Tag Archives: Guadalcanal

The Truly Reluctant Admiral Yamamoto – Part IX


End of a Samurai Son’s Life

Remains of Admiral Yamamoto’s plane. – USAF

After radio chatter in supposed secret Japanese naval code was intercepted by MAGIC on April 13, 1943, the US Navy jumped into action.  The US Navy brass now knew of Yamamoto’s projected flight schedule just five days later.

But to fully appreciate this, of course, it is critical to note this was 1943 and during a most vile world war.  There was no faxing, texting, internet or the like.  Also, Yamamoto’s plane may not start that day, weather may alter the flight or he may  just get sick (He did suffer from a form of beriberi.).

But some huge questions that had to be answered in only three days if the shoot-down were to occur successfully:

  1. Who was going to order/approve the killing?
  2. How was it going to get carried out? And,
  3. How can the Japanese be kept from figuring out our secret that we broke their secret code? (1)

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Adm. Nimitz

Sources differ on who approved the go-ahead for Admiral Yamamoto’s killing.

Some sources say Admiral Nimitz said go.

Some sources say Admiral Nimitz refused to give the order to kill Admiral Yamamoto and deferred the decision to his superior, Admiral King.

Some sources say no military brass wanted to approve the killing and that it ultimately came from FDR (which by definition becomes an assassination).  Although no document from that time could be found, several items indicate FDR was at least involved. (1) (2)

But one thing is certain; when Bull Halsey found out the mission was a go, he stated, “TALLY HO X LET’S GET THE BASTARD.”

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Some buried history on the actual mission to kill Admiral Yamamoto:

  1. In a tent choked with humidity on Guadalcanal’s Henderson Field on April 17, 1943, Admiral Marc Mitscher read the message marked ‘TOP SECRET’, signed by the Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. In attendance was Major John W. Mitchell, USAAF.  He would plan and lead the flight:
    “SQUADRON 339 P-38 MUST AT ALL COSTS REACH AND DESTROY. PRESIDENT ATTACHES EXTREME IMPORTANCE TO MISSION.”
  2. The recently deployed P-38G Lightning was the only fighter that could accomplish the shoot-down.  Other fighters like the US Navy’s Grumman F4F or new Vought F4U Corsair simply could not fly the approximately 800 mile round trip.  Even then, without Charles Lindbergh’s engineering insights to lean-burn, the flight may have been impossible for the P-38Gs. Still, the P-38s required external fuel tanks, one of which must be a 330 gallon capacity, the other 150.  They were located at Port Moresby, expedited to Guadalcanal then hurriedly attached to the fighters in an all night effort.
  3. A Marine named Major John Condon actually drafted up the flight plan first but Major Mitchell rejected it with only 12 hours of so before takeoff.  With input from several key pilots, Mitchell rushedly planned out the mission as the shootdown was to occur the next day with the flight leaving early in the morning! Relying on Yamamoto’s trademark punctuality, Mitchell precisely “walked back” the flight path from the expected intercept time over the southwest coast of Bougainville at 9:35 AM.

    Source: U. S. Naval Institute.

4. It was determined there would be four “killer” attack planes and 14 escort planes to handle the anticipated six Zero escort fighters and to compensate for aborts.  The 14 escort fighters were also in anticipation of the dozens of other land-based Zero fighters that may be airborne.  The four killer planes were responsible for the single Betty bomber carrying Admiral Yamamoto. (3)

5. Mitchell, in leading the flight, demanded the standard USAAF compass on his P-38G be replaced by a larger and more accurate Navy compass.  “Dead reckoning” would be the order of the day and exact headings were an absolute requirement – therefore, the need for the most accurate compass available.  All they would see in their 400 mile flight out would be water. 

In spite of all my research attempts, this may be the “Navy” compass that Mitchell ordered installed on his P-38G Lightning. It afforded more accuracy than the standard compass on his stock instrument panel (below).
A possible image of a P-38G instrument panel. The standard compass is at “3”.

6. One P-38 suffered a flat tire at takeoff and another’s fuel transfer from belly tanks failed, leaving 12 escort P-38s for the anticipated combat.  Surprisingly, these two planes that dropped out due to the mechanical failures were two of the four original killer planes.

7. Per a recent Military Intelligence Service’s veteran’s report, “At 7:25 AM on April 18 1943, the American pilots departed
Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, to travel a circuitous all water route at ten to thirty feet above the water and radio silenced to avoid enemy radar detection.  At 8:00 AM, 35 minutes later and 700 miles away, Yamamoto’s convoy took off on schedule from Rabaul airfield and (then) arrived over the southwest coast of Bougainville at 9:35 AM, the exact time the P 38s arrived there.”(2) The flight path avoided all possibility of being seen from occupied islands or radar.  Being literally at sea level, it was sweltering in the cockpit.  Mitchell had to fight of drowsiness as one mistake meant death an instant later.

8. Miraculously, Mitchell had guided his attack force to within one minute of the targeted arrival time.  The third pilot spotted the flight but it included TWO Betty bombers, not the single one dictated in the decoded secret message.  At this moment, Mitchell was not sure if this was Yamamoto’s flight. Forunately, Mitchell made the snap decision to attack, said, “Skin them (meaning drop fuel tanks),” and began combat.

9. Lanphier and Barber both had hits on the Betty bomber that carried Admiral Yamamoto.  However, Lanphier’s gun camera footage shows his rounds striking the Betty bomber, causing part of the left wing to split off.  The bomber then crashed into the jungle.

Here is footage from both American and Japanese viewpoints (scroll to the 5:28 mark).  It does show in slow motion Lanphier’s gun camera footage where he shoots off part of the left wing of Yamamoto’s plane. (Important note: the “gunfire” you hear in the actual gun footage is edited in.  The gun cameras were silent B&W film.)

