Tag Archives: Aerial Combat

Medal of Honor, Major Gregory Boyington, United States Marine Corps Reserve

Major Gregory Boyington, U.S. Marine Corps. (USMC)
Major Gregory Boyington, United States Marine Corps Reserve. (U.S. Navy)

3 January 1944: Major Gregory Boyington, United States Marine Corps Reserve, commanding VMF-214 at Bouganville, Solomon Islands, led 48 fighters in an attack against the Japanese naval base at Rabaul on the island of New Britain in the Bismarck Archipelago.

Flying a Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1 ¹ Corsair, Bu. No. 17915, Boyington shot down four enemy airplanes, bringing his total score to 28.² He was then himself shot down.

Major Pappy Boyington with a Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1 Corsair, Bu. No. 17740, at Torokina Airstrip, Bougainville, 1943. (U.S. Navy)

Wounded by bullets and shrapnel and with his Corsair on fire, Boyington parachuted to the ocean only 100 feet (30 meters) below. He was rescued by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-181 a few hours later, and was eventually taken to Japan and imprisoned for the next 20 months under the harshest conditions.

Kaidai VII-class submarine I-176, the same type as I-181. (N. Polmar, D. Carpenter, via Wikipedia)

Believed to have been killed, Major Boyington was “posthumously” awarded the Medal of Honor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Gregory Boyington was born 4 December 1912 at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He was the son of Charles Barker Boyington, a dentist, and Grace Barnhardt Gregory Boyington.

Boyington studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle. He was a member of the school’s boxing team. He graduated in 1934 and then went to work at Boeing Aircraft Company.

Gregory Boyington (then known as Gregory Hallenbeck, after his stepfather) married Miss Helene Marie Wickstrom at the Plymouth Congregational Church, Seattle, Washington, 29 July 1934. They would have three children, Janet, Gregory and Gloria, but divorced in 1941. (Boyington was awarded custody of their children by a court in 1942. While Boyington was overseas, the children lived with his parents.)

Greg Boyington had been in the Reserve Officers Training Corps during college, and had served as an officer in both the Coastal Artillery Corps, United States Army, and the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.

On 13 June 1935, Boyington enlisted as a private in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was accepted as an aviation cadet 11 February 1936, and trained as a Naval Aviator at NAS Pensacola, Florida. He graduated and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, United States Marine Corps Reserve, 2 July 1937. Boyington was promoted to first lieutenant, 1 July 1940. He served with the fleet until 1941.

Greg Boyington was a flight leader with the 1st American Volunteer Group in Burma, 1942. The airplanes in the background are Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81s.

Lieutenant Boyington resigned from the Marine Corps 27 August 1941, when he joined the 1st American Volunteer Group in Burma, better known as the “Flying Tigers.” The AVG was fighting in defense of China in the Second Sino-Japanese War. Flying the Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A3, Boyington claimed six enemy aircraft destroyed (though he is officially credited with 3.5) in combat.

In 1942, Greg Boyington returned to the United States and was reinstated in the Marine Corps with the rank of major. After serving with several squadrons in administrative positions, he was placed in command of Marine Fighter Squadron Two Hundred Fourteen (VMF-214, “Black Sheep”), a squadron based in the Solomon Islands. Older than most of the pilots in his squadron, he was given the nickname, “Pappy.”

Major Gregory Boyington, United States Marine Corps Reserve, 29 December 1943. (Associated Press)

During an 84-day period, VMF-214 pilots destroyed or damaged 203 enemy airplanes. Eight of these pilots became aces, with a total of 97 confirmed air-to-air kills.

General Alexander Archer Vandergrift, Commandant of the Marine Corps, presents the Navy Cross to Major Gregory Boyington USMCR, 4 October 1945.

Following his repatriation to the United States, Major Boyington was presented with the Navy Cross by General Alexander Archer Vandergrift, Commandant of the Marine Corps, 4 October 1945. The following day he was presented the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman in a ceremony at the White House.

President Harry S. Truman congratulates Lieutenant Colonel Gregory Boyington on the award of the Medal of Honor, 5 October 1945. (U.S. Navy)

Lieutenant Colonel Boyington married Mrs. Frances Baker (née Frances Reiman) at Las Vegas, Nevada, 8 January 1946. They divorced 13 October 1959.

