When America decrypted a Japanese message and discovered that Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto would be travelling to the Solomon Islands on 18 April 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had one order: “get Yamamoto.” The attack on Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Midway, and the super weapon I-400 were all brainchildren of Yamamoto, and America wanted to ruin him before he could bring any more damage to the United States.
Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., was in charge of arranging Operation Vengeance. He chose eighteen pilots, four of which would be the actual killers while the others provided cover. The pilots were only told that they were intercepting an important officer of Japan but not who.
On that Sunday in Rabaul, officers were afraid of their leader being ambushed and encouraged Yamamoto not to go through with the tour. He ignored the warnings and boarded the Betty bomber.
Rex T. Barber, assigned to the kill team, took off with his fellow pilots on the same morning that Yamamoto did. When the Japanese planes came into view, Barber quickly maneuvered himself behind a Betty bomber and attacked. He shot into the right engine and then the left. Black smoke released into the air and the plane whizzed to the left, barely missing Barber. He watched as the bomber spiraled into the jungle below.
Barber didn’t know it at the time, but he had just taken down the “important officer.” Yamamoto was found in the jungle the next day by a Japanese search party. The news of his death was not revealed for another month in fear of the effect it would have on Japanese morale.
Find more information about the death of Admiral Yamamoto in the WWII War Diaries.