American bombers scored a major psychological victory, when, under the command of General Doolittle, they bombed Japan. Only minor damage was inflicted by the forces of medium bombers. These bombers were specially modified to be launched from the carrier Hornet. Unfortunately a Japanese fishing ship was spotted and the decision was made to launch the bombers early and thus furter from the Japanese coast then planned, as a result all of the bombers ran out of fuel before they could land at bases in China.
On December 21, 1941, two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt told the American chiefs of staff he wanted Japan bombed as soon as possible. Following the shock of Pearl Harbor, American morale needed a boost. It would also be good to shake the Japanese faith in their leaders’ ability to protect them.
In January, Captain Francis Low came up with the concept for what would become the Doolittle Raid. Having observed Army bombers, he believed they could be launched from aircraft carriers. It would enable a bomb load to reach Japan from a long distance away from the American fleet.
The raid was planned and led by Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle. A pioneering aviator, Doolittle had made tremendous contributions to instrument-based flying. He instigated moving away from the limitations imposed by using human senses in high-speed aerial combat.
The B-25B Mitchell medium bomber was chosen for the mission. The best aircraft for the job, the B-25B needed to be fitted with extra fuel tanks for the unusual long-range mission. Other modifications included removing a gun turret, adding de-icers for the long high-altitude flight, and adding extra blast plates.
Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle wires a Japanese medal to a bomb, for “return” to its originators.
The first raid on Tokyo was the Doolittle Raid of 18 April 1942, when sixteen B-25 Mitchells were launched from USS Hornet to attack targets including Yokohama and Tokyo and then fly on to airfields in China. The raid was retaliation against the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The raid did little damage to Japan's war capability but was a significant propaganda victory for the United States.  Launched at longer range than planned when the task force encountered a Japanese picket boat, all of the attacking aircraft either crashed or ditched short of the airfields designated for landing. One aircraft landed in the neutral Soviet Union where the crew was interned, but then smuggled over the border into Iran on 11 May 1943. Two crews were captured by the Japanese in occupied China. Three crewmen from these groups were later executed.  
The key development for the bombing of Japan was the B-29 Superfortress strategic bomber, which had an operational range of 3,250 nautical miles (3,740 mi 6,020 km) and was capable of attacking at high altitude above 30,000 feet (9,100 m), where enemy defenses were very weak. Almost 90% of the bombs dropped on the home islands of Japan were delivered by this type of bomber. Once Allied ground forces had captured islands sufficiently close to Japan, airfields were built on those islands (particularly Saipan and Tinian) and B-29s could reach Japan for bombing missions. 
The initial raids were carried out by the Twentieth Air Force operating out of mainland China in Operation Matterhorn under XX Bomber Command, but these could not reach Tokyo. Operations from the Northern Mariana Islands commenced in November 1944 after the XXI Bomber Command was activated there. 
The high-altitude bombing attacks using general-purpose bombs were observed to be ineffective by USAAF leaders due to high winds—later discovered to be the jet stream—which carried the bombs off target. 
Between May and September 1943, bombing trials were conducted on the Japanese Village set-piece target, located at the Dugway Proving Grounds.  These trials demonstrated the effectiveness of incendiary bombs against wood-and-paper buildings, and resulted in Curtis LeMay ordering the bombers to change tactics to utilize these munitions against Japan. 
The first such raid was against Kobe on 4 February 1945. Tokyo was hit by incendiaries on 25 February 1945 when 174 B-29s flew a high altitude raid during daylight hours and destroyed around 643 acres (260 ha) (2.6 km 2 ) of the snow-covered city, using 453.7 tons of mostly incendiaries with some fragmentation bombs.  After this raid, LeMay ordered the B-29 bombers to attack again but at a relatively low altitude of 5,000 to 9,000 ft (1,500 to 2,700 m) and at night, because Japan's anti-aircraft artillery defenses were weakest in this altitude range, and the fighter defenses were ineffective at night. LeMay ordered all defensive guns but the tail gun removed from the B-29s so that the aircraft would be lighter and use less fuel. 
