The raid that killed Admiral Yamamoto is one of the most famous air attacks of the Second World War, combining the worlds of code breaking and aerial combat to make a compelling story.
We start with a history of US code breaking, from its origins in the First World War, through the struggles of the inter-war years and on to its use after Pearl Harbor. This includes a look at the use of intelligence before Midway, which helped establish the credibility of the code breakers, and its use during the battle for Guadalcanal.
On the Japanese side we get a look at the reasons Yamamoto was actually in the area in the first place and in particular Operation I-Go, a series of large scale air attacks designed to make up for the defeat at Midway and failure on Guadalcanal and give the Japanese an advantage once again. After this failed Yamamoto made the fateful decision to carry out a personal inspection of the units involved to thank them for their efforts.
We reach the planning for the actual mission about half way through the book. This was key to the success of the attack, and I didn’t realise that it had depended on one major guess – Yamamoto’s itinerary was known, but not his route, so the planners had to guess which side of Bougainville he was going to fly down! Once the American aircraft we switch back to the Japanese side, and the many warnings Yamamoto received from his own side about the risks of the flight.
The attack itself is presented from four points of view – first the Japanese, and then the accounts of three American pilots, each of whom had a different recollection of the fight! We finish with an attempt to work out which of the three pilots can take credit for the two victories – at the time this question was fudged, and a third Betty bomber was added to the combat report to satisfy all three. In this case Sheppard comes to a fairly firm conclusion about which two can take credit, which matches with the Japanese combat reports and the evidence from Yamamoto’s aircraft.
This is an excellent account of this daring raid. The author’s decision to include a large section on code breaking helps, as the mission itself was actually fairly straightforward and the air battle rather short (and would be even shorter if the three US accounts had agreed with each other!)
The development of US codebreaking
Codebreaking from Pearl Harbor to Midway
Intelligence in the battle for Guadalcanal
P-38s join the Cactus Air Force
Yamamoto’s fateful decision
The decision to strike
Author: Si Sheppard