Richard Ira Bong was born September 24, 1920 in Poplar, Wisconsin. He was one of nine children, the son of Swedish immigrant parents. Nicknamed "Dick".
During 1941, he enlisted in the U. S. Army Air Corps and was commission as a 2nd Lieutenant on January 9, 1942 with U. S. Army service number O-433784. Stationed at Hamilton Field during May to June 1942 for P-38 flight training. During the summer of 1942, Bong was charged with looping the Golden Gate Bridge and was to be court-martial for the infraction.
During November 1943, when Bong was home on leave, he confided to family that he did not fly under the Golden Gate, but was turned-in for buzzing the house of a pilot friend that had just been married. Bong thought he would have been court-martialed out of the Army, had it not been for the fact that on the very same day, three other pilots flew under the Golden Gate Bridge including John Mangas and Mitchell.
Bong was then flown overseas as a passenger aboard a B-24 Liberator from the west coast via Hickam Field to Australia. Four P-38 pilots were crammed into the nose: Carl G. Planck, Jr., Norman D. "Sneezy" Hyland, Walter Markey and Richard Ira "Dick" Bong. Upon arrival Bong and Planck were assigned to the newly formed P-38 fighter unit, the 17th Provisional Fighter Squadron. By November 1942 they were transferred to the 9th Fighter Squadron, “The Flying Knights”, a P-40 Warhawk unit who were famous from their defense of the Australian city of Darwin from March – August 1942.
The 49th Fighter Group. 9th Fighter Squadron was one of two units in the 5th Air Force selected for conversion to the P-38 Lightning. Planck and Bong were among a group of new pilots in the South-West Pacific Area (SWPA) with experience flying the twin engine fighter. They began helping American fighter pilots convert from the P-40 Warhawk and P-39 Airacobra to the P-38 Lightning.
Aerial Victory Claims
Bong was credited with a a total of 40 aerial victories and was the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) highest scoring pilot during World War II. His aerial victory claims include:
||Notes on claim
First aerial victory claim, IJN A6M Zero from 582 Kokutai
Second aerial victory claim, JAAF Ki-43-I Oscar from 11th Sentai
Third aerial victory claim, JAAF Ki-43-I Oscar
Fourth aerial victory claim, JAAF Ki-43-I Oscar
Fifth aerial victory claim, became an "ace"
Claimed a heavy bomber "Doris" [sic]
G4M1 Betty over Milne Bay
Bong Victory Claims
Below is a list of Bong's victory claims with mission details and analysis of each of his claims. All of his aerial victory claims were made piloting the P-38 Lightning.
On December 27, 1942 Planck, Bong with ten 39th Squadron pilots took off from 14 Mile Drome (Schwimmer) near Port Moresby on a mission over Buna. Also flying that day were P-40 Warhawk pilots from the 7th and 9th Fighter Squadrons. The P-38 and P-40 pilots engaged in a dog fight with Japanese aircraft including D3A Vals and A6M Zeros from the 582 Kokutai and Ki-43 Oscars from the 11th Sentai. This mission was the first major P-38 Lightning combat in New Guinea. Bong claimed his first two victories, claiming a Zero (aerial victory claim no. 1) and an Oscar (aerial victory claim no. 2) and earned the Silver Star (at this stage of the war, the 5th Air Force was awarding the Silver Star for two aerial victories claimed on the same mission).
On January 7, 1943 Bong and Planck took off from 14 Mile Drome with six other P-38s on a combat air patrol (CAP) over Lae led by Captain Thomas Lynch. They engaged Japanese fighters defending the unloading of a convoy from Rabaul. During the air combat, he claimed two Oscars over the Huon Gulf (aerial victory claim no. 3 and aerial victory claim no. 4).
On January 8, 1943 Bong took off from 14 Mile Drome piloting P-38F 42-12653 on a mission over Lae. Over the target, he was credited with his fifth victory (aerial victory claim no. 5) and became an ace.
On March 3, 1943 during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea Bong claimed an A6M Zero (aerial victory claim no. 6).
On March 11, 1943 Bong took off piloting P-38 Number 80 from Horanda Drome (Dobodura 4) as part of "Green Flight" of the 9th Fighter Squadron led by Lt. Fowler with Planck as his wingman with Hanning and Overson. After climbing to 26,000', they were vectored to intercept twenty-four G4M1 Betty bombers escorted by A6M Zeros flying at 15,000' east of Oro Bay. A formation of Woods, Mankin and Bong in close echelon formation attacked a Betty bomber. Bong fired at an inverted Zero in a dive and pulled out at 475 mph above sea level. After pulling up and reversing course, he made a head on pass at an A6M Zero with a centerline drop tank and fired a long burst at it causing it to erupt in flames. Then fired on another A6M Zero with a centerline drop tank with a short burst, followed by an attack on seven other Zeros head on with a 20 degree deflection shot at the nearest plane and accellerated away. As he departed the area, one of the Zeros fired on his P-38 from the left quarter and hit his plane, causing a coolant leak on the left engine. Returning from the mission, he landed at Horanda Drome with a single engine. Bong was credited for two victories for this mission (aerial victory claim no. 7 and aerial victory claim no. 8).
