This Date in History : 18th April 1942
"Get Yamamoto."Operation Vengeance
was the name given by the Americans to the military operation
to kill Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto on April 18, 1943, during the Solomon Islands campaign
in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy,
was killed on Bougainville Island when his transport bomber aircraft was shot down
by U.S. Army fighter aircraft operating from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy, scheduled an inspection tour
of the Solomon Islands and New Guinea. He planned to inspect Japanese air units participating
in the I-Go operation that had begun April 7, 1943, and to boost Japanese morale following
the disastrous evacuation of Guadalcanal. On April 14, the U.S. naval intelligence effort code-named "Magic" intercepted
and decrypted orders alerting affected Japanese units of the tour.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox to "get Yamamoto."
Knox instructed Admiral Chester W. Nimitz of Roosevelt's wishes.
Nimitz first consulted Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., Commander, South Pacific,
and then authorized the mission on April 17.Mission profile;
To avoid detection by radar and Japanese personnel stationed in the Solomon Islands
along a straight-line distance of about 400 miles (640 km) between U.S. forces and Bougainville,
the mission entailed an over-water flight south and west of the Solomons.
This roundabout approach flight was plotted and measured to be about 600 miles (970 km).
The fighters would therefore travel 600 miles out to the target and 400 miles back.
The 1,000-mile flight, with extra fuel allotted for combat, was beyond the range
of the F4F Wildcat and F4U Corsair fighters then available to Navy and Marine squadrons based on Guadalcanal.
The mission was instead given to the U.S. Army's 339th Fighter Squadron of the 347th Fighter Group, Thirteenth Air Force,
whose P-38G aircraft, equipped with drop tanks, would have the range to intercept and engage.
Eighteen P-38s were tasked for the mission. One flight of four was designated
as the "killer" flight while the remainder, which included two spares,
would climb to 18,000 feet (5,500 m) to act as "top cover" for the expected reaction
by Japanese fighters based at Kahili. A flight plan was prepared by the Command Operations Officer,
Marine Major John Condon, but was discarded for one prepared by Mitchell.
He calculated an intercept time of 09:35, based on the itinerary, to catch the bombers
descending over Bougainville, ten minutes before landing at Ballale airfield.
He worked backwards from that time and drew four precisely-calculated legs,
with a fifth leg added if Yamamoto did not take the most direct route.
In addition to heading out over the Coral Sea, the 339th would "wave-hop" all the way
to Bougainville at altitudes no greater than 50 feet (15 m), maintaining radio silence en route.
The specially-fitted P-38s took off from Guadalcanal's Fighter Two airstrip beginning at 07:25.
The date, April 18, was the first anniversary of the Doolittle Raid.
Mitchell's flight of four led the squadron "on the deck" with the killer flight,
consisting of Captain Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr, First Lieutenant Rex T. Barber,
and the spares, Lieutenants Besby F. Holmes and Raymond K. Hine, immediately behind,
fighting off drowsiness, navigating by flight plan and dead reckoning.
This proved to be the longest fighter-intercept mission of the war
and was so skillfully executed by Mitchell that his force arrived
at the intercept point one minute early, at 09:34, just as Yamamoto's aircraft descended into view in a light haze.
Mitchell ordered his planes to drop tanks, turn to the right to parallel the bombers,
and began a full power climb to intercept them.
Lieutenant Holmes was unable to drop his tanks and turned back to sea, followed by his wingman, Lieutenant Hine.
Mitchell radioed Lanphier and Barber to engage, and they turned to climb toward the eight aircraft.
The closest escort fighters dropped their own tanks and began to dive toward the pair of P-38s.
Lanphier, in a sound tactical move, immediately turned head-on and climbed towards the escorts
while Barber chased the diving bomber transports. Barber banked steeply to turn in behind the bombers
and momentarily lost sight of them, but when he regained contact, he was immediately behind one
and began firing into its right engine, rear fuselage, and empennage. Then Barber hit its left engine
and it began to trail heavy black smoke. The Betty rolled violently to the left-Barber narrowly avoided a collision.
Looking back, he saw a column of black smoke and assumed the Betty had crashed into the jungle.
Barber headed towards the coast at treetop level, searching for the second bomber,
not knowing which one carried the targeted high-ranking officer.
Barber spotted the second bomber low over the water off Moila Point just as Holmes (whose wing tanks had finally come off)
and Hine attacked it. Holmes damaged the right engine of the Betty, which began emitting a white vapor trail,
then he and Hine flew over the damaged bomber. Unknown to them, this bomber carried Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki
and part of Yamamoto's staff. Barber was the next airman to attack the stricken bomber-his hits
caused the bomber to shed metal debris which collided with and damaged his own aircraft.
The bomber descended and crash-landed in the water. Ugaki and two others survived the crash
and they were later rescued. Barber, Holmes and Hine were attacked by Zeros, Barber's P-38 receiving 140 hits.
Holmes and Barber each claimed a Zero shot down during this melee, although Japanese records show that no Zeros were lost.
The top cover briefly engaged reacting Zeros without making any kills. Mitchell observed the column of smoke
from Yamamoto's crashed bomber. Hine's P-38 had disappeared by this point, presumably crashed into the water.
Running close to point-of-no-return fuel levels, the P-38s broke off contact and returned to base,
with Holmes so short of fuel that he was forced to land in the Russell Islands. Hine was the only one who did not return.
Warrant Officer Kenji Yanagiya, one of the six Japanese escort pilots, reported pursuing and downing a P-38 over Kolombangara.
After the mission, as he approached Henderson Field, Lanphier radioed the Guadalcanal fighter director that "That son of a b*tch will not be dictating any peace terms in the White House".
The crash site and body of Admiral Yamamoto were found the next day in the jungle north of the coastal site
of the former Australian patrol post and Catholic mission of Buin (which was re-established, after the war,
several kilometres inland) by a Japanese search and rescue party, led by Army engineer Lieutenant Hamasuna.
According to Hamasuna, Yamamoto had been thrown clear of the plane's wreckage, his white-gloved hand grasping
the hilt of his katana, still upright in his seat under a tree. Hamasuna said Yamamoto was instantly recognizable,
head dipped down as if deep in thought. A post-mortem of the body disclosed that Yamamoto received two wounds,
one to the back of his left shoulder and one to his left lower jaw that exited above his right eye.
Whether the admiral initially survived the crash has been a matter of controversy in Japan.
In Japan this became known as the "Navy ko incident". It raised morale in the United States
and shocked the Japanese, who were officially told about the incident only on May 21, 1943.
To cover up the fact that the Allies were reading Japanese code, American news agencies
were given the cover story originally created for briefing the 339th, that civilian coastwatchers
in the Solomons saw Yamamoto boarding a bomber in the area and then relayed the information by radio
to American naval forces in the immediate area.