History: Activated on 1 Oct, 1942 at Salt Lake City Air Base, Utah, the 351st Bombardment Group was assigned and officially formed up on 24 Nov 1942 at its first home base at Gieger Field, near Spokane, Washington. Lt. Colonel William A. Hatcher was named commanding officer. Initially as the 351st evolved and the crews went through individual and crew training, their home base of record changed accordingly.
The Group had four Bombardment Squadrons 508th, 509th, 510th and 511th, equipped with the B-17F and later the G model.
Flying conditions in Washington were unsuitable for the heavy training schedule, so an alternate base was found. After their short stay at Geiger Field the 351st moved to Biggs Field (El Paso), Texas, arriving 2 Jan 1942 to conduct round-the-clock combat flight training. In March of 1943, the Group moved to in Pueblo, Co in preparation for deployment overseas, through Kearney Air Base, NE.
On 1 April 1943, the various units of the Group embarked for England. Assigned to 94th Bombardment Wing within 1st Air Division 8th AAF. The 351st occupied its base near the hamlet of Polebrook and was known as AAF Station 110. With aircrew and support crews, the stations had approx. 6,913 personnel. A number of these were important ground force personnel who spent the entire war in England. Combat crews were rotated home if they survived 25 missions, later 30 then finally 35 missions.
AAF Station 110, Polebrook, Summer 1944
On 15 April 1943, support personnel were ferried from Pueblo, Co Army Airfield to Preque Isle & Dow field in Maine, to Gander Lake, Labrador then to Prestwick, Scotland and finally Polebrook. On 4 May 1943 under secret orders, Ground Echelon Personnel went by troop ship departing from New York on the Queen Elizabeth.
On 13 May 1943 the 510th sqdrn and its compliment were sent into harms way for their first combat mission but the mission was aborted due to flight element separation.
Typical German AAA (Anti-Aircraft Artillery), referred to as “Flak”, German 88mm
The group’s first completed combat mission took place on May 14th, 1943, when 18 B-17’s targeted a German Luftwaffe airfield in Belgium.
The 351st primarily targeted heavy industrial and strategic targets in Germany, including ball bearing plants in Schweinfurt, communications in Mayen, industrial targets in Berlin, the Marshalling yards in Koblenz, tank and locomotive factories in Hanover, bridges in Cologne, V-1 and V-2 sites and the oil refineries in Hamburg. On 6 June 1944 the bomb group flew in support of the Allied landings hitting targets in Normandy, France and assisted in the break out of Saint Lo.
B-17G-30-DL Flying Fortress Serial 43-38116 of the 509th Bomb Squadron.
The group participated in the intensive air campaign against the German aircraft industry during “The Big Week” 20-25 Feb 1944 and flew in support of the Battle of the Bulge from Dec 1944 through Jan 1945, hitting front line positions and airfields. The group also flew missions in support of Operation Varsity in support of the the airborne assault across the Rhine.
The 509th squadron made 54 consecutive missions on June 1943 to January 1944 without losses. “Ball Boys” squadron the 511th, was the squadron Clark Gable flew missions with. Jimmy Stewart was assigned to the 445th Bombardment Group as Operations Officer of the 703rd Bombardment Squadron and then its commander.
Major James “Jimmy” Stewart and Capt. Clark Gable
Clark Gable helped produce the film “Combat America” with the 351st. It was a propaganda film and for the first time showed the American public wounded and dead U.S. Airmen.
Citations: The 351st received a Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) for exceptional performance on 9 Oct 1943 when an aircraft factory in Anklam, Germany was accurately bombed despite extremely heavy flak and intense resistance from Luftwaffe fighters. The group received another DUC for participating in the successful attack of 11 Jan 1944 on aircraft factories in Oschersleben and Konigslutter in central Germany.
Its final mission of World War II, the Group’s 320th, took them to Brandenburg, Germany where they targeted the marshaling yards.
STATISTICS: During the three years at Polebrook, the 351st B.G. had a total of 279 B17 Flying Fortresses assigned, which flew 9,075 sorties and dropped 20,778 tons of bombs.
The gunners in the Group fired off 2,776,028 rounds of ammunition and were credited with destroying 303 enemy aircraft. The Group flew 311 credited missions and lost 124/175 B 17’s in combat.
Col. William A. Hatcher Jnr. Nov. 24, 1942 – Dec. 31, 1943
Col. Eugene A. Romig Jan. 3, 1944 – Oct. 12, 1944
Col. Robert W. Burns Oct. 12, 1944 – Mar. 30, 1945
Col. Merlin I. Carter Mar. 31, 1945 – Aug. 28, 1945
508th (YB- ) Commanders:
Maj. Kieth G. Birlem Nov. 24, 1942 – May 7, 1943
Lt. Col. James T. Stewart May 14, 1943 – Aug. 28, 1945
509th (RQ- ) Commanders:
Lt. Col. Elzia Ledoux Nov. 24, 1942 – Jul. 1, 1944
Maj. Paul L. Fishburne Jul. 1, 1944 – Sep. 25, 1944
Maj. Franklin A. Richardson Sep. 25, 1944 – Mar. 25, 1945
Maj. Mortimore L. Korges Mar. 25, 1945 – Aug. 28, 1945
510th (TU- ) Commanders:
Cap. William R. Forsythe Nov. 24, 1942 – May 14, 1943
Maj. John R. Blaylock May 17, 1943 – Dec. 31, 1943
Maj. Leonard B. Roper Jan. 4, 1944 – Jul. 21, 1944
Lt. Col. Paul D. Wood Jul. 21, 1944 – Oct. 15, 1944
Maj. Leonard B. Roper Oct. 15, 1944 – Jan. 17, 1945
Maj. John D. Gorham Jnr. Jan. 17, 1945 – Aug. 28, 1945
511th (DS- ) Commanders:
Lt. Col. Clinton F. Ball Nov. 24, 1942 – Sep. 23, 1943
Cap. Harry B. Morse Sep. 27, 1943 – Oct. 1, 1943
Lt. Col. John B. Carraway Oct. 1, 1943 – Aug. 28, 1945
Supporting Units at Polebrook:
11th Station Complement
201st Finance Section
252nd Medical Dispensary
304th Service Group
320th Service Squadron
854th Chemical Company
1052nd Ordnance Squadron
1061st MP Company
1629th Ordnance Supply and Maintenance Co.
2098th Aviation Fire Fighting Platoon
The Bomb Group was inactivated on Aug. 28, 1945 at Sioux Falls Army Air Field and was then reactivated as a Minuteman missile wing in 1963 and established at Whiteman AFB, Mo.
Ready for scrap, a surviving 351st B-17 waits in the foreground at Kingman Army Airfield after the war.
On 1 September 1991, the wing was redesignated the 351st Missile Wing and implemented the objective wing organization. It was relieved from SAC and reassigned to the new Air Combat Command on 1 June 1992. It was again reassigned on 1 July 1993 to Air Force Space Command. Due to the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (SALT II). the wing and it’s three squadrons were deactivated on 31 July 1995.
Valor at Polebrook: Among those lost are two men who were awarded, posthumously, the Medal of Honor. Lt. Walter E. Truemper and S/Sgt. Archibald Mathies who heroically attempted to land their badly damaged B-17 “Ten Horsepower” to save the life of its severely wounded pilot who was unable to bail out. Sadly, both were killed in the attempted landing near the base at Polebrook. Their heroic deeds are chronicled in the book “Valor at Polebrook” and its namesake painting.
The painting “Valor at Polebrook” by David B Poole