10. One killer P-38 piloted by Lt. Raymond K. Hine was lost; he originally began the flight as an escort fighter but moved up when the two killer planes had to abort. There were various sightings from Japanese reports which claim his supercharger was hit and engine smoking when he headed out to sea.  He was never heard from or seen again.  In spite of claims by the USAAF pilots, not one Zero was shot down although several were damaged.

11. The six Japanese Zero pilots assigned to escort Admiral Yamamoto were:

Photos of the six Imperial Japanese Navy pilots assigned to protect Admiral Yamamoto. Only Yanagiya (bottom left) survived the war albeit severely wounded. Source unknown.

All were shamed, of course, for failing in their duty to protect Admiral Yamamoto but they were up against tremendous odds.  Japanese brass decided not to have them commit suicide; the brass knew they would perish in combat in their hopes Yamamoto’s death woukd be kept underwraps.  Sure enough, all but Kenji Yanagiya would be killed in action within a short period.  Yanagiya was severely wounded, losing his right hand and was sent home.  He passed away in 2008 at the age of 88.

A young Kenji Yanagiya. He was the only one to survive the war from the six Zero pilots assigned to protect Admiral Yamamoto. Source unknown.
Yanagiya shortly before his passing.

12. Per John Connor, History.net, he writes:

“At every stage, planners had stressed the need for secrecy. But even before the P-38s had landed, security was compromised.

As the returning planes neared Guadalcanal, Lanphier radioed to the control tower: “That son of a bitch will not be dictating any peace terms in the White House.” Lanphier’s announcement was shocking to others on the mission. Air-to-ground messages were broadcast in the clear, and the Japanese monitored American aviation frequencies. Lanphier’s message left little to the imagination. Bystanders on Guadalcanal, including a young navy officer named John F. Kennedy, watched as Lanphier executed a victory roll over the field before landing. “I got him!” Lanphier announced to the crowd after climbing out of his cockpit. “I got that son of a bitch. I got Yamamoto.”

Halsey and Nimitz, when they found out, went nuts as if the Japanese heard the message, they would realize that Lanphier knew Yamamoto was on board which would be impossible unless we broke their JN-25 naval code.

13. Behind the scenes, President Franklin D. Roosevelt reacted with glee, writing a mock letter of condolence to Yamamoto’s widow that circulated around the White House but was never sent:

Dear Widow Yamamoto:

Time is a great leveler and somehow I never expected to see the old boy at the White House anyway. Sorry I can’t attend the funeral because I approve of it.

Hoping he is where we know he ain’t.

Very sincerely yours,

/s/ Franklin D. Roosevelt

14. The US definitely wanted to keep the Japanese Navy from suspecting we had broken their JN-25 code.  In a ploy to make it look like Mitchell’s flight was indeed a chance of luck, the USAAF sent out similar patrols on subsequent days.  Besides, the Japanese did NOT publicize his death for about two months; as such, the Americans could not possibly know Admiral Yamamoto was killed.

15. Decades later, the feud between Barber and Lanphier continued as to who shot Yamamoto down.  At the end, the US Navy officially awarded the “kill” to Barber.  When that happened, ironically, Lanphier lost his “ace” status.

Mission crew. Source unknown.
Barber on left, Lanphier on right.

16. Per the Japanese Navy’s coroner’s report, Yamamoto was found ejected from the crashed plane but still strapped into the pilot’s seat.  Further, that he was still clutching his family’s samurai sword.  The report stated that the seat was upright resting against a tree and that his face looked unchanged.  It further stated the cause of death was from two .50 caliber rounds, one into his back and another entering though his jaw and exiting above the right eye.  (Author’s note: I am highly suspect of this report given it was from propaganda driven wartime Japan.  Although I never served, I cannot fathom his face “looking unchanged” when a .50 caliber round exited above his right eye after entering through his jaw. I also cannot believe he was still clutching his samurai sword after being ejected from the plane.)

17. The second Betty bomber carried Yamamoto’s Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki.  He and two other sailors survived the crash into the ocean after being shot down albeit with a broken arm.  He would recover from his wounds but would not return from the infamous last kamikaze attack  of WWII which he led on August 15, 1945.  He did not make his target.  He would leave behind his meticulous diary, a wealth of information.

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More to follow in Part X.

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Footnotes:

(1) It was vital that the Japanese not know their naval codes (the JN-25) had been broken.  If they did, they would react and modify their code.  This would terminate the US Navy’s ability to track and sink military and most of all, merchant shipping of vital natural resources taken from captured countries.  As written in “What Did FDR Know”, the sinking of many tons of merchant vessels was made possible by our breaking their JN-25.

(2) “…The message was decrypted and translated at FRUPAC by Marine Lt Col Alva Byan Lasswell and was passed the next day to
Commander Ed Layton, CINCPAC intelligence officer.  Admiral Chester NIMITZ, CINCPAC, sent the message to Washington. President Franklin Roosevelt approved and requested the
shoot down of Admiral Yamamoto’s air convoy be given the highest priority. This was conveyed to RADM Marc A. Mitscher, commander of the Solomons region, via NIMITZ and Admiral Halsey who was responsible for that region.”  – “Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto Air Convoy Shoot Down” report, JAVA, April 18, 2014. The author was a noted Military Intelligence Service member during WWII.

(3) The original flight organization was:

Initial Killer Flight:

Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr.

