Skip to main content
Edit entry 

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=9...

Service

People

  • Benjamin Barr

    Military | Technical Sergeant | Right Waist Gunner, Waist Gunner | 100th Bomb Group
    Shot down 8 October 1943 in B-17 #423233 'Our Baby. ' Prisoner of War (POW). POW

  • Harry Calhoun

    Military | Sergeant | Tail Gunner | 100th Bomb Group
    Shot down 8 October 1943 in B-17 #42-3233 'Our Baby', Prisoner of War (POW). POW

  • Bernard DeMarco

    Military | Captain | Pilot | 100th Bomb Group
    Shot down 8 October 1943 in B-17 #423233 'Our Baby'. It was DeMarco's 13th mission. He bailed out over Essen, Germany and became a Prisoner of War (POW). He was held in Stalag Luft III. Bernard died from leukemia on August 19th 1992.

  • John Downs

    Military | Lieutenant | Navigator | 100th Bomb Group
    Shot down 8 October 1943 in B-17 #423233 'Our Baby. ' Prisoner of War (POW). POW

  • John Egan

    Military | Major | Command Pilot, Pilot, Squadron Commander | 100th Bomb Group
    Shot down 10 October 1943 in B-17 #42-30830 "M'lle Zig Zag", Prisoner of War. ...

  • Jerome Ferroggiaro

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Air Gunner | 100th Bomb Group
    Shot down 8 October 1943 in B-17 #423233 'Our Baby. ' Prisoner of War (POW). Veteran of the Spanish Civil War.

  • Francis Harper

    Military | Lieutenant | Bombardier | 100th Bomb Group
    Shot down 8 October 1943 in B-17 #423233 'Our Baby. ' Prisoner of War (POW). POW

  • Kenneth Menzie

    Military | First Lieutenant | Pilot, Co-Pilot | 100th Bomb Group
    Menzie was assigned to the 100th Bomb Group in July 1943. He was then transferred to the 482nd Bomb Group on 7 October 1943. ...

  • Norman Scott

    Military | Captain | Pilot | 100th Bomb Group
    17 AUG 43 REGENBURG. XFR

  • Thornton Stringfellow

    Military | Technical Sergeant | Radio Operator | 100th Bomb Group
    Shot down 8 October 1943 in B-17 #423233 'Our Baby. ' Prisoner of War (POW). POW

Show more

Units served with

  • 100th Bomb Group

    100th Bomb Group

    Group
    "The Bloody Hundredth", so-called because of a reputation for losing a high number aircraft and crews, flew B-17s from Thorpe Abbotts, Norfolk. Their losses were not the highest of any Eighth Air Force Group but on several occasions the Group lost many...

  • 350th Bomb Squadron

Aircraft

  • 42-29738 'The Upstairs Maid'

    B-17 Flying Fortress
    Delivered Cheyenne 11/2/43; Walker 23/2/43; Smoky 28/3/43; Kearney 25/4/43; Wendover 2/5/43; Kearney 21/5/43; Dow Fd 27/5/43; Assigned 350BS/100BG [LN-U] Podington 1/6/43; Thorpe Abbotts 9/6/43; transferred 360BS/303BG [PU-I] Molesworth 13/7/43;...

  • 42-30068 Phartzac

    B-17 Flying Fortress
    Delivered Cheyenne 5/4/43; Gore 10/4/43; Kearney 15/4/43; Wendover 2/5/43; Hill 13/5/43; Kearney 23/5/43; Dow Fd 27/5/43; Assigned 350BS/100BG [LN-P] Podington 29/5/43; Thorpe Abbotts 9/6/43; transferred 561BS/388BG Knettishall 6/43; Missing in Action...

  • 42-3233 Our Baby

    B-17 Flying Fortress
    Delivered Cheyenne 6/4/43; Dow Fd 28/5/43; Assigned 350BS/100BG [LN-R] Thorpe Abbotts 1/6/43; ...

Missions

  • VIII Bomber Command 67

    25 June 1943
    This mission was intended to be the first major attack on the industrial area of Hamburg, Germany but weather and contrails made fromation flying too difficult and dangerous. As a result, the main formation 197 B-17s from: 91BG (18); 92BG (23); 303BG ...

  • VIII Bomber Command 69

    28 June 1943
    The primary specific target for this mission are the lock gates at St. Nazaire, France to be attacked by two separate formations and also another force is despatched to bomb the German airfield at Beaumon Le Roger, France. A formation of 120 B-17s of...

  • 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 74

    17 July 1943
    The railroad industry at Hannover, Germany and the aircraft industry at Hamburg, Germany were the intended targets for this mission but weather caused the mission to be cancelled. The element sent to Hannover was a combined force of 207 B-17s from:...

  • 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 76

    25 July 1943
    This mission was composed of three elements. The primary targets were the diesel engine works at Hamburg, Germany; the shipyards at Kiel, Germany and the aircraft industries at Warnemude, Germany, but weather frustrated the effort. The first element...

  • VIII Bomber Command 77

    26 July 1943
    The German rubber industry at Hannover, Germany and the U-Boat shipyards at Hamburg, Germany are the primary focus of this mission. In addition, a German ship convoy and targets of opportunity at Wilhelmshaven and Wesermunde are bombed. The first...

  • VIII Bomber Command 78

    28 July 1943
    The German aircraft industry at Kassel (Fieseler works) and Oscherleben, Germany are the primary targets of this mission. 182 B-17s from: 91BG (20); 92BG (17); 303BG (20); 305BG (21); 306BG (24); 351BG (21); 379BG (19); 381BG (20); and 384BG (20) are...

  • VIII Bomber Command 79

    29 July 1943
    The primary targets for this mission are the port facilities at Kiel, Germany and the Heinkel aircraft factories at Warnemunde, Germany. A combined force of 168 B-17s from: 91BG (18); 92BG (14 these included 1 Y-B40 gunship); 305BG (19); 306BG (18);...

  • 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...

Show more

Associated Place

  • Thorpe Abbotts

    Military site : airfield
    Home of the 'Bloody Hundredth’, a Bomb Group with a reputation for high casualty rates, Thorpe Abbotts was under USAAF control from June 1943 to the end of the war. Some of the airfield survives today, and the control tower houses the 100th Bomb Group...

  • Stalag Luft III

    Other location

Events

Event Location Date
Born Lemmon South Dakota 27 December 1918
Prisoner of War Germany 8 October 1943 – April 1945

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

Died Sheridan, Sheridan County, Wyoming, USA 17 November 2006
Buried Santa Fe National Cemetery, Santa Fe, New Mexico 19 November 2006

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
28 April 2021 11:18:51 general ira snapsorter Changes to biography
Sources

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

Date Contributor Update
02 March 2021 15:33:28 general ira snapsorter Changes to middlename and events
Sources

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/18089976/gale-winston-cleven

Date Contributor Update
02 March 2021 15:02:48 general ira snapsorter Changes to biography, events and mission associations
Sources

https://www.100thbg.com/index.php?option=com_bombgrp&view=personnel&id=9...

Date Contributor Update
27 July 2020 20:52:36 jmoore43 Changes to service number and events
Sources

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

Date Contributor Update
30 March 2020 18:28:04 jmoore43 Changes to unit associations
Sources

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

Date Contributor Update
30 March 2020 18:22:20 jmoore43 Changes to biography
Sources

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

Date Contributor Update
24 February 2020 12:34:56 general ira snapsorter Changes to biography and person associations
Sources

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

Date Contributor Update
26 August 2019 21:43:22 s nelson Changes to nickname and events
Sources

I knew Buck Cleven personally

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:10:34 AAM AAM ingest
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

Share