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|Pilot Warrant Officer Takeo
Chief Pilot Flight Warrant Officer Takeo Kotani (KIA)
Co-Pilot Chief Flight Seaman Akiharu Ozaki (KIA)
Engineer Flight Petty Officer Haruo Ueda (KIA)
Radio Flight Petty Officer Nobuo Hara (KIA)
Radar / front gunner Flight Petty Officer Minoru Tanaka (KIA)
Asst Radio / scanner / top gunner Chief Flight Seaman Mitsuo Ueno (KIA)
Tail Gunner Chief Flight Seaman Harumasa Kobayashi (KIA)
Passenger Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (KIA)
Passenger Rear Admiral 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
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 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, took off from Lakunai Airfield escorted by six A6M2 Zeros from the 204 Kōkūtai. The formation departed on schedule and departed southward bound for Ballale Airfield, scheduled to land at 8:00am.
Meanwhile, American P-38 Lightnings of the 339th Fighter Squadron took off from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal. Flying with auxiliary fuel tanks for a six hundred mile round trip flight. They spotted the Japanese formation south of Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville, and the P-38s split up to engage the escorting Zeros while the attack group engaged the two bombers.
Roughly a mile away, the P-38s were spotted by the Japanese formation and Yamamoto's bomber dove to low altitude, and was followed by the other bomber, as a defensive maneuver.
Yamamoto's bomber was shot shot down around 8:00am into the jungle near Aku on southern Bougainville. His bomber was claimed by P-38G 43-2238 #122 piloted by Thomas Lanphier and P-38G "Miss Virginia" 43-2204 #147 piloted by Rex Barber. Later research attributed the shoot down solely to Barber, who attacked from the rear.
The second bomber G4M1 T1-326 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.
The nearest Japanese Army post at Aku, Lt. Hamasuna observed smoke from the crash. At first, he believed it is was an American airplane crash and he led a group of twelve to the crash site, and was the first to arrive the following day. Next, a Japanese Navy patrol was sent to the site to recover the Admiral's body. When they arrived, they found Yamamoto's sword and Admiral rank insignia (shoulder bars) missing. They have never been located to this day.
Recovery of Remains
Credit for Shooting Down Yamaoto
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" 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 "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.
Since the 1960s, Japanese delegations have visited the crash site, and erected a memorial plaque on the admiral's seat, and often leave memorial sticks at the site.
The fuselage door, a section of the outer wing and Yamamoto's seat were recovered from the crash site during the 1970s. Other smaller relics were also salvaged, including one of the control columns, and the aircraft's manufacture number stencil were in the possession of RAAF 183rd Reconnaissance Flight, Pacific Island Regiment, based at Lae during the 1970s (the fate of these items today is unknown).
The fuselage door, outer wing panel and seat were donated and were displayed at The Air Museum of Papua New Guinea until it closed in the late 1970s and were transferred to the PNG Museum. In the 1990s, the outer wing panel and seat were placed on permanent loan to the Isoroku Yamamoto Memorial Hall & Museum.
Richard Rudd recalls visiting the site in October 1968:
Josh Mcdade visited the site on September 1999. He found some updated info on the Yamamoto crash site. This notice has been passed around to the local PMG members that have been around that area. This notice has been amended by us (PMG members) because the charge has now increased to K25, as of 2002.
References Kodochosho, 705 Kōkūtai, April 18, 1943
Kodochosho, 705 Kōkūtai, April 18, 1943
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