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Rust In Peace 1975
Pacific War Images 1984
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Justin Taylan 2000
Yamamoto Museum 2001
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J. Taylan April 18, 2018
|Pilot Flight Warrant Officer Takeo Kotani (KIA, BR)
Co-Pilot Chief Flight Seaman Akiharu Ozaki (KIA, BR)
Engineer Flight Petty Officer Haruo Ueda (KIA, BR)
Front Gunner / Observer Flight Petty Officer Minoru Tanaka (KIA, BR)
Radio Flight Petty Officer Nobuo Hara (KIA, BR)
Assistant Radio / Top gunner Chief Flight Seaman Mitsuo Ueno (KIA, BR)
Tail Gunner Chief Flight Seaman Harumasa Kobayashi (KIA, BR)
Passenger Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief Combined Fleet (KIA, BR)
Passenger Rear Admiral Rokurou Takata, Chief Surgeon Combined Fleet (KIA, BR)
Passenger Cdr Kurio Toibana, Staff Officer (KIA, BR)
Passenger Cdr Noburu Fukusaki, Yamamoto Aide (KIA, BR)
Crashed April 18, 1943 at 8:00am
Built by Mitsubishi No. 3 Works at Nagoya during March 1943. Delivered to the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) as Type 1 Attack Bomber / G4M1 Model 11 Betty manufacture number 2656.
Assigned to the 705 Kōkūtai with tail code T1-323, later changed to 323. During March or April 1943, departed Japan flying southward via Truk before arriving at Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul.
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.
At the conclusion of Operation I-Go, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the Combined Japanese Fleet and his senior staff planned an inspection tour of forward airfields and bases in the Shortlands and southern Bougainville. The purpose of this visit was to boost moral after the Japanese losses on Guadalcanal and thank the Japanese Army for cooperation.
Knowledge of his flight was gleamed from a coded Japanese message NTF131755 sent on April 13, 1943 addressed to the commanders of Base Unit No. 1, 11th Air Flotilla and the 26th Air Flotilla. This message was encoded using the Japanese Naval Cipher JN-25D and was intercepted by three U. S. Magic stations and sucessfully decoded by Navy cryptographers.
The intercepted 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 time zone used by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). Local time was +1 hour ahead at Rabaul and +2 hours in the north Solomons.
A plan dubbed "Operation Vengeance" was formulated and approved by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz on April 17, 1943. The interception mission was assigned to P-38 Lightnings from the 13th Air Force, 347th Fighter Group and 18th Fighter Group that would be required to fly 435 miles over the open sea to intercept the bombers both and kill Yamamoto and his senior staff, assuming they followed the intercepted timetable. The mission would be the longest intercept mission by land based aircraft flown by that point in World War II.
On April 18, 1943 before dawn took off from Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul under the command of Flight Warrant Officer Takeo Kotani along with G4M1 Betty Tail 326. Both bombers flew eastward then landed at Lakunai Airfield to pick up high ranking passengers including Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.
On the ground at Lakunai Airfield, four passengers boarded this aircraft including: Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Rear Admiral Rokurou Takata, Cdr Kurio Toibana and Noburu Fukusaki plus their baggage. Meanwhile, five passengers boarded G4M1 Betty Tail 326 including: Vice-Admiral Matome Ugaki, Captain Motoharu Kitamura, Rinji Tomoro, Kaoru Imananka and Suteji Muroi.
At 6:10am both bombers took off from Lakunai Airfield escorted by six A6M Zeros from the 204 Kōkūtai and the formation departed on schedule and flew to the southeast bound for Ballale Airfield and were scheduled to land at 8:00am (Tokyo time). The weather was described as fine with intermittent cumulus clouds. During the flight, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto sat in the aircraft commander's seat behind the two pilots. The gunners had their weapons stowed and the rear 20mm cannon was removed prior to take off to accommodate the extra baggage.
Meanwhile, P-38 Lightnings from the 339th Fighter Squadron took off from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal as part of "Operation Peacock" (Yamamoto Mission) to intercept and shoot down the bombers. For the flight, each P-38 was equipped with two auxiliary drop tanks.
South of of Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville, the P-38 pilots 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 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 by P-38G "Miss Virginia" 43-2204 #147 piloted by Rex Barber and crashed into the jungle of southern Bougainville. During the interception, this bomber was claimed by both P-38G "Miss Virginia" 43-2204 #147 piloted by 1st Lt. Rex Barber and P-38G 43-2238 #122 piloted by Captain Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr. Postwar research has definitively proven Lanphier's victory claim was incorrect and this bomber was shoot down solely by Rex Barber.
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 1st Lt. Rex Barber and was shot down and ditched into the sea off Moila Point.
Credit for shooting down Yamamoto's Betty
After the mission, Lanphier landed first and immediately claimed to have solely shot down Yamamoto's bomber. He was officially credited with the victory, before a post mission briefing was conducted or other pilots interviewed. Officially, the U. S. Air Force (USAF) credited Lanphier with 1 victory and a 1/2 victory. Barber with 1 victory, 1/2 victory and 1/2 victory. Holmes with 1 victory and 1/2 victory. In fact, only the two bombers were shot down and no escorting Zeros were lost. Postwar research has definitively proven Lanphier's victory claim is incorrect and this bomber was shoot down solely by Rex Barber.
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.
After the crash, a group of Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) soldiers led by Lt. Tsuyoshi Hamasuna at Aku observed smoke rising from the jungle. At first, they believed an American aircraft had crashed nearby. Immediately, Lt. Hamasuna led a group of twelve of his soldiers into the jungle to search for the downed aircraft and spent the night in the jungle searching.
On April 19, 1943 Japanese Army patrol led by Lt. Hamasuna reached the crash site. Initially, they were unable to identify the crashed aircraft and found no survivors alive. The bodies inside the aircraft were burned and partially cremated by the fire. Other bodies were outside the aircraft wreckage. Quickly they realized the crashed plane was Japanese and was a Japanese Navy Type 1 Bomber (Betty) with Admiral Yamamoto aboard.
Recovery of Remains
Next, a Japanese Navy patrol was sent to the crash site to recover the remains of Admiral Yamamoto and the crew. Many English published accounts and references claim Yamamoto died in his seat, from a bullet wound to his chest. This is an imagined myth about how the Admiral died and is not supported by firsthand Japanese accounts. The Japanese eyewitnesses to Yamamoto's body reported few visible wounds and resulted in speculation he might have survived the initial crash and died hours later from internal injuries.
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 Admiral Yamamoto and those that died in the crash.
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 has a hole from damage, consistent with the fatal back wound to Yamamoto's back reported in Yamamoto Autopsy (1971).
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 trek to 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. Between 2010–2015, the site was closed to visitors due to a land owner dispute between two clans. In May 2015, the crash site officially re-opened for visitors with a visit by Japanese ambassador to Papua New Guinea Hiroharu Iwasaki with the Deputy Director of National Planning.
The fuselage door, outer wing panel and commander's seat were recovered from the crash site and transported to Port Moresby. During the early 1970s displayed at The Air Museum of Papua New Guinea until it closed in the late 1970s. Afterwards, all three items were transferred to the PNG
Museum and displayed in the indoor gallery.
One control yoke was recovered from the crash site. Donated by Lt. Col Tom Guivarra, Australian Army Aviation Corps to the MacArthur Memorial in Brisbane. Today 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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