On March 29, 1943 Bong claimed another aerial victory, a "Doris". Afterwards, promoted to 1st Lieutenant.
On April 14, 1943 took off from Horanda Drome (Dobodura 4) as part of "Green Flight" led by Richard Bong on a mission to intercept an incoming Japanese air raid sighted over Goodenough Island. After take off his element, 2nd Milliff and 2nd Lt. Nutter both experience engine trouble and aborted the mission leaving only Bong and Planck to proceed together but Planck's P-38 had its own problems with a non-functioning generator causing a loss of power. Nevertheless, he formed up on Bong's wing and climbed to 25,000' to serve as high cover. Unable to find the enemy, the P-38s proceeded to Milne Bay and intercepted a formation of G4M1 Betty bombers and attacked from the rear. Planck's starboard supercharger emitted smoke and flames and aborted the mission. Bong fired on the left flank wingman and opened fire with all his guns hitting the cockpit and left engine and caused it to pull out of formation into an overcast when it was attacked by RAAF Kittyhawks before crashing into Milne Bay. Afterwards, Bong was intercepted by Oscars and prevented him from attacking more of the bombers. Afterwards, Bong earned the Air Medal.
On June 5, 1943 Bong took off on a two hour patrol mission to observe a rescue party aiding 2nd Lt. Paul Yeager who bailed out of P-38G Lightning 43-2269 near Big Embi Lake on June 2, 1943. Observing a large crocodile in their path, Bong made a firing pass using his 20mm cannon to destroy the animal. His 'croc kill' was written up in Australian newspapers.
BONG RICHARD I 1st Lieutenant 9FTR 06-12-1943 Unknown Unknown WW2 Unknown 1
Bong was promoted to the rank of Captain.
BONG RICHARD I Captain 9FTR 07-26-1943 Unknown Unknown WW2 Unknown 4
On July 28, 1943 took off from Horanda Drome (Dobodura 4) on a mission to escort B-25s on a mission against Cape Gloucester. Over the north coast of New Britain off Cape Raoult at 8:15am, the P-38s spotted tweleve to eighteen Ki-43 Oscars were spotted and the P-38s released their drop tanks and attacked. During the combat, Captain Watkins attacked one of two Oscars attacking Lt. Bong. Afterwards, Bong made a head on pass against another Oscar and claimed it as shot down. (Reference: Combat Report Captain Watkins July 28, 1943, 49th Fighter Group Aces of the Pacific inside cover).
BONG RICHARD I Captain 9FTR 10-02-1943 Unknown Unknown WW2 Unknown 1
BONG RICHARD I Captain 9FTR 10-29-1943 Unknown Unknown WW2 Unknown 2
On November 5, 1943 Bong took off from Kiriwinia Airfield as flight leader of "Red Flight" on an mission to escort B-24 Liberators over Rabaul.
Over the target, Bong claimed two victories. His wingman, P-38E "Sooner" 42-12655 piloted by 2nd Lt. George C. Haniotis went Missing In Action (MIA).
On November 7, 1943 Bong took off from Kiriwinia Airfield on an mission to escort B-24 Liberators over Rabaul.
BONG RICHARD I Captain V FTR 02-15-1944 Unknown Unknown WW2 Unknown 1
BONG RICHARD I Captain V FTR 03-03-1944 Unknown Unknown WW2 Unknown 2
BONG RICHARD I Major V FTR 04-03-1944 Unknown Unknown WW2 Unknown 1
BONG RICHARD I Major V FTR 04-12-1944 Unknown Unknown WW2 Unknown 3. A probable Oscar was claimed.
BONG RICHARD I Major V FTR 10-10-1944 Unknown Unknown WW2 Unknown 2
BONG RICHARD I Major V FTR 10-27-1944 Unknown Unknown WW2 Unknown 1
BONG RICHARD I Major V FTR 10-28-1944 Unknown Unknown WW2 Unknown 2
BONG RICHARD I Major V FTR 11-10-1944 Unknown Unknown WW2 Unknown 1
BONG RICHARD I Major V FTR 11-11-1944 Unknown Unknown WW2 Unknown 2
BONG RICHARD I Major V FTR 12-07-1944 Unknown Unknown WW2 Unknown 2
BONG RICHARD I Major V FTR 12-15-1944 Unknown Unknown WW2 Unknown 1
BONG RICHARD I Major V FTR 12-17-1944 Unknown Unknown WW2 Unknown 1
Assigned P-38J 42-103993 and nicknamed it "Marge" in honor of his wife. Later, this aircraft was transfered to the 421st Night Fighter Squadron.