Operation Meetinghouse Edit
On the night of 9–10 March 1945,  334 B-29s took off to raid with 279 of them dropping 1,665 tons of bombs on Tokyo. The bombs were mostly the 500-pound (230 kg) E-46 cluster bomb which released 38 napalm-carrying M-69 incendiary bomblets at an altitude of 2,000–2,500 ft (610–760 m). The M-69s punched through thin roofing material or landed on the ground in either case they ignited 3–5 seconds later, throwing out a jet of flaming napalm globs. A lesser number of M-47 incendiaries were also dropped: the M-47 was a 100-pound (45 kg) jelled-gasoline and white phosphorus bomb which ignited upon impact. In the first two hours of the raid, 226 of the attacking aircraft unloaded their bombs to overwhelm the city's fire defenses.  The first B-29s to arrive dropped bombs in a large X pattern centered in Tokyo's densely populated working class district near the docks in both Koto and Chūō city wards on the water later aircraft simply aimed near this flaming X. The individual fires caused by the bombs joined to create a general conflagration, which would have been classified as a firestorm but for prevailing winds gusting at 17 to 28 mph (27 to 45 km/h).  Approximately 15.8 square miles (4,090 ha) of the city were destroyed and some 100,000 people are estimated to have died.   A grand total of 282 of the 339 B-29s launched for "Meetinghouse" made it to the target, 27 of which were lost due to being shot down by Japanese air defenses, mechanical failure, or being caught in updrafts caused by the fires. 
Damage to Tokyo's heavy industry was slight until firebombing destroyed much of the light industry that was used as an integral source for small machine parts and time-intensive processes. Firebombing also killed or made homeless many workers who had taken part in the war industry. Over 50% of Tokyo's industry was spread out among residential and commercial neighborhoods firebombing cut the whole city's output in half.  The destruction and damage was especially severe in the eastern areas of the city. [ citation needed ]
Emperor Hirohito's tour of the destroyed areas of Tokyo in March 1945 was the beginning of his personal involvement in the peace process, culminating in Japan's surrender six months later. 
Casualty estimates Edit
The US Strategic Bombing Survey later estimated that nearly 88,000 people died in this one raid, 41,000 were injured, and over a million residents lost their homes. The Tokyo Fire Department estimated a higher toll: 97,000 killed and 125,000 wounded. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department established a figure of 83,793 dead and 40,918 wounded and 286,358 buildings and homes destroyed.  Historian Richard Rhodes put deaths at over 100,000, injuries at a million and homeless residents at a million.  These casualty and damage figures could be low Mark Selden wrote in Japan Focus:
The figure of roughly 100,000 deaths, provided by Japanese and American authorities, both of whom may have had reasons of their own for minimizing the death toll, seems to be arguably low in light of population density, wind conditions, and survivors' accounts. With an average of 103,000 inhabitants per square mile (396 people per hectare) and peak levels as high as 135,000 per square mile (521 people per hectare), the highest density of any industrial city in the world, and with firefighting measures ludicrously inadequate to the task, 15.8 square miles (41 km 2 ) of Tokyo were destroyed on a night when fierce winds whipped the flames and walls of fire blocked tens of thousands fleeing for their lives. An estimated 1.5 million people lived in the burned out areas. 
In his 1968 book, reprinted in 1990, historian Gabriel Kolko cited a figure of 125,000 deaths.  Elise K. Tipton, professor of Japan studies, arrived at a rough range of 75,000 to 200,000 deaths.  Donald L. Miller, citing Knox Burger, stated that there were "at least 100,000" Japanese deaths and "about one million" injured. 
The Operation Meetinghouse firebombing of Tokyo on the night of 9 March 1945 was the single deadliest air raid of World War II,  greater than Dresden,  Hamburg, Hiroshima, or Nagasaki as single events.  
After the war, Tokyo struggled to rebuild. In 1945 and 1946, the city received a share of the national reconstruction budget roughly proportional to its amount of bombing damage (26.6%), but in successive years Tokyo saw its share dwindle. By 1949, Tokyo was given only 10.9% of the budget at the same time there was runaway inflation devaluing the money. Occupation authorities such as Joseph Dodge stepped in and drastically cut back on Japanese government rebuilding programs, focusing instead on simply improving roads and transportation. Tokyo did not experience fast economic growth until the 1950s. 
