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Mitsubishi G4M 'Betty' shot down attacking US fleet

Mitsubishi G4M 'Betty' shot down attacking US fleet

Mitsubishi G4M 'Betty' shot down attacking US fleet

Here we see a MitsubishiG4M 'Betty' that has been hit by US fire while attempting to attack the US fleet some time during 1943.


Killing Yamamoto: How the U.S. assassinated the Japanese admiral who planned Pearl Harbor: Operation Vengeance

On December 7th, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service launched their surprise military strike on Pearl Harbor. The United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed that this date “will live in infamy,” mainly due to there not being a formal declaration of war and the attack happening without an explicit warning from the Japanese. In fact, negotiations with Japanese diplomats in Washington were still ongoing. The United States was, quite literally, caught by surprise.

Although Japan reasoned the attack was preemptive, the entire attack was classified as a war crime by the end of the war during the Tokyo Trials. And even today, any American will know what you mean when you mention Pearl Harbor. Now, the commander-in-chief of the Imperial Japanese Combined Fleet, Isoroku Yamamoto, is generally seen as the primary person responsible for the attack. He was integral to the planning and execution of the surprise military strike. You could say Yamamoto was the mastermind behind the Pearl Harbor Attack.

The Americans certainly saw it that way. Nearly a year and a half after the Pearl Harbor attack, the United States Office for Naval Intelligence intercepted and deciphered a coded message from the Japanese. The Americans realised they had struck gold. The message contained the detailed travel schedule of Yamamoto, who was planning to visit troops on the Solomon Islands in an attempt to boost morale. What followed was preparing an incredibly daring and risky secret operation: Operation Vengeance, the mission to assassinate the mastermind behind the Pearl Harbor Attack.

Deciphering the Itinerary

By February 1943 the tide of the war in the Pacific was decisively shifting in favour of the United States. The Japanese had retreated from Guadalcanal, lost many warships, aircraft carriers and aircraft, and the morale of Imperial troops was plummeting. From his base in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, Yamamoto decided to visit troops on the frontlines on Bougainville, part of the Solomon Islands Archipelago. The visit’s goal was to increase soldiers’ dwindling morale. They often complained about the lack of senior commanders ascertaining the frontlines’ situation.

Now, over the years American, British, French and Dutch codebreakers cooperated in order to break the Japanese naval codes and cyphers. Japan’s main, and most secure communication scheme used by the Imperial Japanese Navy was referred to as JN-25. Intercepting dozens of coded Japanese diplomatic and military messages, slowly but surely the grasp on JN-25 strengthened. One of the critical methods was the so-called known-plaintext attack, abbreviated to KPA, and commonly known as exploiting “Cribs.” Basically, the process of cribbing meant cryptographers inferred coded messages with the partial knowledge of plaintext they expected. Japanese military orders often contained sentences such as “I have the honor to inform your excellency…”. Knowing this helped cryptographers to decipher intercepted coded messages.

And although the Japanese Navy adopted improved variants, namely JN-25b, c and eventually d, Allied codebreakers managed to decipher large parts of the messages that were transmitted by the Japanese, albeit without their knowledge.

When on April 13, a coded message from Yamamoto’s command bunker in Rabaul was sent to several command posts in the area, the Allied codebreaker gears began grinding. Although it used the newly adopted JN-25d cypher, they deciphered it within a day. Much to the codebreakers’ surprise, the message not only contained Yamamoto’s intention to visit troops on the frontline in the Solomon Archipelago but in fact included the time and date of his planned travel, the number of fighter planes as part of his escorting squadron, a detailed route and his destination: the airfield at Balalae Island.

According to sources describing Operation Vengeance from the American perspective, upon learning of the contents of the message, U.S. Commander in the Pacific, Admiral Chester Nimitz is said to have sent his own message to the Pacific Fleet commander William Halsey. It read no less than: “TALLY HO X LET’S GET THE BASTARD.”

Operation Vengeance

Because Yamamoto planned on visiting Balalae Island five days after the message was intercepted, time was of the essence. Yet having all this information did not necessarily mean an operation to take out one of Japan’s most senior commanders was a cut and dry case. The closest American airbase near Balalae was on the recently conquered Guadalcanal. That was over four hundred miles away, and the Navy and Marine fighter planes such as the F4F Wildcat and F4U Corsairs did not have enough fuel, and thus not enough range, to be able to reach Yamamoto’s squadron on their way.

The only aircraft that would be able to reach the squadron was the single-seated, twin-engined Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft, outfitted with additional fuel tanks. Eighteen P-38s were assigned to the mission. In order to avoid Japanese radar detection, the aircraft had to fly at an altitude of no more than 15 metres, at least 80 kilometres offshore of islands, for a distance over 600 kilometres. Of the eighteen, four P-38s were designated the so-called ‘Killer Group.’ These were tasked with taking out Yamamoto’s G4M, while the other fourteen P-38s covered the group against potential counter-attacks. After all, the operation took place close to Japanese airbases.

Now, the Airborne Early Warning and Control System, or AWACS for short, is an airborne radar picket system that detected aircraft, ships and vehicles. Yet, the P-38s were not outfitted with it. They weren’t even equipped with a land-based radar to guide them or detect the squadron escorting Yamamoto. This was a problem for two reasons. Firstly, if Yamamoto changed his schedule at the last minute, the squadron of P-38s would be flying around, not knowing what to do or where he was. So they had to count on him not diverting a single minute from the travel schedule, betting on Yamamoto being punctual, something he was known for. Because they were aware of the average speed and probable route of the squadron escort, consisting of Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” and Mitsubishi Zero’s, together with the assumed wind speed, they could more or less calculate the position of the squadron at all times.

That brings us to the second problem, which to be fair builds forth upon the first problem: there was no wiggling room for getting lost or being early. If they beat Yamamoto’s squadron by ten minutes, they could hardly fly in circles in territory that was crowded with Japanese airbases and most likely had swarms of patrols both in the sky and on the water.

Planning the mission in detail, the Office calculated that the P-38s would intercept the squadron at 9:35 AM. On the morning of April 18 it was go-time. The squadron flew at an altitude of 15 meters at most for hundreds of kilometers. They reached the point where they would intercept Yamamoto’s squadron one minute early, at 9:34 AM. And the Japanese arrived right on time. The Americans had calculated it correctly, and Yamamoto, unwittingly, honoured his reputation for punctuality.

Flying at around 1.4 kilometres height were the two Mitshubsihi G4M “Betty”. Onboard of one was Admiral Yamamoto. The other one carried his right-hand-man, Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki. Six Mitsubishi A6M Zeros escorted them. When the Americans realised the Japanese were on time, the four P-38s part of the Killer group shed their additional fuel tanks and began climbing to attack the Bettys. Due to technical difficulties, one of the P-38s had to abandon its climb early on. The other twelve of the protective squadron climbed even further to prevent any reinforcements from Japanese airbases interfering.

The sudden appearance of P-38s must have been a surprise to the Japanese pilots. After all, they were merely 15 minutes away from the Balalae landing strip. As soon as pilots of the Zeros saw them, they engaged in a dogfight. One P-38, piloted by Thomas Lanphier, fought the Zeros while the other two chased the G4M, one of them containing Yamamoto. Lieutenant Rex T. Barber shot down one of the G4Ms and narrowly avoided collision mid-air. The G4M crashed in the Bougainville jungle.

Lieutenant Besby F. Holmes damaged the other G4M, but the job was eventually finished by Barber who shot the aircraft out of the sky. This one crash-landed in the water. One of the P-38s was shot down by a Zero. Now, both G4Ms crashed, but the commander of one of them survived. Aboard the G4M that crashed in the water was Vice-Admiral Matome Ugaki, who in fact survived the crash and was picked up by the Japanese Navy. Yamamoto wasn’t as fortunate, however.

The wreckage of his plane still lies amidst the Solomon jungle. It is accessible, but only by trekking through thick vegetation and swampy grounds. A Japanese search-and-rescue party recovered Yamamoto’s remains the next day. His remains were cremated, and he was given a state funeral on June 5, 1943, over a month after his death. It is said over a million mourners attended the funeral.

The Controversy

Up until May 21st, so nearly a month, the Japanese kept Yamamoto’s death a secret. When the broadcast finally aired in Japan, it stated Yamamoto was “killed in aerial combat and met his gallant death in his war plane.” When news of the success of the mission, and Yamamoto’s demise reached the U.S. military, it was an incredible morale boost.

But the story had an unfortunate twist thanks to the pilots that flew the P-38s as part of the Killer Group. They became embroiled about the question of who actually shot down Yamamoto’s G4M. This rather public fight overshadowed the success of the mission.

In October that same year, Time magazine published a detailed article. In it, Captain Thomas Lanphier received credit for downing the G4M. This was disputed by other pilots, among whom Barber. He claimed he was responsible for shooting down the G4M. But that wasn’t the only problem: the Time article contained many sensitive details. Navy command considered Major John Mitchell responsible for his pilots, and because he didn’t keep them in check, he’d suffer the consequences. Instead of the Medal of Honor, which he would most likely have received for the mission, he was awarded the Navy Cross. This military decoration was considered less prestigious than the Medal of Honor.

Until his death in 1987, Lanphier kept up the claim he downed the G4M, something Barber contested until his death in 2001. Now, as for Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki who survived the crash. He is fascinating in his own right for he survived the end of the war, only to become Japan’s final kamikaze pilot. I’ve created a video about his final kamikaze attack, it should appear on-screen shortly. I’ve also created a video about Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s life, which was incredibly fascinating to research. The Admiral studied at Harvard University and knew the United States from the inside, actually opposing the war initially. He was even put under 24/7 protection during the 1930s because the army feared he would be assassinated for being deemed too “Pro-American.” If you’d like to know that story, consider checking out that article.


Mitsubishi G4M 'Betty' shot down attacking US fleet - History

By Michael D. Hull

His name was Doris, but he was a powerfully built football fullback, a heavyweight boxer, and the first black American hero of World War II.

He distinguished himself during the Japanese sneak attack against Hawaii on Sunday, December 7, 1941, and gave his life for his country two years later. Poems and songs were written about him, a Navy ship was named in his honor, and he was memorialized at the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor.

The Humble Origins of a Pearl Harbor Hero

Seaman Doris Miller.

Doris Miller, known as “Dorie” to his shipmates in the U.S. Navy, was a humble seaman from humble origins who became a legend and an inspiration to America’s black community during the war. His extraordinary courage on December 7 brought him the Navy Cross, a commendation by the secretary of the Navy, and praise from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet.

Dorie Miller was born on October 12, 1919, to Conery and Henrietta Miller of Waco, Texas. He had three brothers, one of whom would serve in the Army during World War II. Dorie attended Waco’s Moore High School, where he distinguished himself as a battering ram fullback on the football team. When not in school, the barrel-chested young athlete worked on his sharecropper father’s farm.
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At the age of 19, Dorie decided that he wanted to travel and also earn money to help support his family, so he went to Dallas and enlisted in the Navy as a mess attendant, third class, on September 16, 1939, two weeks after the outbreak of World War II. After undergoing basic training at the Norfolk, Virginia, Naval Station, he was assigned briefly to the USS Pyro, an ammunition ship.

