Dick Bong... Americas Leading Ace....

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America's "Ace of Aces" Richard Bong became the leading American fighter ace of World War II and the leading American fighter ace of all time. Flying the P-38 Lightning in the Pacific theater he recorded 40 victories against Japanese aircraft. His outstanding achievement still stands to this day. A survivor of 200 combat missions, Bong loved flying and the P-38 was the ideal fighting plane for the combat techniques he mastered: swooping down on his targets and blasting them at dangerously close range, then pulling up fast. His own aircraft was damaged in battle in several of his missions, once so badly he had to crash-land. A hero in an era of heroes, Bong represented a generation of young men and women who willingly left their farms, villages, and cities to defend their country's freedom. They carried out the work that had to be done - and did it well.

Richard Bong was born on Sept. 20th 1920 in Poplar, Wisconsin. Bong's father came to the United States from Sweden at the age of seven and his mother was of Scots-English descent. Bong's interest in aviation began in 1928 when President Coolidge was vacationing near Superior and established a summer White House in the Superior High School. His mail was delivered to him daily by an airplane. Bong was fascinated. Later he recalled that the mailplane "flew right over our house and I knew then that I wanted to be a pilot." Soon he was spending countless hours building model planes. Following graduation from Superior Central High School, he entered Wisconson State Teachers College. Determined to be a pilot, he enrolled in the college's government-sponsored Civilian Pilot training program. He took flying lessons in a Piper J-3 Cub and earned his private pilot license.

After 2 1/2 years of college, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program in early 1941. Bong entered service at Wausau, Wisconsin on May 29, 1941, and was sent to the Rankin Aeronautical Academy, a primary flight school near Tulare, California, where he soloed in a Stearman biplane trainer on June 25, 1941. He took his basic flight training in a BT-13 at Gardner Field near Taft, California. Then he was sent to Luke Field near Phoenix, Arizona, for advanced single-engine pilot training in a AT-6 Texan. His gunnery instructor at Luke was Captain Barry Goldwater, who later said, "I taught him fighter gunnery. He was a very bright student. But the most important thing came from a P-38 check pilot who said Bong was the finest natural pilot he ever met. There was no way he could keep Bong from not getting on his tail, even though he was flying an AT-6, a very slow airplane." After he received his wings at Luke Field, Arizona on 9 January 1942, Lieutenant Bong spent three months as an instructor at Luke.

On May 6, 1942 he was transfered to Hamilton Field near San Francisco, for aerial combat training in the twin-engine, twin-tail P-38 Lightning fighter. It was at Hamilton that Bong first raised the ire and the admiration of Major General George C. Kenney, commanding General of the Fourth Air Force. The field's location resulted in some aerial antics by Bong, such as "looping the loop" around the center span of the Golden Gate Bridge in his P-38, and waving to stenographers in office buildings as he flew along Market Street. But more serious was his blowing clean wash off a clothesline in Oakland. That was the last straw for Kenney, who chewed him out and told him, "Monday morning you check this address out in Oakland and if the woman has any washing to be hung out on the line, you do it for her. Then you hang around being useful - mowing the lawn or something - and when the clothes are dry, take them off the line and bring them into the house. And don't drop any of them on the ground or you will have to wash them all over again. I want this woman to think we are good for something else besides annoying people. Now get out of here before I get mad and change my mind. That's all!" ..... National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Bong was the first fighter pilot handpicked by General George C. Kenney in the fall of 1942 for a P-38 squadron designed to strengthen his Fifth Air Force in Australia and New Guinea. In September 1942 after spending a few months as a flight instructor at the 9th Fighter Group in Australia, he was assigned to the Fifth Air Air Force in the Far Eastern theater of operations in Port Moresby, New Guinea to fly the twin-engined/twin-boomed "Lightning" fighter against the Japanese. His first engagement with the enemy came after 2 months of uneventful patrols. On December 27, 40 Japanese fighters flooded the sky over Dobodura-- within the first few minutes, Bong was separated from his squadron mates. He then dived into a gaggle of enemy planes and shot down a Val and a Zeke -- the beginning of a long string of victories. By January 1943 he was an ace, his fifth victory an Oscar over the Anon Gulf.

In April 1943, Bong was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and just a few months later to Captain. A skilled flyer, Bong was noted for his silent approaches to his airfield with both engines feathered. As he swooped over the field he would loop his P-38 and land. He claimed to have poor gunnery skills(this was far from the truth in that he was so good at gunnery that his commanding officer had him remain at Luke as an instructor for several months.) for which he compensated by closing on his targets until he was nearly touching them. After he topped Eddie Rickenbacker's WWI record of 26 kills, Bong was reassigned to training duties but he managed to bend the rules and shoot down thirteen more planes. In April 1944, Captain Bong was promoted to Major, AAF, and he continued to shoot down enemy planes. By October of 1944 he had downed his 31st plane and his reputation grew. School girls would skip rope to "How many Zeros will he get today? Let's count them up, what do you say? One, two, three...".