Another aircraft, P-38J 42-104380 was assigned to him and also nicknamed "Marge" and operated from Nadzab Airfield. Later, this aircraft was transfered to the Philippines and crashed on a checkout flight over Manila Bay.
On March 8, 1944 Bong took off along with P-38J 42-103987 piloted by Lt. Col Thomas J. Lynchon a fighter sweep over Aitape. Over the target, Bong witness him bail out at low altitude and crash.
Richard Bong's Lightnings
Listing of aircraft Bong flew or was assigned in the South-West Pacific Area (SWPA) and United States.
P-38J "Marge" 42-103993 assigned to Bong and named after his wife. Crashed March 22, 1944 piloted by Tom Malone
P-38J "Marge" 42-104380 crashed on a checkout flight over Manlia Bay
P-38F 42-12653 piloted by Bong January 8, 1943
The Richard I. Bong Heritage Center honors the memory of Major Bong. At the museum, P-38L 44-53236 was restored to the markings of "Marge". Previously, P-38L 44-27231 was also painted as "Marge". The American Legion Post #435 of Superior is named in Bong's honor.
USAF Victory Credits - Richard I Bong
The Evening Advocate (Innisfail, Qld) "U.S. Pilot Shoots Up Crocodile from Air" June 22, 1943 page 2
"NEW GUINEA. — First-Lieutenant Richard Bong, a U.S. .fighter pilot, who has shot down 10 enemy aircraft in the Southwest Pacific, has become the foundation member of the Crocodile Club.
With cannon fire from his Lightning fighter, he strafed and killed a crocodile which was trailing a frail rubber boat which contained three pilots who were bound on a rescue mission.
Previously a pilot from Lieutenant Bong's unit was reported lost in the jungle, and the pilot who located him radioed that he could best be reached by boat across a lake, as it would take hours to reach the spot through the jungle.
Three pilots of the unit inflated a small collapsible boat and set out to rescue their comrade. They saw what they took to be a huge log floating towards them from the edge of the lake, but paid it no attention.
The pilot who had started the rescue party saw the crocodile and radioed warnings to circling Lightnings. Lieutenant Bong skimmed across the surface of the lake, and with a short burst from his 20 mm. cannon destroyed the crocodile."
The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld) "Lightning Kills 'Gator" June 10, 1943 page 3
"NEW GUINEA, Wednesday — A United States fighter pilot has become the foundation member of the Alligator Club.
With cannon fire from his Lightning [he] killed a giant alligator trailing a rubber boat containing three pilots on a rescue mission. The pilot is First Lieutenant Richard Bong, who has shot down 10 enemy aircraft in the South-west Pacific.
A pilot from Bong's unit was reported lost in the jungle, and the Piper Cub (trainer plane) pilot who located him radioed that he could best be reached by boat across a lake.
Three pilots of the unit inflated a small collapsible boat and set out to rescue their comrade. They reported later that they had seen 'a huge log' floating towards them from the edge of the lake. One thought it was a native canoe.
The pilot of the Cub spotted the reptile and radioed to circling Lightnings for a strafing job. Skimming across the surface of the lake, Bong sent a 20 M.M. cannon burst into the alligator. The missing airman was rescued by another group of Americans."
General Kenny Reports pages iii, xii, 6, 12, 73, 125-126, 164, 171-172, 177, 319, 345-346, 362-364, 387, 393-394, 435-436, 339-441, 468-469, 470, 471-472, 475-476, 488-490, 495-496, 498, 503, 569, 571, 581
Aces High: The Heroic Saga of the Two Top-scoring American Aces of World War II page 121-122
FindAGrave - Maj Richard Ira Bong (photos, grave photos)
So We Have A War by Carl Bong (brother) biography of Richard I. Bong
Protect and Avenge page 92, 97, 101-102, 104, 108, 110-111, 117, 125-126 (March 11, 1943), 132-133, 138, 140, 164-165, 178, 188-191, 195-197, 207-208, 210-214 (last 9th FS), 232, 242 (photo), 245 (photo victory record), 268-271, 276-278, 289-292, 297, 299, 302 (Medal of Honor)
"Initial Japanese Army Air Operations" by Richard Dunn