Phil Smith has the first hand
experience and the network of connections to write this thriller involving the
media, military and political manipulation. An award winning broadcaster and
correspondent, he’s filed from throughout South East Asia, the ‘Top End’
and the South Pacific. His credits include a TV documentary on the rebuilding of
His service in the Royal
Australian Air Force Special Reserve includes a Peace Keeping tour in
Bougainville before the truce was signed, and humanitarian operations during the
West Irian and Papua New Guinea famine. Phil has supported ADF Units from the
Arctic Circle to the Korean DMZ and the Simpson Desert. As a combat camera
producer he’s served aboard aircraft carriers and in battle tanks during
Combined and Joint operations and exercises. Phil was awarded a Chief of Air
Force Commendation following a hazardous assignment in Indonesia and the ASM for
duty in Bougainville. He is the 2001 Air Force recipient of the Prince of Wales
His series of outback yarns,
‘Round The Traps’, was broadcast by ABC radio, and Phil provided the
character voices for the ‘Noah’ children’s stories on CD Rom. His
freelance articles have been well published in aviation and travel magazines in
Australia, the UK, South Africa, New Zealand and the US.
A Journalism Graduate from
Central Queensland University, Phil lives near Lake Samsonvale, north of
Brisbane, with his wife and two daughters. He’s currently working on an
inspirational book for teenage boys.
This one’s for my wife and
daughters who let me go adventuring. The girls said I should write and my parents always believed I could.
Special thanks to Ron Smith who cracked the whip
rejoined my split infinitives.
David Fender, Paul Lineham, and
Paul Bodington reread the rewrites and kept the fun meter pegged over in the
In Nevada GPCAPT Kym Osley
showed me just how well ‘Pigs’ can fly. In the night skies WGCDR Tony
Bennett proved that Caribous can deliver anything, anywhere, anytime. A man
whose face must remain obscured, Jeff W., reminded me how to make an entrance.
Mal Lancaster shot the cover art
and provided years of friendship over tens of thousands of miles as we covered
stories all over the world. Good onya Bloke.
Heather Fox turned my two finger
typing into a manuscript.
Along with the F111, Special Ops
and Caribou folk was a private pilot who helped me plan the great escape in the
Cirrus light aircraft. David Tansley is a friend who has only ever used the key
to start the plane during our getaways.
LIGHTNINGS NEVER STRIKE TWICE
"Now the Mystery Masked Man was smart, he got himself a Tonto
Tonto did the dirty work for free
But Tonto he was smarter and one day said, Kimo sabe
Kiss my ass, I bought a boat, I'm going
out to sea."
Lyle Lovett 'If I had a boat'
Isoroku Yamamoto sat gazing out the window of his
aircraft. The plane was almost brand new, though not luxurious by the standards
of a man of his power and influence. He had always been more concerned with
function than form.
The Mitsubishi G4 and its crew shared one function; to
get him quickly and discreetly to his destination in the south Pacific. He
despised many things about his French colleagues, nevertheless they would be
punctual and unobtrusive.
Yamamoto looked around the bare fuselage at his staff
strapped into fold-down seats. Only two had accompanied him on this trip. He
grinned inwardly. The young female secretary had form as well as function. His
male aide, on the other hand, was formed like a tree trunk and his function was
to look after his boss. Chained to the aide’s right wrist was a polished alloy
brief case, its contents perhaps even more valuable than Yamamoto himself.
He went back to watching the green rain forest slide
beneath them. The aircraft had lifted off at exactly 8.00 am from Rabaul, in New
Guinea's New Britain province. Timing had always been critical for the man who
planned the raid on Pearl Harbour, Admiral Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the
Japanese Combined Fleet. It was almost 9.30 am.
It was also critical to other powerful men thousands of
miles away. In Washington the clocks in the White House showed 6.30 pm, and in
the Hawaii head quarters of Admiral Chester Nimitz the minute hand ticked toward
Four days earlier, on April 14 1943, the US Navy's Fleet
Radio Unit Pacific Fleet had decoded a hot Japanese signal outlining an
inspection tour of Japan's front line bases around Bougainville Island by
Yamamoto. Nimitz was satisfied Japan had no one capable of replacing the
brilliant naval strategist and tactician. The opportunity was too good to miss
and the President agreed. The ambush was assigned to the Allied Commander
Central Solomons, Admiral William Halsey.
From Henderson Field, on the island of Guadalcanal, the
United States Army Air Force 339th Fighter Squadron had launched 16 long range
P38 Lightning fighters about the same time the
Japanese Admiral's G4 Betty had taken off from Rabual in
company with another identical bomber and six Zero fighter escorts.
Admiral Yamamoto gazed out the window again, noticing the
second bomber in echelon carrying his Chief of Staff, Admiral Ugaki.
The Mitsubishi Kasei engines ate into the miles and soon they would be
back over the ocean. The plane’s 3000 mile range would mean no more stops
before the French island airstrip. The aircraft matched the man. Yamamoto was a
long range planner, a powerful, determined negotiator who brought plenty of
clout and few niceties to the table.
