Japanese ambassador to PNG Hiroharu Iwasaki at the Yamamoto crash site

Yamamoto’s WWII Crash site opened to tourists in Bougainville

The World War II crash site of a military plane carrying Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who was the commander-in-chief during the decisive early years of the Pacific War and was responsible for major battles such as Pearl Harbor and Midway, has been opened to visitors in Bougainville for the first time in more than five years.

American codebreakers identified his flight plans and so was Yamamoto’s plane was gunned down by allied forces on 18 April 1943, sending the Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” crashing down into the thick jungle of Papua New Guinea’s autonomous Bougainville region. His death was a major blow to Japanese military morale during World War II.

Yamamoto’s death

On the morning of April 18, despite urgings by local commanders to cancel the trip for fear of ambush, Yamamoto’s two Mitsubishi G4M bombers, used as fast transport aircraft without bombs, left Rabaul as scheduled for the 315 mi (507 km) trip. Sixteen Lightnings intercepted the flight over Bougainville and a dogfight ensued between them and the six escorting Mitsubishi A6M Zeroes. First Lieutenant Rex T. Barber engaged the first of the two Japanese transports which turned out to be T1-323 (Yamamoto’s aircraft). He targeted the aircraft with gunfire until it began to spew smoke from its left engine. Barber turned away to attack the other transport as Yamamoto’s plane crashed into the jungle.

Mitsubishi G4M Betty (Credit: Wikipedia)
Mitsubishi G4M Betty (Credit: Wikipedia)

The crash site and body of Yamamoto were found the next day in the jungle north of Buin, Papua New Guinea, by a Japanese search and rescue party, led by army engineer, Lieutenant Hamasuna. According to Hamasuna, Yamamoto had been thrown clear of the plane’s wreckage, his white-gloved hand grasping the hilt of his katana, still upright in his seat under a tree. Hamasuna said Yamamoto was instantly recognizable, head dipped down as if deep in thought. A post-mortem of the body disclosed that Yamamoto had received two 0.50-caliber bullet wounds, one to the back of his left shoulder and another to his left lower jaw that exited above his right eye. The Japanese navy doctor examining the body determined that the head wound killed Yamamoto. The more violent details of Yamamoto’s death were hidden from the Japanese public; the medical report was whitewashed, changed “on orders from above”, according to biographer Hiroyuki Agawa.

Crash site

The crash site had been closed due to a land dispute between rival clans but the area recently reopened, with local tourism operators hoping this year — the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War — would result an increase in the number of international visitors.

Japanese ambassador to PNG Hiroharu Iwasaki at the Yamamoto crash site. (Credit: New Dawn FM)
Japanese ambassador to PNG Hiroharu Iwasaki at the Yamamoto crash site. (Credit: New Dawn FM)
Yamamoto's Crash site (Credit: New Dawn FM)
Yamamoto’s Crash site (Credit: New Dawn FM)

Source(s) used: Wikipedia, Bougainville Experience Tours and New Dawn FM.