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Clark (William Clark) Gable

Military

Clark Gable flew at least 5 missions as Captain filming 50,000 ft of gunnery combat during 1943. He received the Air Medal for his service. 1 mission was flown with the 303rd BG. The rest were with the 351st BG in different aircraft. The film was named 'Combat America' and was released to help increase recruitment in the Army. He was later awarded the DFC.
The Japanese attack of Pearl Harbour, December 7th 1941, followed a month later by the death of Clark Gable’s wife, Carole Lombard, in a DC-3 crash, changed Gable’s life.
He and his wife had been engaged in raising money through war bonds so Clark Gable volunteered for the AAF, training as an aerial gunner and photographer. He was assigned to England to film air gunners in aerial combat. The end result was released as “Combat America”.
He was assigned to the 8th Air Force and joined the 351st Bombardment Group, stationed at Polebrook. Officially, he flew 5 missions but veterans remember he flew many more. He followed the crew of B-17 “Ain’t it Gruesome” with a cameraman and sound engineer through 24 missions.
On his first mission on 4 May 1943, he accompanied 351st Group commander Lt Col. Will Hatcher to Antwerp, Belgium in “The 8 Ball MKII” (#41-24635) with the 303rd Bombardment Group. Gable fired a few rounds and suffered frostbite through wearing leather rather than heated gloves.
His second mission on 10 July was as part of a bombing raid to Villacoubley, in France, flying in “The Argonaut III" (#42-29851), followed by a third on 24 July as gunner on the lead aircraft “Ain’t it Gruesome (#42-29863) to bomb the chemical plants at Heroya, Norway.
Flying in “Ain’t it Gruesome" on the 12 August raid to Germany, Gable wedged himself behind the top turret gunner for a better view. It wasn’t until the aircraft returned that he realised he had been within centimetres of losing his life as a 20mm shell had come through the flight deck, removing the heel of his shoe. It had exited without exploding thirty centimetres from his head.
Of Gable’s known missions, the last one was in “The Dutchess" on 23 September 1943 to Nantes, France. Owing to bad weather, half the group failed to assemble and Gable manned a gun in the nose, returning unscathed.
Captain Clark Gable left England in November 1943 and returned to the US with 50,000 ft of 16mm colour footage, many scenes used in the “Combat America” documentary. On his return he was promoted to the rank of Major.
Adolf Hitler held Gable in great esteem offering a sizeable reward for his capture.
In 1992, an article in the Daily Telegraph supplement, The Yanks, published the following :
"Action! Hollywood star joined in aerial combat
“Local sightings of screen idol Clark Gable almost rivalled the number of B-17s in the skies during his stint as a gunnery officer with the 351st Bomber Group.
Captain Gable, then 41, gave up the comfort of his California ranch to fly five missions from his base at Polebrook and visited other American airfields in the area.
Wartime secrecy prevented the star’s arrival being reported in the papers or on radio. But word soon spread and it was on off-duty visits to Kettering, Oundle and Thrapston in the late spring of 1943 that Gable-spotting became a popular pastime among shoppers……
It was the void in his life caused by his wife Carole Lombard’s tragic death in a plane crash 18 months before which led to Gable’s decision to join the war effort.
Initially his presence aroused suspicion and doubt among fellow airmen who had been risking their lives daily over enemy Europe. Undoubtedly some thought it was little more than a publicity stunt.
But many warmed to Gable when they found him a genuinely modest man, slightly bewildered by his own fame, who refused special living quarters, opting to share with the men and joining them in action.
Gable’s enrolment was indeed a boost to the Air Force recruitment campaign and a team of film industry men joined him on combat missions and simulated attacks using “enemy” aircraft borrowed from Collyweston.
His first flight was actually made from the nearby base at Molesworth aboard a Flying Fortress called "Eightball Mark ll". But it was his fourth mission over the Ruhr in a Fortress dubbed "Ain’t I Gruesome?" that he had his luckiest escape.
The aircraft came under attack and was hit 15 times, with one 20mm shell penetrating the plane, deflecting off the floor and missing Gable’s head by inches.
His commanding officer later remarked, “The damn fool insists on being a rear gunner on every mission. Know what I think? Gable’s trying to get himself killed. Yeah! So he can join up with his wife.”…..
His brief stay at Polebrook no doubt helped to heal the sorrow he felt for his beloved “Ma” – his pet name for Carole Lombard – and he often gave up his leave days to write letters of consolation to wives of aircrew who never returned from missions.
“I saw so much of death and destruction”, he later recalled, “I realised that I hadn’t been singled out for grief – that others were suffering and losing their loved ones just as I lost Ma.””

