Death of Isoroku Yamamoto
Overview
 
Operation Vengeance was carried out to assassinate Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

ese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
Isoroku Yamamoto
was a Japanese Naval Marshal General and the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II, a graduate of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy and a student of Harvard University ....

 on April 18, 1943, during the Solomon Islands campaign
Solomon Islands campaign
The Solomon Islands campaign was a major campaign of the Pacific War of World War II. The campaign began with Japanese landings and occupation of several areas in the British Solomon Islands and Bougainville, in the Territory of New Guinea, during the first six months of 1942...

 in the Pacific Theater
Pacific Ocean theater of World War II
The Pacific Ocean theatre was one of four major naval theatres of war of World War II, which pitted the forces of Japan against those of the United States, the British Commonwealth, the Netherlands and France....

 of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy
Imperial Japanese Navy
The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1869 until 1947, when it was dissolved following Japan's constitutional renunciation of the use of force as a means of settling international disputes...

, was killed on Bougainville Island
Bougainville Island
Bougainville Island is the main island of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville of Papua New Guinea. This region is also known as Bougainville Province or the North Solomons. The population of the province is 175,160 , which includes the adjacent island of Buka and assorted outlying islands...

 when his transport bomber
Bomber
A bomber is a military aircraft designed to attack ground and sea targets, by dropping bombs on them, or – in recent years – by launching cruise missiles at them.-Classifications of bombers:...

 aircraft
Aircraft
An aircraft is a vehicle that is able to fly by gaining support from the air, or, in general, the atmosphere of a planet. An aircraft counters the force of gravity by using either static lift or by using the dynamic lift of an airfoil, or in a few cases the downward thrust from jet engines.Although...

 was shot down by U.S.
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 fighter aircraft
Fighter aircraft
A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat with other aircraft, as opposed to a bomber, which is designed primarily to attack ground targets...

 operating from Henderson Field
Henderson Field (Guadalcanal)
Henderson Field is a former military airfield on Guadacanal, Solomon Islands during World War II. Today it is Honiara International Airport.-Japanese construction:...

 on Guadalcanal
Guadalcanal
Guadalcanal is a tropical island in the South-Western Pacific. The largest island in the Solomons, it was discovered by the Spanish expedition of Alvaro de Mendaña in 1568...

.

The mission of the U.S. aircraft was specifically to kill Yamamoto and was based on United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 intelligence on Yamamoto's travel plans in the Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands is a sovereign state in Oceania, east of Papua New Guinea, consisting of nearly one thousand islands. It covers a land mass of . The capital, Honiara, is located on the island of Guadalcanal...

 area.
Encyclopedia
Operation Vengeance was carried out to assassinate Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

ese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
Isoroku Yamamoto
was a Japanese Naval Marshal General and the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II, a graduate of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy and a student of Harvard University ....

 on April 18, 1943, during the Solomon Islands campaign
Solomon Islands campaign
The Solomon Islands campaign was a major campaign of the Pacific War of World War II. The campaign began with Japanese landings and occupation of several areas in the British Solomon Islands and Bougainville, in the Territory of New Guinea, during the first six months of 1942...

 in the Pacific Theater
Pacific Ocean theater of World War II
The Pacific Ocean theatre was one of four major naval theatres of war of World War II, which pitted the forces of Japan against those of the United States, the British Commonwealth, the Netherlands and France....

 of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy
Imperial Japanese Navy
The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1869 until 1947, when it was dissolved following Japan's constitutional renunciation of the use of force as a means of settling international disputes...