Lt. Rex T. Barber

Lt. Jim McLanahan (dropped out with flat tire)

Lt. Joe Moore (dropped out with faulty fuel feed)

The remaining pilots were to as reserves and provide air cover against any retaliatory attacks by local Japanese fighters:

Maj. John Mitchell (In command)

Lt. William Smith

Lt. Gordon Whittiker

Lt. Roger Ames

Capt. Louis Kittel

Lt. Lawrence Graebner

Lt. Doug Canning

Lt. Delton Goerke

Lt. Julius Jacobson

Lt. Eldon Stratton

Lt. Albert Long

Lt. Everett Anglin

Lt. Besby F. Holmes (replaced McLanahan)

Lt. Raymond K. Hine (replaced Moore and KIA)

 

Two Old Keys to Memorial Day


2014-05-21-12-17-02
Old Man Jack entrusted me with his house keys “…in case he shot himself in the foot” as he put it. Now covered in dust is Old Man Jack’s favorite baby – the F4U Corsair albeit a toy. He would push that button in once in a while, listen to this toy’s engine sound and watch the prop spin… It would echo a bit in my hallway…

I looked at these two old keys in my hand.  They belonged to Old Man Jack and the thought of Memorial Day instantly crossed my mind.

Two old keys to Memorial Day.

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A year ago, I had written a blog about Memorial Day (“It” and Memorial Day).

At times, I feel the meaning of Memorial Day has either faded or has changed.

In essence, many people living in today’s “politically correct” society have taken the sacrifices of our fallen to mean a three day weekend.

Sad…but that’s how I feel.. and it angers me.

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When I looked at those two keys, my mind raced to some of the things Old Man Jack said.

But mostly, to the things he could not say.

In the twelve years I was honored to know him, he would abruptly blurt out something once in a while when we were talking in his garage… while sitting in the blue wheelchair that belonged to his wife.

There was no story associated with these mutterings.

“Boys got killed on those stinkin’ islands…” then raise his thick, white eyebrows.

Or, “Hell, I pissed in my pants.”

Or once in a while, he would make a muffled smack with his lips then slowly shake his head left and right… and not say anything more.

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One such utterance was mentioned in “Old Man Jack’s Love”.

Upon gazing upon his beloved Corsair in front of him after over 60 years, he began weeping.

sketch
Ground crew working on a Corsair in heavy rain.

After recovering and meandering next to his plane, he simply let out, “Some of (the pilots) just didn’t come back.  I could never stop thinking, ‘Did a Jap get him… or was it me?’”

He said that because as Ground Crew Chief, he was responsible for the airworthiness of the plane a young Navy or Marine pilot would take out on a mission…to shoot at the enemy…or be shot at.  These planes had to be in the best fighting condition as lives depended on it.  But he frequently said “they had to make do” because they never had enough spare parts… so they HAD to improvise.

One time, he said a bushing had been shot out on a plane that had to go on a mission the next morning.  Old Man Jack did what he could.  What he must.  He soaked two pieces of coconut logs in engine oil overnight.  When it came time for the pilot to take off, he clamped the oil soaked wood around the cabling and used baling wire to clamp them together as tightly as he could.  The plane left on its mission – with the young pilot behind the stick…in a plane with oil soaked coconut log as a bushing.

Unbelievable.

Now perhaps you understand the depth of his utterance of, “…or was it me?”

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11588442153_2dec5b0551_o
Old Glory shimmering off a P-51 Mustang at the Chino Planes of Fame Museum.

I will never have an answer because the question could never have been asked of him.

But I feel Old Man Jack carried tremendous guilt in his heart about something that happened on those stinkin’ islands.

Not just bad; real bad.

Deep down, my heart tugs at me that someone within Old Man Jack’s reach died that shouldn’t have… and that Old Man Jack feels personally responsible for his death… and he carried that anguish for all these years.

Torment.

Grief.

Guilt.

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As Old Man Jack said, some of the young pilots didn’t come back.

They were killed or are forever missing in action.

That is for whom Memorial Day is all about.

To remember and honor those that did not come back…and not a Memorial Day sale.

Two old keys to Memorial Day…

What Did FDR Know? – Part 4


 

honolulu headline

As we saw in Part 3, Japan and America are now at war.

While not directly related to the question of “What did FDR know?”, it is deemed critical for readers to understand the damages suffered by the US military – and specifically its naval and air assets – on December 7, 1941.  It is also important to realize the huge advantage the Japanese Imperial Navy had over the U.S. Navy.  Lastly, it is important for readers to note the unbridled successes of the Japanese military at that time… and what unbelievably followed.

For the vast majority, Americans are under the belief that the US was caught flat-footed with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  Indeed, 21 ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were sunk or damaged.

Of those ships damaged, all but three of the ships at Pearl Harbor were refloated and repaired (Note: Pearl Harbor at its deepest is about 50′.):

  • The USS Arizona – too badly damaged to be salvaged,
  • The USS Oklahoma – raised but considered too obsolete to be worth repairing, and,
  • The USS Utah – also considered obsolete.

In addition, the US had 188 aircraft destroyed plus 159 were damaged; the majority were hit before they had a chance to take off.

uss calif

There were a total of 2,403 American casualties, including 68 civilians.  Most of the military killed were on the USS Arizona (1,177 killed).  Most of the civilians killed were from improperly fused anti-aircraft shells fired by US batteries hitting in Honolulu.  There were 1,178 wounded military personnel and civilians combined. (1)

crashed zero
A downed Zero in a Hawaiian neighborhood.

Japanese naval forces sailing for the raid included four heavy aircraft carriers, two battleships, two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, 35 submarines, and 11 destroyers.  Indeed, a powerful fleet projecting tremendous offensive firepower.  All survived unscathed; all but 29 Japanese aircraft returned to their carriers.

In the Pacific Theater, Japanese forces were rolling over Allied forces at will with victories in Thailand, Malaya, Wake Island, Guam Island, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, Burma, Dutch Indonesia and the invasion New Guinea.  The Imperial Japanese Navy dominated in the Pacific, attacking Allied bases in Australia and Ceylon; they even bombed or shelled coast of North America at will albeit with minimal effect.

But, the great sea battle of the Coral Sea and more specifically at Midway essentially put a halt to the wave of Japanese victories… barely five months after Pearl Harbor.

