The Fighter That Shot Down Yamamoto

P-38 Lightning.jpg
★ Lockheed P-38 Lightning ★ Though no Luftwaffe pilot was ever happy to see the P-38 (they called it the “forked-tail devil”), the twin-engine, twin-boom fighter made its reputation in the Pacific, where pilots outfought Mitsubishi A6M Zeros. With speeds in excess of 400 mph, a range of 1,300 miles, and four M2 Browning .50s in its nose, the Lightning was a threat in any theater.

The first to escort bombers all the way to Berlin, P-38 Lightnings really hit their long stride in the Pacific. On over-ocean missions, two engines took the worry out of losing one. “You could do aerobatics on one engine,” pilot Bud Holecheck told Air & Space in 2004. With guns in the nose (instead of the wings, where they were on many fighters), Lightnings were real sharpshooters. Dick Bong chalked up all of his 40 kills in a P-38, but the fighter’s single best day may have been April 18, 1943, when P-38s chased a quarry as wanted then as Osama bin Laden was in this century. After an intercepted message revealed the target, P-38 pilots flew 600 miles to shoot down Pearl Harbor mastermind Isoroku Yamamoto. As with bin Laden, there was a later dispute over who fired the fatal shot.

Back to A History of WW2 in 25 Airplanes
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