Gale Winston Cleven

Military

Shot down 8 October 1943 in B-17 42-3233 'Our Baby', Prisoner of War.

Gale Cleven's military career mirrored that of his best buddy John Egan; beginning as it did at Randolph Field Texas in March 1940 where he signed in as a Flying Cadet, and where he also picked up the nickname 'Bucky'. From there he progressed via Kelly Field and advanced Flying School In Louisiana to McDill AFB and the 29th Bomb Group by which time - May 1942 - he was a 1st Lieutenant and an instructor. Two months later he was promoted to Captain and in command of 350th Bomb Squadron at Boise Idaho. In January 1943 there were further changes, Cleven by now a major was sent to Kearney AFB a training and assignment centre for the 100th where the Group was geared up for overseas. When 1st Lt Clark Gable appeared at the PX one day the girl at the check-out fainted or so the story goes! After three months at Kearney the 350th Bomb Squadron was shipped overseas to join the Group at Thorpe Abbotts In June 1943, Cleven once again joined up with John Egan, also with the 100th and in command of the 418th.

Cleven's first mission was to Bremen on 25th June, his 11th - for which he was to be awarded the DSC- the much documented raid on Regensburg of August 17th 1943. Cleven was in the right hand seat of the lead plane in the low squadron for that mission, the Group flying 'tail-end Charlie'. The enemy fighters hit them in force as soon as they crossed the Channel concentrating on the rear echelons, the 350th getting the worst of the attack. Harry Crosby lead navigator that day and in a position to report fairly accurately the mission in his book 'A Wing and a Prayer' writes that Cleven's lead plane - pilot Norman Scott - had taken a number of hits before they reached the target with one man dead, another seriously injured and the hydraulics and electrical systems damaged. When another 20mm shell ripped the nose of the plane and wounded the bombadier and there were further hits to the rudder and Number 3 engine the pilot signalled a bale-out. Cleven apparently countermanded the order, took over the controls, eventually landing the plane in Africa.

The 100th BG lost nine B-17's that day, one they would never forget.'

It may have been following that raid, and was certainly the case in October of that year that the Group became known as the 'Bloody 100th' after taking big losses on the raids of the 8th and 10th. It was on the raid of October 8th to Bremen - during 'Black Week'- when the Group lost a further seven planes, Cleven's being one of that number. There were problems with the ball turret even before they reached the target then over the target they were hit by three fighters 'at 10.00 clock high, out of the sun' which caused considerable damage and knocked out No 2 engine. Control cables were severed and part of the left wing blown off as shells ripped through the nose. They threw out all gear to lighten the load as Cleven tried to make it to the Dutch border but they were forced down by further attacks and the order was given to bale out.

According to Cleven's own account he landed right at the front door of a farmhouse lying on his back with a pitchfork on his chest. With his pilot who had landed nearby he was then taken to a Lutwaffe station somewhere to the west of Osnabruck, where more members of the crew eventually gathered. Then followed the usual pattern of interrogations and being shunted from one place to another until eventually arriving at Stalag Luft III Sagan on 23rd October 1943 at 9 a.m. Not long after he was joined by his old buddy John Egan- the other 'Bucky'- who had been shot down two days after Cleven on the Munster raid and famously greeted him with the words 'What the Hell took you so long?'

So they both adapted to life as prisoners of war, fortunate in that they were old friends together and that the camp was commanded by Luftwaffe Colonel von Lindeiner-Wildau who exercised firm and fair control (until being relieved of his command following the 'Great Escape' in March 1944). Red Cross parcels arrived regularly and they were visited by neutral observers, the senior officers - British and American- exercised firm control over all activities and supplies. The Americans were not directly involved in the events of March '44 but from then on life was tougher, more appells and spot searches. Following D--Day as the Allies moved in from the West and the Russians from the East even more so; rations were reduced, privileges withheld and discipline hardened.

During that time,the winter of 1944/45, the senior officers ramped up preparations for what was to come, stockpiling food supplies, gathering information and preparing for all contingencies, illegal radios keeping them appraised of the situation.

The call to evacuate the camp came very suddenly on January 27th at 7 pm. with orders to move out in one hour. Contingency plans were put in place but even so it was chaotic. The men initially left the camp four abreast, some men pulling the makeshift sleds they had prepared. Within a very short time - after fifteen miles - it was single file and heavy items already thrown out. That very first day in freezing conditions the Americans lost their first man. From then on men were disappearing, the numbers never verified, some just giving up and lying down in the snow; others making a run for it. Cleven recalled one night when they took shelter in a building previously used by Polish and Russian slave labour, the straw mattresses 'so infested by bugs they could have moved by themselves'. In the general chaos of that march some of the guards trigger happy and others deserting, Gale Cleven evaded -leaving the column somewhere en route Moosburg- and was back at Thorpe Abbots twelve days later.