For his gallantry and extraordinary achievements during World War II, Major Bong was awarded -- among other decorations for valor and heroism -- the Distinguished Flying Cross with an Oak Leaf Cluster and the Air Medal with an Oak Leaf Cluster. On December 12, 1944, At age 24 and just four years after taking his first solo flight Bong was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, after shooting down eight enemy airplanes while flying over the Leyte area of the Philippines. Richard Bong was awarded the nation's highest honor by General Douglas MacArthur at Talcloban airfield on Leyte. The Commander of all U.S. Army units in the Far East who, after casting aside a prepared speech, said: "Major Richard Ira Bong, who has ruled the air from New Guinea to the Philippines, I now induct you into the society of the bravest of brave, the wearers of the Congressional Medal of Honor of the United States."

General Kenney pulled Bong out of combat when his score reached 40 and sent him home to "marry Marjorie and start thinking about raising a lot of towheaded Swedes." Richard and Marge Vattendahl were married February 10, 1945 in Concordia Lutheran Church in Superior, an event attended by 1,200 guests and covered by the international press. The couple honeymooned in California for several weeks where their stops included Hollywood and the Sequoia National Park.

In June 1945, Bong was assigned to the Lockheed Corporation at Burbank, California, to perform test flights on the then-troubled Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, the plane that would take the Air Force into the jet age. Bong was intrigued by the new jet fighter which had already killed 7 previous test pilots. From July 7th to August 6th he made 11 test flights and logged over 4 hours flight time in the Shooting Star.

On August 6, 1945, Major Bong, a survivor of 200 combat missions was killed when the prototype P-80 he was testing stalled on takeoff and he bailed out at low altitude. His body, partially wrapped in the shrouds of his parachute, was found 100 feet from the plane's jet engine.

Ironically, Major Richard Bong's death shared the newspaper headlines with another earth-shattering event that same day: the Enola Gay dropped a 20-kiloton atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. In ways that no one could possibly imagine at the time, Hiroshima's bombing would change the world Richard Ira Bong fought for and died for.

On 8th August 1945, he was burried in the Poplar cemetary, Poplar, Wisconsin. Today in his hometown of Poplar, a small museum honors his memory.
well we still have huge debates about which was better, the mossie or P-38.................
lanc, if you was implying i didnt know he flew the P-38 you are way wrong. Many of americas top aces flew the P-38 for most of their sorties.

How many of Britains top aces flew the Mossie regularly?

Point proven.
I've gotta say lesofprimus, you're a helluva story teller!
A shame indeed, that after all of the combat he saw, and all of the aircraft he shot down, he was to be killed as a test pilot. Christ! :(
And he did it all in the P-38, a plane initially favored by enemy pilots as easy pickings.
Correct me if I'm wrong, and I'm not knocking the Lightning as I haven't researched it much, but it wasn't the aircraft that was inferior so much as the fact that early on, the American pilots didn't really know how to exploit it's capabilities properly. Is that correct, or am I (yet again :rolleyes: ) way off base?

It would just be another testiment to Bong's skill and determination! =D>
:lol: You have much to learn, the P-38 was in no way inferior :D It was slightly tricky to fly at first but It had very good flight characteristics, it was just that it took some getting used to 8) I think that you are probably thinking of the P-39, which was a dreadful plane.

The P-38 incorporated many firsts into its design, these included the following:

1. The first fighter to use a tricycle landing gear.
2. The only American fighter in operational production status from the start to the finish of the war.
3. First to encounter compressibility problems.
4. First to demonstrate capability of a fighter flying across the North Atlantic for delivery to Europe.
5. Only aircraft to be equipped with irreversible power-boosted flight controls.
6. First fighter to fly anywhere with two torpedoes.
7. First fighter to demonstrate a non-stop, un-refueled range of over 3,000 miles.
8. First fighter to carry a 4,000 lb. bomb load in wartime conditions.
9. Only massed produced, single seat, twin engine fighter in World War II.

Source: www.p-38online.com
Thats a great website if you wanna find out more :D
Well, I didn't mean to imply that I thought the P-38 was inferior, but rather to find a reason for the relatively large number of them shot down early on.
It was clearly a fine fighter, but it's unorthodox design made it a bit of a handful for an inexperienced pilot.
Like you say, it took some getting used to.