Major and Mrs. Gregory Boyington (the former Mrs. Frances Reiman Baker), 9 January 1946. (International Soundphoto via SCV History)

Gregory Boyington retired from the United States Marine Corps on 1 August 1947 with the rank of Colonel. For the rest of his life, he would struggle with depression and alcoholism.

Boyinton’s autobiography, Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, was published by G.P. Putnam, New York, in 1958. He also wrote a novel, Tonya, which was published by Bobbs-Merrill Co., Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1960.

Boyington married his third wife, Mrs. Dolores Tees Shade (also known by her stage name, Dee Tatum), at Denver, Colorado, 27 October 1959; Las Vegas, Nevada, 16 February 1960; and Los Angeles, California, 22 December 1960. (There had been concern over the legality of the first two marriages due to the status of the couple’s divorces.) This marriage also ended in divorce, in 1972.

On 4 August 1975, Pappy Boyington married his fourth wife, Mrs. Josephine Wilson Moseman.

For his service during World War II, Colonel Gregory Boyington, United States Marine Corps, was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Navy Cross, Purple Heart Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with bronze star (two awards), Prisoner of War Medal, American Defense Service Medal with bronze star, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with silver star, and the World War II Victory Medal.

Colonel Gregory Boyington, United States Marine Corps (Retired), died at Fresno, California, 11 January 1988, at the age of 75 years. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Vought F4U-1A Corsair of VMF-214, Torokina, 1942. (U.S. Navy)
Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1 Corsair circa 1943. (U.S. Navy)

VMF-214  flew the Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division F4U-1 Corsair. The Corsair was designed by Rex Buren Beisel, and is best known for its distinctive inverted “gull wing,” which allowed sufficient ground clearance for its 13 foot, 4 inch (4.064 meter) diameter propeller, without using excessively long landing gear struts. The prototype XF4U-1, Bu. No. 1443, had first flown 29 May 1940, with test pilot Lyman A. Bullard in the cockpit.

The F4U-1 was 33 feet, 4.125 inches (10.163 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 11.726 inches (12.490 meters) and overall height (to top of propeller arc) of 15 feet, 0.21 inches (4.577 meters). The wings’ angle of incidence was 2°. The outer wing had 8.5° dihedral and the leading edges were swept back 4°10′. With its wings folded, the width of the F4U-1 was reduced to 17 feet, 0.61 inches (5.197 meters), and increased the overall height to 16 feet, 2.3 inches (4.935 meters). When parked, the Corsair’s 13 foot, 4 inch (4.064 meter) propeller had 2 feet, 1.93 inches (65.862 centimeters) ground clearance, but with the fighter’s thrust line level, this decreased to just 9.1 inches (23.1 centimeters). The F4U-1 had an empty weight of 8,982 pounds (4,074.2 kilograms) and gross weight of 12,162 pounds (5,516.6 kilograms).

Major Gregory Boyington, USMCR, commander VMF-214, boarding Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1 Corsair, Bu. No. 17883, at Barakoma Airfield, Vella LaVella Island, 1943. (U.S. Navy)

The F4U-1 variant of the Corsair was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-8) two-row, 18-cylinder radial engine, with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The R-2800-8 had a normal power rating of 1,675 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. and 44.0 inches of manifold pressure (1.490 bar) at 5,500 feet (1,676 meters); 1,550 horsepower at 21,500 feet (6,553 meters); and 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. with 54.0 inches of manifold pressure (1.829 bar) for takeoff. The engine turned a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 4 inches (4.064 meters) through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-8 was 7 feet, 4.47 inches (2.247 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms).

The F4U-1 had a cruise speed of 186 miles per hour (299 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. Its maximum speed at Sea Level was 365 miles per hour (587 kilometers per hour). During flight testing, an F4U-1 reached 431 miles per hour (694 kilometers per hour) at 20,300 feet (6,187 meters) with War Emergency Power. The service ceiling was 38,200 feet (11,643 meters) and its maximum range was 1,510 miles (2,430 kilometers) with full main and outer wing tanks.