Two years ago he had warned the Americans he would
dictate terms in the White House. Now, with what the French had to offer, he
would change the course of the war.
Major John Mitchell had made the last change to his
course half an hour earlier, heading north east from the coast of Vella Lavella
and flying at wave top height toward Bougainville. The night before they'd
calculated the cruise speed of the Betties at 180 MPH. The 400 miles separating
Henderson from Bougainville meant the P38s were the only aircraft capable
of the pursuit. All night long the ground crews had sweated to fit larger than
normal drop tanks to the twin boom interceptors. The powerful Alison engines had
needed every yard of runway to lift 18 Lightnings into the sky and two had
quickly turned back with mechanical problems. Capable of almost 400 MPH, the
twin engine aircraft had stormed along in radio silence barely thirty feet above
the flat ocean.
Yamamoto reviewed his plan for the meeting with the
French. Soon Ugaki would peel away to land at Kahili while Yamamoto continued
Mitchell reviewed his plan. Lieutenant
Lanphier would lead the killer group including Barber, Holmes and Hine.
As Commanding Officer Mitchell would take the cover group of six all the way up
to 20 000 feet. A second cover group of six would be standing by. Failure was
not an option and Major Mitchell could still see the signal he'd been given late
the night before.
"SQUADRON 339 P-38 MUST AT ALL COSTS REACH AND
DESTROY. PRESIDENT ATTACHES EXTREME IMPORTANCE TO MISSION." The signature
block read, 'Frank Knox Navy Secretary.'
The hunters reached the slot for the attack at exactly
The Admiral was tired. It had been an early start and a
couple of hours napping would be good.
John Mitchell's ass was numb and he'd consumed two
canteens of water already. The P38 was built to be the fastest fighter in the
inventory with a service ceiling of 40 000 ft. It was the most amazing plane
he'd flown but it was built for cold climates and high altitudes with no cooling
system to relieve the sauna conditions under the clear bubble canopy. The
squadron gossips said the Lightning had been designed at some secret Lockheed
factory called the Skunk Works.
Well it sure stank inside his cockpit now.
Doug Canning broke radio silence.
"Bogeys. Eleven O'clock. High!"
The two G4 Betties and their Zero escorts were at 5000
feet, exactly where Mitchell and Lanphier had guessed.
Long range tanks tumbled away from all but two of the
fighters and superchargers screamed as the Americans went in to kill. Holmes and
Hines were still struggling with the jerry rigged tanks as Tom Lanphier and Rex
Barber ignored the Zeroes and stormed in on the bombers.
Admiral Yamamoto was not wearing a headset and didn’t
hear the pilots swearing. He heard the engines bellow to full power and felt the
aircraft dive to increase speed. Spent cases cascaded from the machine guns in
the dorsal turret. From the tail came the heavier hammering of the 20mm canon,
but the gunner could not get enough elevation to keep the leading American
fighter from its first run.
The Japanese gunners feared the Lightning, and not only
for its speed. Its four .50 calibre machine guns and single 20mm canon were all
clustered in the nose. With no need to calculate the converging patterns of wing
mounted weapons, the pilots hosed in from 1000 yards range.
One of the P-38 pilots got a Zero in his sights and
machine gun rounds streamed into the smaller aircraft. The broken, burning wreck
tumbled past the Admiral’s window an instant before his own pilot banked hard
right to escape another Lightning attacking from behind and above.
The second Betty was trying to stay in formation,
allowing the tail and upper turret gunners to support one another and cover each
other’s arcs, but the hard evasive manoeuvring of the lead aircraft forced the
second pilot to swerve, offering his flank to the hunters. Yamamoto’s own
demands for a high-speed, long-range naval bomber meant the G4 carried huge fuel
tanks in the wings and little armour.
The Americans called them the Flying Cigars and now the
Admiral saw how easy they were to light up. Flame burst from the port wing of
Ugaki's plane and it turned out to sea, the pilot hoping to ditch.
Holes gaped in the surviving bomber but it stayed intact,
swooping to tree top level. The Zeros were all gone and the American gun and
canon fire was tearing into Yamamoto's Betty. His secretary was pulped by armour
Yamamoto screamed at his aide to pass his short
ceremonial sword. These western bastards would not rob him of his honour. The
case chained to the Ensign’s right wrist left him fumbling around with his
left hand. Again the aircraft slammed over, changing direction. The passengers
were bruised and chafed by the harness restraints. The aide released his straps
and tried to hand him the sacred blade. The Admiral stretched out, only to gash
his hand as the aircraft bucked hard and split open, thin metal peeling away
from the starboard side of the fuselage.
Yamamoto watched in horror as the Ensign was whisked out
at almost 300 miles per hour, into the trees flashing past barely fifty feet
His horror only lasted only the few seconds it took for
the dying bomber to swoop another thousand yards before disintegrating in the
Japanese troops located the wreckage even before John Mitchell and his men landed back at Henderson. The bodies of Yamamoto, his female secretary and the air crew were located and cremated.
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