18 P-38G Lightnings were sent to shoot down the G4M carrying Yamamoto

The fighter that killed the mastermind of the attack on Pearl Harbor in a top-secret mission

On December 7, 1941, the devastating Japanese attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii took place.

Figures of the Japanese attack on the American base at Pearl Harbor in 1941
Balalae: aeronautical relics of the World War II in an airfield with a macabre past

That attack, which meant the entry of the United States into World War II, was planned by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The admiral was a highly respected man in Japan and that attack gave him great fame in the country, but it also made him a priority enemy for the United States to defeat.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, mastermind of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

In April 1943, US Naval Intelligence discovered that Yamamoto had scheduled an inspection tour of the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, in order to boost the morale of the Japanese troops deployed in those remote places. after the defeat suffered by Japan at the Battle of Guadalcanal. A message decoded by the US Navy discovered that Yamamoto would arrive at airfield on the island of Balalae, in the Solomon Islands, on April 18.

To hunt down the mastermind behind the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States organized the so-called Operation Revenge. The mission, considered top secret, was assigned to the 339th Fighter Squadron of the US Army Air Forces, equipped with Lockheed P-38G Lightning long-range fighters, one of the best fighters of World War II. A total of 18 P-38Gs, under the command of Major John W. Mitchell, were sent on this mission.

A computer recreation of the P-38G 147 "Miss Virginia", the fighter with which Lt. Rex T. Barber shot down the plane carrying Yamamoto (Image: Gruffman).

The Japanese high command insisted on canceling Yamamoto's trip to Balalae because they feared an American ambush, but in the end the trip went ahead. The admiral and his commanders were traveling in two Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bombers, escorted by six Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters. At 9:34 in the morning of April 18, 1943, the P-38Gs began one of the most important hunting missions of World War II, during which Lieutenant Rex T. Barber managed to shoot down the G4M bomber in which Yamamoto was flying. The admiral died in the fire of his plane before it crashed on the island.

Confirmation of Yamamoto's death was acknowledged by Japan a month later, on May 21, 1943. The news shocked the Japanese, who were losing one of their most brilliant commanders. In the United States, the operation was kept secret until September 10, 1945, a few days after the end of the war, when American citizens finally learned how the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor had died.

An artistic recreation of the downing of Yamamoto's plane on the island of Balalae (Author: Roy Grinnel).

During World War II, more than 10,000 P-38 fighters were built, a fearsome aircraft that became the terror of Japanese aviation, since it was mainly used by the US in the Pacific theater. More than a hundred Allied pilots became aces at the controls of this exceptional fighter, among them Robin Olds, who would also fight as a pilot in the Vietnam War at the controls of an F-4 Phandom II. Today there are only 26 P-38s left, of which only 10 are airworthy.

The channel Yarnhub has published another of its excellent videos dedicated to Operation Revenge, recreating on a computer what the demolition of Yamamoto's plane was like:


Main image: Yarnhub.

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