Three Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns and belted ammunition installed in the left wing of a Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1 Corsair, 11 August 1942. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-6015)

The Corsair was armed with six air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, three in each wing, with 400 rounds of ammunition per gun.

A total of 12,571 Corsairs were manufactured by the Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division (F4U-1), Goodyear Aircraft Corporation (FG-1D) and Brewster Aeronautical Corporation (F3A-1). The Corsair served the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in World War II and the Korean War. Corsairs also served in other countries’ armed forces. Its last known use in combat was in Central America in 1969.

Major Gregory Boyington, USMCR, commander VMF-214, seated in the cockpit of Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1 Corsair, Bu. No. 17883, at Barakoma Airfield, Vella LaVella Island, 1943. (U.S. Navy)

¹ Boyington’s Corsair is usually identified as a “F4U-1A.” F4U-1A is not an official U.S. Navy designation, but is commonly used to distinguish late production F4U-1 Corsairs with their blown plexiglas canopies and other improvements from the earlier “bird cage” Corsairs.

² The United States Marine Corps History Division biography of Colonel Boyington states that he was “credited with the destruction of 28 Japanese aircraft. . . .

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 January 1967

“MiG Sweep,” by Keith Ferris. Colonel Robin Olds uses a Vector Roll to gain firing position on a MiG-21 fighter. “I got on top of him and half upside down, hung there, and waited for him to complete more of his turn. . . .”

2 January 1967: This painting, MiG Sweep, by aviation artist Keith Ferris, depicts “Olds 01” during OPERATION BOLO. The twin-engine all-weather jet fighter, a McDonnell F-4C -21-MC Phantom II, serial number 63-7680, was flown by Colonel Robin Olds, USAF, with First Lieutenant Charles C. Clifton, USAF, as the Weapons System Operator.

The Phantom is  shown inverted as Colonel Olds maneuvers to fire an AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking missile at a North Vietnamese Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 over Hanoi. Robin Olds was the only U.S. Air Force ace with victories in both World War II and Vietnam.

Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force
Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force, Wing Commander, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing. (U.S. Air Force)

The area around Hanoi, North Vietnam, was the most heavily defended target area ever encountered by the United States Air Force. A combination of radar-directed anti-aircraft artillery, surface-to-air guided missiles, and fighter interceptors made every mission very dangerous. Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers were taking heavy losses to the Soviet-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFL fighters. When escorting F-4C Phantoms would try to engage the MiGs, they would return to their bases which were safe from attack under the American rules of engagement.

Colonel Robin Olds with Captain John (“J.B.”) Stone, 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, one of the planners of OPERATION BOLO. (U. S. Air Force)

OPERATION BOLO was a complex plan to lure the ground-controlled MiG 21s into an air battle by having the Phantoms simulate a Thunderchief attack. Colonel Olds led 48 McDonnell F-4Cs of the 8th and 366th Tactical Fighter Wings on the same type of attack that would have been used by the Thunderchiefs, but rather than carrying a full load of bombs, the F-4s were armed with AIM-7E Sparrow radar-guided missiles and AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles. (The F-4C was not armed with a gun.)

A Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21PF at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
An Aero Vodochody-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21F-13 with the markings of the Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

As the Mach 2+ MiG 21s started coming up through the clouds, their pilots quickly realized that instead of the vulnerable targets of F-105s on a bomb run, they were faced with air superiority fighters.

In the official after action report, Colonel Olds said,

At the onset of this battle, the MiGs popped up out of the clouds. Unfortunately, the first one to pop through came up at my 6 o’clock position. I think this was more by chance than by design. As it turned out, within the next few moments, many others popped out of the clouds in varying positions around the clock.

This one was just lucky. He was called out by the second flight that had entered the area, they were looking down on my flight and saw the MiG-21 appear. I broke left, turning just hard enough to throw off his deflection, waiting for my three and four men to slice in on him. At the same time I saw another MiG pop out of the clouds in a wide turn about my 11 o’clock position, a mile and a half away. I went after him and ignored the one behind me. I fired missiles at him just as he disappeared into the clouds.

