“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” — Winston Churchill
On April 18, 1943 a flight of 18 P-38s intercepted and shot down the plane carrying Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the mastermind behind the attack on Pearl Harbor.
It was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who ordered Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox to "get Yamamoto." Knox instructed Admiral Chester W. Nimitz of Roosevelt's wishes. Nimitz first consulted Adm. William F. Halsey, Jr., Commander, South Pacific, and then authorized the mission code named “Vengeance” on April 17.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy, scheduled an inspection tour of the Solomon Islands and New Guinea. He planned to inspect Japanese air units participating in the I-Go operation that had begun April 7, 1943, and to boost Japanese morale following the disastrous evacuation of Guadalcanal. On April 14, the U.S. naval intelligence effort code-named "Magic" intercepted and decrypted orders alerting affected Japanese units of the tour.
The original message, NTF131755, addressed to the commanders of Base Unit No. 1, the 11th Air Flotilla, and the 26th Air Flotilla, was encoded in the Japanese Naval Cipher JN-25D (Naval Operations Code Book of the third version of RO), and was picked up by three stations of the "Magic" apparatus, including Fleet Radio Unit Pacific Fleet. The message was then deciphered by Navy cryptographers (amongst them future Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens); it contained specific details regarding Yamamoto's arrival and departure times and locations, as well as the number and types of planes that would transport and accompany him on the journey.
Yamamoto, the itinerary revealed, would be flying from Rabaul to Ballale Airfield, on an island near Bougainville in the Solomon Islands, on April 18. He and his staff would be flying in two medium bombers (Mitsubishi G4M Bettys of the 205th Kokutai Naval Air Unit), escorted by six navy fighters (Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters of the 204th Kokutai NAU), to depart Rabaul at 06:00 and arrive at Ballale at 08:00, Tokyo time.
Eighteen P-38s were tasked for the mission. One flight of four was designated as the "killer" flight while the remainder, which included two spares, would climb to 18,000 feet (5,500 m) to act as "top cover" for the expected reaction by Japanese fighters based at Kahili. A flight plan was prepared by the Command Operations Officer, Marine Major John Condon but was discarded for one prepared by Mitchell. He calculated an intercept time of 09:35, based on the itinerary, to catch the bombers descending over Bougainville, ten minutes before landing at Ballale airfield. He worked backwards from that time and drew four precisely-calculated legs, with a fifth leg added if Yamamoto did not take the most direct route. In addition to heading out over the Coral Sea, the 339th would "wave-hop" all the way to Bougainville at altitudes no greater than 50 feet, maintaining radio silence en route.
Although the 339th Fighter Squadron officially flew the mission, ten of the eighteen pilots were drawn from the other two squadrons of the 347th Group. A thorough, detailed briefing included a cover story for the source of the intelligence stating that a Coastwatcher had spotted an important high-ranking officer boarding an aircraft at Rabaul, but the pilots were not specifically briefed that their target was Admiral Yamamoto.
The specially-fitted P-38s took off from Guadalcanal's Fighter Two airstrip beginning at 07:25. The date, April 18, had the significance of being the first anniversary of the Doolittle Raid as well as Palm Sunday. Two of the Lightnings assigned to the killer flight dropped out of the mission at the start, one with a tire flattened during takeoff and the second when its drop tanks would not feed fuel to the engines.
In Rabaul, despite urgings by local commanders to cancel the trip for fear of ambush, Yamamoto's planes took off as scheduled for the 315 miles trip. They climbed to 6,500 feet, with their fighter escort at their 4 o'clock position and 1,500 feet higher, split into two V-formations of three planes.
Mitchell's flight of four led the squadron "on the deck" with the killer flight, consisting of Captain Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr., First Lieutenant Rex T. Barber, and the spares, Lieutenants Besby F. Holmes and Raymond K. Hine, immediately behind, fighting off drowsiness, navigating by flight plan and dead reckoning. This proved to be the longest fighter-intercept mission of the war and was so skillfully executed by Mitchell that his force arrived at the intercept point one minute early, at 09:34, just as Yamamoto's aircraft descended into view in a light haze. Mitchell ordered his planes to drop tanks, turn to the right to parallel the bombers, and began a full power climb to intercept them.
