William Clark Gable

Hollywood actor Clark Gable in the waist gun position of a a B-17 Flying Fortress of the 91st Bomb Group. Passed for publication 6 Jun 1943. Printed caption on reverse: 'Clark Gable Serves In England: Clark Gable has slipped into this country as Capt. Gable and is serving with the U.S. Army Air Force somewhere in England, as a Gunnery Instructor. He hopes that his movements will not be accompanied by the publicity that he had a while ago, because he wants to get down to the job as others are doing. Keysto

Object Number - FRE 3657 - Hollywood actor Clark Gable in the waist gun position of a a B-17 Flying Fortress of the 91st Bomb Group. Passed for publication 6 Jun 1943. Printed...

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.””


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

Units served with

Official emblem of the 303rd Bomb Group approved 7 November 1942.
  • Unit Hierarchy: Group
  • Air Force: Eighth Air Force
  • Type Category: Bombardment
The insignia of the 351st Bomb Group.
  • Unit Hierarchy: Group
  • Air Force: Eighth Air Force
  • Type Category: Bombardment


Colonel Hatcher of the 351st Bomb Group with comedian Bob Hope, Hollywood actor Clark Gable and guests. Handwritten caption on reverse: '7. Col. Hatcher and guests during Bob Hope show.'
  • Military/Civilian/Mascot: Military
  • Nationality: American
  • Unit: 351st Bomb Group 508th Bomb Squadron 509th Bomb Squadron 510th Bomb Squadron 511th Bomb Squadron
  • Service Numbers: O-021528
  • Highest Rank: Colonel
  • Role/Job: Co-Pilot; Pilot; Group Commanding Officer


  • Aircraft Type: B-17 Flying Fortress
  • Nicknames: The 8 Ball Mk II
  • Unit: 303rd Bomb Group 359th Bomb Squadron
  • Aircraft Type: B-17 Flying Fortress
  • Nicknames: Ain’t it Gruesome, KENTUCKY BABE
  • Unit: 351st Bomb Group 509th Bomb Squadron
  • Aircraft Type: B-17 Flying Fortress
  • Nicknames: The Duchess
  • Unit: 351st Bomb Group 510th Bomb Squadron




Event Location Date Description


Cadiz, Ohio 1 February 1901 Born William Clark Gable


12 August 1942 Los Angeles, California


Los Angeles, California 16 November 1960


Oundle, Peterborough, Northamptonshire PE8, UK Clark Gable lived in Oundle whilst based at Polebrook during the Second World War


Encino, California


Date28 Nov 2022 15:57:07

Changes to name format

Date26 Jul 2020 09:46:41

Modified presentation of hsi (full) name

Date26 Jul 2020 09:45:21

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)

Date22 Feb 2020 02:11:03

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

Date18 Feb 2016 12:58:06
ContributorAnne Hughes


Date18 Feb 2016 12:56:40
ContributorAnne Hughes

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

Date10 Oct 2015 22:13:10

Dave Wentzel CAM

Date24 May 2015 13:31:49

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.

Date20 Nov 2014 16:15:04

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

Date27 Sep 2014 18:06:20

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

William Clark Gable: Gallery (31 items)