How could that possibly be?  Wasn’t our Pacific fleet crippled?

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So… how DID the US Navy stop the Japanese advance at these critical battles at Coral Sea and Midway?  After all, at the time of Pearl Harbor, the US Navy only had three aircraft carriers in the Pacific: the USS Enterprise, USS Lexington, and USS Saratoga.  (The USS Hornet was still on shakedown cruise and the USS Yorktown and USS Wasp were deployed in the Atlantic.)

Of course, the heroics of our sailors and Marines played a most dominant role but you may wish to ask yourself:

  • Were American aircraft and ships better than their Japanese counterparts?  No, production of new classes of ships and aircraft would not arrive in the Pacific until 1943.
  • Did American forces have more men, aircraft and ships? Again no, the tide of the American industrial strength would not be felt in the Pacific until 1943.
  • Was it better leadership?  No.  Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was arguably equally matched by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the overall commander of Japanese forces during the battles of Coral Sea and Midway.
  • Did our navy stumble upon the enemy out in the Pacific by sheer luck or happenstance?

If it wasn’t the above, how was the US Navy able to engage the Imperial Japanese Navy at Coral Sea and Midway then stop them?

It was MAGIC.

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Battle of Coral Sea, May 4 – 8, 1942

coral sea map
Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942.  Source: Pacific War Museum.

By March 13, 1942, OP-G-20 had completely broken JN-25.  Until then, about 10% to 15% of a JN-25 message that was intercepted could be read. (2)  However, enough could be deciphered to understand the Japanese were gearing up to attack Port Moresby in Papua, New Guinea on May 7, 1942.  By taking Port Moresby, Japan could extend its reach beyond northern Australia and further south.

Upon receiving the intelligence from the deciphered JN-25 messages, Admiral Chester Nimitz decided to move a fleet into position in between Port Moresby and Australia.  He issued such orders on April 17, 1942.  However, he had but two carriers available for action – the USS Lexington and the USS Yorktown.  This battle was definitely NOT a chance encounter; it was planned.

jn25 sampleIn fact, deciphered messages allowed the US Task Force 17 to be in position before the Japanese fleets arrived to attack.  But lacking sufficient capital ships and aircraft that were inferior to the Japanese Zero, the outcome was far from certain.  The sailors and Marines were largely untested as well.  (The USS Hornet and USS Enterprise were unavailable due to their critical roles in the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo; it took place two days later on April 18, 1942.)

With but two carriers and support ships, the US fleet was outgunned especially considering our aircraft was obsolete.  The Japanese fleet sailed with a Shoho (a carrier), several cruisers and destroyers, and a dozen transports filled with troops.  A smaller invasion force would move down the Solomons, which laid on New Guinea’s eastern flank, with the target being Tulagi. To protect these two invasion fleets, the Japanese carriers Zuikaku and Shokaku would spearhead yet a third fleet to provide air protection.

coral-lex01s
The USS Lexington explodes and sinks. (US Navy archival photo)

While the ensuing two-day Battle of Coral Sea was considered a draw, U.S. forces inflicted enough damage on the Japanese navy to force it to withdraw.  In addition, as the Japanese were unable to secure the port, their military was forced to fight in land warfare, which proved disastrous for the Japanese.  Of most importance, the fruit of the battle saw the Japanese carrier Shoho sunk, with both the Zuikaku and Shokaku damaged and forced to retire.  Therefore, they were made unavailable for the critical Battle of Midway, just about four weeks later.

However, we lost the USS Lexington, a major loss. And while the USS Yorktown suffered heavy damage as well, the Japanese believed her to have been sunk; instead, the USS Yorktown was made seaworthy through the extreme efforts of repair crews at Pearl Harbor.  While two weeks had been estimated for repairs, the repair crews had her back on the seas in just 48 hours.

This strategic victory was made entirely possible because of secret MAGIC intercepts.  The Japanese still did not believe their complex JN-25 had been broken.

Battle of Midway, June 4 – 7, 1942

rochefort
Captain Joseph Rochefort, USN, head of OIC, Pearl Harbor (Photo NSA)

Arguably, the paramount triumph from the breaking of JN-25 on March 13, 1942 was the Battle of Midway.  This is one battle that my neighbor, Mr. Johnson, fought on board the USS Enterprise as a very young US Marine.  From decrypting the Japanese naval messages, the U.S. naval commanders knew the general battle plans of Admiral Yamamoto – even the timetable.  Yamamoto’s strategy was to have aircraft carrier task forces launch both a diversionary raid off the Aleutian Islands then lure the U.S. Navy to Midway Island.  His goal was to decimate once and for all what remained of the American fleet after Pearl Harbor.

Yes, the deciphered intercepts did not state in the clear Midway was the target; the messages simply designated “AF.”  While CINCPAC felt strongly it was Midway, it was Captain Joseph Rochefort of OP-20-G who wily suggested how to establish for certain what “AF” stood for.

Rochefort was Officer in Charge (OIC) of Station Hypo in Pearl Harbor, the nerve station in Hawaii for deciphering JN-25 intercepts.  An expert Japanese linguist and during the most critical month of May 1942, Rochefort reviewed, analyzed, and reported on as many as 140 decrypted messages per day. These reports were directly piped to the highest-ranking fleet commanders.  He brilliantly strategized for American forces on Midway to send out a radio message saying that they were running short of fresh water.  Rochefort and his group waited anxiously to see if Japan would take the bait. Finally, OP-G-20 intercepted a Japanese message: AF was running short of fresh water.

Establishing Midway as the target, the U.S. Navy assembled what it could.  America was still short on capital ships and better aircraft.  After a 48 hour turnaround, the USS Yorktown joined the USS Enterprise and USS Hornet.

