Aviation History

America’s Top Ace Richard Bong nailed a crocodile With a burst of 20mm cannon fire from his P-38 to protect his comrades trying to rescue a fellow pilot who had been missing in the jungle

America’s Top Ace Richard Bong

After schooling in his hometown, Richard “Dick” Bong enlisted as a flying cadet at nearby Wausau, Wisc., May 29, 1941. He took flying training at Tulare and Gardner Fields, Calif., and Luke Field Ariz., receiving his wings and commission on Jan. 9, 1942. He instructed other pilots at Luke until May when he went to Hamilton Field, Calif., for combat training in P-38s.

According to the USAF Historical Support Division, he went to the Pacific as a fighter pilot with the 9th Fighter Squadron of the 49th Fighter Group in Australia. In November 1942, Major Bong was reassigned to the 39th Squadron of the 35th Group and he destroyed five Japanese fighter planes before returning to the 9th Squadron in January 1943. He flew with the 9th until November, being promoted to first lieutenant in April and to captain in August.

Richard Bong continues to fly combat missions in P-38s

On Nov. 11, 1943, he was given 60 days’ leave and reassigned to Headquarters V Fighter Command, New Guinea, as assistant operations officer in charge of replacement airplanes. In this assignment Major Bong continued to fly combat missions in P-38s and increased his enemy aircraft kills to 28. In April 1944, he was promoted to major and sent home to instruct others in the art of aerial superiority, with assignment to Foster Field, Texas.

In September 1944. he returned to the Pacific with the Fifth Fighter Command as gunnery training officer. Though not required to perform further combat flying, he voluntarily put in 30 more combat missions over Borneo and the Philippine Islands, destroying 12 more planes to bring his total to 40.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. P-38J Lightning “SCAT III” – 43-28341, 479th FG, 434rd FS – 1944

Still today Major Bong is the top American ace of all wars with 40 enemy aircraft destroyed in aerial combat.

Nailing a crocodile with his P-38 20mm

However, Bong not only shot down enemy aircraft, but he almost got credit for nailing a crocodile with his 20mm.

Pete Feigal, former Pro Military Artist, explains on Quora. ‘Dick didn’t consider himself a very good shot, THE most important skill needed to actually shoot down an enemy aircraft so he would fly in nice and cozy before pulling the trigger.

‘Bong’s strategy of close combat served him particularly well during a rescue mission in Papua New Guinea. Three fellow pilots were crossing a lake in a small boat to rescue another pilot who had been missing in the jungle. While flying overhead cover, Bong noticed a crocodile following the boat closely in the water. Charged with protecting his comrades, Bong dove very low and glided right over the water. With a precise burst of 20mm cannon fire, Bong blasted the croc. Newspapers reported on the incredible tale, though the crocodile was erroneously called a gator. Some joked about painting a crocodile on the side of “Marge!”’

Richard Bong’s P-38 Marge

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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