On January 2, 1940, Miller was transferred to the Colorado-class battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48). Commissioned on December 1, 1923, the 32,000-ton battleship mounted eight 16-inch guns and was regarded as one of the best vessels in the U.S. Fleet. Miller found his athletic prowess in demand aboard the “Big Weevie,” which had long emphasized sports activities for morale building among her crew, winning the Iron Man athletic trophy more than any other ship. The young Texan became the ship’s heavyweight boxing champion. He was assigned in July 1940 to temporary duty aboard the battleship USS Nevada and at the Secondary Battery Gunnery School and returned to the West Virginia on August 3.

“The Japs are Attacking Us!”

Early on the balmy morning of December 7, 1941, the battleships, cruisers, destroyers, minesweepers, submarines, and tenders of the U.S. Pacific Fleet lay at anchor, peaceful and unsuspecting, around Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. On Battleship Row, the West Virginia was anchored next to the USS Tennessee and astern of the USS Maryland and USS Oklahoma. Sailors stirred from their bunks that morning, headed to the messes for breakfast, and readied themselves for morning colors and Sunday church services.

Aboard the West Virginia, mess attendant Dorie Miller was below deck collecting laundry and starting another routine day of menial tasks that were the prescribed functions of black sailors in the segregated U.S. Navy. At 7:55 am, his chores were abruptly interrupted by the sounds of explosions, guns firing, and seamen shouting, “The Japs are attacking us!”

During the Pearl Harbor attack, the West Virginia, shown in a 1939 photograph, was moored outboard of the battleship USS Tennessee and took hits from several aerial torpedoes while the Tennessee was shielded from torpedo attack but struck by Japanese bombs.

Without warning and against almost no opposition, the first of two waves of 360 Japanese carrier-borne torpedo bombers, dive bombers, and fighters had burst through the overcast and swept in over the island of Oahu to attack the ships, airfields, and other U.S. military installations. Two years and three months after its outbreak, America had been suddenly and brutally thrust into the global war.

Led by Kate torpedo bombers, almost 200 planes in the first enemy attack wave flew in low and fast over Pearl Harbor, loosing their projectiles on Battleship Row. Three battleships—California, Oklahoma, and West Virginia—were struck. The second run hit a cruiser and capsized a minelayer, and the third struck another cruiser and the old battleship USS Utah. Under eight simultaneous dive bomber assaults, four more battleships—Nevada, Maryland, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania—caught fire, while the venerable battlewagon USS Arizona took hits in her forward magazine and boilers. She blew up with the loss of 1,103 officers and men. Within minutes, Pearl Harbor was an inferno of explosions, fires, and high columns of billowing black smoke.

Meanwhile, Japanese planes bombed and strafed the Ford Island and Kaneohe Naval Air Stations, the Marine Corps air base at Ewa, and the Army Air Forces’ Hickam, Wheeler, and Bellows Fields, where bombers and fighters were parked wing-to-wing and almost completely wiped out.

Captain Bennion’s Posthumous Medal of Honor

Captain Mervyn S. Bennion.

Aboard the West Virginia, messman Miller and other sailors scrambled topside to assist on deck when they felt the ship convulse and heard the din of sudden war overhead. The Big Weevie was burning and severely damaged after taking hits from two 1,000-pound bombs and six or seven torpedoes. She listed rapidly, but this was corrected by prompt counterflooding, allowing the battlewagon to settle almost upright on the harbor bottom. Her blackened, battered superstructure remained above water.

On deck, Miller was knocked down by the force of another explosion, but he recovered and assisted fire and rescue parties that had been organized by the ship’s well-trained crew. Because of his considerable physical strength, Miller was able to carry several wounded men to safety. Despite frequent enemy dive bombing and strafing, all hands fought the fires. “Their spirit was marvelous,” reported the ship’s surviving executive officer. “Words fail in attempting to describe the magnificent display of courage, discipline, and devotion to duty of all.”

On the West Virginia’s exposed battle conning tower, her skipper, Captain Mervyn S. Bennion, doubled up. Steel fragments, probably from an armor-piercing bomb that had just struck the nearby USS Tennessee, had torn into his stomach. Lt. Cmdr. T.T. Beattie, the ship’s navigator, loosened Bennion’s collar and summoned a pharmacist’s mate. Under continued strafing and as fires swept toward the bridge, Dorie Miller joined Lieutenant D.C. Johnson, the ship’s communications officer, in dragging the almost disemboweled Captain Bennion to cover and attempting to move him from the bridge.

But the skipper, knowing that he was dying, maintained command and was concerned only for his ship and crew. Lying on the deck of his bridge, he ordered that he be left alone, and his life flickered out a few minutes later. Along with Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, killed aboard his flagship, the Arizona, Captain Bennion was later awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor.

Vice Admiral Walter S. Anderson, himself a prewar skipper of the West Virginia, said later, “He was a bona fide hero. I did not personally know enough to recommend him for the Medal of Honor, but I am glad he got it, because that captain of the West Virginia merited it if anybody ever did.” Bennion was one of 105 men killed out of the battleship’s complement of 1,500.

“I Just Grabbed Hold of the Gun and Fired”

After the attempt to assist his dying skipper, mess attendant Miller joined Lieutenant F.H. White on the ship’s forward guns. Without hesitation, he positioned himself behind a big .50-caliber antiaircraft machine gun. He had never been instructed how to fire a gun, but Miller quickly figured out how the weapon worked and began firing at strafing Japanese planes. “I just grabbed hold of the gun and fired,” he reported later. “It wasn’t hard. I just pulled the trigger, and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns…. Those Jap planes were diving pretty close to us.”

During a visit to San Francisco in December 1942, the soft-spoken, courteous Miller explained, “I forgot all about the fact that I and other Negroes can be only messmen in the Navy, and are not taught how to man an antiaircraft gun. Several of the men had lost their lives—including some of the high officers—when the order came for volunteers from below to come on the upper deck and help fight the Japanese. Without knowing how I did it, it must have been God’s strength and mother’s blessing, I ran up … and I started to fire the big guns. I actually downed four Japanese bombers.” Some witnesses said that Miller may have actually shot down five aircraft, although the actual extent of any damage inflicted on the Japanese is unknown.

The battleship USS West Virginia settles on an even keel to the bottom of Pearl Harbor after sustaining multiple torpedo hits from Japanese planes on December 7, 1941. Rescuers in a motor launch pull a sailor from the water as smoke billows.

Dorie fired unflinchingly at the enemy raiders for about 15 minutes before running out of ammunition. Then he was ordered to leave the crippled ship. After helping to rescue more shipmates, he dived into the harbor and swam to safety ashore. Dorie had to swim part of the way underwater, beneath burning oil leaking from the Arizona and other nearby ships.

Recognition by the Press: “The First Negro Hero”

In the wake of the disaster at Pearl Harbor, the press and stunned Americans searched for heroes as compensation and morale builders. The Navy obliged, and newspapers carried stories about the heroism of men like Admirals Bennion and Kidd and Chief Watertender Peter Tomich, who sacrificed himself in the boiler room of the capsizing battleship Utah so that his crew could escape. But the acts of bravery at Pearl Harbor were all attributed to whites, except for one newspaper story about an unnamed “Negro mess attendant.” The “Jim Crow” Navy of the time was not ready for a black poster boy.

When America found itself suddenly at war on December 7, most blacks were ready to lend support, despite their second-class citizenship. Less than 24 hours after the Pearl Harbor attack, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People declared, “Though 13 million American Negroes have more often than not been denied democracy, they are American citizens and will, as in every war, give unqualified support to the protection of their country. At the same time, we shall not abate one iota of our struggle for full citizenship rights here in the United States. We will fight, but we demand the right to fight as equals in every branch of military, naval, and aviation service.”

Dorie Miller’s heroism went unnoticed for more than three months, when his identity was announced by Lawrence Reddick, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York. Suspecting an intentional oversight by the Navy, he wrote to the Navy Department and asked if Miller’s name could be released so that it could be added to his center’s “honor roll of race relations.” The Navy relented, and Reddick was able to publicly announce on March 12, 1942, the acts of America’s first black World War II hero.

Led by the radical Militant, the Chicago Defender, and other black newspapers, the press ran stories about the humble messman who had risked his life to save a white officer. Some newspapers referred to him as “Dorie Miller, the first Negro hero,” and America’s non-white community was quick to embrace him as a model, along with world heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, track star Jesse Owens, and singer-actor Paul Robeson. The black newspapers focused unceasingly on Miller’s exploits, and civil rights groups demanded that he be awarded the Medal of Honor. He would have been the first black to gain the nation’s highest decoration in the two world wars. Meanwhile, the Navy now regarded Dorie Miller as acceptable for recruitment posters.

Songs and Rallies for Dorie Miller

Buttons bearing his image were sold in black communities, and folk songs were composed about him. One fanciful ballad told of how Dorie was “peeling sweet potatoes when the guns began to roar,” and how he grabbed a gun when he saw his captain “lying wounded on the floor.” Another rough-hewn ditty went thus:

In nineteen hundred and forty-one

Colored mess boy manned the gun

Although he had never been trained

God willing and mother wit

Gon’ be great Dorie Miller yet

Grabbed a gun and took dead aim

Japanese bombers into fiery flame

He was aiming the Japs to fight

Fought at the poles to make things right

Fight on Dorie Miller I know you tried

Did your best for the side ….

I love Dorie Miller cause he’s my race.

At a “Unity for Victory” rally of 6,000 people in Harlem in June 1942, Dorie’s mother, Henrietta Miller, said, “Some say we colored people have nothing to fight for. We all have something to fight for. We have freedom to fight for. But we can’t fight this war by ourselves. We’ve got to put Jesus into it, for He has never lost a battle.”

A Decorated Ship’s Cook

Her son, meanwhile, was assigned to the 9,950-ton heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis on December 13, 1941, and promoted to mess attendant, second class and first class, and then ship’s cook, third class. He served aboard the Indianapolis for 17 months.

After being belatedly commended by Navy Secretary Frank Knox on April 1, 1942, the proudest moment in Dorie Miller’s life came on Wednesday, May 27. In Pearl Harbor, not far from where salvage work was proceeding on the hulk of the West Virginia, he stood on the windswept flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise to be decorated along with several other heroes of the opening battles of the war.

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the U.S. Navy
commander in chief in the Pacific, pins the Navy Cross on Seaman Dorie Miller during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor on May 27, 1942.

As he pinned the Navy Cross on Miller’s chest, Admiral Nimitz declared, “This marks the first time in this conflict that such high tribute has been made in the Pacific Fleet to a member of his race, and I’m sure that the future will see others similarly honored for brave acts.” Miller would also be awarded the Purple Heart, the American Defense Service Medal with fleet clasp, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. The War Department later sent the young hero on a national tour to promote enlistments.

Miller completed his 17 months of duty aboard the cruiser Indianapolis when she returned to the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton, Washington, on May 15, 1943. A few weeks later, he was assigned to his fifth ship, the brand new escort carrier USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56). One of the Casablanca-class “jeep carriers” being mass-produced in the Henry J. Kaiser shipyards, the 14,000-ton, thin-skinned flattop had been launched on April 19, 1943, and commissioned on August 7.