While remembering that by virtue of deciphering coded Japanese messages, the Japanese Imperial Navy had three less carriers to deploy after their losses at Coral Sea – a very critical fact.  After a fierce three-day battle at Midway, U.S. naval aviators sank all four Japanese aircraft carriers in Yamamoto’s task force – the Hiryu, Soryu, Akagi and Kaga.  All four participated in the assault on Pearl Harbor, effectively turning the tide in the Pacific.  Yes, luck was involved during the actual battle but certainly, the courage of our young men at sea and in the air was incredible.  They had proven themselves but at great cost in lives and materiel… including the USS Yorktown.

Unbelievably, the Chicago Tribune published a darned story revealing that the U.S. had known about Japanese battle plans in advance.  They had, in effect, revealed that JN–25 had been broken. Inexplicably, key Japanese leaders never found out about the article.  Darned media – even back then.

Assassination of Admiral Yamamoto

State funeral Yamamoto
State funeral procession for Admiral Yamamoto, 1943.

As school history books had once shown, the battle planner of the Pearl Harbor attack was Admiral Yamamoto.  He did know of the might of the U.S. having attended Harvard University – yes, Harvard – from 1919 to 1921, studying English.  He did, in fact, oppose taking on the U.S.  But Yamamoto had one trait which would lead directly to his death: his intense desire to be punctual.  The US counted on this.

Codebreakers intercepted then learned after deciphering messages that the admiral was scheduled to inspect a naval base on Bougainville in the Solomon Islands on April 18, 1943.  The detail even included his minute by minute itinerary.  Some top US officials were hesitant to use this information for fear that doing so would tip off the Japanese that their codes had been broken. Nevertheless, the decision was made to assassinate Yamamoto. That morning, eighteen P–38 fighters left their base at Guadalcanal at the other end of the Solomon chain and arrived at Bougainville precisely ten minutes before Yamamoto’s plane was making its approach. The admiral was killed in the attack, depriving Japan of its most experienced and accomplished admiral and sapping Japanese morale.

yamamoto flight
Flights paths: Yamamoto (red) and USAAF (black). Also notice “Green Island” north of Bouganville. This was “Old Man Jack’s” last battle station. USN Archives

To mislead the Japanese that the fighters had arrived purely by chance, the air force flew other risky patrols to the area, both before and after the attack.  It was not a “one shot in the dark” mission.  It was deeply thought over and planned out – because we were able to intercept and decipher coded Japanese messages.(3)  They also spread “rumors” that the information was from coast watchers.

The Japanese did not change JN–25, and for the remainder of the war, U.S. intelligence intercepted and read thousands of Japanese messages.  A portion of a secret OP-20-G report, circa 1943, is below listing the number of coded Japanese messages intercepted:

Japan’s Plan

Early in 1942, Japan decided to block the Allies from setting up bases in Australia. Operation MO would send a large invasion force to Port Moresby, the capital of New Guinea. From Port Moresby, the Japanese would be able to project air power beyond the northern tip of Australia and establish bases even further south (Hearn).

The Port Moresby landing force sailed with about a dozen transports filled with troops, several cruisers and destroyers, and a half-size carrier, Shoho (Bennett, Hearn). A smaller invasion force would move down the Solomons, which lay on New Guinea’s eastern flank. The specific target in the Solomons was Tulagi, which was the colonial capital. To protect these two invasion fleets, Zuikaku and Shokaku would lead a separate covering force to create a blanket of air protection (Bennett).

The U.S. Prepares

By March 1942, the United States had cracked part of the current Japanese Naval (JN) code, JN-25. However, U.S. intelligence could intercept only about 60 percent of all Japanese transmissions and had the resources to analyze only about 40 percent of the messages it did intercept (Parshall and Tully). Even then, code breakers typically could read only 10 to 15 percent of the code groups in a message (Parshall and Tully). U.S. intelligence primarily used direction-finding equipment to learn where many Japanese ships were and where they were heading (Parshall and Tully).

Beginning on April 16, U.S. intelligence began using this spotty information to piece together an understanding of a Japanese plan to move south with carriers (Parshall and Tully). On April 17, Nimitz ordered the carrier Lexington to join Yorktown in the Coral Sea (Bennett). If Halsey had been able to move Enterprise and Hornet there too, the U.S. might have been able to destroy the Japanese fleet. But Enterprise and Hornet needed refitting after the Doolittle raid of April 18, 1942, and could not get there in time for the fight (Parshall and Tully).

– See more at: http://www.pacificaviationmuseum.org/pearl-harbor-blog/battle-of-the-coral-sea#sthash.P5voInlO.dpuf

Japan’s Plan

Early in 1942, Japan decided to block the Allies from setting up bases in Australia. Operation MO would send a large invasion force to Port Moresby, the capital of New Guinea. From Port Moresby, the Japanese would be able to project air power beyond the northern tip of Australia and establish bases even further south (Hearn).

The Port Moresby landing force sailed with about a dozen transports filled with troops, several cruisers and destroyers, and a half-size carrier, Shoho (Bennett, Hearn). A smaller invasion force would move down the Solomons, which lay on New Guinea’s eastern flank. The specific target in the Solomons was Tulagi, which was the colonial capital. To protect these two invasion fleets, Zuikaku and Shokaku would lead a separate covering force to create a blanket of air protection (Bennett).

The U.S. Prepares

By March 1942, the United States had cracked part of the current Japanese Naval (JN) code, JN-25. However, U.S. intelligence could intercept only about 60 percent of all Japanese transmissions and had the resources to analyze only about 40 percent of the messages it did intercept (Parshall and Tully). Even then, code breakers typically could read only 10 to 15 percent of the code groups in a message (Parshall and Tully). U.S. intelligence primarily used direction-finding equipment to learn where many Japanese ships were and where they were heading (Parshall and Tully).