I’d seen another pop out in my 10 o’clock position, going from my right to left; in other words, just about across the circle from me. When the first MiG I fired at disappeared, I slammed full afterburner and pulled in hard to gain position on this second MiG. I pulled the nose up high about 45 degrees, inside his circle. Mind you, he was turning around to the left so I pulled the nose up high and rolled to the right. This is known as a vector roll. I got on top of him and half upside down, hung there, and waited for him to complete more of his turn and I timed it so that as I continued to roll down behind him, I’d be about 20 degrees angle off and about 4,500 to 5,000 feet behind him. That’s exactly what happened. Frankly, I’m not sure he ever saw me. When I got down low and behind, and he was outlined by the sun against a brilliant blue sky, I let him have two Sidewinders, one of which hit and blew his right wing off.

Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Page 39.

The F-4Cs succeeded in shooting down seven MiG 21s, with another two probably destroyed. This accounted for about half of the VPAF’s MiG 21 complement.

With another flight crew, the Phantom flown by Robin Olds on 2 January 1967, McDonnell F-4C-21-MC 63-7680, shot down a MiG 17 on 13 May 1967. It was itself shot down by antiaircraft fire while attacking a SAM site, 20 November 1967. The Weapons System Officer, 1st Lieutenant James L. Badley, bailed out and was rescued, but the pilot, Captain John M. Martin, was not seen to leave the aircraft and is listed as Missing in Action.

Colonel Robin Olds shot down two MiG-17 fighters with this McDonnell F-4C-21-MC Phantom II, 63-7680. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Robin Olds shot down a MiG 21 interceptor with this McDonnell F-4C-21-MC Phantom II, 63-7680, at Ubon RTAFB, sometime between March and November 1967. (Photograph by Frank R. MacSorley, Jr.)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 December 1941

Kawasaki Ki-48 Army Type 99 twin-engine light bomber. Allied reporting name, “Lily.”

20 December 1941: For the first time, the 1st American Volunteer Group engaged aircraft of the Empire of Japan in combat. 1st and 2nd Squadrons, based at Kunming, China, intercepted ten Kawasaki Ki-48-I Army Type 99 twin-engine light bombers of the 82nd Dokuritsu Hiko Chutai.

Japan and China had been at war since 1937. The Japanese aircraft were based at the Gia Lâm airport, near Hà Nội in occupied French Indochina. They had frequently attacked Kunming, a Chinese city at the northern end of the Burma Road, and had previously been unopposed. For this mission, the bomber squadron initially had a fighter escort, but the fighters turned back at the Indo-China/China border.

The AVG had established a network of observers which would report enemy aircraft in time for the fighters to take off to intercept them. Having received the warning of inbound aircraft, the 1st and 2nd AVG squadrons were ordered into battle.

1st American Volunteer Group fighter pilots run toward their shark-mouthed Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A2s, “somewhere in China.” (Defense Media Network)

Sources vary widely as to the number of AVG aircraft involved, but there may have been as many as 16 Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A3s from the 1st Squadron, and 8 more from the 2nd Squadron. There is a general consensus that the fighters shot down three of the Japanese bombers, and that a fourth went down while returning to base. Other sources say that only one of the ten Ki-48s made it back to its base. AVG pilots claimed five bombers shot down and two damaged. One Hawk 81 ran out fuel and was damaged beyond repair in a forced landing.

A Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A3 of the 1st American Volunteer Group, Kunming, China, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)
CAMCO assembly facility for Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A3 fighters for AVG (74250 A.C.) (SDASM)
Curtiss-Wright 81-A3, 1st American Volunteer Group, circa 1942.
AMERICAN AIRCRAFT IN ROYAL AIR FORCE SERVICE: CURTISS HAWK 81A TOMAHAWK. (CH 17252) The first Curtiss Tomahawks, Marks I and IIA, to enter squadron service with the RAF, in the hands of No. 403 Squadron RCAF at Baginton, Warwickshire. The Squadron operated the Tomahawk for only a short time, yielding them in favour of Supermarine Spitfires in May 1941. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210781
AMERICAN AIRCRAFT IN RAF SERVICE 1939-1945: CURTISS HAWK 81A TOMAHAWK. (ATP 10993F) Tomahawk Mk.IIb, AK184: cockpit interior, port side. Photograph taken at Air Service Training Ltd, Hamble, Hampshire. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205127117
Curtiss-Wright Tomahawk Mk.IIb, AK184, at Hamble, Hampshire © IWM.

