Lightning Strike: The Secret Mission to Kill Admiral Yamamoto and Avenge Pearl Harbor

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This is the story of the fighter mission that changed World War II.
It is the true story of the man behind Pearl Harbor---Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto---and the courageous young American fliers who flew the million-to-one suicide mission that shot him down.

Yamamoto was a cigar-smoking, poker-playing, English-speaking, Harvard-educated expert on America, and that intimate knowledge served him well as architect of the Japanese attack on Pearl ...

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Lightning Strike: The Secret Mission to Kill Admiral Yamamoto and Avenge Pearl Harbor

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This is the story of the fighter mission that changed World War II.
It is the true story of the man behind Pearl Harbor---Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto---and the courageous young American fliers who flew the million-to-one suicide mission that shot him down.

Yamamoto was a cigar-smoking, poker-playing, English-speaking, Harvard-educated expert on America, and that intimate knowledge served him well as architect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. For the next sixteen months, this military genius, beloved by the Japanese people, lived up to his prediction that he would run wild in the Pacific Ocean. He was unable, however, to deal the fatal blow needed to knock America out of the war, and the shaken United States began its march to victory on the bloody island of Guadalcanal.
Donald A. Davis meticulously tracks Yamamoto's eventual rendezvous with death. After American code-breakers learned that the admiral would be vulnerable for a few hours, a desperate attempt was launched to bring him down. What was essentially a suicide mission fell to a handful of colorful and expendable U.S. Army pilots from Guadalcanal's battered "Cactus Air Force":

- Mississippian John Mitchell, after flunking the West Point entrance exam, entered the army as a buck private. Though not a "natural" as an aviator, he eventually became the highest-scoring army ace on Guadalcanal and the leader of the Yamamoto attack.
- Rex Barber grew up in the Oregon countryside and was the oldest surviving son in a tightly knit churchgoing family. A few weeks shy of his college graduation in 1940, the quiet Barber enlisted in the U.S. Army.
- "I'm going to be President of the United States," Tom Lanphier once told a friend. Lanphier was the son of a legendary fighter squadron commander and a dazzling storyteller. He viewed his chance at hero status as the start of a promising political career.
- December 7, 1941, found Besby Holmes on a Pearl Harbor airstrip, firing his .45 handgun at Japanese fighters. He couldn't get airborne in time to make a serious difference, but his chance would come.
- Tall and darkly handsome, Ray Hine used the call sign "Heathcliffe" because he resembled the brooding hero of Wuthering Heights. He was transferred to Guadalcanal just in time to participate in the Yamamoto mission---a mission from which he would never return.

They flew the longest over-water fighter mission ever and ambushed and killed Yamamoto. After his death, the Japanese never won another major naval battle. But the victorious American pilots seemed cursed by the samurai spirit of the admiral and were tormented for the rest of their lives by what happened that day.
Davis paints unforgettable personal portraits of men in combat and unravels a military mystery that has been covered up at the highest levels of government since the end of the war.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Lightning Strike is the finest history of World War II in the Pacific, and especially the Yamamoto mission, that I have ever read."

—-William H. Allen, president of the American Fighter Aces Association

"This is a rich slice of Pacific War history . . . Davis's account is replete with heroes, villains, and idiots. He asks all the right questions and comes up with most of the answers."

—-Joseph L. Galloway, Senior Military Correspondent, Knight Ridder Newspapers, and coauthor of We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young

"Fascinating history that reads like a detective novel. I'm green with envy."

—-William Stevenson, author of A Man Called Intrepid

"I have long been fascinated by Yamamoto—-his brilliant career as a strategist and as a warrior and his Wagnerian end as those American pilots hunted him to the death. . . . Davis fleshes out the dramatic story in splendid fashion."

—-James Brady, Parade Magazine columnist and author of The Coldest War and The Marine

"Lightning Strike is a wonderful contribution to World War II history and a remarkable story, remarkably told, gripping and page-turning from start to finish. Davis has both a great sense of drama and a great lust for the truth."

—-Craig Nelson, author of The First Heroes: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raid

"An enthralling book that yields new and surprising insights."

—-Monika Jenson, former 60 Minutes producer and author of Spite House: The Last Secret of the Vietnam War

"Exquisitely researched and vividly narrated. Lightning Strike puts the reader in the cockpit. . . . Years of confusion shrouding the mission are finally swept away, deftly and conclusively."