Dorie Miller on the USS Liscome Bay

Dorie Miller was aboard when the Liscome Bay headed for her first operation in the western Pacific war zone. Her skipper was Captain Irving D. Wiltsie, and she flew the flag of Rear Admiral Henry M. Mullinix, the commander of Task Group 52.3. Comprising the escort carriers Liscome Bay, Corregidor, and Coral Sea, with a total of 48 Grumman FM-1 Wildcat fighters and 36 Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bombers, the group was a component of Vice Admiral Raymond A. Spruance’s U.S. Fifth Fleet.

Admiral Mullinix’s force was assigned an important role, along with other carrier groups, in a major American offensive, Operation Galvanic, in the Gilbert Islands, 2,300 miles from Pearl Harbor. The escort carriers’ primary function was to protect attack transports when Tarawa and Makin Atolls were invaded on November 20, 1943, by Maj. Gen. Julian C. Smith’s 2nd Marine Division and Maj. Gen. Ralph C. Smith’s 27th Infantry Division, respectively. Planes from the Liscome Bay and her sister flattops shielded the transport ships during the landings and then flew many sorties in support of the troops ashore. The islands were taken after three days of bitter fighting and heavy losses for the Marines.

Dorie Miller lost his life when the escort carrier Liscome Bay was torpedoed in the Gilbert Islands on November 23, 1943. This photo of the Liscome Bay was taken two months before and shows the carrier with its decks full of Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers and Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo planes.

Admiral Mullinix’s three jeep carriers fought gallantly in the Gilberts during their first action. They were three hectic days and nights for Dorie Miller, his shipmates, and the Liscome Bay squadron (VC-39), and they expected that November 24 would bring more of the same. But time was running out because the enemy was closer than anyone realized.

“The Entire Ship Seemed to Explode”

During the night of November 23, a Japanese Mitsubishi G4M Betty bomber dropped flares to illuminate the American flattops for an aerial torpedo attack. By coincidence, a newly arrived enemy submarine, the I-175, was stalking the CVEs, and the flares gave her a clear view of the Liscome Bay, then cruising near Butaritari Island. Aboard the flattop on November 24, flight quarters was sounded at 4:50 am and general quarters at 5:05 am. Her pilots and air crewmen began to climb into their planes.

Five minutes later, Lt. Cmdr. Sunao Tabata’s submarine took advantage of a gap left by two escorting destroyers, USS Hull and USS Franks, which had been detached, and loosed a spread of torpedoes at the Liscome Bay. One of them struck the flattop’s starboard side between the forward and after engine rooms. Two violent explosions rocked the carrier, and a column of bright orange flame rose 1,000 feet. Fragments of the ship and airplanes were hurled into the air, and debris rained on other ships as far as 5,000 yards away.

The flattop had been struck in the worst possible spot, the room where her bombs and torpedo warheads were stowed. The after portion of the ship was ablaze, and half of her had virtually disintegrated. More explosions shook the flattop, and she continued to burn furiously.

“The entire ship seemed to explode,” reported Ensign D.D. Creech aboard the USS Coral Sea, “and the interior of the ship glowed with flame like a furnace.”

Twenty-three minutes after the first hit, the Liscome Bay sank stern first. She was the first of six U.S. Navy escort carriers to be sunk in the war. Her loss stunned the Navy.

Only 55 officers and 217 sailors were rescued by destroyers. A Navy report of the loss quoted witnesses as saying, “It was a miracle that anyone managed to escape such a roaring inferno.” Among the 644 men who went down with the Liscome Bay were Admiral Mullinix, Captain Wiltsie, and Dorie Miller. The quiet-spoken, humble Navy Cross winner was listed as missing after the sinking, and he was not officially presumed dead until November 25, 1944.

The Legacy of Dorie Miller

Miller’s death was a big shock for the black community, which by then had become increasingly active in the war effort thanks largely to the efforts of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and black labor leader A. Philip Randolph. The messman’s heroism on the USS West Virginia inspired blacks in their struggle for dignity and the right to serve on equal terms in the segregated armed forces. As Willie Wright, a disc jockey in New Haven, Connecticut, said later, “I used to see pictures of Miller in the church I attended as a youngster, and I wanted to learn more about him.”

Paul V. McNutt, chairman of the War Manpower commission, shakes hands with Mrs. Connery Miller, mother of Dorie Miller. Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., looks on during a rally of the Negro Labor Victory Committee held in Harlem.

Remembering the sacrifice of Dorie Miller, increasing numbers of black men and women flocked to work in aircraft factories, munitions plants, and shipyards. One million blacks, including 600,000 women, toiled in defense plants during the war.

The burly, humble Navy Cross winner who had led the way for American blacks to take their place in the Allied struggle against tyranny was remembered. On June 30, 1973, the Navy commissioned a Knox-class frigate named the USS Miller, and a memorial plaque was dedicated by the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority in the Miller Family Park at Pearl Harbor on October 11, 1991.


“Get Yamamoto”

Bougainville Island crash site of Yamamoto’s plane

President Roosevelt may or may not have actually uttered those fateful words, but in any event, on April 17, Admiral Nimitz authorized Operation Vengeance, and so a squadron of USAAF Lockheed P-38 Lightning prepared to set off from Guadalcanal to down Yamamoto’s plane. The next morning, Yamamoto’s Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bomber transport was shot down and crashed in the jungle on the island of Bougainville.


How Accurate is "Midway"? The Movie vs. the True Story of the Battle of Midway

Director Roland Emmerich's Midway, which is based on the true story of the Battle of Midway, covers roughly six months of the war in the Pacific, from the attack on Pearl Harbor through the decisive battle around Midway Atoll, which turned the tide of the war in favor of the U.S.

Is the attack on Pearl Harbor depicted accurately in the movie?

For the most part, yes. It would be hard to make a movie about the Battle of Midway without putting at least some emphasis on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The December 7, 1941 surprise attack was arguably the U.S. Navy's greatest defeat. It's also what prompted the U.S. to enter the war, and it set the American Navy on a course to victory at Midway. The movie's version of the attack on Pearl Harbor is largely accurate. This includes the salvage operations we see going on afterwards.

The Midway true story confirms that the two U.S. aircraft carriers based at Pearl Harbor at the time were not there on the day of the Japanese attack. USS Enterprise and USS Lexington were out on identical missions, ferrying aircraft to island outposts. USS Enterprise had delivered 12 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats to Wake Island and USS Lexington was on its way to Midway Island with 18 Vought SB2U-3 Vindicators. The fact that the two carriers were spared would come back to haunt the Japanese fleet. -We Are The Mighty

Is Mandy Moore's character, Anne Best, based on a real person?

Yes. At 32 years old, Dick Best was older than most of the men serving around him. Though we couldn't find much information about his wife, we do know that he was married at the time and had a four-year-old daughter, Barbara Ann, similar to what's seen in the movie. The Bests were living in Waikiki, Hawaii. After retiring from the Navy in 1944 following 32 months of treatment for tuberculosis, he moved his family to Santa Monica, California where he lived for the rest of his life.

Was the situation really that precarious for the U.S. Navy following the attack on Pearl Harbor?

Yes. A Midway movie fact check confirms that the U.S. was in a precarious situation. Things were really that dire for Admiral Nimitz and the U.S. Navy following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. When Admiral Nimitz took command of the Pacific Fleet following the attack, there were just a few support ships left to protect the aircraft carriers from the gigantic Japanese Navy. Morale among the U.S. Navy was low and most sailors lacked experience. At the time, the U.S. military ranked only fifth in the world, behind the UK, Germany, Soviet Union and Japan. -We Are The Mighty

If the U.S. had been defeated in the Pacific, could the Japanese have invaded the West Coast of America?

Dick Best (Ed Skrein) tells his wife Anne (Mandy Moore) this in the movie, which heightens the stakes before he goes off to battle. In reality, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were far from a land invasion of the West Coast of America, which was beyond their capability. At best, Admiral Yamamoto and the Japanese Army were considering an invasion of the Hawaiian island chain (Midway Island is part of that chain). It's also possible that Japan would have tried to bomb cities along the West Coast of America, similar to what the U.S. did to Tokyo. However, Japan's loss at Midway put a stop to their ability to do either.

Did Lieutenant Commander Edwin T. Layton's intelligence unit crack the Japanese code?

Yes. Edwin T. Layton, who is portrayed by Patrick Wilson in the movie, commanded the intelligence unit that cracked the Japanese code. Working in an underground bunker nicknamed the "Dungeon," his unit ciphered through thousands of Japanese messages. It's true that Navy Band members were brought in to help decode. Despite the success of the codebreakers, they were only able to come up with an educated guess as to the location of the Japanese fleet. As a result, the leaders in Washington opted to instead strike the Japanese homeland, sanctioning a mission known as the "Doolittle Raid," named after the man who planned and led the operation, Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle (Aarron Eckhart). A fact check of the Midway movie's historical accuracy reveals that there was indeed a turf battle between the cryptologists in Washington, D.C. and the cryptologists in Hawaii under Layton, who were correct in their conclusions about the Japanese Navy attacking Midway. -We Are The Mighty

Why was the Battle of Midway so important?

Eventually, Edwin T. Layton's codebreakers were able to determine the likely location of the Japanese fleet. While they weren't able to decipher all of the Japanese code, the bits of information they understood pointed to Midway as the location of the fleet. Admiral Nimitz put his faith in Layton's unit and ordered the two carriers to Midway. It is believed that the Japanese were on their way to capture Midway Atoll and use it as an advance base from which to attack and destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The island is part of the Hawaiian archipelago. Midway's significance lies in the fact that it is roughly halfway between Asia and North America, making it an optimal strategic location.

The Battle of Midway marked the first decisive victory for American forces in the Pacific Theater during WWII. Following six months of bad news that began with Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, which kicks off the film, Midway was the first significant step in a three-year campaign to defeat Japan. During the June 4-7, 1942 air and sea battle, American forces levied a decisive blow on the attacking Japanese fleet, securing a victory that has been heralded as the U.S. Navy's greatest comeback.

How accurate are the ships and planes seen in Midway?

When director Roland Emmerich set out to make Midway, he ran into a problem. None of the historic aircraft carriers and planes from that time period are in their wartime condition. "Even when you have some aircraft carrier sitting around, like one in Alameda and one in, I think, South Carolina or [the Intrepid] in New York, they were altered in the '60s," says Emmerich. "The flight deck is totally different, et cetera, et cetera. And then they have actually put modern technology in some of the flak turrets." This goes for the military aircraft too, including the Douglas SBDs (scout bombers) that still exist. They've been altered so that they're allowed to be flown. Emmerich could not find Douglas TBDs (torpedo bombers) anywhere since most were probably scrapped since they weren't stellar airplanes.

"So, we had to pretty much create everything," says Emmerich. "When you can create everything, then naturally you can be absolutely exact. Our aircraft carriers, both Japanese and Enterprise and the Hornet, what you see is super correct because there's endless research material, photographs and stuff." The filmmakers shot much of Midway indoors against a blue screen on a giant soundstage in Montreal, where they built part of a flight deck. "It's a relatively perfect re-creation of everything," Emmerich added. However, what arguably detracts from Midway's historical accuracy is the fact that many of the planes and shots of the carriers were created digitally and therefore are not authentic replications of the originals. -Military.com

Some of the payloads seen on the planes in the film are represented inaccurately. For example, while the Douglas TBD-1 Devastator could be equipped with a torpedo or bombs, the aircraft would not have been equipped with both at the same time as shown in the movie. It was an underpowered airplane that could barely make it off the carrier with the weight of just a torpedo. Furthermore, if the filmmakers had accurately researched the Midway true story, they would know that the real-life Devastator did not have wing racks that could carry two 500 pound bombs like we see it doing in the film (pictured below). -Military Aviation History

How accurate are the combat sequences in Midway?