Beginning on April 16, U.S. intelligence began using this spotty information to piece together an understanding of a Japanese plan to move south with carriers (Parshall and Tully). On April 17, Nimitz ordered the carrier Lexington to join Yorktown in the Coral Sea (Bennett). If Halsey had been able to move Enterprise and Hornet there too, the U.S. might have been able to destroy the Japanese fleet. But Enterprise and Hornet needed refitting after the Doolittle raid of April 18, 1942, and could not get there in time for the fight (Parshall and Tully).

– See more at: http://www.pacificaviationmuseum.org/pearl-harbor-blog/battle-of-the-coral-sea#sthash.P5voInlO.dpuf

Crane Library, National Archives, College Park
National Archives

Purple and D-Day

The importance of MAGIC and the breaking of the “Purple” Japanese consulate code cannot be understated.  For non-historian readers, the reach and military value extends far beyond the waters of the Pacific.  It extends to Europe…specifically D-Day and the shores of Normandy.

As revealed in “What Did FDR Know? – Part 2” of this blog series, the US broke the code for this cipher before the attack at Pearl Harbor.  The US did their best to keep the wraps over this great intelligence triumph.  However, Nazi Germany’s own intelligence had good evidence that SIS had broken Purple and informed the Japanese.  Unbelievably, Japan refused to believe it.  (I believe this is part of the Japanese culture – to not place importance on “water cooler” talk.)   Only when Congressional hearings and investigations into who knew of the Pearl Harbor attack reveal this did the Japanese accept it.  Unfortunately, is was much after war’s end.(4)

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Baron Hiroshi Oshima, 1939.

Per “What Did FDR Know? – Part 1”, Baron Hiroshi Oshima was the Japanese envoy to Berlin and used his Purple machine to communicate frequently with Tokyo.  Luckily for the US, Oshima was also an Imperial Army colonel at the time of appointment and loved war strategy and armaments.  He followed intimately the German conquests in Europe and their latest technologies. He sent very detailed reports to his superiors in Tokyo of what he had learned using the purple cipher machine, which the US was able to intercept and decipher immediately.

Oshima became a favorite and a confidant of Hitler.  Hitler – being so full of himself and pompous – shared with Oshima the most secret and sensitive of his war plans with him.  Hitler even gave Oshima a tour of the German defenses in Normandy!  As per his character and routine, Oshima transmitted very detailed reports of the Nazi defenses at Normandy.  This was obviously key in the preparations for D-Day, so much so the deciphered intel was immediately transmitted to General Eisenhower.  Not quite what we read in our textbooks…

And while the public is led to believe the U.S. did not know if the German commanders took the bait that the D-Day invasion would take place at Pas-de-Calais, Oshima secretly gave the US confidence that the Germans had taken the deception through his messages to Tokyo.  The Nazis were preparing for the landing at the wrong beaches.  (Note: this is not to lessen the somberness of those killed or missing in action at Normandy.  Further, this is not to lessen the importance of wartime security.)  Further, with their true belief that the invasion at Normandy was a diversion, the Panzer divisions were not immediately released to engage the Allied invading forces until too late.

In recognition of this value to Japan, he was promoted in a few short years from Colonel to Lt. General.  Oshima’s prolific reporting prompted US General George C. Marshall to say Oshima was, “…our main basis of information regarding Hitler’s intentions in Europe” in 1944. (5)

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Final Query for Part 4

Why did the U.S. decide to take intense preparatory military action for Coral Sea based only on partial deciphers of JN-25?  As stated, OP-20-G did not break JN-25 completely until March 1942.  However, OP-20-G was able to adequately decipher JN-25 messages – even one sent by Yamamoto himself – only until about one week before Pearl Harbor when a code key was changed.  What could the reasons be for the U.S. not taking similar defensive or offensive action at Pearl Harbor before the actual attack commenced?  Was it because of incomplete intel?  Were deciphered messages not of importance to FDR… or they not reach FDR at all?  Were diplomatic deciphers not important?  Did top brass feel their carriers would be sunk facing tremendous attacks and therefore, the Pacific War would be lost from the get-go?  Or…?

Of course, there can be as many reasons as there are people.

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NOTES:

(1) National Park Service

(2) “At the Interface” documentary based on interviews of Donald M. Showers, USN, ret.

(3) Public teaching in the past was true at the surface – that the US had intercepted a radio message “sent out in the open” by a brash young officer.  Now you know it was the work of cryptanalysts working under tremendous secrecy.

(4) National Cryptologic Museum

(5) “Hitler’s Japanese Confidant” by Carl Boyd

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Shadows


For “Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Shadows” of this week…

Loyal readers know of my love for WWII combat veteran “Old Man Jack”.

After suffering through seven decades of nightmares of war, he is now finally at peace.  Hopefully, he is resting comfortably beneath these shadows cast by my two youngest kids and I:

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And a shadow cast by Old Glory:

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For new visitors, please feel free to click and read one story of this great American who is now all but being forgotten in our new “Common Core” history textbooks.  He earned the honor to be remembered:

“Old Man Jack-ism #4”

Old Man Jack-ism #6 – The Zero


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I stopped by with a cigar to visit with Jack today.  I hoped there will be others visiting given the date and holiday season…

Today, I thought I’d visit with Old Man Jack for a while.  I didn’t drive my supercharged and unmufflered Grabber Orange Mustang to visit him although he loved it so much.  It looked like rain.  But I did take a cigar with me.

I know he didn’t mind the cigar.

He said it “doesn’t smell much better than the stinkin’ islands…but anything smelled better than those stinkin’ islands”.

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He would reminisce much more frequently about the war on those islands when it involved “fun memories” and I recalled one while chatting with him today at his grave. Believe me, whether it be a “fun” memory or not, a tear or two always tags along.