Barber spotted the second bomber low over the water off Moila Point just as Holmes (whose wing tanks had finally come off) and Hine attacked it. Holmes damaged the right engine of the Betty, which began emitting a white vapor trail, then he and Hine flew over the damaged bomber. Unknown to them, this bomber carried Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki and part of Yamamoto's staff. Barber was the next airman to attack the stricken bomber—his hits caused the bomber to shed metal debris which collided with and damaged his own aircraft. The bomber descended and crash-landed in the water. Ugaki and two others survived the crash and they were later rescued. Barber, Holmes and Hine were attacked by Zeros, Barber's P-38 receiving 140 hits. Holmes and Barber each claimed a Zero shot down during this melee. The top cover briefly engaged reacting Zeros without making any kills and Mitchell observed the column of smoke from Yamamoto's crashed bomber. Hine's P-38 had disappeared by this point, presumably crashed into the water. Running close to point-of-no-return fuel levels, the P-38s broke off contact and returned to base, with Holmes so short of fuel that he was forced to land in the Russell Islands. Hine was the only one who did not return. Warrant Officer Kenji Yanagiya, one of the six Japanese escort pilots, reported pursuing and downing a P-38 over Kolombangara. Lieutenant Holmes was unable to drop his tanks and turned back to sea, followed by his wingman, Lieutenant Hine. Mitchell radioed Lanphier and Barber to engage, and they turned to climb toward the eight aircraft. The closest escort fighters dropped their own tanks and began to dive toward the pair of P-38s. Lanphier, in a sound tactical move, immediately turned head-on and climbed towards the escorts while Barber chased the diving bomber transports. Barber banked steeply to turn in behind the bombers and momentarily lost sight of them, but when he regained contact, he was immediately behind one and began firing into its right engine, rear fuselage, and empennage. Then Barber hit its left engine and it began to trail heavy black smoke. The Betty rolled violently to the left—Barber narrowly avoided a collision. Looking back, he saw a column of black smoke and assumed the Betty had crashed into the jungle. Barber headed towards the coast at treetop level, searching for the second bomber, not knowing which one carried the targeted high-ranking officer.
The crash site and body of Admiral Yamamoto were found the next day in the jungle north of the coastal site of the former Australian patrol post and Catholic mission of Buin (which was re-established, after the war, several kilometers inland) by a Japanese search and rescue party, led by Army engineer Lieutenant Hamasuna. According to Hamasuna, Yamamoto had been thrown clear of the plane's wreckage, his white-gloved hand grasping the hilt of his katana, still upright in his seat under a tree. Hamasuna said Yamamoto was instantly recognizable, head dipped down as if deep in thought. A post-mortem of the body disclosed that Yamamoto received two wounds, one to the back of his left shoulder and one to his left lower jaw that exited above his right eye. Whether the admiral initially survived the crash has been a matter of controversy in Japan.
In Japan this became known as the "Navy kō incident. It raised morale in the United States and shocked the Japanese who were officially told about the incident only on May 21, 1943. To cover up the fact that the Allies were reading Japanese code, American news agencies were told the cover story originally created for briefing the 339th, that civilian Coastwatchers in the Solomons saw Yamamoto boarding a bomber in the area and then relayed the information by radio to American naval forces in the immediate area.
This was a presidential ordered assassination in many ways similar to the killing of Osama bin Laden. Roosevelt wanted Yamamoto dead in retaliation for his planning and directing the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. President Obama wanted bin Laden dead in retaliation for his planning and financing the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and the failed attack of the U.S. Capitol on September 11, 2001.
Both assassinations were successful due to major feats of intelligence gathering. In Yamamoto’s case it was our Navy’s ability break a succession of Japanese naval codes. In bin Laden’s case it was due years of work by our CIA to located his hide-away in Pakistan.
The major difference, however, was Roosevelt’s ability to use a cover story and keep his mouth shut as to all operational details of the mission. In bin Laden’s case members of the Obama administration have been falling over themselves to get on TV and in the newspapers with not only operation details, but spilling out how much vital intelligence we gained from bin Laden’s compound. They just can’t seem to stop babbling in order to show how important they were in bin Laden’s demise. This includes Obama himself. Of course all of this babbling is to garner political favor with the American public — political capital at the expense of future operations against al Qaeda.
So far we have proclaimed to the world that bin Laden was killed by a US military raid — by Seal Team 6 -- using stealth helicopters based in Pakistan, relying on information obtained from detainees who were subjected to "harsh interrogation." Further that we recovered computers, DVDs, and thumb drives loaded with information. And that bin Laden's body was cleaned, given a Muslim funeral, and buried at sea. Now we are viewing videos of bin Laden's home life. What is next?
As spectators, we have held victory rallies in the streets, written thousands of congratulatory letters to the editor, and otherwise acted as though our team won the World Series. In fact, we are not yet even in the playoffs.
What more can we do to aid our enemy in telling them how we fight, what resources we have, what we will not do to kill them, and what we know about them? What more can we do to incite even more hatred against us?
What if there were no Sunday night announcement and the official White House response on Monday about a raid in Pakistan was simply "No Comment"? Same from the Pentagon; same from the CIA — absolutely no comment from anywhere in government?
What if, instead of our Commander in Chief acting as our Cheerleader in Chief parading around the country like the USC Trojan's Horse used to do around the LA Coliseum after a touchdown, the United States had admitted to nothing?