While a Midway fact check reveals the combat sequences to be mostly accurate, the filmmakers seemed to sacrifice various details in order to get the shots they wanted. For example, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that opens the film, it appears that the torpedo bombers are attacking from the wrong angles, including when the Japanese aircraft are attacking down battleship row. The latter was very likely done to get a long tracking shot showing all of the different types of enemy aircraft.

A somewhat far-fetched scene later in the film is when we see Dick Best (Ed Skrein) performing a hammerhead stall in his Dauntless in order to make Japanese aircraft overshoot him. The maneuver involves his plane heading into a vertical climb until it almost stalls and then dropping the nose to reverse the direction of flight. Although this is an actual combat maneuver, it is not one that a pilot would have attempted in a Dauntless.

The formations of the planes and ships in the movie are often too close together. This was likely done in order to capture more planes and ships in the shot. The planes are often seen flying too low as well. An example of this can be observed during the Japanese attack on Midway Atoll.

The destruction is also exaggerated at times. For example, in one scene we see the U.S. conducting an air raid in the Marshall Islands on a Japanese-controlled air base. The Dauntlesses blow up five or so Mitsubishi G3Ms on the ground. However, in real life, it is believed they only hit one G3M on the ground. The reality of combat during that time is that many of the bombs that were dropped didn't hit their targets. However, for the purpose of a movie, the destruction is conveyed more effectively if we see an exaggerated number of successful hits, or the hits happening all at once. -Military Aviation History

Did a burning Mitsubishi G4M bomber crash into a Dauntless SBD on the carrier deck as Bruno Gaido fired at the bomber from the SBD's turret?

Yes. In the movie, we see Nick Jonas' character, Aviation Machinist Mate Bruno Gaido, jumping into a Dauntless SBD's turret while the plane is still parked on the USS Enterprise's deck. He mans the .30 caliber machine gun and fires at an incoming Japanese Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bomber that has both engines on fire. The G4M crashes into the Dauntless SBD, cutting off the SBD's tail before the G4M cartwheels off the carrier's deck into the ocean. You might have rolled your eyes at this scene, but while researching the Midway true story, we surprisingly learned that it indeed happened in real life. The incident unfolded when the Enterprise was in the Central Pacific near the Marshall Islands on February 1, 1942. Like in the movie, Bruno Gaido lived through the incident and his shipmates later said that it was his relentless firing that caused the incoming bomber to spin at a ninety degree angle, sparing the carrier from a direct hit. After the event, Vice Admiral William F. Halsey promoted Gaido from Third Class to First Class.

Was Bruno Gaido captured and drowned by the Japanese?

Was pilot Dick Best instrumental in the sinking of two Japanese aircraft carriers?

Yes. Lieutenant Dick Best scored hits on the Akagi and the Hiryu, two of the four Japanese aircraft carriers that were sunk during the Battle of Midway. Things really were that dangerous for the dive bomber pilots, who faced anti-aircraft fire and an onslaught of Japanese fighter planes. During Best's first mission on the morning of June 4, 1942, the bomb he dropped on the Akagi went through the flight deck and exploded in the upper hanger, delivering a catastrophic blow to the carrier and the 18 Nakajima B5N2 planes parked there. When Best's squadron return to the USS Enterprise, only three planes out of fifteen arrived in good condition.

It's true that Dick Best's military career ended following the first day of fighting at Midway. While flying on his first mission, he breathed in caustic soda to clear out a faulty oxygen canister. Later that day, he began coughing up blood and started with a fever. After being transported from the Enterprise to the hospital in Pearl Harbor, X-rays revealed cloudy spots on his lungs. It was determined that breathing in the caustic soda activated latent tuberculosis. He endured 32 months of treatment and then retired from the Navy in 1944. He never flew again. -Los Angeles Times

What were the Japanese and U.S. casualties at the Battle of Midway?

The WWII Battle of Midway lasted from June 4, 1942 until June 7, 1942, though the bulk of the fighting took place on June 4. In the end, 307 U.S. servicemen lost their lives. The United States also lost 145 aircraft, 1 destroyer and 1 aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown. Japan suffered more devastating losses, including 2,500 servicemen, 292 aircraft, 1 heavy cruiser and 4 aircraft carriers.

Was the U.S. Navy involved in the making of Midway?

Yes. Defense Department historians from the Naval History and Heritage Command were involved throughout the entire process, both during script development and production. The screenplay for the film was written by Navy veteran Wes Tooke. Each scene of the Midway movie was carefully reviewed to make sure it was historically accurate. "Despite some of the 'Hollywood' aspects, this is still the most realistic movie about naval combat ever made," commented retired Navy Rear Adm. Sam Cox, who oversaw the fact-checking. "It does real credit to the courage and sacrifice of those who fought in the battle on both sides."

The actors were equally concerned about Midway's historical accuracy. Woody Harrelson, who plays Admiral Chester Nimitz, discussed the character with Navy Rear Admiral Brian Fort, commander of Navy Region Hawaii. Harrelson wanted a better understanding of who Nimitz was and what led him to make the decisions he made. Harrelson also headed out into the Pacific to spend time on USS John C. Stennis as the ship carried out operations at sea. Actor Patrick Wilson, who portrays naval intelligence officer Lt. Commander Edwin Layton, met with retired intelligence officer Navy Captain Dale Rielage to talk about Layton and his relationship with Nimitz. -U.S. Department of Defense

Have any other movies been made about the Battle of Midway?

Add to your understanding of the Battle of Midway's significance by watching these videos that outline what happened during the battle, including code-breaking, carrier movements, and air attacks.


The longest interception ever made

The Japanese flight came into view at 9:34, having just begun its ascent. The escort fighters were trailing the bombers slightly, and about 1500 feet higher. The P-38s were still at wavetop level at this point. So the American pilots jettisoned their tanks, opened the throttle, and climbed to meet the flight.

Despite its twin-engine design, the P-38 was a relatively quiet aircraft. Rather than the typical growl of piston engines at the time, the P-38s engines produced more of a whoosh. That’s because each engine was muffled somewhat by turbo-supercharger. That turbo-supercharger, in turn, gave the P-38 not only excellent high-altitude performance but the means to climb quickly to that altitude.

So the cover group was still apparently undetected when it climbed to 18,000 feet. The killer group, meanwhile, whooshed to meet the two bombers. Holmes was unable, at first, to jettison his tanks, so was unable to press his attack. Barber and Lanphier sped on towards the bombers.

By now, the attackers had been spotted by the Japanese pilots. The Zeroes had jettisoned their own drop tanks, and were diving on the two attacking P-38 pilots. Lanphier turned to engage in the fighters, while Barber continued to pursue the bombers. Positioned behind one of the Bettys, he fired, his machine guns and cannon fire raking the rear of the bomber. Firing again, Barber struck the left engine, which burst into flame.

The Betty then rolled suddenly towards Barber’s P-38. Barber had to maneuver away to avoid a midair collision. For this reason, he never saw the bomber carrying Yamamoto — at this point, already dead from two .50-caliber wounds — actually crash to the jungle below.

Meanwhile, Holmes had managed to jettison his drop tanks, and was pursuing the second Betty, which had turned towards the water and dove low to try to evade interception. With Hines as his wingman, Holmes fired into the bomber’s right engine. However, his airspeed caused him and Hines to overshoot the bomber before he could fatally damage the Betty. Barber sped in and engaged the damaged Betty. The bomber went down and crash-landed in the water.

Both bombers had been downed. But the P-38s were still engaged by the Zeroes. Barber wound up with over one hundred bullet holes from the flight, but he and Holmes each claimed one Zero downed (Japanese records dispute that any Zeroes were lost in the interception, although some were damaged). The cover group also briefly engaged with the Zeroes as well, but scored no kills. During the battle, Mitchell — the leader of the cover group — confirmed that Yamamoto’s bomber was downed, burning in the Bougainville jungle.

Mitchell at one point also spotted Hine, with one engine smoking and three Zeroes attacking him. He disappeared from the squadron after that, presumably lost. Oddly, a crewmember of a PBY Catalina flying boat out on patrol later that same day later reported seeing a single, shot-up P-38, heading for Guadalcanal. That was likely the last contact anyone had with Hine.

Running low on the fuel needed to make it back home, the P-38s disengaged and headed back out across the sea.


Mitsubishi G4M 'Betty' shot down attacking US fleet - History

When American air ace Major John Mitchell led 16 Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighters on the longest combat mission yet flown (420 miles) on April 18, 1943, Mitchell’s target was the Japanese admiral considered the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack.

Mitchell’s P-38 pilots, using secrets from broken Japanese codes, were going after Isoroku Yamamoto, the poker-playing, Harvard-educated naval genius of Japan’s war effort. Mitchell’s P-38s intercepted and shot down the Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bomber carrying Yamamoto. After the admiral’s death, Japan never again won a major battle in the Pacific War.

No band of brothers ever worked together better than the men who planned, supported, and flew the Yamamoto mission. Yet, after the war, veterans fell to bickering over which P-38 pilot actually pulled the trigger on Yamamoto.

One thing they never disagreed on. Like most young pilots of their era, they believed the P-38 Lightning was the greatest fighter of its time.

Roger J. Ames (1919-2000) flew the Yamamoto mission. This first-person account by Ames was recorded by the author in 1998 and appeared in his 2007 book, Air Combat: A History of Fighter Pilots it has never before appeared in a magazine.

Intercepting a Crucial Japanese Radio Message

The downing of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is arguably the most studied fighter engagement of the Pacific War. Yamamoto, 56, was commander in chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet and the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack. He called himself the sword of Japan’s Emperor Hirohito. He claimed he was going to ride down Pennsylvania Avenue on a white horse and dictate the surrender of the United States in the White House.

Yamamoto studied at Harvard (1919-1921), traveled around America, was twice naval attaché in Washington, D.C., and understood as much about the United States, including U.S. industrial power, as any Japanese leader. In April 1943, Yamamoto was trying to prevent the Allies from taking the offensive in the South Pacific and was visiting Japanese troops in the Bougainville area.

On the afternoon of April 17, 1943, Major John Mitchell, commander of the 339th Fighter Squadron, was ordered to report to our operations dugout at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. The 1st Marine Division had captured the nearly completed field the previous summer and named it for Major Lofton Henderson, the first Marine pilot killed in action in World War II when his squadron engaged the Japanese fleet that was attacking Midway.

Now Mitchell found himself surrounded by high-ranking officers. They told him the United States had broken the Japanese code and had intercepted a radio message advising Japanese units in the area that Yamamoto was going on an inspection trip of the Bougainville area.

The message gave Yamamoto’s exact itinerary and pointed out that the admiral was most punctual. They told Mitchell that Frank Knox, secretary of the Navy, had held a midnight meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt regarding the intercepted message. It was decided that we would try to get Yamamoto if we could. The report of the meeting was probably inaccurate because Roosevelt was on a rail trip away from Washington, but the plan to get Yamamoto unquestionably began at the top.