In Memoriam

'I would like to remember Capt Clark Gable (King of the Movies) he flew as a gunner with the 303rd Bomb Group, Molesworth, England.'
Remembered By Glenn M Gerber, Talbott, TN

Service

People

  • William Hatcher

    Military | Colonel | Co-Pilot; Pilot; Group Commanding Officer | 351st Bomb Group
    William Hatcher Jr was born in Grand Rapids, was brought up in Detroit’s north end and attended Northern High School. After his enlistment in the Air Corps, he followed pilot training courses and rose rapidly through the ranks. ...

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Units served with

  • 303rd Bomb Group

    303rd Bomb Group

    Group
    The 303rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) was activated on 3-Feb-1942 at Pendleton Field, Oregon. They assembled at Gowen Field, Idaho on 11-February 1942 where it conducted flight training until 12-Jun-1942. The Group then moved to Alamogordo Field, New...

  • 351st Bomb Group

    351st Bomb Group

    Group
    The 351st Bomb Group flew strategic bombing missions from their base at Polebrook, Northamptonshire from April 1943 to June 1945. The Group's most famous member was Hollywood actor Clark Gable, who flew four/ five missions with them as an observer...

  • 359th Bomb Squadron
  • 508th Bomb Squadron

Aircraft

  • 41-24635 The 8 Ball Mk II

    B-17 Flying Fortress
    Assigned 359BS/303BG [BN-O] New Castle 6/10/42; Molesworth 21/11/42. Flown by Captain William R. Calhoun on the 4 May 1943 mission to the Ford and General Motors works, Antwerp, Belgium, with Clark Gable on board for his first mission (slightly damaged...

  • 42-29863 "Ain’t it Gruesome", 'KENTUCKY BABE'

    B-17 Flying Fortress
    Delivered Cheyenne 27/2/43; Denver 1/3/43; Gore 12/3/43; Presque Is 8/4/43; Assigned 509BS/351BG [RQ-Y] Polebrook 16/4/43; Missing in Action 43m Frankfurt 11/2/44 with Capt John Carson, Co-pilot: Merlyn Rutherford*, Radio Operator: John Landers*, Ball...

  • 42-29925 'THE DUCHESS'

    B-17 Flying Fortress
    Delivered Cheyenne 17/3/43; Pueblo 28/3/43; Presque Is 9/4/43; Assigned 510BS/351BG [TU-L] Polebrook 17/4/43; 39m 2 BAD Warton 5/4/44; Returned to the USA Tinker 7/6/44; Hendricks 9/8/44; Rapid City 12/9/44; Reconstruction Finance Corporation (sold for...

Missions

  • VIII Bomber Command 54

    4 May 1943
    The Ford and General Motors vehicle plants at Antwerp, Belgium are the primary target for this mission. 79-B-17 are despatched 91BG (25); 303BG (27) and 305BG (27). 65 0f the 79 despatched are effective on the target. There is moderate flak and fighter...

  • VIII Bomber Command 72

    10 July 1943
    German airfields at Caen, Abbeville, and Le Bourget at Paris, France are the primary targets for this mission. 112 B-17s form a combined force from 91BG; 92BG; 305BG; 306BG; 351BG and 381BG to bomb the German airfield (Carpiquet) at Caen, France. Cloud...