By Monday night or perhaps Tuesday the word would be out that bin Laden was dead, believed by most, denied by some.
The enemy would know far less about how he was killed, the resources we used, and what we have learned from his death. The enemy would be left not knowing how to adjust their communications, who was next, who had betrayed them, how they would be treated if captured, and so much more. There is fear in not knowing.
The lives of the Americans (and others) who participated over a long period of time in this operation would be at far less risk than they now are given the extent to which they have been identified. The same goes for their families.
We did not ask for it, but we are at war. Each and every American is not a spectator soaking up every tease of the latest discovery proclaimed by our media. Rather we are participants, even if our participation is limited to not knowing who is on first, who is on deck, what pitchers are in the bullpen, and what tricks the manager has up his sleeve. Because what we know the enemy will also know, it is imperative that we know very little.
The enemy should have no umpires to rule in their favor. The rules should not be published in advance. Rather the only rule should be "Enemy: declare war on us and you die." A rule the enemy should learn from personal observations and experience.
During WWII there were many intelligence coups by the allies. Probably the greatest occurred at Bletchley Park where British code breakers cracked the German Ultra codes. The Ultra advantage changed the lives of millions who fought and unknown others affected by its global reach. By knowing the names of enemy units, their strength, exact location, order of battle, ammunition and fuel status, entire divisions were neutralized with minimal manpower effect. The breaking of the German Enigma naval code disclosed the specific grid locations of U-boat wolf packs and their refueling "milk cows." Convoys were diverted as North Atlantic ship losses dropped 75%. Even the operational depth of U boats was learned — a crucial detail for attacking destroyers. Submarine losses reached unacceptable levels forcing redeployment to safer waters. Crucial cargo from North America safely reached diverse ports from Southampton to Murmansk. Ultra became the silent partner in sinking the Bismarck, in victory at El Alamein, and decisively defeated the wolf-packs in the Battle of the Atlantic. In planning Operation Overlord, strategists knew from ULTRA intercepts that Germany expected invasion at the Pas de Calais. Operation Fortitude was a ruse of a fictitious army commanded (FUSAG) by a very real General George Patton, nineteen German divisions were thus removed from the battle.
When Patton’s U.S. Third Army began the race from Normandy across France, it was guided by daily and often hourly briefings from Ultra intelligence. Almost all of the decrypts were hand delivered by specially trained soldiers. And resulting from its understanding of the German high command's intentions and strategy, Ultra eliminated the crucial element of surprise.
Postponement or failure of the 1944 Normandy invasion was a real possibility for Allied planners. Without the Ultra edge, the European war and even more horrific casualties on both sides would have continued until at least 1946. Scores of high speed U boats under construction and new jet fighters already in the skies could easily have continued the fighting into 1947.
With the war over Churchill ordered the destruction of all the code breaking machines into "pieces no larger than a man's hand." The Bletchley mansion was shuttered, the staff discharged and the huts emptied and boarded up. The Ultra secret became decades of “ultra-silence”, destined to expire with its high priests and practitioners. Today it is a museum open to the public.
There have always been those in politics and the media wiling to jeopardize the lives of our military for their own gain. These people a no better than jackals picking at carcasses. They argue “the public right to know” while not giving a damn about the security of those fighting a war of the nation as a whole. Yes, the public has a right to know about the follies of politicians and failures of military operations, but not the successes or how we achieved them. This is giving the enemy information that would allow him to change his tactics and foil future operations. This is what the Obama administration is doing in their narcissistic and self-absorbing personalities. Obama is a man who loves to shoot missiles at people, but cringes at the thought of enhanced interrogation.
A perfect example of the arrogance of the media was in June 1942 when the Chicago Tribune, run by isolationist Col. Robert L McCormick, published an article that implied that the United States had broken the Japanese codes. This is often written about in terms of being a serious breach of national security. The government at first wanted to prosecute the Tribune under the Espionage Act of 1917. For various reasons, including the desire not to bring more attention to the article, the charges were dropped. Roosevelt did not want to give credence to McCormick’s claims.
So what we have is a gang of glory seeking armatures led by a narcissistic community organizer managing our foreign operations and the War on Terror. They are a bunch of political operatives who just can’t wait to get their face on your TV screen and tell you how wonderful they are. I am sure if Obama had been president in 1944 he would have leaked the secrets of the Manhattan Project to the world in order to win election.
Wars must be fought to win. Winning means using every resource we have, capitalizing on every advantage we have, and conceding absolutely nothing to the enemy.
The lesson of the events of the last week is that our current head coach is so far consumed in his self-glorification that he cannot lead. He and his entire staff must be replaced with those who know how to win by focusing all their resources on the battle while claiming no glory for themselves.