, was killed on Bougainville Island
Bougainville Island
Bougainville Island is the main island of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville of Papua New Guinea. This region is also known as Bougainville Province or the North Solomons. The population of the province is 175,160 , which includes the adjacent island of Buka and assorted outlying islands...

 when his transport bomber
Bomber
A bomber is a military aircraft designed to attack ground and sea targets, by dropping bombs on them, or – in recent years – by launching cruise missiles at them.-Classifications of bombers:...

 aircraft
Aircraft
An aircraft is a vehicle that is able to fly by gaining support from the air, or, in general, the atmosphere of a planet. An aircraft counters the force of gravity by using either static lift or by using the dynamic lift of an airfoil, or in a few cases the downward thrust from jet engines.Although...

 was shot down by U.S.
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 fighter aircraft
Fighter aircraft
A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat with other aircraft, as opposed to a bomber, which is designed primarily to attack ground targets...

 operating from Henderson Field
Henderson Field (Guadalcanal)
Henderson Field is a former military airfield on Guadacanal, Solomon Islands during World War II. Today it is Honiara International Airport.-Japanese construction:...

 on Guadalcanal
Guadalcanal
Guadalcanal is a tropical island in the South-Western Pacific. The largest island in the Solomons, it was discovered by the Spanish expedition of Alvaro de Mendaña in 1568...

.

The mission of the U.S. aircraft was specifically to kill Yamamoto and was based on United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 intelligence on Yamamoto's travel plans in the Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands is a sovereign state in Oceania, east of Papua New Guinea, consisting of nearly one thousand islands. It covers a land mass of . The capital, Honiara, is located on the island of Guadalcanal...

 area. The death of Yamamoto reportedly damaged the morale of Japanese naval personnel (described by Samuel Eliot Morison
Samuel Eliot Morison
Samuel Eliot Morison, Rear Admiral, United States Naval Reserve was an American historian noted for his works of maritime history that were both authoritative and highly readable. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1912, and taught history at the university for 40 years...

 as being considered the equivalent of a major defeat in battle), aided the morale of members of the Allied
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 forces, and may have been intended as an act of revenge by U.S. leaders who blamed Yamamoto for the Pearl Harbor attack
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

 which initiated the formal state of war between Imperial Japan
Empire of Japan
The Empire of Japan is the name of the state of Japan that existed from the Meiji Restoration on 3 January 1868 to the enactment of the post-World War II Constitution of...

 and the U.S. After the war, more controversy surrounded the legacy of the mission as several of the U.S. fighter pilots involved debated for years over who should have received the aerial victory credit for the downing of Yamamoto's aircraft.

Background

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
Isoroku Yamamoto
was a Japanese Naval Marshal General and the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II, a graduate of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy and a student of Harvard University ....

, commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy
Imperial Japanese Navy
The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1869 until 1947, when it was dissolved following Japan's constitutional renunciation of the use of force as a means of settling international disputes...

, scheduled an inspection tour of the Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands is a sovereign state in Oceania, east of Papua New Guinea, consisting of nearly one thousand islands. It covers a land mass of . The capital, Honiara, is located on the island of Guadalcanal...

 and New Guinea
New Guinea
New Guinea is the world's second largest island, after Greenland, covering a land area of 786,000 km2. Located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, it lies geographically to the east of the Malay Archipelago, with which it is sometimes included as part of a greater Indo-Australian Archipelago...

. 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
Guadalcanal campaign
The Guadalcanal Campaign, also known as the Battle of Guadalcanal and codenamed Operation Watchtower by Allied forces, was a military campaign fought between August 7, 1942 and February 9, 1943 on and around the island of Guadalcanal in the Pacific theatre of World War II...

. On April 14, the U.S. naval intelligence effort code-named "Magic
Magic (cryptography)
Magic was an Allied cryptanalysis project during World War II. It involved the United States Army's Signals Intelligence Section and the United States Navy's Communication Special Unit. -Codebreaking:...

" intercepted and decrypted orders alerting affected Japanese units of the tour.

The original message, NTF131755, addressed to the commanders of Base Unit No. 1, the 11th Air Flotilla, and the 26th Air Flotilla, was encoded in the Japanese Naval Cipher JN-25D (Naval Operations Code Book of the third version of RO), and was picked up by three stations of the "Magic" apparatus, including Fleet Radio Unit
Fleet Radio Unit
Fleet Radio Units were the major centers for Allied cryptological and signals intelligence during the Pacific Campaign of World War II. Initially two FRUs were established in the Pacific, one at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, called Station HYPO or FRUPAC , and the other, called Station CAST or Belconnen,...

