Yamamoto Shoot-down Controversy Lives On
Regarding “Death by P-38,” in the May issue, there are inaccuracies in the conclusion to the sidebar about who actually shot down Isoroku Yamamoto. I wrote the article about the Yamamoto mission for the U.S. Air Force Museum years ago, and interviewed two surviving members of the mission, as well as others who had firsthand information.
The mission report signed off by CO John Mitchell did give full credit to Tom Lanphier, but for years the controversy kept surfacing. Jack Jacobson (a member of the mission) felt that much of the problem had to do with Lanphier’s ego. Jacobson stated that “as there is absolutely no witness to what either Barber or Lanphier did, we have to accept what each guy said.” He believes the credit should be left at 50/50, although he added that “Lanphier was a very aggressive fighter pilot–if he had a shot he would have pursued it.”
Still, the group backing Rex Barber in recent years got the American Fighter Aces Association to strip Lanphier of his credit, waiting several years after Lanphier had died. Barber’s claim got the support of the main board members of the AFAA, including Gerald Brown and Steve Pisanos, who admitted that the deflection shot version given by Lanphier would have been “difficult, but not impossible.” Besby Holmes (another mission member) said the action happened so fast that no one, including himself, could state exactly what happened.
In 1992 Air Force Secretary Donald Rice upheld the shared-credit ruling of the Victory Credit Board, saying the “Glory should go to the team.” The Appeals Court ruling in 1996 stated that “no change in the record was needed to correct an injustice.” Time has upheld the original verdict of history, and the official books are finally closed.
The only group that changed the credit was the AFAA, and officially Lanphier remains an ace.
Author Don Hollway responds: It is my understanding that not only the AFAA but also the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States has denied Lanphier credit for both the Zero and Betty he claimed on the Yamamoto mission. A representative of the Air Force Historical Research Agency confirmed to me that, decades ago and prior to the decisions you mention, the USAF Victory Credit Board and Air Force Board for the Correction of Military Records denied Lanphier his Zero, leaving his official tally at 4.5 victories. However, because neither Barber nor Holmes ever lost credit for Zeros they claimed that day (if they had, none of the three pilots would be aces), Lanphier’s claim has recently been reinstated. As far as the Air Force is concerned, his score once again stands at 5.5, including half credit for Yamamoto’s Betty.
Superforts vs. MiGs
I very much enjoyed Warren E. Thompson’s article “Superforts vs. MiGs” [May 2013], particularly his rundown of victories by B-29 gunners in the Korean War. There is one "victory," however, that I doubt is included in those totals. On July 28, 1950, a Royal Navy Seafire from HMS Triumph was shot down by B-29 gunners after it apparently got too close for their liking. The British aircraft had reportedly been mistaken for one of the Russian piston-engine fighters, probably a Yak-9, then flown by the North Koreans. As a result, Royal Navy aircraft flew with black-and-white stripes on their wings and fuselages to distinguish them from Communist forces.
Just read your interesting article on B-29s vs. MiGs in Korea. I am old enough to have served in the USAF with some Korean War and even a few WWII vets. One was a Sergeant Evans, my crew chief in Radar Maintenance at the 793rd Radar Squadron in 1963.
Evans had been in B-29s in Korea–I believe he was a radio operator. He told of a time when their squadron maintenance chief had flown to Guam to pick up some spare parts, and there in a warehouse were some of the 20mm tail guns that had been removed to lighten the B-29s for their missions over Japan. He brought a few back and reinstalled them in some of the squadron’s planes. He said the MiGs would generally sit back out of range of the .50-caliber M-2s and pop away with their 37mm guns–and one hit could knock down a B-29. He reported that the MiG pilots got quite a surprise after the new guns were installed, and stopped attacking from the rear.
It would be interesting to see a picture somewhere that could confirm his story.
Another Wally “Gotcha”
It might interest your readers to know that the first music from outer space was performed by two astronauts aboard Gemini 6. It was the Christmas season, and Wally Schirra [see “Aviators,” March] had included among his personal items a miniature harmonica made by Hohner called the “Little Lady.” Thomas P. Stafford, his fellow pilot, brought along small bells that might embellish a Christmas wreath.
Just before they were scheduled to reenter Earth’s atmosphere on December 16, 1965, they reported seeing a command module with eight smaller modules in front. The pilot in the control module was wearing a red suit. Schirra broke out his harmonica and rendered “Jingle Bells,” accompanied by Stafford on his miniature sleigh bells.
The harmonica and bells–see my photo attached [July issue]–are credited with being the first musical instruments ever played in space. They are enshrined at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
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