RAF order for 100 Tomahawk IIb (Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A2 ) was released to be available for AVG. They were built as hybrids of the Tomahawk Mk.IIb and the P-40C Warhawk, though the airplanes intended for the AVG differed in details from either the standard Britsih or American fighters. The airplanes were painted in the standard RAF brown and green camouflage patterns. The completed airplanes were knocked down, crated, then shipped from New York. They were reassembled at a CAMCO facility near Rangoon, Burma.

Two Curtiss-Wright Tomahawk Mk.IIBs on a test flight following assembly at No. 107 Maintenance Unit, Kasfareet, Egypt. Copyright: © IWM.

The Curtiss-Wright Corporation Hawk 81 was a single-seat, single-engine pursuit (fighter). It was a low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction and used flush riveting to reduce aerodynamic drag. It had an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. Extensive wind tunnel testing at the NACA Langley laboratories refined the airplane’s design, significantly increasing the top speed.

The Hawk 81 was 31 feet, 8¾ inches (9.671 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 4 inches (11.379 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 7 inches (3.226 meters).

Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-33 V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (NASM)

The Tomahawk/Warhawk was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597ubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C15 (V-1710-33), a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which had a Continuous Power Rating of 930 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., from Sea Level to 12,800 feet (3,901 meters), and 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. to 14,300 feet (4,359 meters) for Take Off and Military Power. The engine drove a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-33 was 8 feet, 2.54 inches (2.503 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.88 inches (1.064 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 inches (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms).

Armament consisted of two air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted in the cowling and synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 380 rounds of ammunition per gun. In British service, the Tomahawk was armed with an additional four Browning .303 Mark II machine guns, with two in each wing. The American P-40, P-40B and P-40C Warhawks had two or four Browning AN-M2 .30-caliber aircraft machine guns as wing-mounted guns.

The “blood chit” was sometimes sewn on AVG pilots’ jackets.

The AVG pilots were employees of the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO). Most were former United States military pilots who had been secretly recruited. They were required to resign their officers’ commissions. Importantly, they were all civilians—not members of the Chinese military–nor were they otherwise employed by the government of China. They each had a one year contract, 4 July 1941–4 July 1942. They were paid a monthly salary, more than three times their former military pay, and were also paid a bonus for each enemy airplane they shot down.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 December 1941

First Lieutenant Boyd D. Wagner, USAAC. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant Boyd David Wagner, United States Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)

18 December 1941: First Lieutenant Boyd David (“Buzz”) Wagner, United States Army Air Corps, commanding officer of the 17th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) at Nichols Field, Pasay City, Commonwealth of the Philippines, shot down his fifth Japanese airplane, a Mitsubishi A6M2 Type Zero fighter, with his Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawk, near Vigan, Luzon. He became the first U.S. Army “ace” of World War II.

On 12 December 1941, “Buzz” Wagner was flying a lone reconnaissance mission over the airfield at Aparri, which had been captured by the invading Japanese. He was attacked by several Zero fighters but he evaded them, then returned and shot down two of them.  As he strafed the airfield he was attacked by more Zeros and shot down two more, bringing his score for the mission to four enemy airplanes shot down.

On 18 December, Lieutenant Wagner lead a flight of four P-40s to attack the enemy-held airfield at Vigan. He and Lieutenant Russell M. Church strafed and bombed the field while two other P-40s covered from overhead. Wagner destroyed nine Japanese aircraft on the ground, but as he passed over the field a Zero took off. Wagner rolled inverted to locate the Zero, then after spotting him, chopped his throttle and allowed the Zero to pass him. This left Wagner in a good position and he shot down his fifth enemy fighter. Lieutenant Church was shot down by ground fire and killed.

Mitsubishi A6M3 Model 22 "Zeke" in the Solomon Islands, 1943. (Imperial Japanese Navy)
A Mitsubishi A6M3 Navy Type 0 Model 22, UI 105, (Allied reporting name “Zeke”, but better known simply as “the Zero”) in the Solomon Islands, May 1943. This fighter is flown by Petty Officer 1st Class Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, 251st Kōkūtai, Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service. (Imperial Japanese Navy)

This fifth shoot down made Buzz Wagner the first U.S. Army Air Corps ace of World War II. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in an air battle, 22 December 1941. He was evacuated to Australia in January 1942.

