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|Pilot Flight Warrant Officer Takeo Kotani (KIA)
Co-Pilot Chief Flight Seaman Akiharu Ozaki (KIA)
Engineer Flight Petty Officer Haruo Ueda (KIA)
Front Gunner / Observer Flight Petty Officer Minoru Tanaka (KIA)
Radio Flight Petty Officer Nobuo Hara (KIA)
Assistant Radio / Top gunner Chief Flight Seaman Mitsuo Ueno (KIA)
Tail Gunner Chief Flight Seaman Harumasa Kobayashi (KIA)
Passenger Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander Combined Fleet (KIA)
Passenger Rear Admiral Rokurou Takata, Chief Surgeon Combined Fleet (KIA)
Passenger Cdr Kurio Toibana, Staff Office (KIA)
Passenger Cdr Noburu Fukusaki, Yamamoto Aide (KIA)
Crashed April 18, 1943 at 8:00am
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.
Knowledge of his flight was gleamed from a coded Japanese message sent on April 13, 1943 which American intelligence intercepted and had broken their Naval code. Decoded, the message 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 timezone used by the Imperial Japanese Navy.
A secret plan was made to to intercept and shoot down the bombers. Eighteen P-38 Lightings from the 347th Fighter Group and 18th Fighter Group would fly 435 miles over the open sea, the longest intercept mission by land based aircraft during World War II.
At 6:10am both bombers took off from Lakunai Airfield escorted by six A6M Zeros of the 204 Kōkūtai and the formation departed on schedule and proceeded as planned southeast and was scheduled to land at 8:00am at Ballale Airfield. The weather was described as fine with intermittent cumulus clouds.
Meanwhile, P-38 Lightnings of the 339th Fighter Squadron took off from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal as part of Operation Peacock the top secret "Yamamoto Mission" to intercept and shoot down the Admiral's bomber. Each P-38 had two auxiliary fuel tanks for a six hundred mile round trip flight.
South of of Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville, they 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 formation, 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 around 8:00am and crashed into the jungle on southern Bougainville. His bomber was claimed by P-38G "Miss Virginia" 43-2204 #147 piloted by Rex Barber and P-38G 43-2238 #122 piloted by Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr. who landed first and made the claim first and was officially awarded credit for the claim. Later research attributed the shoot down solely to Barber, who attacked the bomber from the rear.
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 Rex Barber and was shot down and ditched into the sea off Moila Point.
Credit for shooting down Yamamoto's Betty
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.
Recovery of Remains
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.
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 war, Japanese visitors often leave small wooden sticks with prayers or messages at the crash site.
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 the dead.
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 was penetrated by piece of shrapnel, consistent with the fatal back wounded reported in Yamamoto's autopsy.
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:
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 visit 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.
For five years between 2010–2015, the crash site was closed to visitors due to a land dispute. The site reopened for visitors in May 2015.
In May 2015, the crash site officially re-opened for tourists, including a visit by Japanese ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Hiroharu Iwasaki with Deputy Director of National Planning.
On July 21, 2015 a gold tooth was discovered at the crash site by Anderson Giles prompting further investigation as to the possibility of it belonging to Yamamoto. This visit was funded Chicago entrepreneur and philanthropist Richard Portillo to commemorate U. S. Marine Corps veteran William “Bill” Faulkner who served on Bougainville.
The fuselage door, outer wing panel and commander's seat were displayed at The Air Museum of Papua New Guinea during the early 1970s 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 remains with the PNG Museum.
One control yoke was donated by Lt. Col Tom Guivarra, Australian Army Aviation Corps to the MacArthur Memorial in Brisbane. The control yoke is 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."
References Air'Tell Research Report "G4M Serial Numbers" by Jim Long Kodochosho, 705 Kōkūtai, April 18, 1943
Air'Tell Research Report "G4M Serial Numbers" by Jim Long
Kodochosho, 705 Kōkūtai, April 18, 1943
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