Eighteen P-38s Selected For the Mission

The Navy would never have admitted it, but the Army’s P-38 was the only fighter with the range to make the approximately 1,100-mile round trip. We were under the command of the Navy at Guadalcanal, so you can bet they’d have taken the job if they were able.

First Lieutenant Rex T.
Barber, one of two Americans originally credited with shooting down Yamamoto. He later was given sole credit for the kill.

According to the intercepted message, Yamamoto and his senior officers were arriving at the tiny island of Ballale just off the coast of Bougainville at 9:45 the next morning. The message said that Yamamoto and his staff would be flying in Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers, escorted by six Zeros. The Yamamoto trip was to include a visit to Shortland Island and Bougainville.

Mitchell was to be mission commander of 18 P-38s that would intercept, attack, and destroy the bombers. That’s all the P-38s we had in commission.

The Plan of Attack

Led by Mitchell, we planned the flight in excruciating detail. Nothing was left to chance. Yamamoto was to be at the Ballale airstrip just off Bougainville at 9:45 the next morning and we planned to intercept him 10 minutes earlier about 30 miles out. To ensure complete surprise, we planned a low level, circuitous route staying below the horizon from the islands we had to bypass, because the Japanese had radar and coastwatchers just as we did.

We plotted the course and timed it so that the interception would take place upon the approach of the P-38s to the southwestern coast of Bougainville at the designated time of 9:35 am. Each minute detail was discussed, and nothing was taken for granted. Takeoff procedure, flight course and altitude, radio silence, when to drop belly tanks, the tremendous importance of precise timing and the position of the covering element: all were discussed and explained until Mitchell was sure that each of his pilots knew his part and the parts of the other pilots from takeoff to return.

Mitchell chose pilots from the 12th, 70th, and 339th Fighter Squadrons. These were the only P-38 squadrons on Guadalcanal. The only belly tanks we had on Guadalcanal were 165-gallon tanks, so we had to send to Port Moresby for a supply of the larger 310-gallon tanks. We put one tank of each size on each plane. This gave us enough fuel to fly to the target area, stay in the area where we expected the admiral for about 15 minutes, fight, and come home. The larger fuel tanks were flown in that night, and ground crews worked all night getting them installed along with a Navy compass in Mitchell’s plane.

Captain Tom Lanphier’s P-38 #122 Phoebe on Guadalcanal with the 339th Fighter Squadron. Lanphier was originally given credit for half a kill before investigations revealed that Barber was the sole marksman.

Four of our pilots were designated to act as the “killer section” with the remainder as their protection. Mitchell said that if he had known there were going to be two bombers in the flight he would have assigned more men to the killer section. The word for bomber and bombers is the same in Japanese. (Author’s note: Ames is incorrect on this point about the Japanese language).

Captain Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr., led the killer section. His wingman was 1st Lt. Rex T. Barber. 1st Lt. Besby F. “Frank” Holmes led the second element. His wingman was 1st Lt. Raymond K. Hine.

The cover section was led by Mitchell and included myself and 11 other pilots. Eight of the 16 pilots on the mission were from the 12th Fighter Squadron, which was my squadron.

Although 18 P-38s were scheduled to go on the mission, only 16 were able to participate because one plane blew a tire on the runway on takeoff and another’s belly tanks failed to feed properly.

“Bogeys! Eleven O’Clock, High!”

It was Palm Sunday, April 18, 1943. But since there were no religious holidays on Guadalcanal, we took off at 7:15 am, joined in formation, and left the island at 7:30 am, just two hours and five minutes before the planned interception. It was an uneventful flight but a hot one, at from 10 to 50 feet above the water all the way. Some of the pilots counted sharks. One counted pieces of driftwood. I don’t remember doing anything but sweating. Mitchell said he may have dozed off on a couple of occasions but received a light tap from “The Man Upstairs” to keep him awake.

Mitchell kept us on course flying the five legs by compass, time, and airspeed only. As we turned into the coast of Bougainville and started to gain altitude, after more than two hours of complete radio silence, 1st Lt. Douglas S. Canning––Old Eagle Eyes–– uttered a subdued “Bogeys! Eleven o’clock, high!” It was 9:35 am. The admiral was precisely on schedule, and so were we. It was almost as if the affair had been prearranged with the mutual consent of friend and foe. Two Betty bombers were at 4,000 feet with six Zeros at about 1,500 feet higher, above and just behind the bombers in a “V” formation of three planes on each side of the bombers.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in dress whites, photographed on the morning he was killed, addresses a group of pilots at Rabaul, April 18, 1943. His death came as a tremendous blow to the Japanese.

We dropped our belly tanks. We put our throttles to the firewall and went for altitude. The killer section closed in for the attack while the cover section stationed themselves at about 18,000 feet to take care of the expected fighters from Kahili. As Mitchell said, “The night before we knew the Japanese had 75 Zeros on Bougainville and I wanted to be where the action was.

I thought, “Well, I’m going on up higher and we’re going to be up there and have a turkey shoot.’” We expected from 50 to 75 Zeros should be there to protect Yamamoto just as we had protected Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox when he came to visit a couple of weeks before. We’d had as many fighters in the air to protect Knox as we could get off the ground. I guess the Japanese had all their fighters lined up on the runway for inspection. Anyway, none of the Zeros came up to meet us. Our intercept force encountered only the Zeros that were escorting Yamamoto.

Lanphier and Barber: The First to Make Contact With the Enemy

Lanphier and Barber headed for the enemy. When they were about a mile in front and two miles to the right of the bombers, the Zeros spotted them. Lanphier and Barber headed down to intercept the Zeros. The Bettys nosed down in a diving turn to get away from the P-38s. Holmes, the leader of the second element, could not release his belly tanks so, in an effort to jar them loose, he turned off down the coast, kicking his plane around to knock the tanks loose. Ray Hine, his wingman, had no choice but to follow him to protect him. So Lanphier and Barber were the only two going after the Japs for the first few minutes.

Ground crewmen look over Lieutenant Robert Petit’s P-38, Miss Virginia, which Barber borrowed for the mission he returned it to Henderson Field with over 100 bullet holes.

From this point onward, accounts of the fight get mixed up about who shot down whom. Briefly, here is probably what happened based on the accounts of all involved. I did not see what was happening 18,000 feet below me.

As Lanphier and Barber were intercepted by the Zeros, Lanphier turned head-on into them and shot down one Zero and scattered the others. This gave Barber the opportunity to go for the bombers. As Barber turned to get into position to attack the bombers, he lost sight of them under his wing, and when he straightened around he saw only one bomber, going hell bent for leather downhill toward the jungle treetops.

Barber went after the Betty and started firing over the fuselage at the right engine. And as he slid over to get directly behind the Betty, his fire passed through the bomber’s vertical fin and some pieces of the rudder separated from the plane. He continued firing and was probably no more than 100 feet behind the Betty when it suddenly snapped left and slowed down rapidly, and as Barber roared by he saw black smoke pouring from the right engine.

Shooting Down the Betty

Barber believed the Betty crashed into the jungle, although he did not see it crash. And then three Zeros got on his tail and were making firing passes at him as he headed toward the coast at treetop level taking violent evasive action. Luckily, two P-38s from Mitchell’s flight saw his difficulty and cleared the Zeros off his tail. Holmes said it was he and Hine that chased the Zeros off Barber’s tail. Barber said he then looked inland and to his rear and saw a large column of black smoke rising from the jungle, which he believed to be the Betty he’d shot.

As Barber headed toward the coast he saw Holmes and Hine over the water with a Betty bomber flying below them just offshore. He then saw Holmes and Hine shoot at the bomber with Holmes’ bullets hitting the water behind the Betty and then walking up and through the right engine of the Betty. Hines started to fire, but all of his rounds hit well ahead of the Betty. Then Holmes and Hine passed over the Betty and headed south.

Barber said that he then dropped in behind the Betty flying over the water and opened fire. As he flew over the bomber it exploded, and a large chunk of the plane hit his right wing, cutting out his turbo supercharger intercooler. Another large piece hit the underside of his gondola, making a very large dent in it.

Wreckage of Yamamoto’s “Betty” lies on the jungle floor on the island of Bougainville.

After this, he, Holmes, and Hine fired at more Zeros. Barber said that both he and Holmes shot down a Zero, but Hine was seen heading out to sea smoking from his right engine. As Barber headed home, he saw three oil slicks in the water and hoped that Hine was heading for Guadalcanal, but that was not the case.

Lanphier, having scattered the Zeros, found himself at about 6,000 feet. Looking down, he saw a Betty flying across the treetops, so he came down and began firing a long, steady burst across the bomber’s course of flight, from approximately right angles. In another account, Lanphier said he was clearing his guns. By both accounts, he said he felt he was too far away, yet, to his surprise, the bomber’s right engine and right wing began to burn and then the right wing came off and the Betty plunged into the jungle and exploded.

Return to Guadalcanal

Lanphier said that three Zeros came after him, and he called Mitchell to send someone down to help him. Then, hugging the earth and the treetops while the Zeros made passes at him, he unwittingly led them over a corner of the Japanese fighter strip at Kahili.

He then headed east and, with the Zeros on his tail, he got into a high-speed climb and lost them at 20,000 feet he got home with only two bullet holes in his rudder. Contrast this to the 104 bullet holes in Barber’s plane, plus the knocked-out intercooler and the huge dent in his gondola.

Flying back to Guadalcanal, I heard Lanphier get on the radio and say, “That SOB won’t dictate peace terms in the White House.” This really upset me because we were to keep complete silence about the fact that we had gone after Yamamoto. The details of this mission were not to leave the island of Guadalcanal.


The Tragical History and Most Lamentable Death of Isoroku Yamamoto

If I were a modern Shakespeare, or perhaps a Kurosawa, I've often thought I'd write a play about Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. He was injured in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, served in the Japanese Navy during World War I (when Japan was one of the Allied nations), attended Harvard University, and was the Japanese naval attache to the United States during the Twenties. The Web site I've included for him (the U.S. Naval Military History Site) shows a photograph of Yamamoto laying a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Solider in Arlington National Cemetery.

By all accounts, Yamamoto was very fond of America and Americans, and loved the years he spent here. So when he was charged, by the ultraconservative members of the Japanese government, with charting out the strategy of an attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet, it was a terrible conflict for him personally. But as the son of a samurai family, raised in the code of bushido that placed service to one's country above one's own feelings, he could do nothing else. That's the great tragic irony of his life, and I am reminded of Macbeth's line: "I dare do all that may become a man who dares do more is none."

To deepen the irony of having to devise an attack against the country he was so fond of and which had been his home for many years, Yamamoto was let down by the code department of his own embassy in Washington. Yamamoto had the assurances of his political superiors that the declaration of war would be delivered an hour before Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor. It would be a brilliant strategic move, but one conducted in the samurai tradition of honorable combat. Instead, the delay of communications meant that the planes launged from carriers under the command of Admiral Nagumo reached Honolulu almost an hour BEFORE the declaration of war. changing Yamamoto's plan into a dastardly sneak attack on sleeping troops. (There is no primary documentation for Yamamoto's oft-quoted line about this blunder — "I fear that all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve" — but historians agree that it is very much in character for him.)

The irony of Yamamoto's life continued to the event that marked its end, again recalling a line from Macbeth: "Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it." Sadly, for Yamamoto the opposite was true.