2nd Lieutenant Boyd D. Wagner, Air Corps, United States Army.

Boyd David Wagner was born 26 October 1916 at Emeigh, Pennsylvania. He was the first of two children of Boyd Matthew Wagner, a laborer, and Elizabeth Moody Wagner. After graduating from high school, Wagner enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh, where he majored in aeronautical engineering.

After three years of college, Boyd Wagner enlisted as a flying cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 26 June 1937. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, Air Corps Reserve, 16 June 1938. Lieutenant Wagner received advanced flight training and pursuit training, and on 1 October 1938 his commission as a reserve officer was changed to Second Lieutenant, Army Air Corps.

Wagner was promoted to First Lieutenant, Army of the United States, on 9 September 1940. Lieutenant Wagner was assigned to the 24th Pursuit Group in the Philippine Islands, 5 December 1940.

1st Lieutenant Boyd David Wagner, United States Army Air Corps, Philippine Islands, 1 December 1941. (Photograph by Carl Mydans/TIME & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images)
Lt. Col. Boyd D. Wagner

Lieutenant Wagner was promoted to the rank of Captain, A.U.S., 30 January 1942. On 11 April 1942, Captain Wagner was again promoted, bypassing the rank of Major, to Lieutenant Colonel, A.U.S. He was assigned to the 8th Fighter Group in New Guinea. On 30 April 1942, while flying a Bell P-39 Airacobra, Wagner shot down another three enemy airplanes. In September 1942, Colonel Wagner was sent back to the United States to train new fighter pilots.

On 29 November 1942, Colonel Wagner disappeared while on a routine flight from Eglin Field, Florida, to Maxwell Field, Alabama, in a Curtiss-Wright P-40K Warhawk, 42-10271. Six weeks later, the wreck of his fighter was found, approximately 4 miles north of Freeport, Florida. Lieutenant Colonel Boyd David Wagner, United States Army Air Corps, had been killed in the crash. His remains are buried at Grandview Cemetery, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Curtiss P-40B Warhawks at Clark Field, Philippine Islands, early December 1941.
Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawks of the 17th Pursuit Squadron, Nichols Field, Luzon, Philippine Islands, early December 1941. This squadron was under the command of 1st Lieutenant Buzz Wagner. (U.S. Air Force)

The Curtiss-Wright Corporation Hawk 81B (P-40B Warhawk) was a single-seat, single-engine pursuit. It was a low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction and used flush riveting to reduce aerodynamic drag. It had an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. Extensive wind tunnel testing at the NACA Langley laboratories refined the airplane’s design, significantly increasing the top speed.

The P-40B Warhawk was 31 feet, 8¾ inches (9.671 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 4 inches (11.379 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 7 inches (3.226 meters). Its empty weight was 5,590 pounds (2,536 kilograms), and 7,326 pounds (3,323 kilograms) gross. The maximum takeoff weight was 7,600 pounds (3,447 kilograms).

Curtiss-Wright P-40B or C Warhawk, circa 1942. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

The P-40B was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597 cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C15 (V-1710-33), a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which had a Continuous Power Rating of 930 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., from Sea Level to 12,800 feet (3,901 meters), and 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. to 14,300 feet  (4,359 meters) for Take Off and Military Power. The engine drove a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-33 was 8 feet, 2.54 inches (2.503 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.88 inches (1.064 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 inches (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms).

Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-33 V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (NASM)
Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-33 V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (NASM)

Heavier than the initial production P-40, the P-40B was slightly slower, with a maximum speed of 352 miles per hour (567 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). It had a service ceiling of 32,400 feet (9,876 meters). Its range was 730 miles (1,175 kilometers).

Armament consisted of two air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted in the cowling and synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 380 rounds of ammunition per gun, and four Browning AN-M2 .30-caliber aircraft machine guns, with two in each wing.

Curtiss-Wright produced 13,738 P-40s between 1939 and 1944. 131 of those were P-40B Warhawks.

