhower was Supreme Allied Commander at the I,G. Farben buildings. The 508 was Honor Guard) and said only "We are in place". We all dug in.

Early the next day a Sgt. came back from patrol and said we "ought to see those huge Russian tanks" not far away. We were not aware the mission was canceled.  Another Sgt. came into our compound with a strange duffle bag full of all kinds of loot - gold teeth, silver items etc., and said, "those Russians went crazy over my Mickey Mouse watch".  Col. Shannon took the "loot" and told him, "we don't collect that".  The second morning I was driven in the jeep (our only transportation) to a rural road junction and dropped off as road guard to direct "traffic" to our area.

For several hours into the night trucks of infantry passed by.  When I got on the last vehicle about 11 p.m., the Capt. asked if Patton's tanks had arrived.  I didn't know.

When I got back to the compound the Russian tanks were gone and we were packing to fold. We loaded our gear in a few of the trucks that brought in the infantry and headed back to. Frankfort.  I believe we were in Bavaria. I was not aware the bigger mission was aborted.

We closed out Heddernheim (Frankfort) and the Regiment caught a train/bus to our port of debarkation for home.

About 20 years later I was reading Churchill's WW-2 (5 volumes) and he wrote briefly about this: Stalin was unhappy about the partitioning of Vienna and sent his tanks down to force a repositioning of the four zones.  In Berlin Russia had direct access.  In Vienna he had to go through either French, English or U S to get to Russian can't recall).  Churchill said It was very tight. Stalin would have had to run over the 508 (all we had was 40mm bazookas). Looking back, all the brass knew it was a suicide mission for the 508 (Last Rites, etc.).

Seems a Russian General knew Patton wanted to challenge Russian's tanks, and was roaring up from Vienna with his tanks on lowboys, and that Russian military and population were nearly depleted while U S had just reached our peak in production of military/air force equipment.  Moscow would probably have been the third A-bomb and there would have been no occupation by U S troops.

Darrell L. Apple (37761553RA)

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