In April / May 1943, Station 110 once more resounded with American voices, the arrival of the 351st Bomb Group. Assigned to the 94th Combat Wing, (1st bombardment Division) they flew B-17s of the: 508th, 509th, 510th and 511th Bomb squadrons. These aircraft would be distinguished by a Triangular ‘J’ on the tail.
The 351st were only activated in the previous October, and were, as ‘rookies’, to take part in some of the most severe aerial battles of the Second World War.
Primary targets they would attack included: Schweinfurt, Mayen, Koblenz, Hannover, Berlin, Cologne, Mannheim and Hamburg. The 351st would later go on to attack submarine pens, harbours and ‘V’ weapons sites. Ground support was also provided for the Normandy invasion, the Battle of the Bulge and other major European ground battles.
In October 1943, the 351st received the first of its two Distinguished Unit Citations, with highly accurate bombing in very challenging conditions raising the standing of this new group. A second DUC was to follow in January 1944 for action deep in the heart of Germany. During an attack on Leipzig in the ‘big week’ campaign of 20th-25th February 1944, two crewmen of the 510th, 2nd Lt Walter Truemper (Navigator) and Sgt. Archibald Mathies (Flt. Engineer), both received Medals of Honour for taking over their stricken aircraft when both Pilot and Co-Pilot were injured / killed. On attempting to land the aircraft, the B-17 crashed between Glatton (Trail 6) and Polebrook, exploding it killed all three remaining crew members.
It was during this time that (Cp.) Clark Gable was stationed at RAF Polebrook, initially to make recruitment films for air gunners. He only flew five combat missions in all, taking a film crew on each one. The first of these missions was on 4th May 1943 and his last on 23rd September that same year. He was initially awarded the Air Medal, and later the Distinguished Flying Cross, finally leaving Polebrook with over 50,000 feet of film on 5th November 1943. In 1944, the film ‘Combat America’, narrated by Gable himself, was shown in theaters around the United States.
The 351st remained at Polebrook until shortly after VE day, returning to the US and becoming deactivated on August 28th 1945. Polebrook became quiet once more being put under care and maintenance until its final closure in 1948.
During the three years the 351st were at Polebrook, they flew a total of 279 B-17s on 9,075 sorties with 7,945 of them dropping 20,778 tons of bombs. Air gunners on these aircraft were credited with 303 enemy aircraft destroyed. In all they flew 311 credited missions losing 124 B-17s in all.
The story of RAF Polebrook, how it looks today and the story behind the men can be found here.