Aviation Art…


Ball”Bogies, 11 o’clock high!”, shouted Lt. Doug Canning, breaking a two-hour radio silence. Maj. John Mitchell had led sixteen P-38’s of his 339th fighter Squadron from Guadalcanal’s Henderson Field to Bougainville on 18 April 1943 to intercept the Betty bomber carrying Japanese Imperial Combined Fleet commander Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. Now, after flying 400 miles at 50 feet above the water, navigating by pure dead-reckoning, the flight sighted two Betty bombers escorted by six Zeroes descending toward Ballale Island.

Maj. Mitchell and twelve Lightning’s climbed to provide high cover while Capt. Tom Lanphier and Lts. Rex Barber, Frank Holmes, and Ray Hine – designated ‘attack flight” – turned to intercept the bombers. As they climbed toward the Betty’s, Lanphier saw three Zeroes diving to defend the bombers and turned sharply into the lead fighter, leaving Barber to continue the attack on the bomber. Curving in behind the lead bomber, Barber raked the descending Betty from wingtip to wingtip. Thick black smoke began to stream from the right engine and the bomber snapped to the left. Moments later is sliced into the jungle, the crash site marked by a rising column of black, oily smoke.

Turning toward the coast, Barber finished off the second Betty now under attack by Frank, and downed a Zero that had belatedly joined the battle from nearby Kahili Airdrome. Shortly after, Mitchell call “Mission accomplished!” and fifteen Lightning’s turned toward Guadalcanal. Lt. Ray Hine, last seen skimming the water with smoke trailing from his engine, did not return from the mission and was never found.

This extraordinary interception, executed by P-38’s based near Guadalcanal, was made possible through radio interception and signal decryption efforts by Navy intelligence facilities at Pearl Harbor and other Pacific locations.

Of note- For many years there were a number of books, articles, claims and counter claims over who actually shot down Yamamoto. Lanphier initially claimed credit, and later he and Barber were each given 1/2 credit. THIS article, done by a historian sides with Barber…


Aviation Art… — 9 Comments

  1. Hey Old NFO;

    In my honest opinion, this and the battle of Midway doomed the Imperial Navy against the Americans. The leadership was subpar compared to Yamamoto.

  2. I haven’t heard of the 339th TFS for a long time. Not since the OCD General Creech shut it down and reopened it as the 69th TFS so the 347th TFW would be more combat effective as the 68th, 69th and 70th.
    Nice painting.

  3. My all time favorite aircraft in the theater it excelled in. I read somewhere that Lucky Lindy was in the south Pac, and taught the guys in 38’s some lessons on engine settings to maximize flight distance. I read he also flew at least one combat mission before being asked to stop.

    Love that picture!!!

  4. The old saying is that “Fortune favors the bold (or brave)”, but what we’ve found is that when ordinary people are given extraordinary opportunities, they often achieve extraordinary results. Either way, it was the beginning of the end for the Japanese navy.

  5. Bob- When you take away Yamamoto, and his brilliance (and knowledge of US tactics), you’re right.

    Juvat- Didn’t know that… Thanks!

    STx- He was, and he did. Probably flew more than ‘one’ mission too…

    WSF/Rev- Exactly! Once more the ‘crazy Americans’ took the chance no one in their right minds would attempt… And it worked.

  6. Good stuff, and thanks for posting the reminder.

    Also, the P38 was a damned sexy bird.

  7. A partial payback for Pearl Harbor.
    “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.” – Chester Nimitz, March 16, 1945