Obviously, once the USAAF pilots finally mastered it, it's full combat potential was put to excellent use.
Richard Bong mastered the aircraft earlier than most! 8)
Nonskim, u are right concerning the tactics and experience of P-38 pilots at the beginning stages of the war.... Many German pilots racked up many P-38 kills......

Heinrich Bartles shot down 14x P-38's...... 99 Kills Total......
Kurt Buhligen shot down 13+..... 112 Kills Total....
Wilhelm Kientsch shot down 9..... 53 Kills Total.....
Herbert Rollwage shot 8+..... 85 Kills Total....
Anton Haffner shot down 8..... 204 Kills Total.....
Werner Shroer shot 8....... 114 Kills Total....
If those kills were in the European theatre I can understand why. The Brits didnt have a clue how to fly it, and many pilots bailed out of it when an engine went down, even though it was easily capable of flying on one. A Lockheed test pilot actually had to go to the RAF to teach the pilots how to fly one properly.
CC, perhaps i should make it clear, the RAF only bought them for evaluation, we didn't fly it in combat, because we thought it sucked, it was the americans that flew it in combat over europe...........
the lancaster kicks ass said:
CC, perhaps i should make it clear, the RAF only bought them for evaluation, we didn't fly it in combat, because we thought it sucked, it was the americans that flew it in combat over europe...........

Actually the American war department refused to allow either the countra rotating engines or the turbos. These aircraft were refused by the Brits (rightfuly so, these aircraft were an insult their performance was so bad). In the states they were used as training planes and called the "castrated lightnings" the engines were replaced before a year was out.
wmaxt said:
the lancaster kicks ass said:
CC, perhaps i should make it clear, the RAF only bought them for evaluation, we didn't fly it in combat, because we thought it sucked, it was the americans that flew it in combat over europe...........

Actually the American war department refused to allow either the countra rotating engines or the turbos. These aircraft were refused by the Brits (rightfuly so, these aircraft were an insult their performance was so bad). In the states they were used as training planes and called the "castrated lightnings" the engines were replaced before a year was out.

Darn, beaten to it!

Anyway, wasn't it the same story for the B-17's supplied to the RAF?
the lancaster kicks ass said:
CC, perhaps i should make it clear, the RAF only bought them for evaluation, we didn't fly it in combat, because we thought it sucked, it was the americans that flew it in combat over europe...........

Brits thought it sucked because they got some of the sorriest models of the P-38.
The war department refused the turbo-superchargers because of export restrictions of classified technology. But the counter rotating propellers were not disallowed. The Brits ordered them that way as they would be able to interchange engines quickly on either side of the aircraft.

The RAF received three total Lightnings. The performance was poor, as expected without the turbo-superchargers.

From my article on the P-38:
"The first 3 "Lightning I" airplanes arrived by sea in the UK in March of 1942. Each aircraft went to a different location for testing. The aircraft went to Swaythling in Southampton, Boscombe Down and Farnborough. Not surprisingly, the unturbocharged P-38 performed well below expectations and further deliveries were cancelled and refused."

One thing that did come out of the testing, it was the British that called them the "Lightning". The original name assigned them, by Lockheed, was the "Atlanta"

There are some additional firsts that can now be added to the list from the beginning.
· The first fighter with a top speed over 400 MPH
· First American fighter to shoot down a German airplane (Shared kill of a FW-200 Condor with a P-40C)
· First USAAF fighter to carry out an escort mission to Berlin
· First USAAF plane to land in Japan after that country had surrendered
It also holds a few other distinctions:
· Heaviest US fighter of World War 2
· The only American fighter in production at the time of Pearl Harbor to be still in production at the war's end
· Accounted for more Japanese aircraft destroyed in combat than any other US fighter.
· First single-seat fighter to complete a transatlantic crossing.

It should be noted that the design was done by Clarence "Kelly" Johnson. He would later be responsible for over 40 Lockheed designs, including the SR-71 Blackbird, the U-2 and the C-130 among others.
The Jug Rules! said:
I thought the P-47 was the heaviest fighter, and that the P-51 was the first to berlin.

For single engined fighters. The P-38s of the 55th squadron were over Berlin first (the bombers turned back due to the weather).

The -38 also flew a strike mission over Borneo on the 15th of August 45 (a 2,800mi round trip) for the last mission of WWII.

If you add the 2,500 aircraft downed in the ETO/MTO it also can be said that the P-38 shot down more aircraft than any other American aircraft, the next was the P-51 with 5,932. The P-47 is credited with 7,000+ but maybe as many as half of those were on the ground.

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