By early 1943 the was was going badly for the Japanese. The defeat at the Battle of Midway in June 1942 (including the loss of the Akagi, Hiryu, and Soryu —three of the carriers used in the Pearl Harbor attack) had severely straitened their ability to conduct defensive operations in the South Pacific.

So Yamamoto was dragged out by the high command and sent on a morale-boosting mission to the Solomon Islands. Flying in a Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" twin-engined bomber, Yamamoto traveled to several military installations (and yes, as long as I've invoked Shakespeare, it is reminiscent of "a little touch of Harry in the night" from Henry V).

In the interim, however, U.S. intelligence had broken the Japanese code. We were able to intercept all their communications, decode and translate them—but it was critical that we not give the Japanese military any reason to believe we had done so.

So in April 1943, we learned that Yamamoto's "Betty" would be leaving Rabaul on the 18th. Quickly the U.S. military gathered resources, and assigned a fleet of 18 P-38 LIghtning fighters to search out and destroy Yamamoto.

The strategy was for the bulk of the fighters to stay high above the low-flying Japanese bombers with light escort of Mitsubishi A6Ms, so six Lightnings were dispatched while the other 11 (one Lightning having been unable to retract its landing gear on takeoff and therefore being ordered to return) held back in case the first wave was unsuccessful.

There is some confusion over exactly who shot down the Betty containing Yamamoto. This photo is of a painting at the Evergreen Air Museum the card with this photo tells one version of the story, in which one of the G4Ms was shot down over Bougainville by Capt. Thomas G. Lanphiere Jr. The other was ditched in the ocean. However, Rex Barber is credited by many as the pilot who shot down the Betty. While both men were alive, each was awarded half-credit for the kill. After Lanphiere's death, Capt. Barber (an Oregon native) was given full credit.

Japanese troops who located the Betty shot down by either Lanphiere or Barber tell the story, perhaps embellished, of how they found Yamamoto's body, having been placed in a seated position against a tree some distance from the aircraft. It was cremated according to Japanese tradition and the ashes returned to Japan.

The penultimate irony: the date, April 18, 1943, was exactly one year after the Doolittle Raid, itself widely considered to be a way of avenging the attack on Pearl Harbor. And, of course, it was also the 168th anniversary of Paul Revere's famous ride, warning the colonists of the approach of the British Army.

And the ultimate irony: because we had learned about Yamamoto's position through having broken the Japanese code, the Allies had to downplay the attack on Yamamoto for fear the Japanese would determine we knew their code and would change it. Churchill, of course, was faced with similar challenges, and most famously made the decision to allow the Germans to bomb Coventry because otherwise they would know that the decryption team at Bletchley Park had broken "Enigma."

And that is the tragical history and most lamentable death of Isoroku Yamamoto.


Killing Yamamoto: How America Killed the Japanese Admiral Who Masterminded the Pearl Harbor Attack

When American air ace Major John Mitchell led 16 Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighters on the longest combat mission yet flown (420 miles) on April 18, 1943, Mitchell’s target was the Japanese admiral considered the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack.

Mitchell’s P-38 pilots, using secrets from broken Japanese codes, were going after Isoroku Yamamoto, the poker-playing, Harvard-educated naval genius of Japan’s war effort. Mitchell’s P-38s intercepted and shot down the Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bomber carrying Yamamoto. After the admiral’s death, Japan never again won a major battle in the Pacific War.

No band of brothers ever worked together better than the men who planned, supported, and flew the Yamamoto mission. Yet, after the war, veterans fell to bickering over which P-38 pilot actually pulled the trigger on Yamamoto.

One thing they never disagreed on. Like most young pilots of their era, they believed the P-38 Lightning was the greatest fighter of its time.

Roger J. Ames (1919-2000) flew the Yamamoto mission. This first-person account by Ames was recorded by the author in 1998 and appeared in his 2007 book, Air Combat: A History of Fighter Pilots it has never before appeared in a magazine.

Intercepting a Crucial Japanese Radio Message

The downing of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is arguably the most studied fighter engagement of the Pacific War. Yamamoto, 56, was commander in chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet and the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack. He called himself the sword of Japan’s Emperor Hirohito. He claimed he was going to ride down Pennsylvania Avenue on a white horse and dictate the surrender of the United States in the White House.

Yamamoto studied at Harvard (1919-1921), traveled around America, was twice naval attaché in Washington, D.C., and understood as much about the United States, including U.S. industrial power, as any Japanese leader. In April 1943, Yamamoto was trying to prevent the Allies from taking the offensive in the South Pacific and was visiting Japanese troops in the Bougainville area.

On the afternoon of April 17, 1943, Major John Mitchell, commander of the 339th Fighter Squadron, was ordered to report to our operations dugout at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. The 1st Marine Division had captured the nearly completed field the previous summer and named it for Major Lofton Henderson, the first Marine pilot killed in action in World War II when his squadron engaged the Japanese fleet that was attacking Midway.

Now Mitchell found himself surrounded by high-ranking officers. They told him the United States had broken the Japanese code and had intercepted a radio message advising Japanese units in the area that Yamamoto was going on an inspection trip of the Bougainville area.

The message gave Yamamoto’s exact itinerary and pointed out that the admiral was most punctual. They told Mitchell that Frank Knox, secretary of the Navy, had held a midnight meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt regarding the intercepted message. It was decided that we would try to get Yamamoto if we could. The report of the meeting was probably inaccurate because Roosevelt was on a rail trip away from Washington, but the plan to get Yamamoto unquestionably began at the top.

Eighteen P-38s Selected For the Mission

The Navy would never have admitted it, but the Army’s P-38 was the only fighter with the range to make the approximately 1,100-mile round trip. We were under the command of the Navy at Guadalcanal, so you can bet they’d have taken the job if they were able.

According to the intercepted message, Yamamoto and his senior officers were arriving at the tiny island of Ballale just off the coast of Bougainville at 9:45 the next morning. The message said that Yamamoto and his staff would be flying in Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers, escorted by six Zeros. The Yamamoto trip was to include a visit to Shortland Island and Bougainville.

Mitchell was to be mission commander of 18 P-38s that would intercept, attack, and destroy the bombers. That’s all the P-38s we had in commission.

The Plan of Attack

Led by Mitchell, we planned the flight in excruciating detail. Nothing was left to chance. Yamamoto was to be at the Ballale airstrip just off Bougainville at 9:45 the next morning and we planned to intercept him 10 minutes earlier about 30 miles out. To ensure complete surprise, we planned a low level, circuitous route staying below the horizon from the islands we had to bypass, because the Japanese had radar and coastwatchers just as we did.

We plotted the course and timed it so that the interception would take place upon the approach of the P-38s to the southwestern coast of Bougainville at the designated time of 9:35 am. Each minute detail was discussed, and nothing was taken for granted. Takeoff procedure, flight course and altitude, radio silence, when to drop belly tanks, the tremendous importance of precise timing and the position of the covering element: all were discussed and explained until Mitchell was sure that each of his pilots knew his part and the parts of the other pilots from takeoff to return.

Mitchell chose pilots from the 12th, 70th, and 339th Fighter Squadrons. These were the only P-38 squadrons on Guadalcanal. The only belly tanks we had on Guadalcanal were 165-gallon tanks, so we had to send to Port Moresby for a supply of the larger 310-gallon tanks. We put one tank of each size on each plane. This gave us enough fuel to fly to the target area, stay in the area where we expected the admiral for about 15 minutes, fight, and come home. The larger fuel tanks were flown in that night, and ground crews worked all night getting them installed along with a Navy compass in Mitchell’s plane.

Four of our pilots were designated to act as the “killer section” with the remainder as their protection. Mitchell said that if he had known there were going to be two bombers in the flight he would have assigned more men to the killer section. The word for bomber and bombers is the same in Japanese. (Author’s note: Ames is incorrect on this point about the Japanese language).

Captain Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr., led the killer section. His wingman was 1st Lt. Rex T. Barber. 1st Lt. Besby F. “Frank” Holmes led the second element. His wingman was 1st Lt. Raymond K. Hine.

The cover section was led by Mitchell and included myself and 11 other pilots. Eight of the 16 pilots on the mission were from the 12th Fighter Squadron, which was my squadron.

Although 18 P-38s were scheduled to go on the mission, only 16 were able to participate because one plane blew a tire on the runway on takeoff and another’s belly tanks failed to feed properly.

“Bogeys! Eleven O’Clock, High!”

It was Palm Sunday, April 18, 1943. But since there were no religious holidays on Guadalcanal, we took off at 7:15 am, joined in formation, and left the island at 7:30 am, just two hours and five minutes before the planned interception. It was an uneventful flight but a hot one, at from 10 to 50 feet above the water all the way. Some of the pilots counted sharks. One counted pieces of driftwood. I don’t remember doing anything but sweating. Mitchell said he may have dozed off on a couple of occasions but received a light tap from “The Man Upstairs” to keep him awake.

Mitchell kept us on course flying the five legs by compass, time, and airspeed only. As we turned into the coast of Bougainville and started to gain altitude, after more than two hours of complete radio silence, 1st Lt. Douglas S. Canning––Old Eagle Eyes–– uttered a subdued “Bogeys! Eleven o’clock, high!” It was 9:35 am. The admiral was precisely on schedule, and so were we. It was almost as if the affair had been prearranged with the mutual consent of friend and foe. Two Betty bombers were at 4,000 feet with six Zeros at about 1,500 feet higher, above and just behind the bombers in a “V” formation of three planes on each side of the bombers.

We dropped our belly tanks. We put our throttles to the firewall and went for altitude. The killer section closed in for the attack while the cover section stationed themselves at about 18,000 feet to take care of the expected fighters from Kahili. As Mitchell said, “The night before we knew the Japanese had 75 Zeros on Bougainville and I wanted to be where the action was.

I thought, “Well, I’m going on up higher and we’re going to be up there and have a turkey shoot.’” We expected from 50 to 75 Zeros should be there to protect Yamamoto just as we had protected Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox when he came to visit a couple of weeks before. We’d had as many fighters in the air to protect Knox as we could get off the ground. I guess the Japanese had all their fighters lined up on the runway for inspection. Anyway, none of the Zeros came up to meet us. Our intercept force encountered only the Zeros that were escorting Yamamoto.

Lanphier and Barber: The First to Make Contact With the Enemy

Lanphier and Barber headed for the enemy. When they were about a mile in front and two miles to the right of the bombers, the Zeros spotted them. Lanphier and Barber headed down to intercept the Zeros. The Bettys nosed down in a diving turn to get away from the P-38s. Holmes, the leader of the second element, could not release his belly tanks so, in an effort to jar them loose, he turned off down the coast, kicking his plane around to knock the tanks loose. Ray Hine, his wingman, had no choice but to follow him to protect him. So Lanphier and Barber were the only two going after the Japs for the first few minutes.

From this point onward, accounts of the fight get mixed up about who shot down whom. Briefly, here is probably what happened based on the accounts of all involved. I did not see what was happening 18,000 feet below me.

As Lanphier and Barber were intercepted by the Zeros, Lanphier turned head-on into them and shot down one Zero and scattered the others. This gave Barber the opportunity to go for the bombers. As Barber turned to get into position to attack the bombers, he lost sight of them under his wing, and when he straightened around he saw only one bomber, going hell bent for leather downhill toward the jungle treetops.