 Pacific Fleet. The message was then deciphered by Navy cryptographers (amongst them future Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens
John Paul Stevens
John Paul Stevens served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from December 19, 1975 until his retirement on June 29, 2010. At the time of his retirement, he was the oldest member of the Court and the third-longest serving justice in the Court's history...

); it contained specific details regarding Yamamoto's arrival and departure times and locations, as well as the number and types of planes that would transport and accompany him on the journey.

Yamamoto, the itinerary revealed, would be flying from Rabaul
Rabaul
Rabaul is a township in East New Britain province, Papua New Guinea. The town was the provincial capital and most important settlement in the province until it was destroyed in 1994 by falling ash of a volcanic eruption. During the eruption, ash was sent thousands of metres into the air and the...

 to Ballale Airfield, on an island near Bougainville
Bougainville Island
Bougainville Island is the main island of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville of Papua New Guinea. This region is also known as Bougainville Province or the North Solomons. The population of the province is 175,160 , which includes the adjacent island of Buka and assorted outlying islands...

 in the Solomon Islands, on April 18. He and his staff would be flying in two medium bombers (Mitsubishi G4M Bettys
Mitsubishi G4M
The Mitsubishi G4M 一式陸上攻撃機, 一式陸攻 Isshiki rikujō kōgeki ki, Isshikirikkō was the main twin-engine, land-based bomber used by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service in World War II. The Allies gave the G4M the reporting name Betty...

 of the 205th Kokutai Naval Air Unit), escorted by six navy fighters (Mitsubishi A6M Zero
A6M Zero
The Mitsubishi A6M Zero was a long-range fighter aircraft operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service from 1940 to 1945. The A6M was designated as the , and also designated as the Mitsubishi A6M Rei-sen and Mitsubishi Navy 12-shi Carrier Fighter. The A6M was usually referred to by the...

 fighters of the 204th Kokutai NAU), to depart Rabaul at 06:00 and arrive at Ballale at 08:00, Tokyo time.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

 ordered Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox
Frank Knox
-External links:...

 to "get Yamamoto." Knox instructed Admiral Chester W. Nimitz of Roosevelt's wishes. Nimitz first consulted Adm. William F. Halsey, Jr., Commander, South Pacific, and then authorized the mission on April 17.

Interception mission

To avoid detection by radar and Japanese personnel stationed in the Solomon Islands along a straight-line distance of about 400 miles (643.7 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 (965.6 km). The fighters would therefore travel 600 miles out to the target and 400 miles back. The 1,000-mile flight plan, with extra fuel allotted for combat, was beyond the range of the F4F Wildcat
F4F Wildcat
The Grumman F4F Wildcat was an American carrier-based fighter aircraft that began service with both the United States Navy and the British Royal Navy in 1940...

 and F4U Corsair
F4U Corsair
The Vought F4U Corsair was a carrier-capable fighter aircraft that saw service primarily in World War II and the Korean War. Demand for the aircraft soon overwhelmed Vought's manufacturing capability, resulting in production by Goodyear and Brewster: Goodyear-built Corsairs were designated FG and...

 fighters then available to Navy and Marine
United States Marine Corps
The United States Marine Corps is a branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for providing power projection from the sea, using the mobility of the United States Navy to deliver combined-arms task forces rapidly. It is one of seven uniformed services of the United States...

 squadrons based on Guadalcanal
Guadalcanal
Guadalcanal is a tropical island in the South-Western Pacific. The largest island in the Solomons, it was discovered by the Spanish expedition of Alvaro de Mendaña in 1568...

. The mission was instead given to the U.S. Army's 339th Fighter Squadron
339th Flight Test Squadron
The 339th Flight Test Squadron is a United States Air Force unit based at Robins AFB, Georgia. It is part of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, with a mission to certify aircraft as worthy to return to service...

 of the 347th Fighter Group, Thirteenth Air Force
Thirteenth Air Force
The Thirteenth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force Pacific Air Forces . It is headquartered at Hickam Air Force Base on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. 13 AF has never been stationed in the continental United States...