Between 1948 and 1951 the ashes of 105,400 people killed in the attacks on Tokyo were interred in Yokoamicho Park in Sumida Ward. A memorial to the raids was opened in the park in March 2001.  The park has a list of names of people who died of the Bombing, which is made based on the applications from bereaved families and it has 81,273 names as of March 2020.  Bereaved families can submit application to have the names of victims written in the list to the government of Tokyo. 
After the war, Japanese author Katsumoto Saotome, a survivor of 10 March 1945 firebombing, helped start a library about the raid in Koto Ward called the Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage. The library contains documents and literature about the raid plus survivor accounts collected by Saotome and the Association to Record the Tokyo Air Raid. 
In 2007, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe apologized in print, acknowledging Japan's guilt in the bombing of Chinese cities and civilians beginning in 1938. He wrote that the Japanese government should have surrendered as soon as losing the war was inevitable, an action that would have prevented Tokyo from being firebombed in March 1945, as well as subsequent bombings of other cities.  In 2013, during his second term as prime minister, Abe's cabinet stated that the raids were "incompatible with humanitarianism, which is one of the foundations of international law", but also noted that it is difficult to argue that the raids were illegal under the international laws of the time.  
In 2007, 112 members of the Association for the Bereaved Families of the Victims of the Tokyo Air Raids brought a class action against the Japanese government, demanding an apology and 1.232 billion yen in compensation. Their suit charged that the Japanese government invited the raid by failing to end the war earlier, and then failed to help the civilian victims of the raids while providing considerable support to former military personnel and their families.  The plaintiffs' case was dismissed at the first judgement in December 2009, and their appeal was rejected.  The plaintiffs then appealed to the Supreme Court, which rejected their case in May 2013. 
Richard Cole, 103, Last Survivor of Doolittle Raid on Japan, Dies
Richard E. Cole, who was Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot in the lead plane of a storied mission in the history of American air power, the bombing raid on Japan in retaliation for its attack on Pearl Harbor months earlier, died on Tuesday in San Antonio. He was 103 and the last survivor of the 80 Doolittle raiders, who carried out America’s first strikes against the Japanese homeland in World War II.
His death was announced by Gen. David L. Goldfein, the chief of staff of the Air Force.
The Doolittle raid was a low-level daylight attack in April 1942 that resulted in only light damage to military and industrial targets. But it buoyed an American home front reeling from unbroken reverses in the Pacific, beginning with the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941, and it shattered the Japanese government’s assurances to its people that they were invulnerable to an American air attack.
It also prompted Japan to launch a naval attack on the American base at Midway in the mid-Pacific in June 1942 out of the mistaken belief that the Doolittle bombers had departed from an aircraft carrier based there. The Americans, having broken the Japanese codes, knew the attack was coming and dealt the Japanese Navy a major defeat.
The commander of the American bombing raid, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, was awarded the Medal of Honor, becoming one of the nation’s first heroes of World War II.
The raiders’ story was reprised for succeeding generations at their annual reunions. Mr. Cole was among three survivors at the airmen’s final reunion, on Nov. 9, 2013, Veterans Day weekend, at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, Ohio.
On the morning of April 18, 1942, 16 Army Air Corps B-25 bombers flew to Japan off the aircraft carrier Hornet from a point more than 650 miles offshore.
Doolittle and Lieutenant Cole alternated in flying their bomber, armed with high-explosive and incendiary bombs.
“Everyone prayed but did so in an inward way,” Mr. Cole recalled in an account for the Air Force information office in 1957. “If anyone was scared, it didn’t show.”
Then came a moment that perplexed Doolittle. As Mr. Cole remembered it: “The tune ‘Wabash Cannonball’ kept running through my mind. One time I was singing and stomping my foot with such gusto that the boss looked at me in a very questioning manner, like he thought I was going batty.”
The five-man crew of the Doolittle plane spotted more than 80 Japanese aircraft while approaching its target area, the western section of Tokyo. But no fighters attacked them, and antiaircraft fire made only a few holes in the bomber’s tail.