Barber went after the Betty and started firing over the fuselage at the right engine. And as he slid over to get directly behind the Betty, his fire passed through the bomber’s vertical fin and some pieces of the rudder separated from the plane. He continued firing and was probably no more than 100 feet behind the Betty when it suddenly snapped left and slowed down rapidly, and as Barber roared by he saw black smoke pouring from the right engine.

Shooting Down the Betty

Barber believed the Betty crashed into the jungle, although he did not see it crash. And then three Zeros got on his tail and were making firing passes at him as he headed toward the coast at treetop level taking violent evasive action. Luckily, two P-38s from Mitchell’s flight saw his difficulty and cleared the Zeros off his tail. Holmes said it was he and Hine that chased the Zeros off Barber’s tail. Barber said he then looked inland and to his rear and saw a large column of black smoke rising from the jungle, which he believed to be the Betty he’d shot.

As Barber headed toward the coast he saw Holmes and Hine over the water with a Betty bomber flying below them just offshore. He then saw Holmes and Hine shoot at the bomber with Holmes’ bullets hitting the water behind the Betty and then walking up and through the right engine of the Betty. Hines started to fire, but all of his rounds hit well ahead of the Betty. Then Holmes and Hine passed over the Betty and headed south.

Barber said that he then dropped in behind the Betty flying over the water and opened fire. As he flew over the bomber it exploded, and a large chunk of the plane hit his right wing, cutting out his turbo supercharger intercooler. Another large piece hit the underside of his gondola, making a very large dent in it.

After this, he, Holmes, and Hine fired at more Zeros. Barber said that both he and Holmes shot down a Zero, but Hine was seen heading out to sea smoking from his right engine. As Barber headed home, he saw three oil slicks in the water and hoped that Hine was heading for Guadalcanal, but that was not the case.

Lanphier, having scattered the Zeros, found himself at about 6,000 feet. Looking down, he saw a Betty flying across the treetops, so he came down and began firing a long, steady burst across the bomber’s course of flight, from approximately right angles. In another account, Lanphier said he was clearing his guns. By both accounts, he said he felt he was too far away, yet, to his surprise, the bomber’s right engine and right wing began to burn and then the right wing came off and the Betty plunged into the jungle and exploded.

Return to Guadalcanal

Lanphier said that three Zeros came after him, and he called Mitchell to send someone down to help him. Then, hugging the earth and the treetops while the Zeros made passes at him, he unwittingly led them over a corner of the Japanese fighter strip at Kahili.

He then headed east and, with the Zeros on his tail, he got into a high-speed climb and lost them at 20,000 feet he got home with only two bullet holes in his rudder. Contrast this to the 104 bullet holes in Barber’s plane, plus the knocked-out intercooler and the huge dent in his gondola.

Flying back to Guadalcanal, I heard Lanphier get on the radio and say, “That SOB won’t dictate peace terms in the White House.” This really upset me because we were to keep complete silence about the fact that we had gone after Yamamoto. The details of this mission were not to leave the island of Guadalcanal.

This article by Robert F. Dorr originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.


Mitsubishi G4M 'Betty' shot down attacking US fleet - History

Aircraft History
Built by Mitsubishi No. 3 Works at Nagoya during March 1943. Delivered to the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) as Type 1 Attack Bomber / G4M1 Model 11 Betty manufacture number 2656.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 705 Kōkūtai with tail code T1-323, later changed to 323. During March or April 1943, departed Japan flying southward via Truk before arriving at Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul.

This bomber was painted with standard green upper surfaces and gray lower surfaces. The upper nose and each upper engine cowling was planted black. The leading edge of the inner wings had a yellow identification stripe. The fuselage Hinomaru was outlined with a white square. Tail code 323 was painted in white on both sides of the tail. The upper tip of the tail was also painted white.

"Yamamoto Mission"
At the conclusion of Operation I-Go, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the Combined Japanese Fleet and his senior staff planned an inspection tour of forward airfields and bases in the Shortlands and southern Bougainville. The purpose of this visit was to boost moral after the Japanese losses on Guadalcanal and thank the Japanese Army for cooperation.

Knowledge of his flight was gleamed from a coded Japanese message NTF131755 sent on April 13, 1943 addressed to the commanders of Base Unit No. 1, 11th Air Flotilla and the 26th Air Flotilla. This message was encoded using the Japanese Naval Cipher JN-25D and was intercepted by three U.S. Magic stations and sucessfully decoded by Navy cryptographers.

The intercepted outlined Yamamoto's itinerary and timetable. According to the intercept, Yamamoto would depart "RR" Rabaul at 0600 in a medium attack plane [G4M1 Betty] and land at "RXZ" Ballale Airfield at 0800. Then, proceed by subchaser to "RXE" Shortland at 0840, then depart at 0945 aboard the same subchaser and return to Ballale at 1030, then depart at 1100 aboard G4M1 Betty and arrive at Buin Airfield (Kahili) at 1110. Finally at 1400 depart "RXP" Buin Airfield (Kahili) by G4M1 Betty and arrive back at Rabaul at 1540. All the times were in the Tokyo time zone used by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). Local time was +1 hour ahead at Rabaul and +2 hours in the north Solomons.

A plan dubbed "Operation Vengeance" was formulated and approved by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz on April 17, 1943. The interception mission was assigned to P-38 Lightnings from the 13th Air Force, 347th Fighter Group and 18th Fighter Group that would be required to fly 435 miles over the open sea to intercept the bombers both and kill Yamamoto and his senior staff, assuming they followed the intercepted timetable. The mission would be the longest intercept mission by land based aircraft flown by that point in World War II.

Mission History
On April 18, 1943 before dawn took off from Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul under the command of Flight Warrant Officer Takeo Kotani along with G4M1 Betty Tail 326. Both bombers flew eastward then landed at Lakunai Airfield to pick up high ranking passengers including Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

On the ground at Lakunai Airfield, four passengers boarded this aircraft including: Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Rear Admiral Rokurou Takata, Cdr Kurio Toibana and Noburu Fukusaki plus their baggage. Meanwhile, five passengers boarded G4M1 Betty Tail 326 including: Vice-Admiral Matome Ugaki, Captain Motoharu Kitamura, Rinji Tomoro, Kaoru Imananka and Suteji Muroi.

At 7:10am local time (6:10am Tokyo time) both bombers took off from Lakunai Airfield escorted by six A6M Zeros from 204 Kōkūtai (204 Air Group) and the formation departed on schedule and flew to the southeast bound for Ballale Airfield and were scheduled to land 9:45am local time (8:45am Tokyo time). The weather was described as fine with intermittent cumulus clouds. During the flight, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto sat in the aircraft commander's seat behind the two pilots. The gunners had their weapons stowed and the rear 20mm cannon was removed prior to take off to accommodate the extra baggage.

Meanwhile, P-38 Lightnings from the 339th Fighter Squadron took off from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal as part of "Operation Peacock" (Yamamoto Mission) to intercept and shoot down the bombers. For the flight, each P-38 was equipped with two auxiliary drop tanks.

South of of Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville, the P-38 pilots spotted the Japanese formation and the P-38s split up to engage the escorting A6M2 Zeros while the attack group engaged the bombers. Roughly a mile away, the P-38s were spotted by the Japanese Yamamoto's Betty dove to low altitude as a defensive maneuver and was followed by the other Betty.

Over southern Bougainville, Yamamoto's bomber was attacked from the rear by P-38G "Miss Virginia" 43-2204 #147 piloted by Rex Barber and crashed into the jungle of southern Bougainville. During the interception, this bomber was claimed by both P-38G "Miss Virginia" 43-2204 #147 piloted by 1st Lt. Rex Barber and P-38G 43-2238 #122 piloted by Captain Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr. Postwar research has definitively proven Lanphier's victory claim was incorrect and this bomber was shoot down solely by Rex Barber.

The second bomber G4M1 Betty Tail 326 was attacked from the rear by three fighters: P-38G piloted by Holmes, P-38G piloted by Hine and P-38G "Miss Virginia" 43-2204 #147 piloted by 1st Lt. Rex Barber and was shot down and ditched into the sea off Moila Point.

Credit for shooting down Yamamoto's Betty
After the mission, Lanphier landed first and immediately claimed to have solely shot down Yamamoto's bomber. He was officially credited with the victory, before a post mission briefing was conducted or other pilots interviewed. Officially, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) credited Lanphier with 1 victory and a 1/2 victory. Barber with 1 victory, 1/2 victory and 1/2 victory. Holmes with 1 victory and 1/2 victory. In fact, only the two bombers were shot down and no escorting Zeros were lost. Postwar research has definitively proven Lanphier's victory claim is incorrect and this bomber was shoot down solely by Rex Barber.

During the war, the news of the shoot down was suppressed in the United States, so as not to reveal that Japanese codes had been broken. Postwar research confirmed that Rex Barber actually shot down Yamamoto alone. This long standing controversy spawned a series of inquiries by several USAF credit review boards and the "Second Yamamoto Mission Association (SYMA)" to study the mission. But, officially, the USAF never changed the victory credit. Yet, Rex Barber is understood to be the sole pilot who shot down Yamamoto's Betty. This position was supported by the Second Yamamoto Mission Association, observations of the sole surviving Zero pilot, and even a letter Lanphier wrote to General Condon (claiming he shot down a bomber over the sea) and evidence from the bomber wreckage.

Search
After the crash, a group of Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) soldiers led by Lt. Tsuyoshi Hamasuna at Aku observed smoke rising from the jungle. At first, they believed an American aircraft had crashed nearby. Immediately, Lt. Hamasuna led a group of twelve of his soldiers into the jungle to search for the downed aircraft and spent the night in the jungle searching.

On April 19, 1943 Japanese Army patrol led by Lt. Hamasuna reached the crash site. Initially, they were unable to identify the crashed aircraft and found no survivors alive. The bodies inside the aircraft were burned and partially cremated by the fire. Other bodies were outside the aircraft wreckage. Quickly they realized the crashed plane was Japanese and was a Japanese Navy Type 1 Bomber (Betty) with Admiral Yamamoto aboard.

Recovery of Remains
Next, a Japanese Navy patrol was sent to the crash site to recover the remains of Admiral Yamamoto and the crew. Many English published accounts and references claim Yamamoto died in his seat, from a bullet wound to his chest. This is an imagined myth about how the Admiral died and is not supported by firsthand Japanese accounts. The Japanese eyewitnesses to Yamamoto's body reported few visible wounds and resulted in speculation he might have survived the initial crash and died hours later from internal injuries.

Yamamoto's remains were transported from the crash site to the coast to the mouth of the Wamai River on the southern coast of Bougainville. His remains were placed aboard Minesweeper W-15 and an initial autopsy was conducted. Afterwards, the remains of the crew were transported to Buin (Kangua) then to the 1st Base Command at Buin. On April 20, 1943 a full autopsy was preformed on Yamamoto's body by LtCdr Tabuchi Jisaburo, Chief Medical Officer.

On April 21, 1943 Yamamoto's body was dressed in his uniform and placed into a cremation pit, doused with petrol and cremated by Cdr Watanabe. The remains of the rest of crew and passengers were cremated in two nearby burial pits. After his cremation, some of Yamamoto's remains were buried at an unmarked grave at Buin.