These Curtiss P-40B Warhawks of the 44th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group, are the same type aircraft flown by Buzz Wagner. (U.S. Air Force)
These Curtiss P-40B Warhawks of the 44th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group, are the same type aircraft flown by Buzz Wagner in combat over the Philippine Islands. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 December 1944

Major Richard Ira Bong, Air Corps, United States Army, Leyte, 12 December 1944. Major Bong is wearing the Medal of Honor. (U.S. Air Force)

17 December 1944: Major Richard Ira Bong, United States Army Air Corps, flying a Lockheed P-38 Lighting over San José on the Island of Mindoro, Commonwealth of the Philippines, shot down an enemy Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa (Allied reporting name, “Oscar”).

This was Bong’s 40th confirmed aerial victory and made him the leading American fighter ace of World War II. He is officially credited with 40 aircraft destroyed, 8 probably destroyed and 7 damaged.

Five days earlier, 12 December, during a ceremony at an American airfield on the Island of Leyte, Philippine Islands, General Douglas MacArthur, United States Army, had presented Major Bong the Medal of Honor.

An Associated Press reporter quoted the General:

“Of all military attributes, that one which arouses the greatest admiration is courage. It is the basis of all successful military ventures. our forces possess it to a high degree and various awards are provided to show the public’s appreciation. The Congress of the United States has reserved to itself the honor of decorating those amongst all who stand out as the bravest of the brave. It’s this high and noble category, Bong, that you now enter as I pin upon your tunic the Medal of Honor. Wear it as a symbol of the invincible courage you have displayed so often in mortal combat. My dear boy, may a merciful God continue to protect you is the constant prayer of your commander in chief.”

[On 18 December 1944, Douglas MacArthur was promoted to General of the Army, a five-star rank held by only nine other U.S. military officers. General MacArthur was the son of a Medal of Honor recipient, and had himself been twice nominated for the Medal for his actions during the occupation of Vera Cruz (1914) and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (1918). He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his defense of the Philippines, 1941–42.]

General Douglas MacArthur talks with Major Richard I. Bong, 12 December 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
General Douglas MacArthur talks with Major Richard I. Bong, Leyte, Philippine Islands, 12 December 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

Richard Bong’s citation reads:

MEDAL OF HONOR

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Major (Air Corps) Richard Ira Bong, United States Army Air Forces, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 49th Fighter Group, V Fighter Command, Fifth Air Force, in action in the Southwest Pacific area from 10 October to 15 November 1944.

Though assigned to duty as gunnery instructor and neither required nor expected to perform combat duty, Major Bong voluntarily and at his own urgent request engaged in repeated combat missions, including unusually hazardous sorties over Balikpapan, Borneo, and in the Leyte area of the Philippines. His aggressiveness and daring resulted in his shooting down eight enemy airplanes during this period.

General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 90, December 8, 1944
Action Date: October 10 – November 15, 1944
Service: Army Air Forces
Rank: Major
Regiment: 49th Fighter Group, V Fighter Command
Division: 5th Air Force.

Dick Bong poses with "Marge," his Lockheed P-38J Lightning. A large photograph of his fiancee, Miss Marjorie Vattendahl, is glued to the fighter's nose.
Dick Bong poses with “Marge,” his Lockheed P-38J-15-LO Lightning, 42-103993, Lockheed serial number 2827. A large photograph of his fiancée, Miss Marjorie Ann Vattendahl, is affixed to the fighter’s nose.

Major Bong flew a number of different Lockheed P-38s in combat. He is most associated, though, with P-38J-15-LO 42-103993, which he named Marge after his fiancée, Miss Marjorie Ann Vattendahl, a school teacher from Poplar, Wisconsin.

Richard Bong had flown 146 combat missions. General George C. Kenney, commanding the Far East Air Forces, relieved him from combat and ordered that he return to the United States. He was assigned to test new production P-80 Shooting Stars jet fighters being built at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s Burbank, California plant.

On 6 August 1945, the fuel pump of the new P-80 Bong was flying failed just after takeoff. The engine failed from fuel starvation and the airplane crashed into a residential area of North Hollywood, California. Major Richard Ira Bong was killed.

