“Bogies, 11 o’clock high!” shouted Lt. Doug Canning, breaking a two-hour radio silence.
Maj. John Mitchell had led sixteen P-38s of his 339th Fighter Squadron from Guadalcanal’s Henderson Field to Bougainville on 18 April 1943 to intercept the Betty bomber carrying Japanese 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 Lightnings climbed to provide high cover while Capt. Tom Lanphier and Lts. Rex Barber, Frank Holmes and Ray Hine, the designated “attack flight,” turned to intercept the bombers. As they climbed toward the Bettys, 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 it 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 Holmes, and downed a Zero that had belatedly joined the battle from nearby Kahili Airdrome. Shortly after, Mitchell called Mission Accomplished!
This lithograph print was signed by nine pilots who flew on the Yamamoto mission, Operation Vengeance:
Colonel REX BARBER
Colonel JOHN W. MITCHELL
Lieutenant Colonel BESBY FRANK HOLMES
Lieutenant Colonel DOUG CANNING
Lieutenant Colonel LOUIS KITTEL
Lieutenant Colonel ROGER J AMES
Major JULIUS “JACK” JACOBSON
Captain DELTON GOERKE
Captain LARRY GRAEBENER