, whose P-38G
P-38 Lightning
The Lockheed P-38 Lightning was a World War II American fighter aircraft built by Lockheed. Developed to a United States Army Air Corps requirement, the P-38 had distinctive twin booms and a single, central nacelle containing the cockpit and armament...

 aircraft, equipped with drop tanks, would have the range to intercept and engage.

Planning for this mission was begun by Fighter Command's deputy, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Luther S. Moore, who had the P-38s fitted with a Navy ship's compass at the request of Major John W. Mitchell, commanding officer of the 339th, to aid in navigation. These fighters each carried standard armament of a 20 mm cannon and four 50-caliber (12.7 mm) machine guns, and they often carried two 150 – drop tanks under their wings. For this raid a limited supply of 300 – tanks was flown up from New Guinea, sufficient to provide each Lightning with one large tank to replace one of the small tanks. Despite the difference in size, the tanks were located close enough to the aircraft's center of gravity to avoid any performance problems.

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 18000 foot 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
Coral Sea
The Coral Sea is a marginal sea off the northeast coast of Australia. It is bounded in the west by the east coast of Queensland, thereby including the Great Barrier Reef, in the east by Vanuatu and by New Caledonia, and in the north approximately by the southern extremity of the Solomon Islands...

, the 339th would "wave-hop" all the way to Bougainville at altitudes no greater than 50 feet (15 m), maintaining radio silence en route.

Although the 339th Fighter Squadron officially flew the mission, ten of the eighteen pilots were drawn from the other two squadrons of the 347th Group. A thorough, detailed briefing included a cover story for the source of the intelligence stating that a coastwatcher
Coastwatchers
The Coastwatchers, also known as the Coast Watch Organisation, Combined Field Intelligence Service or Section C, Allied Intelligence Bureau, were Allied military intelligence operatives stationed on remote Pacific islands during World War II to observe enemy movements and rescue stranded Allied...

 had spotted an important high-ranking officer boarding an aircraft at Rabaul, but the pilots were not specifically briefed that their target was Admiral Yamamoto.

The specially-fitted P-38s took off from Guadalcanal's Fighter Two airstrip beginning at 07:25. The date, April 18, had the significance of being the first anniversary of the Doolittle Raid
Doolittle Raid
The Doolittle Raid, on 18 April 1942, was the first air raid by the United States to strike the Japanese Home Islands during World War II. By demonstrating that Japan itself was vulnerable to American air attack, it provided a vital morale boost and opportunity for U.S. retaliation after the...

 as well as Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday is a Christian moveable feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter. The feast commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in all four Canonical Gospels. ....

. Two of the Lightnings assigned to the killer flight dropped out of the mission at the start, one with a tire flattened during takeoff and the second when its drop tanks would not feed fuel to the engines.

In Rabaul, despite urgings by local commanders to cancel the trip for fear of ambush, Yamamoto's planes took off as scheduled for the 315 miles (506.9 km) trip. They climbed to 6500 foot, with their fighter escort at their 4 o'clock position and 1500 foot higher, split into two V-formations of three planes.

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
Rex T. Barber
Colonel Rex T. Barber was a World War II fighter pilot. He is best known as a member of the top secret mission to intercept the aircraft carrying Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in April 1943.-Personal life:...

, and the spares, Lieutenants Besby F. Holmes and Raymond K. Hine, immediately behind, fighting off drowsiness, navigating by flight plan and dead reckoning
Dead reckoning
In navigation, dead reckoning is the process of calculating one's current position by using a previously determined position, or fix, and advancing that position based upon known or estimated speeds over elapsed time, and course...

. 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
Fuselage
The fuselage is an aircraft's main body section that holds crew and passengers or cargo. In single-engine aircraft it will usually contain an engine, although in some amphibious aircraft the single engine is mounted on a pylon attached to the fuselage which in turn is used as a floating hull...