—-David A. Witts, author of Forgotten War, Forgiven Guilt: The 13th Air Force

"Lightning Strike is a crisp salute to some of the bravest pilots ever to fly in defense of the United States. Compelling and deeply human, by turns triumphant and profoundly sad, Don Davis's book sheds valuable new light on one of World War II's most pivotal fighter missions."

—-James D. Hornfischer, author of The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors

"A terrific flying story and a great history, Lightning Strike strips away the legends and the lies to reveal who really shot down Admiral Yamamoto."

—-Stephen Coonts

"Lightning Strike is an exciting, well-documented, and masterfully written story. Mr. Davis weaves together the various complex personalities and contradictory facts. . . . It was a delightful read for me, a guy who thought he knew all about the [Yamamoto] mission."

—-Bob Manhan, executive director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars

"Lightning Strike is a truly wonderful history of the early days of World War II and the desperate fighting on Guadalcanal. The analysis of the air warfare and the great detail about the men who fought in the air in the Solomon Islands is brilliantly done."

—-George Chandler, World War II Ace, Pacific Theater, and co-founder of the Second Yamamoto Mission Association

Kirkus Reviews
A well-paced, action-packed narrative of a minor episode in WWII that had major results. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, writes journalist/historian Davis, initially opposed going to war against the US; he had attended Harvard, spoke English, and had traveled here widely enough to know that "when the threat was great enough, common Americans would fight, and die, for their country." Yet, obedient to the emperor and the high command, Yamamoto threw himself into preparations for the attack on Pearl Harbor, which was meant to follow immediately the Japanese ambassador's delivery in Washington of a declaration of war. The ambassador fell behind schedule, however, to Yamamoto's enduring shame; he had not wanted a sneak attack, in which there was no honor. American military intelligence took a different view, rightly pegging Yamamoto as the architect of not only Pearl Harbor but also the Imperial Navy's formidable campaign in the Pacific. Davis's account turns on five Army Air Corps pilots who were recruited into a group that came to be called the "Cactus Air Force," whose members performed countless deeds of bravery and even heroism in combat, in one instance turning the tide of battle at Guadalcanal even as they flew against technically superior Japanese aircraft. ("About the only way a P-400 could shoot down a Zero," the author comments, "was with the help of a Japanese pilot." Davis sometimes lets anecdotes do the work of analysis, but his central narrative moves swiftly and surely as the American flyers, armed with broken Japanese codes, mount a daring effort to find Yamamoto's command plane and bring it down. The outcome is well known to students of WWII history, but-as always seems the case inmatters military-the official account of what happened differs in critical details from the accounts of the pilots, which lends immediacy to Davis's arguments concerning evidence and confirmation. Of most interest to military history buffs and students of the air war in the Pacific. Agents: Jane Dystel & Miriam Goderich/Dystel & Goderich Literary Management
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312309077
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/7/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 626,600
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Donald A. Davis is a former war correspondent and the author of fourteen books, including three New York Times bestsellers.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 21, 2012

    A very enjoyable read

    I found this to be a very engaging book. While it's primary focus is the mission to shoot down Yamamoto's flight, it does a very thorough job of covering the principal figures' histories to help support the authors findings regarding the truth behind who actaully shot down Yamamoto.

    I highly recommend this book.

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  • Posted March 30, 2011

    good book

    being a armchair historian, I grew up with only oneaccount of the mission to shoot down Yamamoto. this is the definitive account what really occurred

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2007

    Not just about the mission to get Yamamoto

    A better title might be 'A Brief History of the War in the Pacific.' The vast majority of the book is a summary of the war in the pacific up to April 1943 -- and that is a good thing. So, while only a small part of the book is devoted to the mission itself and the controversy that occurred after, I thought the author did a good job of putting the mission in the proper context of the conflict up to that point in the war. The only criticism that I have (and it's minor) is his choice of providing explanations to certain military terms. Presumably, most readers will be military history buffs and will certainly know, for example, that an ¿ace¿ fighter pilot is one that has five confirmed kills. Yet the author mentions this no less than three times at different points in the book. At the same time, the author makes references to attacks in ¿regimental size¿ ¿ a term that can have different meanings depending on the army being discussed. Make no mistake however, this is a very good book and is a perfect reintroduction to an important chapter of our fighting history.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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