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Lightning Strike: The Secret Mission to Kill Admiral Yamamoto and Avenge Pearl Harbor Hardcover – February 24, 2005

4.3 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

World War II enthusiasts probably already know about the controversies surrounding the American mission to kill Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the man who orchestrated the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. What the uninitiated will find interesting is Davis's account of the lives of the soldiers who participated in the attack. Through a series of vignettes, the reader sees both American and Japanese perspectives. Good and bad guys can be found on either side, and Davis appears to be a fair judge of character as he considers different perspectives of these historic events. Davis also does an excellent job supplementing a bird's eye view of the war with minute detail, i.e. "honor ribbons blossomed on the chest of the green uniform, and the right hand rested upon a long sword." Davis portrays Yamamoto not as a villain, but as a man who "captured the imagination of his crew and pilots" and was an inspiration to his people. (The real villain appears in the form of a glory-seeking American who uses his connections to rewrite history.) Yet, in this account, individuals are minor players compared to the war itself, which takes us from Japan and Pearl Harbor to the Philippines, Australia and Guadalcanal, where the bulk of the action takes place. Increasingly, readers are shown the more subtle but no less vicious war regarding the truth of what happened during the Yamamoto mission, and herein lies the thrust of Davis's book: to shatter the air of conspiracy that surrounds the mysterious mission and reveal the truth. Despite a thrown-together feel in the first 70 or so pages, Davis both informs and entertains, and shows the ease with which history may be rewritten.
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Review

"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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (March 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312309066
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312309060
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.4 x 10.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,321,360 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In April, 1943, American code-breakers managed to learn that the commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, would be making a personal visit to oversee front-line operations in the Solomons. After much careful consideration by the American commanders, most notably Admiral Nimitz, it was decided that the Americans would try to intercept Yamamoto's flight and shoot down his plane. The Americans were concerned that this mission might compromise their secret knowledge of the Japanese codes, but it was decided to proceed anyway.

Eighteen P-38 Lightning fighters lifted off from Guadalcanal early on that April morning. Led by John Mitchell, the flight flew for over 400 miles at heights no greater than 50 feet above the water. It was the longest fighter intercept mission of the war. A 'killer group" of four P-38s was assigned to attack the Betty bombers which were carrying Yamamoto and his staff. Among the hunter group were Tom Lanphier, Rex Barber, Besby Holmes, and Ray Hine.

Once the dogfight began, the sky became a crowded mass of planes fighting for their lives. In the end, Yamamoto's bomber, along with the other Betty bomber, were shot down and Yamamoto was killed, but this is where the controversy began. Each pilot in the hunter group claimed responsibility for shooting down Yamamoto. Who actually did it? In the end, it was accepted that Tom Lanphier shot down Yamamoto, but author Donald Davis does a remarkable job of piecing together each pilot's story and sheds enough doubt to question Lanphier's claims.

This is an excellent work of military history.
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Format: Hardcover
Lightning Strike by Donald Davis is the story of the mission to kill Admiral Yamamoto. Although the author takes a while to get to this incident, along the way he provides the reader with a useful introductory background of World War II, from the beginning days to the end of the war. Although the experienced WWII buff will find much of the lead up to the strike on Yamamoto simply a retelling of information previously learned that fact does not detract from the overall story. The men who led the attack on Yamamoto were, for the most part, all veteran fliers from the dark days of the Guadalcanal campaign, and all were very brave. One of them, however, tarnishes what he did that day by trying to take sole credit for shooting down Yamamoto's plane and this led to much controversy for many years after the war. This was an interesting read and I highly recommend the book.
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Format: Hardcover
If you bought this book expecting to read about the secret P-38 mission to kill the Admiral who planned Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, you'd be sadly disappointed - at least until somewhere around page 220. By then, you might have concluded that the book is really a history of World War II as fought in the Pacific, for the book is written in much the same vein as one might write about Abraham Lincoln's assassination by starting with the Confederate's firing on Fort Sumter and working his way up. Or, as Jack Nicholson's character in the movie "As Good As It Gets" might say, "I'm drowning here and you're describing the water."

That's not to say that this isn't a good book. It's a very good book, but it sure takes a long time to get to the subject of the book as advertised on the dust cover. In fact, I wanted to downgrade it because to took so long to get to the meat of the subject, but I just couldn't do it.

Starting with Chapter 21 on page 226 the book is just too interesting, too intriguing, too engrossing, and a little too maddening. After reading these pages you'll be able to decide for yourself who really shot down Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto; the shameless, politically connected self-promoter who wrote the after-action report or the flier who returned from the mission with 104 bullet holes in his plane and chunks of Yamamoto's bomber stuck in his wings. (Shades of the John F. Kerry/Swift Boat Veterans controversy) I just have to give it five stars. But, if you're not really interested in the buildup to the mission, you can always skip the first 20 chapters.
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Format: Hardcover
It seems like not much of anything can happen without it becomming a conspiracy. In this case, we all know the story. The code breakers had determined where Admiral Yamamoto was going to be at a particular time. It was just barely within range of the P-38's from the closest air base. American planes took off flying so as to minimize fuel consumption (Charles Lindberg did the experiments to teach them how to do this.).

The American planes got to the location exactly on time, and Yamamoto was also punctual, unfortunately for him. Surprisingly there were two bombers there, and the Americans were able to shoot them both down. Yamamoto was killed.

Then began the argument about who actually shot him down. There were four people in the flight that shot Yamamoto down. One of these did not return from the mission. Of the three that returned, each was convinced that he and he alone had gotten Yamamoto. But there were only two bombers, all three couldn't have shot one down. We still don't know who actually got him.

This very well written book covers the history of the flight to get Yamamoto. By way of background it talks a lot about Yamamoto and covers the careers of the American pilots through the war. A lot of the background information will be familiar to the reader, but it is well done here.
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