, and empennage
Empennage
The empennage , also known as the tail or tail assembly, of most aircraft gives stability to the aircraft, in a similar way to the feathers on an arrow...

. 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
Water landing
A water landing is, in the broadest sense, any landing on a body of water. All waterfowl, those seabirds capable of flight, and some human-built vehicles are capable of landing in water as a matter of course....

. 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
Dogfight
A dogfight, or dog fight, is a form of aerial combat between fighter aircraft; in particular, combat of maneuver at short range, where each side is aware of the other's presence. Dogfighting first appeared during World War I, shortly after the invention of the airplane...

, although Japanese records show that no Zeros were lost. The top cover briefly engaged reacting Zeros without making any kills and 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
Russell Islands
The Russell Islands are two small islands, as well as several islets, of volcanic origin, in the Central Province of the Solomon Islands. They are located approximately 48 km northwest from Guadalcanal. The islands are partially covered in coconut plantations, and have a copra and oil factory at...

. Hine was the only one who did not return. Warrant Officer Kenji Yanagiya
Kenji Yanagiya
Warrant Officer was one of the Imperial Japanese Navy's Zero fighter aces who fought the Battle of Solomon Islands in October 1942 – June 1943. He is best known as the only escort fighter pilot of the Yamamoto mission to survive the war.-Biography:...

, one of the six Japanese escort pilots, reported pursuing and downing a P-38 over Kolombangara
Kolombangara
Kolombangara is an island in the New Georgia Islands group of the Solomon Islands in the southwestern Pacific Ocean...

.

Aftermath

As he approached Henderson Field, Lanphier radioed the Guadalcanal fighter director that "That son of a bitch will not be dictating any peace terms in the White House", breaching security on the mission. Immediately on landing (his plane was so short on fuel that one engine quit during landing rollout) he again put in a claim for shooting down the bomber, relating that when he turned to engage the escort Zeroes he shot the wing off one, flipped upside down as he circled back towards the bombers, and saw the lead bomber turning a circle below him. He stated he came out of his turn at a right angle to the circling bomber and fired, blowing off its right wing. He stated that he witnessed Barber shoot down another bomber which also crashed in the jungle. Holmes put in a claim for the Betty that crashed into the water, so it was assumed that three bombers had been downed. The fifteen surviving pilots were not debriefed after the mission because this formal interrogation did not exist in the procedures on Guadalcanal at that time, and thus it was never formally established that no one else witnessed Lanphier's claim.

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
Katana
A Japanese sword, or , is one of the traditional bladed weapons of Japan. There are several types of Japanese swords, according to size, field of application and method of manufacture.-Description:...

, 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 incident"(:ja:海軍甲事件). 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 told 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.

Controversy

Lanphier initially received credit for the kill of Yamamoto's bomber, but the other pilots on the mission were immediately skeptical. Although one of the most expertly-executed missions in history, the interception was subsequently marred by controversy over who actually shot down Yamamoto and by Navy outrage over unauthorized releases of operational details to the press, including an October 1943 issue of Time Magazine which featured articles on both the shootdown and Lanphier by name. Mitchell had been nominated for the Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed by the President, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her...

 for the mission, but as a result of the security issues this was downgraded to the Navy Cross
Navy Cross
The Navy Cross is the highest decoration that may be bestowed by the Department of the Navy and the second highest decoration given for valor. It is normally only awarded to members of the United States Navy, United States Marine Corps and United States Coast Guard, but can be awarded to all...

, which he and all the pilots of the killer flight were subsequently awarded.