Nakajima Ki-43 Type 1 Army Fighter (AvionsLegendaires.net)

The Nakajima Ki-43 Type 1 Hayabusa was a single-place, single-engine fighter manufactured by Nakajima Hikoki K.K. for the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service. The light weight fighter was very maneuverable and was a deadly opponent. It was identified as “Oscar” by Allied forces. The Ki-43 shot down more Allied airplanes during World War II than any other Japanese fighter.

The Ki-43 was 29.2 feet (8.90 meters) long, with a wingspan of 35.6 feet (10.85 meters) and height of 9 feet (2.74 meters). Its empty weight was 4,170 pounds (1,878 kilograms) and gross weight  was 5,500 pounds (2,495 kilograms).

The Ki-43 Type 1 Army Fighter was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged Nakajima Ha-115 Toku two-row, 14-cylinder radial engine which produced 925 horsepower at 9,350 feet (2,850 meters), 800 horsepower  at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), and 1,105 horsepower at Sea Level for takeoff. The engine drove a three-bladed constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 9.2 feet (2.80 meters).

Nakajima Ki-43 Type 1 Army Fighter, called “Oscar” by the Allied forces. (The Java Gold’s Blog)

Compared to American fighters, the Oscar was lightly armed with just two synchronized 7.7 mm × 58 mm Type 89 or 12.7 mm × 81 mm Type 1 machine guns, or a combination of one 7.7 mm and one 12.7 mm gun. The 12.7 machine gun could fire explosive ammunition. (The Type 89 was a licensed version of the Vickers .303-caliber machine gun, while the design of the Type 1 was based on the Browning M1921 .50-caliber machine gun.)

The Oscar’s maximum speed was 295 miles per hour (475 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 347 miles per hour (558 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). Its service ceiling was 37,100 feet (11,308 meters). The maximum range with a normal fuel load of 149 U.S. gallons (564 liters) was 1,180 miles (1,899 kilometers) at 1,500 feet (457 meters).

Lockheed P-38J-10-LO Lightning 42-68008, Lockheed serial number 2519. (Lockheed Martin)

The Lockheed P-38 lightning is a single-place, mid-wing, twin-engine fighter. It is an unusual configuration, with the cockpit, weapons and nose landing gear in a central nacelle, and engines, turbochargers, cooling system and main landing gear in outer “booms.” The airplane was originally designed by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson.

The P-38J is 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long, with a wingspan of 52 feet, 0 inches (15.850 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 9-11/16 inches (2.989 meters). The fighter has an empty weight of 12,700 pounds (5,761 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 21,600 pounds (9,798 kilograms).

The P-38J was powered by two liquid-cooled, turbosupercharged 1,710.597-cubic-inch displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710-F-17R and -F17L (V-1710-89 and -91, respectively) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines with a continuous power rating of 1,100 horsepower at 2,600 r,p.m., to 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), and a takeoff/military power rating of 1,425 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. The counter-rotating engines drove 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters) diameter, three-bladed Curtiss Electric full-feathering constant-speed propellers through a 2.00:1 gear reduction. The engines were 7 feet, 1.34 inches (2.168 meters) long, 3 feet, 0.75 inches (0.933 meters) high, 2 feet, 5.28 inches (0.744 meters) wide, and weighed 1,350 pounds (612 kilograms).

A flight of two camouflaged Lockheed P-38J Lightnings, circa 1943. Dick Bong is flying the closer airplane, P-38J-5-LO 42-67183. (Lockheed Martin)

The P-38J had a maximum speed of 420 miles per hour (676 kilometers per hour) at 26,500 feet (8,077 meters). The service ceiling was 44,000 feet (13,411 meters). Carrying external fuel tanks, the Lightning had a maximum range of 2,260 miles (3,637 kilometers).

P-38s were armed with one 20 mm Hispano M2 aircraft autocannon with 150 rounds of ammunition, and four air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns with 500 rounds per gun. All guns are grouped close together in the nose and aimed straight ahead.

A Lockheed P-38 Lighning test fires its guns. (Lockheed Martin)

Between 1939 and 1945, Lockheed Aircraft Corporation built 10,037 P-38 Lightnings at Burbank, California. 2,970 of these were P-38Js.

Major Richard Ira Bong, Air Corps, United States Army. (Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center/National Endowment for the Humanities)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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