Old Man Jack always described the islands in the Southwest Pacific to be “those stinkin’ islands”.  He had said that while things always stunk, “everything smelled like shit”.  Pardon the French but those are the words expressed by the now old man who was back then a young boy of nineteen.  Hell, put it into perspective.  That spoiled young singer Justin Bieber is nineteen.  I’ll leave it at that.

“When I got there, I wondered why things smelled like shit,” he said with his trademark grin.  The one where the left corner of his mouth rises.  “Well, I was a dumb shit punk myself back then.”

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We had been touring the mock up of the CV-6 carrier deck (USS Enterprise) at the Chino Planes of Fame Museum back in 2003.  Our friendship had begun solidifying by then.  I had taken him there primarily to see his beloved F4U Corsair so this was a side trip at the museum.

On the “flight deck” was a Douglass SBD-5 Dauntless dive bomber.

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Jack in 2003 with the Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless behind him.  You can make out his boyish grin.

One thing he immediately spit out was after seeing the plane was, “That rear seat is just a metal plate.  You sat on your parachute for a cushion…”  He then continued, “…and those were twin .30’s back there.”

He told me once a Navy dive bomber pilot “grabbed him by the collar” early on and told him to get into the rear seat “quick-like”.  I remember asking him why because at that time, I didn’t know he was certified to fly.  In typical Old Man Jack fashion, he quipped, “‘Cuz I was the only one there.”  Accent on the “there”, please.

“Well, we were flying up there.  Man, that parachute made for a lousy cushion,” he said.  “Then a Zero got on our six…and then I saw these little flashes.  I figured out real quick he was shooting at us.”  Jack’s still got that grin on his face.

“The pilot yelled, Shoot, you son of a bitch!  Shoot!  Shoot!  So I did.”

“The pilot kept yelling, Shoot!  Shoot!“.  Then I yelled, “I did! I did!”

He wasn’t afraid to say it.  Jack said he got so scared he just laid on the triggers and didn’t let go.  There was only about 15 seconds worth of rounds.  He had fired off all his ammo.

“Man, I heard every god damn cuss word from that pilot,” he chuckled, still with that trademark grin.

But then he ended it by saying, “…And whoo-ee, I crapped in my pants…  And that’s how I figured out why everything smelled like shit.”

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A WWII period photo of rear gunner and the twin .30 caliber machine guns.

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I never asked him what happened to that Zero…or if they successfully dropped their bomb…or what happened to that Navy pilot.

But one thing is for sure.  I would have liked to have seen Justin Bieber in that back seat behind those twin .30s.

I’m sure his voice would get even higher…permanently…and would have needed a diaper change.

Real men don’t wear diapers.  Jack sure as hell didn’t.  He just shit in his pants and wasn’t ashamed to admit it.

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I enjoyed our chat today, Jack.

And I’ll be sure to drive the Mustang next time so you can hear it.

Miss you.

Thriving Love


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Marge and I at Riverside National Cemetery, Memorial Day Weekend 2013

A LETTER…

[Please also see “Mr. Johnson, USMC” if you wish to learn the background of this couple from the Greatest Generation by clicking on the link.]

Dear Marge,

Well, Marge, you made it indeed…  To see your beloved husband Johnnie for Memorial Day.

A heroic US Marine who fought on-board the USS Enterprise in World War II.

Decorated.

And he was but 17 years old when he set sail for the Battle of Midway.

Seventeen.  You said he was still in high school when he signed up for the Marines.  Unbelievable.

We were met by thousands of American flags being planted by hundreds of Boy Scouts and volunteers.  You were so happy to see the red, white and blue saturating the cemetery, bit by bit.

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While the Boy Scouts hadn’t made it to your husband’s resting place yet, we had our own little flag… and your beautiful bouquet we were able to pick up along the way.  You were so pleased with them but we made it a promise the next bouquet will be the colors of the USMC – scarlett and gold.  You knew he would like that.  Yes you did.

It was only the Saturday before Memorial Day but you were so elated to see how many people were there already…and we arrived at 10:00 AM!  You were worried we wouldn’t be able to find a place to park when someone upstairs opened one up for us.

You were so anxious to visit him that you made it out of my car in record time and walked as quickly as you could!

While you used your stroller to get to the general area of his grave site, we had to leave the stroller and walk the last twenty yards on very saturated ground.  You were holding onto my arm so tightly as the muddy earth gave way as we walked.  Remember?  My shoe sunk into the soil and inch or more.

And when we got there, we couldn’t find any water decanters…  They were all being used by the hundreds of other mourners…but by some lucky grace, we ran into Vicky…  She had bought 1,000 beautiful flags on her own and her niece was placing them neatly all along the columbine.  She went out of her way to find one for you!

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Vicki and her niece holding another bunch of the 1,000 flags she had bought to place along the columbine.
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Some of the 1,000 flags purchased by Vicki and placed by her niece for our fallen.

Your bouquet was so beautiful, Marge.  You said quietly Johnnie – your husband of 66-1/2 years – would like them so much.  You miss him dearly, don’t you Marge?  I miss him…

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And like the last time, on Easter Sunday, you talked with him…

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She is talking to Johnnie… True love and devotion…

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You shared with me again of how he left your life…and you were there for him til the very end… and how alone you felt because you are the last one alive from amongst your friends.  There is no one else.  You said you still look for Johnnie at your assisted senior care center to ask him a question but he doesn’t answer…

Thriving love…

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We promised to go back in two months, yes?

I will be calling you because he means so much to you… and it means so much to me.

I wish people would understand your love and devotion.

Marge and Mr. Johnson on their wedding day in June 1945.
Marge and Mr. Johnson on their wedding day in June 1945.

With love and admiration,

Koji

Old Man Jack’s Love


“She’s the most beautiful thing I had ever seen,” said Old Man Jack in a trembling voice and with very wet eyes.

