On April 17, 1943 American intelligence officers determined that on April 18 Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was to be at the Ballale airstrip just off Bougainville Island in the southwest Pacific Ocean at precisely 9:45 am on a fact-finding and morale visit to the critical Japanese supply hub.
A life-long sea dog and battling warrior, the Harvard educated, urbane Yamamoto was the architect of Japan’s successful offensive war in 1942 that drove the Americans and Europeans out of the so-called Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere that encompassed the rimlands of Asia. Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bomber
By 1943 American industrial might and overwhelming population advantage combined with a burning vengeance to literally exterminate the Japanese for its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor began grinding Nippon’s military machine into impotence. Yamamoto was depended upon in Japan to fix it.
The same morning Yamamoto took off on his final flight 18 Bell P-38 “Lightning ” twin-engined fighter planes from the 339th Fighter Sqdn. flew 427 miles, the longest interception mission to date in the Pacific War, to kill him.
Legend has it Yamamoto was found in an upholstered seat after being ejected from the bomber after it crashed into the jungle, his body landing under a tree upright and still clutching his samurai sword. He reportedly sustained three bullets wounds, including one that entered his jaw and came out his right eye.
Yamamoto’s G4M “Betty” Bomber years after it crashed in the Bougainville jungle.
Months later in the United States, in order to cover up the fact that the Allies were reading Japanese codes, American news agencies were told that civilian coastwatchers in the Solomons observed Yamamoto boarding a bomber and relayed the information by radio to American naval forces in the immediate area. This conveyed to the Japanese military that it was only through a stroke of luck that the Americans carried out the successful attack.
On June 20, 1943 the Associated Press ran a story around the world about the “hottest” unnamed fighter squadron in the Pacific war. No mention was made of its accomplishments. it simply listed the names of the pilots on the unit. Two names, Lt. R.T. Barber and Capt. T.G. Lanphier are particularly significant. They were the pilots credited with shooting down and killing Japan’s greatest military leader. The Japanese never won another battle after his death. Below is the picture and cutline that appeared in in the St. Louis Globe Democrat and hundreds of other newspapers with the original date stamp visible on the copy. The American public had still not been told about his death to prevent the Japanese from even consider that the U.S. had broken the most secret Japanese codes to learn of Yamamoto’s classified itinerary.
Barber and Lanphier feuded for the rest of their lives over who actually shot Yamamoto’s plane down.