After the war it was found that none of the escorting Japanese fighters were shot down—only one was damaged enough that it required a day of repair at Buin—and Lanphier was stripped of his claim for a Zero shot down. Since other Zero fighters were taking off from nearby Kahili airfield, both Barber and Holmes were allowed their claims during the second combat. Also records confirmed that only two bombers had been shot down, not three, and subsequently the Air corps officially awarded "half kills" to Lanphier and Barber for the Yamamoto shootdown. A video-taped interview in 1985 with one of the escorting Zero pilots, Kenji Yanagiya
Kenji Yanagiya
Warrant Officer was one of the Imperial Japanese Navy's Zero fighter aces who fought the Battle of Solomon Islands in October 1942 – June 1943. He is best known as the only escort fighter pilot of the Yamamoto mission to survive the war.-Biography:...

, appeared to corroborate Barber's claim, but the Air Force
United States Air Force
The United States Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the American uniformed services. Initially part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of...

 declined to reopen the issue.

Rex Barber then sued in Federal Court to have the ruling of the Secretary of the Air Force overturned and the opposing claims re-investigated, but the court refused to intervene. But in 2003, he was officially credited with the sole kill after an inspection analyzed the crash site and determined the path of the bullet impacts, thereby validating Barber's account and invalidating Lanphier's claim. In the May 2006 issue of Air Force Magazine, Douglas S. Canning, a former member of the 347th Fighter Group who flew the Yamamoto mission (Canning escorted Lt. Holmes back to the Russells) and was friends with both Lanphier and Barber, published a letter in which he stated that Lanphier, in addition to writing the official report, medal citations, and several magazine articles, had also written a detailed manuscript, never published, claiming he alone shot down Yamamoto. Until reading that manuscript, Barber had been willing to share half credit for the kill. Canning cites the testimony of the Japanese Zero pilot, Yanagiya, that Yamamoto's Betty crashed 20 to 30 seconds after being hit by fire from a P-38, and from Admiral Ugaki on the second Betty that Yamamoto's plane crashed 20 seconds after being struck. Canning stated categorically that the P-38Gs flown that day did not have aileron boost to assist in turning (as did later models) and that it was physically impossible for Lanphier's aircraft to have made the 180 degree turn he claimed in order to shoot down Yamamoto.

Present day

The tail number of Yamamoto's aircraft was T1-323
T1-323
T1-323 was the tail number of the plane carrying Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto on an inspection tour throughout the South Pacific when he was shot down and killed by American fighter aircraft during World War II...

.The wreckage and crash site are now tourist attractions near Buin, Bougainville Island. The left wing of this aircraft was subsequently removed intact and then placed in the Isoroku Yamamoto Family Museum located in Nagaoka
Nagaoka, Niigata
is a city located in the central part of Niigata Prefecture, Japan. It is the second largest city in the prefecture, behind the capital city of Niigata...

, Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 (Niigata Prefecture
Niigata Prefecture
is a prefecture of Japan located on the island of Honshū on the coast of the Sea of Japan. The capital is the city of Niigata. The name "Niigata" literally means "new lagoon".- History :...

) because of the scavenging of this site.

Fiction

  • In his novel Cryptonomicon
    Cryptonomicon
    Cryptonomicon is a 1999 novel by American author Neal Stephenson. The novel follows the exploits of two groups of people in two different time periods, presented in alternating chapters...

    ,
    Neal Stephenson
    Neal Stephenson
    Neal Town Stephenson is an American writer known for his works of speculative fiction.Difficult to categorize, his novels have been variously referred to as science fiction, historical fiction, cyberpunk, and postcyberpunk...

     wrote an account of the assassination events from Yamamoto's viewpoint.
  • In The West Wing
    The West Wing (TV series)
    The West Wing is an American television serial drama created by Aaron Sorkin that was originally broadcast on NBC from September 22, 1999 to May 14, 2006...

    episode "We Killed Yamamoto
    We Killed Yamamoto
    "We Killed Yamamoto" is episode 64 of The West Wing. The title refers to Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who commanded the Japanese Combined Fleet during World War II...

    ," President Bartlet
    Josiah Bartlet
    Josiah Edward "Jed" Bartlet is a fictional character played by Martin Sheen on the television serial drama The West Wing. He is President of the United States for the entire series until the last episode, when his successor is inaugurated...

    mulls over whether to authorize the assassination of a terrorist leader.
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