On March 3, 2003.  Truly.

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He was referring to the F4U Corsair.  I had taken him to the Chino Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, CA.  The WWII aircraft there – all of them – fly.

That’s right.  They get up in the air.

Planes that were engineered with a minimal lifespan as they were meant for combat were still spinning their props for the men who flew them – or worked on them.

Old Man Jack was one of them.

Do you know what these beautiful planes look like?  What they may have sounded like to Old Man Jack 70 years ago?  Ever see one fly? A vid I took at the Planes of Fame Airshow:

In case you haven’t figured it out, his Corsair is “on the tail” of a famed Zero of the Imperial Japanese Navy in this mock dogfight.  I filmed it almost ten years ago at an air show there at Chino Planes of Fame.

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Old Man Jack was an “AMM 1/C” during WWII, or “Aviation Machinist Mate First Class”.  He could have re-upped after the war and been promoted to Chief Petty Officer but like Mrs. Johnson, Carol would have none of that.

I am not positively sure as Old Man Jack would only give tidbits here and there but he was responsible for the aircraft.  Before flight – and while remembering this was at the front lines on “those stinkin’ islands” – he would get into the cockpit and make sure all essential bells and whistles worked after his crew worked on it all night.  I also believe he was to pilot one on occasion to maintain his certs.  Very simplistically said on my part.

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US Navy ground crew servicing a Corsair on what appears to be Guadalcanal – where Old Man Jack was.  National Archives 127-N-55431

The pilot was headed off into harm’s way.  The pilot’s life depended on Jack and his crew.  It’s airworthiness.

But one thing is for certain – Old Man Jack said many times “there just weren’t enough spare parts so we had to make do.”

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But back to the story…

Our friendship had begun to solidify by then…  I had mentioned to him that I was a member of the museum and that he wouldn’t have to worry about me paying for his entry.  But that wasn’t why he hesitated.  You will see why.  And I found out later myself why he was so hesitant.

Back then, the museum’s WWII hangars were divided into the two main theaters of operation: the European and the Pacific – where Old Man Jack was stationed during the thick of things.

We meandered through the European Theater hangar.  He recognized them right away.  The P-51.  The P-47.  Others.

He had brought along his “walking chair”; it was light and when folded up, it was a walking aid.  If you press down on it a certain way, it would spread out into a little chair.  Well, he was doing good…and I was happy.

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To get to the Pacific Theater hangar, you would leave the European Theater hangar and mosey across a tarmac.

Chino Planes of Fame and "X" marks the spot.
Chino Planes of Fame and “X” marks the spot.

It was a hot day.  Old Man Jack was in a t-shirt.  Blue, of course.

We were slowly making it across the tarmac.  I knew a Corsair was in there – pretty as the day she rolled off the assembly line.  As the hangar door was cracked open, you could see the wing spar.

Then Old Man Jack stopped.  At the white “X” marked in the map above.  Dead in his tracks.

He propped open his chair.

He sat down.

I was wondering if he was tired.  We were out in the sun.  Why’d he stop there?

I walked back to him.  His hands that still firmly shook your hands were on his knees.  His head was bowed down.

Then I saw it.

His shoulders were shuddering a bit at first, then began to bob up and down.

The man who had a barrel chest…the man who worked on these planes as a young man whose bushy eyebrows had turned white with age …was crying.

Deeply.  No sounds.  He was holding it in…

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I walked away.

The plumbing in my eyes broke too.

I think he cried quietly for about a couple of minutes.  Out there on the tarmac.  In the sun.

Old Man Jack then straightened up.  He wiped his eyes.

“Young man, earn your pay.  Give me your hand and help me up.”

Old Man Jack was back.

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We walked over to her – Jack’s beloved Corsair.  His eyes were still wet.

I remember him saying very quietly while trying very hard to hold back his now visible anguish, “I knew a lot of young boys who flew them,” his voice cracking with 70 years of nightmares tormenting him.  “Some of them just didn’t come back.  I could never stop thinking, ‘Did a Jap get him… or was it me?'”

Nothing more need be said.

A very, VERY proud Jack Garrett, AMM 1/C showing off his barrel chest as best he could.
A very, VERY proud Jack Garrett, AMM 1/C showing off his barrel chest as best he could.

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That’s when he told me she was the most beautiful girl in the sky.  But like any woman, she was a pain to keep happy.

“We didn’t wear shirts because it was so _ucking hot; I’d burn my stomach and chest on that hot metal.”  He pointed at the wing spar (the bottom of the “gull wing”) and said, “We would always slip on those damn spars.  You never had good footing.”

He then recollected other things.  He told me “We’d stick a shotgun shell into a breech under the cowling and fire it off to turn over the engine.”  As I surely didn’t know much better back then, I asked why.  “Because the dumb son-of-a-bitch who designed the plane didn’t put in a starter.  That’s why.”  Oh, boy (with a smile).  “And if she didn’t turn over, you only had a couple more tries at it before you had to let it cool off.”

Old Man Jack then smiled a bit when he admitted he fell off the wing while taxiing once.  “Like a dumb smart ass kid, I stood up on the wing when the pilot was taxiing.  You were taught to lay on the wing to point which way to go but (the wing’s surface) was too damn hot so I stood up.  We hit a bump and off I came.”  (Note: the Corsair’s nose was long to accommodate the powerful engine.  It was so long that it obscured the pilot’s forward view during taxi and landing.)

One more thing he said.  “There was nothing better than seeing the flight come back after a patrol at wave top, do victory rolls then peel off.”  He was a bit choked up.

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When we got home, he said to me, “I didn’t know how I would react if I saw something and that’s why I put you off in going.  But I feel good about it now.  Thank you, young man.”

He gave me that solid Jack Garrett handshake…and a hug.

I think he enjoyed the visit…and no better way to end my first six months of blogging.