Back in the USA he stayed in the Air Force serving in Korea, Vietnam and a spell at the Pentagon, retiring in 1955 with the rank of Colonel.
Whilst in the service he had earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and a doctorate in physics and following retirement initially worked in IT for Hughes Aircraft. Later he took over the management of a Webber College in Florida which at the time had only fifty students and a poor reputation. He was able to turn it around and it later became a university specialising in business studies.

Gale died on 17th November 2006 and was survived by his second wife Lee, his first wife Marjorie having died many years earlier.

A comprehensive history of the 100th Bomb Group, and Gale Cleven's role, can be found in
"Eighth Air Force", by Donald L. Miller.

Further service details and biographical information can be found at the '100th Bomb Group Foundation' website:
https://www.100thbg.com/index.php?option=com_bombgrp&view=personnel&id=…

Connections

See how this entry relates to other items in the archive by exploring the connections below.

Units served with

Official emblem of the 100th Bomb Group, approved 30 March 1944 and replaced 1957
  • Unit Hierarchy: Group
  • Air Force: Eighth Air Force
  • Type Category: Bombardment

People

  • Military/Civilian/Mascot: Military
  • Nationality: American
  • Unit: 100th Bomb Group 350th Bomb Squadron
  • Highest Rank: Technical Sergeant
  • Role/Job: waist gunner
  • Military/Civilian/Mascot: Military
  • Nationality: American
  • Unit: 100th Bomb Group 350th Bomb Squadron
  • Highest Rank: Sergeant
  • Role/Job: Tail Gunner
  • Military/Civilian/Mascot: Military
  • Nationality: American
  • Unit: 100th Bomb Group 350th Bomb Squadron
  • Service Numbers: O-791290
  • Highest Rank: Captain
  • Role/Job: Pilot
  • Military/Civilian/Mascot: Military
  • Nationality: American
  • Unit: 100th Bomb Group 350th Bomb Squadron
  • Highest Rank: Lieutenant
  • Role/Job: Navigator
Major John C. Egan, of the 100th Bomb Group, wearing a fez on his return from the Regensburg Shuttle mission. Associated News Story: '"Arabian Knights Return": Men Who Made Shuttle-Bombing Raid On Regensburg. Wearing red fezes and carrying Arabian knives, the first contingent of airmen who participated in the shuttle-bombing raid on Regensburg returned from their temporary North African bases yesterday, August 22 - five days after the heavy attack on the Nazis' largest aircraft Messerschmidt factory. No b
  • Military/Civilian/Mascot: Military
  • Nationality: American
  • Unit: 100th Bomb Group 418th Bomb Squadron
  • Service Numbers: O-399510
  • Highest Rank: Major
  • Role/Job: Pilot, Pilot, Squadron Commander

Aircraft

  • Aircraft Type: B-17 Flying Fortress
  • Nicknames: The Upstairs Maid
  • Unit: 100th Bomb Group 303rd Bomb Group 350th Bomb Squadron 360th Bomb Squadron
  • Aircraft Type: B-17 Flying Fortress
  • Nicknames: Phartzac
  • Unit: 381st Bomb Group 388th Bomb Group 561st Bomb Squadron
  • Aircraft Type: B-17 Flying Fortress
  • Nicknames: Our Baby
  • Unit: 100th Bomb Group 350th Bomb Squadron

Places

  • Site type: Prisoner of war camp
  • Known as: Stalag Luft III, Sagan, Germany

Events

Event Location Date Description

Born

Lemmon South Dakota 1918-12-27

Other

Prisoner of War

Germany 1943-10-08 Stalag Luft 3 Sagan-Silesia Bavaria (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser) 49-11.

Died

Sheridan, Sheridan County, Wyoming, USA 2006-11-17

Buried

Santa Fe National Cemetery, Santa Fe, New Mexico 2006-11-19

Revisions

Date28 Apr 2021 11:18:51
Sources

Biographical summary compiled by Helen Millgate from information in 'Splasher Six' ,100th Bomb Group Foundation at https://www.100thbg.com.

Date27 Jul 2020 20:52:36
Contributorjmoore43
Sources

Added POW camp info to the POW event and a S/N from WW2 POW records at the National Archives (NARA).

Date30 Mar 2020 18:28:04
Contributorjmoore43
Sources

Added a connection to the 100th BG mentioned in the book"Flying Fortress" (pg. 173) by Edward Jablonski.

Date30 Mar 2020 18:22:20
Contributorjmoore43
Sources

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

Date24 Feb 2020 12:34:56
Sources

"Eighth Air Force", By Donald L. Miller.

Date26 Aug 2019 21:43:22
Contributors nelson
Sources

I knew Buck Cleven personally

Date27 Sep 2014 18:10:34
ContributorAAM
Sources

Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia / MACR 950 / Paul Andrews, Project Bits and Pieces, 8th Air Force Roll of Honor database