  • VIII Bomber Command 75

    24 July 1943
    Three targets in Norway are the primary targets for this first mission flown by 8th AIr Force to Norway. They are the nitrate works at Heroya and the port areas at Trondheim and Bergen. The first element is a combined force of 180 B-17s from: 91BG (22)...

  • VIII Bomber Command 81

    12 August 1943
    This mission is separated into two elements. The first element is a combined force of 183 B-17s from 1st Bomb Division: 91BG (22); 92BG (19); 303BG (20); 305BG (20); 306BG (20); 351BG (21); 379BG (21); 381BG (20); and 384BG (20) are dispatched to bomb...

  • VIII Bomber Command 100

    23 September 1943
    This mission consisted of three elements, one element from 1st Bomb Division and 2 others from 3rd Bomb Division. The first element was a combined force of 177 B-17s from: 91BG (21); 92BG (19); 305BG (18); 306BG (18); 351BG (19) and 381BG (22)...

Associated Place

  • Molesworth

    Military site : airfield
    Molesworth was one of the early stations used by the Eighth Air Force in the UK, first occupied by the 15th Bomb Squadron’s Douglas Bostons in June 1942. Built in 1940 and extended and improved in 1942, Molesworth is most associated with the 303rd...

  • Polebrook

    Military site : airfield
    Polebrook was laid down for RAF Bomber Command use in 1940-1941. Built by George Wimpey and Co. Ltd, it had short runways which were lengthened for USAAF heavy bomber use. The RAF used the base for operational trials - including of B-17 Flying...

Events

Event Location Date
Born Cadiz, Ohio 1 February 1901

Born William Clark Gable

Lived in 1942

Encino, California

Enlisted 12 August 1942

Los Angeles, California

Lived in Oundle, Peterborough, Northamptonshire PE8, UK 1943

Clark Gable lived in Oundle whilst based at Polebrook during the Second World War

Died Los Angeles, California 16 November 1960

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
26 July 2020 09:46:41 ED-BB Changes to middlename and firstname
Sources

Modified presentation of hsi (full) name

Date Contributor Update
26 July 2020 09:45:21 ED-BB Changes to middlename, firstname, service number, biography, events, place associations, aircraft associations and mission associations
Sources

Completed full name in Biography (from various sources on the Internet and in books about him)
NARA WWII Enlistment records
Made connections to his five known missions (Roger Freeman's "Mighty Eighth War Diary")
Officer's ASN and 1942 home address from Air Medal card on page at 1056 at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/139418423 (NARA)

Date Contributor Update
22 February 2020 02:11:03 jmoore43 Changes to biography
Sources

Added a "#" to the A/C serial number in the "Summary biography" for clarity.

Date Contributor Update
18 February 2016 12:58:06 Anne Hughes Changes to awards
Sources

togetherweserve.com

Date Contributor Update
18 February 2016 12:56:40 Anne Hughes Changes to biography
Sources

The Yanks - Daily Telegraph Supplement 1992
togetherweserve.com
Captain Clark Gable - Robert F Dorr

Date Contributor Update
10 October 2015 22:13:10 KD4ITI Changes to service number, highest rank, biography and awards
Sources

Dave Wentzel CAM

Date Contributor Update
24 May 2015 13:31:49 Emily Changes to events
Sources

I met Mr Kruger at the VE Day Airshow 24 May 2015, who lives in Oundle, a few doors down from the house where Clark Gable stayed.

Date Contributor Update
20 November 2014 16:15:04 Emily Changes to role and memoriam
Sources

Glenn M Gerber, via American Air Museum Memory Book Correspondence.

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:06:20 AAM AAM ingest
Sources

351st Roster, http://303rdbg.com/rost-efg.html#E / Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia

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