On April 22, 1943 the remainder of Yamamoto's remains were transported to Buin Airfield (Kahili) and loaded aboard another G4M1 Betty and flown back to Lakunai Airfield and were placed overnight the Third Fleet headquarters. On April 23, 1943 the ashes were loaded aboard two G4M1 Betty bombers and departed Lakunai Airfield bound for Eten Airfield (Takeshima) at 1:45pm. Next, transfered aboard Battleship Musashi at Truk Lagoon and transported to Tokyo arriving May 3, 1943.

In Japan, news of Yamamoto's death was officially reported to the Japanese press as "having died in combat aboard an aircraft". On June 5, 1943 Yamamoto received a state funeral in Tokyo and his ashes were buried at Tama Cemetery with a portion given to his wife and buried at his family shrine in Nagaoka.

Memorials
During the war, at the Betty bomber crash site the Japanese built a shrine at the crash site. At the Yamamoto cremation site at Buin, two papayas were planted and a stone with his name caved into it atop.

In the 1960s, a Japanese delegation visited the crash site and placed a memorial plaque on the admiral's seat that read "Last place of Admiral Yamamoto". In the early 1970s, when the commander's seat was removed, the plaque was left at the crash site. The plaque was last documented in 2002 and was missing since 2004.

Since the Pacific War, Japanese visitors often leave small wooden prayer sticks or offerings at the crash site.

Wreckage
The crash site is located in a jungle covered area of southern Bougainville inland from Moila Point. As the bomber impacted the trees, it was torn into pieces before crashing into the ground and catching fire. During the crash, both wings and engines broke off and nose and center section was destroyed. The tail section broke off and landed relatively intact with both horizontal stabilizers broken off.

On April 19, 1943 the Japanese located the crash site and recovered the remains of the crew and passengers. Later, the Japanese established a monument to honor Admiral Yamamoto and those that died in the crash.

Postwar and during the colonial era, visitors to the crash site removed pieces of wreckage and smaller souvenirs. All of the bomber's armaments and instruments were removed by prior visitors. The number "323" was cut from the tail, whereabouts today are unknown.

In the late 1960s, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) 183rd Reconnaissance Flight, Pacific Island Regiment, based at Lae removed many smaller items including both of the control yokes (one cut at the upper stick with one rubber hand grip the other cut at the lower stick), and stenciled manufacture number 2656. Photographs of these items appear in Rust In Peace by Bruce Adams.

Sometime in the early 1970s, the fuselage door, outer wing panel and commander's seat where Yamamoto sat during the flight. The upper portion of the seat has a hole from damage, consistent with the fatal back wound to Yamamoto's back reported in Yamamoto Autopsy (1971).

Today, The crash site is located a few kilometers off the Panguna-Buin road near Aku. A pathway is maintained to allow visitors to access the site and requires an hour walk from the main road.

Richard Rudd recalls visiting the site in October 1968:
"While on an aerial mapping project, based out of Buin in October 1968 and the 'kiaps' at the time, (Australians), whilst imbibing and in conversation at the Buin Club, mentioned that a couple of weeks prior to our arrival, they had escorted a group of Japanese, complete with maps and WWII drawings to try and relocate the crash site. Which they did. We asked if it would be possible to be guided there again and when their time permitted, we drove up the coast/ inland track, getting permissions from various villages, until we quit the road and hiked off into the jungle for an hour or so. First sight was a wing with Hinomaru leaning against a forest tree, a flap? and then the bulk of the rear fuselage and engines. Much forward was all crushed and burnt and the Admirals seat by the rear door. In the jungle quiet, it was a sad scene to contemplate. Author Terry Gynne-Jones did a comprehensive article, with excellent color pictures in GEO magazine in the late 1970s."

In 1972 and 1988, Charles Darby conducted a "forensic analysis" at the crash site on two occasions. His first visit was during 1972 and he returned to conduct a more thorough investigation in August 1988 for the "Second Yamamoto Mission Association (SYMA)" a group of researchers attempting to study the the shoot down. His research findings included photographic documentation and that all shrapnel and bullet holes on the wreckage were caused by bullets traveling forward, indicating the bomber was attacked fro the rear as described by Rex Barber. Photographs from his visit appear in his book Pacific Aircraft Wrecks. And Where To Find Them. Also, he provided evidence to the U.S. Air Force (USAF) as part of the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records testimony of Dr. Charles Darby, October 17-18, 1991 (AFBMR Docket: 91-02347). His conclusion was "There was no evidence on any remaining wreckage of an attack from the bomber's starboard beam as related in all of Lanphier's accounts."

During the "Bougainville Crisis" between 1988-1998, the crash site was not visited by outsiders but survived the conflict. In September 1999, Peace Monitoring Group (PMG) member Josh Mcdade visited the crash site and was given a notice from the Yamamoto Crash Site Landowner Association welcoming visitors and establishing an access fee of 10 Kina, in 2002, increased to 25 Kina.

To the present day, visitors occasionally trek to the crash site in accordance with the landowners rules and fees. The local community closely guards the site to prevent the removal of any souvenirs by visitors. Between 2010–2015, the site was closed to visitors due to a land owner dispute between two clans. In May 2015, the crash site officially re-opened for visitors with a visit by Japanese ambassador to Papua New Guinea Hiroharu Iwasaki with the Deputy Director of National Planning.

On April 18, 2018 Pacific Wrecks visited the crash site to perform a site survey and conduct a 75th anniversary memorial service attended by members of the local community plus visitors from Japan and the United States.

Displays
Since the early 1970s, pieces of wreckage and artifacts have been removed from the crash site.

The fuselage door, outer wing panel and commander's seat were recovered from the crash site and transported to Port Moresby. During the early 1970s displayed at The Air Museum of Papua New Guinea until it closed in the late 1970s. Afterwards, all three items were transferred to the PNG Museum and displayed in the indoor gallery.

In the 1990s, the outer wing panel and commander's seat were placed on permanent loan to the Isoroku Yamamoto Memorial Hall & Museum. The fuselage door remained on display at the PNG Museum until the early 2000s (location today unknown).

One control yoke was recovered from the crash site. Donated by Lt. Col Tom Guivarra, Australian Army Aviation Corps to the MacArthur Memorial in Brisbane. Today displayed in a glass case with the caption "Betty Bomber Control Column of the Betty bomber carrying Admiral Isoruko Yamamoto when he was shot down by American P-39s Lightnings near Moila Point, Bougainville on April 18, 1943. Kindly donated by Lieutenant Colonel Tom Guivarra, Australian Army Aviation Corps."

A control horn was recovered from the crash site, details unknown. Donated to the Australian War Memorial (AWM) and today displayed in the Aircraft Hall. (AWM REL/01198).

On July 21, 2015 a "gold tooth" was found at the crash site by Anderson Giles. This visit was funded Chicago entrepreneur and philanthropist Richard Portillo to commemorate U.S. Marine Corps veteran William &ldquoBill&rdquo Faulkner who served on Bougainville. Afterwards, Portillo negotiated for the purchase of this artifact and has the item in his personal collection.

References
Air'Tell Research Report "G4M Serial Numbers" by Jim Long
Kodochosho, 705 Kōkūtai, April 18, 1943
13th Fighter Command "Fighter Interception Report" April 18, 1943
70 FTR SQ page 365 (PDF page 569), 339 FTR SQ 608 (PDF page 612)
USAF Historical Study No. 85 USAF Credits For The Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, World War II [PDF] Alphabetical: Barber Rex T. page 17 (PDF page 22) / Alphabetical: Lanphier Thomas G Jr. page 111 (PDF page 118) / Chronological List: 04/18/43 page 383-384 (PDF page 388-389) / 339th FS page 608 (PDF page 612)
Australian War Memorial (AWM) "G4M1 Betty bomber control horn" REL/01198 photo 1
Australian War Memorial (AWM) "G4M1 Betty bomber control horn" REL/01198 photo 2
Australian War Memoiral (AWM) "Nippon Nyusu No. 155 = Japanese News No. 155" F06851 video time: 1:43–5:33 time code: 01:03:13:15–01:07:02:15
Admiral Jinichi Kusaka (1958) part 5 Fleet Admiral Yamamoto
Japanese Information Clearinghouse Bulletin (1983) Issue 1 18 April The Admiral's Last Flight 1943–1983
Yamamoto Autopsy (1971) details the crash site, remains recovery and autopsy
Rust In Peace (1975) pages 201-207
After The Battle Issue 8 pages 50-53 includes account of the 1968 visit to the site by a Japanese photographer and 1969 visit by Bruce Adams and Malcolm Lang, administrator at Buin plus photos by Bruce Adams (identical to those in Rust In Peace).
The Reluctant Admiral (1979) pages 374-378
Pacific Aircraft Wrecks. And Where To Find Them (1979) by Charles Darby pages 34 (photos)
Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records testimony of Dr. Charles Darby, October 17-18, 1991 (AFBMR Docket: 91-02347) "There was no evidence on any remaining wreckage of an attack from the bomber's starboard beam as related in all of Lanphier's accounts."
Papua New Guinea Pacific War Images (1984)
Attack on Yamamoto (1990) page 102 (photos) 230-231
Fading Victory The Diary of Admiral Matome Ugaki 1941-1945 (1991) pages 222-223, 330-331, 350-360 plus footnotes
Pacific Air Combat WWII (1993) by Henry Sakaida page 1 "Preface and acknowledgment" 32-35 "A country boy from Niigata Prefecture"
Ballale Naval Engineering Group (1994) part 7, section 4 The Fleet Admiral shot down
Hostages To Freedom The Fall of Rabaul (1995) page 177, 179, 184
P-38 Lightning Aces of the Pacific and CBI (1997) chapter 2 "The Yamamoto Mission" pages 14-17
Last Flight Of Yamamoto (1999) by Jack Fellows
Yamamoto Crash Site Landowner Association (1999, 2002)
Osprey Combat Aircraft 22 Mitsubishi Type 1 Rikko 'Betty' Units of WWII (2001) by Osamu Tagaya page 52 (profile 12), 70-71, 107, 112 (index)
13th Fighter Command in World War II (2004) chapter 8 Yamamoto Mission by Jim Lansdale pages 137 -162, 320 (profile)
USNI Blog "The Solomons Campaign: Operation Vengeance – The Shootdown Of Yamamoto" (2009)
Fortress Rabaul (2010) pages 342-343
Aviation History Magazine "Death by P-38" (2012) by Don Hollway
Killing a Peacock: A Case Study of the Targeted Killing of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (2015) by Maj Adonis C. Arvanitakis
ABC "Japanese ambassador to PNG HE Hiroharu Iwasaki with Deputy Director of National Planning at the Yamamoto crash site" (May 12, 2015) by Sam Bolitho
Military History Magazine "Yamamoto Crash Site Reopens to Visitors" November 2015 page 12
Chicago Tribune "Does Chicago hot dog king have WWII Japanese admiral's gold tooth?" by Ted Gregory September 18, 2016
Japan Times "Chicago hot dog czar may have Japanese World War II admirals’s gold tooth" September 21, 2016
World War II Magazine "Appraising An Unexpected discovery" Jan/Feb 2017 Vol. 31 Issue 5, page 12
AP "Researchers mark death of Pearl Harbor mastermind Yamamoto" by Chris Carola April 16, 2018
Thanks to Isoroku Yamamoto Memorial Hall & Museum, Yoji Sakaida and Jim Lansdale for additional information

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