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|Pilot FPO2/c Hiroshi Hayashi (survived)
Co-Pilot Chief Flight Seaman Fumikatsu Fujimoto (KIA)
Radio Flight Petty Officer Isamu Hachiki (KIA)
Radio Flight Petty Officer Sukeichi Itoh (KIA)
Mechanic Flight Petty Officer Nobuyuki Kuriyama (KIA)
Gunner Chief Flight Seaman Keneyoshi Nomiyama (KIA)
Observer FPO1/c Hiroaki Tanimura (KIA)
Passenger Vice-Admiral Matome Ugaki, Chief of Staff (survived)
Passenger Captain Motoharu Kitamura, Chief Paymaster, Combined Fleet (survived)
Passenger Commander Rinji Tomoro, Meteorology Officer (KIA)
Passenger Commander Kaoru Imananka, Staff Officer (KIA)
Passenger Commander Suteji Muroi, Staff Officer (KIA)
Crashed April 18, 1943 around 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 326 was painted in white on both sides of the tail.
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 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.
After the shoot down of Yamamoto's G4M1 Betty 2656 Tail 323, this bomber was also attacked from the rear by three fighters: P-38G #100 piloted by Holmes, P-38G piloted by Hine and P-38G "Miss Virginia" 43-2204 #147 piloted by Barber.
Holmes dove at the bomber, firing at it and causing the left engine to smoke. Hine next fired at it. Finally, Barber fired into the fuselage and claimed to cause it to explode. Damaged, the bomber ditched into the sea off Moila Point at the southern tip of Bougainville.
Three survived the crash: Vice-Admiral Matome Ugaki, Captain Motoharu Kitamura and pilot Hiroshi Hayashi. All three managed to wade ashore. The rest of the crew and passengers were killed in the air or during the crash. Later , the body of one of the crew washed ashore.
Fates of the Crew
Pilot Hiroshi Hayashi is was still alive as of 2005 and lives on Yaku Sihima Island. He declines interviews from Japanese researchers and authors.
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