The hitmen - The Lightning

On April 18, 1943, on the day a year after Doolittle's B-25 famous raid on Japan, Major John W. Mitchell led a group of P-38's on a very special mission. In the group was Lieutenant Rex T. Barber, a 24 year old pilot and today he would fly the P-38 called "Miss Virginia". It was the personal plane of Robert Petit but Barber borrowed it for this mission. On the briefing before the mission they were informed that a coastwatcher had spotted an important Japanese high-ranking officer boarding an aircraft at Rabaul and their mission was to intercept his flight. This was a lie to hide the fact that the Americans had cracked the Japanese military codes and could read their messages. Barber together with Captain Thomas G. Lanphier Jr., Lt. Jim McLanahan and Lt. Joe Moore would attack the G4M1 Betty's flying the prominent person and twelve other P-38's would escort them fending off any enemy fighters.

Beginning at 07:25 they took off from Kukum Field at Guadalcanal flying low over the sea in a circumvent flight path to take them in over Bouganville to avoid detection. McLanahan had to abort due to tyre puncture and Moore due to a faulty fuel feed. They were replaced by Lt. Besby F. Holmes and Lt. Raymond K. Hine who had been in reserve for the mission. They arrived at the planned interception at 09:34, a minute before plan. Soon after the enemy flight, consisting of two G4M1 'Betty' and six escorting A6M3 'Zero', arrived right on schedule. Mitchell ordered them to lose their extra drop tanks and the hit group to attack while he led the others to safe guard them.

Lanipher led the group in the climb towards the target. At the same time they were spotted by the enemy escort who dropped their extra fuel tanks and dove to meet them. Lanipher made a tactical decision and took course direct at the enemy fighters while Barber banked left and started to attack the Bettys. He came in behind the first and started to pour shells into it's right engine, fuselage and tail. When he hit the left engine the plane started to pour black smoke and rolled heavily and Barber narrowly missed crashing right into it. The enemy plane went down and crashed in the jungle. Barber then spotted the second Betty being attacked by Holmes and Hine. Holmes hit the right engine which emitted a white vapor trail but doing this he and Hine overshot the enemy plane so Barber moved in and shot at the plane's fuselage so parts came lose and one of them hit his plane. The Betty then descended and made a crash landing on the water.

Mission accomplished they all returned back to base. Later they learned that it had been the famous Admiral Yamamoto, the planner of Pearl Harbour they've shot down and killed. After the mission a controversy arose when Lanipher claimed that it was he who had shot down Yamamoto's plane. It wasn't until the 1990's that Barber's achievements were recognised and he got the official recognition. Later in the war Barber made a tour in China against the Japanese where he scored further victories. He was also shot down there and subsequently saved by the Chinese resistance. He continued to serve until 1961. He died in his home in 2001 at the age of 84.

This kit in scale 1/48 is from Hasegawa (see here). I've written a review of the kit here.

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