Photo personally signed by Rex T. Barber


Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was the Commander in Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy in WWII. He was considered Japan's greatest military leader, credited with the success of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. U.S. Naval Intelligence had broken the Japanese Military Code, and on April 14th, 1943, they intercepted a message that said Admiral Yamamoto would be flying to Bougainville on the 18th. The message stated he would be flying in a "Betty" bomber escorted by six Zeros. The flight was expected to arrive at 0800. Admiral Chester Nimitz with the backing of President Roosevelt and Navy Secretary Knox gave the go ahead to intercept the flight and kill Yamamoto. The job was given to Major John Mitchell of the U.S. Army 13th Air Force, 339th Sqdn, who used P-38 fighters. To Bougainville and back was over 850 miles, and the P-38 was the only plane capable of covering that distance. Also it carried four .50 Cal. machine guns and a 20 mm cannon.

Major Mitchell selected 16 of his top pilots, including himself, to do the job. He knew the chances of locating the Yamamoto flight would be one in a million, even if the intercepted report was correct. The gamble paid off when the P-38s reached Bougainville and spotted the Japanese flight. Then came the surprise. There were two Betty bombers and it was impossible to know which one carried the Admiral. Both bombers were shot down and this is where the controversy begins, and has continued for over 50 years. Two pilots claimed they shot down the plane carrying Yamamoto. The two pilots claiming the kill were Lt. Tom Lanphier and Col. Rex Barber. Adding to the problem was the fact that when the flight returned to Guadalcanal there was such rejoicing that there was no official debriefing or interrogation after the mission. Lanphier was yelling that he had shot down the bomber carrying Yamamoto. When Barber said the facts indicated otherwise, that he shot down the bomber and that
Lanphier was headed in the opposite direction, Lanphier challenged him and called him a "damned liar". All reports conclude that Rex Barber indeed was the pilot who shot down the plane carrying Yamamoto. In a later interview with the only surviving pilot of the six Japanese escort fighters, his testimony clearly showed that Rex Barber's story was completely accurate. The Japanese pilot, Kenji Yanagiya , testified that Lanphier was, as Barber claimed, headed in the opposite direction to meet attacking Zeros. All records substantiate Barber's claim, and it seems academic that he should get full credit for the shoot down. This controversy has boiled for years without official recognition. One full victory credit for a bomber was given to Lanphier, and one full victory credit was for a bomber was given to Barber. One credit was split between Barber and Holmes. To this day our government has not given official recognition for the shoot down, even though all logic points to Barber. So the controversy continues, and without testimony of some pilots now deceased will probably never be settled. There are volumes available on the incident, and the more I read the more I am convinced that there is no problem. In my opinion it is obvious that Rex Barber shot down the plane carrying Admiral Yamamoto.

Researched and written by website historian

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