Early on April 18, 1943, at 7:45 AM, Japanese Admiral Yamamoto’s plane was approaching Ballale for a scheduled 8 o’clock inspection of units on that island. Suddenly, from 20,000 feet, high above his six fighter plane escort, a sortie of 18 P-38 fighters attacked. One P-38, in the first group of four, shot the wing off the bomber in which Yamamoto was riding. Before his escorts could even react, Yamamoto’s aircraft went spiralling down and crashed into the sea. The Japanese had lost the naval officer that had planned and led the attack on Pearl Harbor just 16 months before. Many historians believe that his loss ended any hopes by the Japanese of winning the war.
How was it possible for a flight of P-38 Lightnings from a base in Guadalcanal to achieve such an improbable feat? For the twin engine Lightnings, Ballale was almost two hours flying time from Guadalcanal and within 10 minutes of the limit of their range. They wouldn’t be able to hang around very long waiting for their target. In addition, Admiral Yamamoto was flying from his headquarters on Rabaul only 1 1/2 hours from Ballale, so the P-38’s would have had to leave Henderson field on Guadalcanal 30 minutes BEFORE Admiral Yamamoto took off! How could they have known?
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