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Old 04-15-2014, 02:45 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Death by P38, Operation Vengeance

71 years ago...April 18, 1943

On April 14, 1943, Naval intelligence scored another code-breaking coup. The message began: “On April 18 CINC Combined Fleet will visit RXZ, R–, and RXP in accordance with the following schedule . . .” Adm. Isokoru Yamamoto was planning an inspection visit of Japanese bases in the upper Solomon Islands. The information immediately went from Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox who delivered the news to President Franklin Roosevelt. Reportedly, the president’s response was, “Get Yamamoto.” Regardless of whether or not the president actually said those words, the order was given: kill the mastermind of the Pearl Harbor raid.

Squadron 339 P-38 must at all costs reach and destroy. President attaches extreme importance to mission.

—Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox Top Secret Message April 17, 1943, to Adm. Chester W. Nimitz

On That Saturday afternoon the "Opium Den"—the smoky, sweltering, ramshackle command bunker at Henderson Field, on Guadalcanal—was packed with Navy and Marine brass hats.

Lowly flyboys Captain Thomas Lanphier Jr. and Major John W. Mitchell, commanding officer of the U.S. Army Air Forces' 339th Fighter Squadron, arrived last, but were treated like guests of honor. Mitchell was handed a teletyped radio message marked "Top Secret": a flight schedule for an inspection tour by Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

"Who's Yamamoto?" Mitchell asked. Lanphier just said, "Pearl Harbor."

Admiral Yamamoto, commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy's Combined Fleet, was the Harvard-educated, poker-playing mastermind of the December 7, 1941, attack.



Ironically, the target of American vengeance had repeatedly risked his life speaking out against war with the United States. As a result of postings in America and England, he saw how weak industrial Japan was compared to the United States and Great Britain.

When asked by Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoye how war between Japan and America would go, Yamamoto replied he would “run wild for six months or a year, but after that I have utterly no confidence.”

On Sept. 18, 1941, in a meeting with classmates from his hometown of Nagaoka, Yamamoto said, “It is a mistake to regard Americans as luxury loving and weak. … Remember that American industry is much more developed than ours, and – unlike us – they have all the oil they want. Japan cannot vanquish the United States. Therefore we should not fight the United States.” But when his government decided to go to war, Yamamoto set aside his personal feelings and vowed to do everything he could to achieve victory.

Yamamoto was playing chess with Capt. Yasuji Watanabe, a member of his staff, when they heard over the radio the news about the Pearl Harbor attack and Japan’s declaration of war being delivered afterward. He said, “That’s too bad, Watanabe. If I die before you, tell the Emperor that the navy did not plan it this way from the beginning.”

Navy code-breakers had intercepted Japanese radio traffic indicating that the admiral, known for his fanatical punctuality, would fly over Bougainville Island early the next morning, April 18, 1943—coincidentally the first anniversary of the Doolittle Raid. The newly appointed air commander in the Solomons, Rear Adm. Marc A. Mitscher, who had captained the carrier Hornet on the Doolittle mission, now saw the chance for another long-range surprise attack, this time with the 339th's Lockheed P-38G Lightning fighters.

Though only 400 miles from Allied bases on Guadalcanal, the distance presented a problem as American aircraft would need to fly a 600-mile roundabout course to the intercept to avoid detection, making the total flight 1,000 miles. This precluded the use of the Navy and Marine Corps' F4F Wildcats or F4U Corsairs. As a result, the mission was assigned to the US Army's 339th Fighter Squadron, 347th Fighter Group, Thirteenth Air Force which flew P-38G Lightnings. Equipped with two drop tanks, the P-38G was capable of reaching Bougainville, executing the mission, and returning to base.



Overseen by the squadron's commander, Major John W. Mitchell, planning moved forward with the assistance of Marine Lieutenant Colonel Luther S. Moore. At Mitchell's request, Moore had the 339th's aircraft fitted with ship's compasses to aid in navigation. Utilizing the departure and arrival times contained in the intercepted message, Mitchell devised a precise flight plan that called for his fighters to intercept Yamamoto's flight at 9:35 AM as it began its descent to Ballale.

Knowing that Yamamoto's aircraft was to be escorted by six A6M Zero fighters, Mitchell intended to use eighteen aircraft for the mission. While four aircraft were tasked as the "killer" group, the remainder was to climb to 18,000 feet to serve as top cover to deal with enemy fighters arriving on scene after the attack. Though the mission was to be conducted by the 339th, ten of the pilots were drawn from other squadrons in the 347th Fighter Group. Briefing his men, Mitchell provided a cover story that the intelligence had been provided by a coastwatcher who saw a high ranking officer boarding an aircraft in Rabaul.



At 7:25 a.m. on April 18, the first anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, the P-38s of Operation Vengeance took off. At 9:34, they arrived at the intercept point, and, right on time, saw their target.







A success, Operation Vengeance saw the American fighters down both Japanese bombers, killing 19, including Yamamoto. In exchange, the 339th lost Hines and one aircraft. Searching the jungle, the Japanese found Yamamoto's body near the crash site. Thrown clear of the wreckage, he had been hit twice in the fighting. Cremated at nearby Buin, his ashes were returned to Japan aboard the battleship Musashi. He was replaced by Admiral Mineichi Koga.

Yamamoto was no different from any officer caught in a sniper's crosshairs—in uniform, on a combat mission, a legitimate military target. Today, when the enemy rarely wears a uniform, the debate centers on targeting terrorist leaders with remote-controlled drones. Few remember that the precedent was set 70 years ago, over the jungles of Bougainville.

Yamamoto's Better Days Betty today



In all of American history, the only equivalent is the operation that killed al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.



Invaluable References

DEATH BY P-38: The Shootdown of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, by Don Hollway

Death by P-38

Operation Vengeance - Admiral Isoroku Operation Vengeance

Operation Vengeance: The Mission to Kill Admiral Yamamoto | Defense Media Network

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Old 04-15-2014, 04:07 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Incredible mission. Virtually all "analog" by todays standards. Even more difficult were the carrier missions.
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Old 04-15-2014, 05:28 AM   #3 (permalink)
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When I read the title, I did this-

Because I initially pictured this-

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Old 04-15-2014, 05:59 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Old 04-15-2014, 06:50 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LucasFury View Post
When I read the title, I did this-

Because I initially pictured this-

X2
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Old 04-15-2014, 07:29 AM   #6 (permalink)
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X2
Yep.
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Old 04-15-2014, 08:29 AM   #7 (permalink)
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My great uncle was supposed to fly with that mission, but he got dengue fever and was in the infirmary.

There is a P-38 ace, Ralph H. Wandrey, living in Cottonwood Arizona. I stopped by his assisted living apartment and talked with him for awhile. Pretty funny old guy and still sharp.

-John
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Old 04-15-2014, 08:35 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Way to go, ARMY!
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Old 04-15-2014, 08:37 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LucasFury View Post
When I read the title, I did this-

Because I initially pictured this-

I miss my P38. I need to get another.
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