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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, Combined Fleet (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
Built by Mitsubishi at Nagoya No. 3 Works. Delivered to the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) as G4M1 Model 11 Type 1 Attack Bomber manufacture number unknown. This aircraft was painted with green upper surfaces and gray lower surfaces. Assigned to the 705 Kōkūtai. Tail code T1-326, later changed to 326.
Assigned to the 705 Kōkūtai with tail code T1-323, later changed to 323. 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 326 was painted in white on both sides of the tail.
During 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 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.
On April 18, 1943 before dawn took off from Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul under the command of FPO2/c Hiroshi Hayashi with G4M1 Betty 2656 Tail 323. Both bombers flew eastward then landed at Lakunai Airfield to pick up the high ranking passengers. Five passengers boarded this aircraft including Vice-Admiral Matome Ugaki, Captain Motoharu Kitamura, Rinji Tomoro, Kaoru Imananka and Suteji Muroi plus their baggage.
At 6:10am both bombers took off from Lakunai Airfield escorted by six A6M Zeros of the 204 Kōkūtai (204 Air Group) 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, at 7:25am P-38 Lightnings of the 339th Fighter Squadron (339th FS) 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, G4M1 Betty 2656 Tail 323 with passenger Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto dove to low altitude as a defensive maneuver and was followed by this Betty.
After the shoot down of G4M1 Betty 2656 Tail 323, this bomber was targeted by P-38G #100 piloted by Holmes, P-38G piloted by Hine and P-38G "Miss Virginia" 43-2204 Nose 147 piloted by Barber. During the attack, Holmes dove at the bomber and opened fire causing the left engine to smoke. Next, attacked by Hine. Finally, Barber fired into the fuselage and claimed to cause it to explode.
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