The lack of a formidable Japanese response evidently resulted from their belief that an American air attack was improbable, at the least. And the relatively few Doolittle bombers in the mission did not suggest to the Japanese that a large-scale strike was in progress, one that would require a furious response.
After dropping its bombs, the plane with Doolittle, Lieutenant Cole and their navigator, bombardier and engineer/gunner descended to treetop level to avoid flak. To the Japanese civilians on the ground in Tokyo, it seemed to be just another plane in the skies that day, when a scheduled civil defense drill was being conducted.
“People on the ground waved to us,” Mr. Cole remembered. “We could see the moat, the Imperial Palace and downtown Tokyo.”
After carrying out the bombings, the 16 planes were supposed to fly on to China and land at Nationalist Chinese airstrips, since they could not return to the Hornet. Army bombers were not designed to take off from or land on aircraft carriers, and the Doolittle planes had barely cleared the approximately 500-foot deck of the Hornet in their departures.
The planes ran low on fuel after their bombing runs, and none made it to airstrips prepared for them by the Chinese. Fifteen crash-landed in Japanese-occupied territory or ditched off the Chinese coast, and one plane flew on to the Soviet Union.
Doolittle, Lieutenant Cole and the other three crewmen of their plane bailed out in rain and fog soon after their bomber crossed the Chinese coast as darkness arrived. Lieutenant Cole landed in a pine tree atop a mountain and was unhurt except for a black eye. He made a hammock from his parachute and went to sleep. At dawn, he began walking, and late that day he made contact with Chinese guerrillas.
He was soon reunited with Doolittle, who had come down in a rice paddy, and their three fellow crewmen. The five joined up with other stranded airmen who had been rescued. The Chinese took them all on an arduous journey, much of it by riverboat, to an air strip, where they were picked up by a United States military transport plane and flown to Chungking, the headquarters for the Nationalist Chinese.
Three of the 80 Doolittle raiders were killed in crash landings or while parachuting. Eight others were captured by the Japanese. Three of them were executed, another died of disease and starvation in captivity, and four survived more than three years of solitary confinement and brutality.
The raid became even more the stuff of legend when it was dramatized, with the war still on, in a 1944 movie, “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” based on a book of the same title by Ted W. Lawson, a pilot in the raid. Spencer Tracy played Doolittle. (Lieutenant Cole was not portrayed on the screen.)
After the Doolittle mission, Lieutenant Cole flew transport planes over the Himalayas in the China-Burma-India theater
Richard Eugene Cole, who was known as Dick, was born on Sept. 7, 1915, in Dayton. He became enthralled with flying as a teenager when he watched Doolittle, a trophy-winning aviation pioneer, making test flights from an airfield there.
After attending Ohio University, he enlisted in the military in November 1940. He flew Army Air Corps planes seeking Japanese submarines off the West Coast before he was chosen to be among the volunteers for what was described as a dangerous mission, with many of the details to come later.
Lieutenant Cole was the co-pilot on a training flight in Florida when its pilot became ill and Doolittle filled in for him. Doolittle was so impressed with how the crew worked together that when the ailing pilot was unable to return to duty, he became the pilot for that crew in the raid.
Mr. Cole retired from the Air Force in 1967 as a lieutenant colonel with three Distinguished Flying Crosses. He moved to Texas afterward and went into the citrus business, growing fruit and selling to area markets in partnership with a former military pilot.
“It is doubtful that any of his customers ever knew that the smiling balding man who sold them fruit had been one of the most valiant fliers in the biggest war in human history,” Dennis R. Okerstrom wrote in “Dick Cole’s War: Doolittle Raider, Hump Pilot, Air Commando” (2015), describing him as “intensely unwilling to ballyhoo” his war service.
Jimmy Doolittle and the Tokyo Raiders Strike Japan During World War II
Doolittle and his crew were the first off the deck of the Hornet. L to R: Lt. Henry A. Potter, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, SSgt. Fred A. Braemer, Lt. Richard Cole, SSgt. Paul J. Leonard.
T okyo. April 18, 1942. A clear and quiet morning. The 133rd day of Japan’s war with the United States. Everything seemed normal in the island empire’s sprawling capital.
Tokyo staged an air raid drill that Saturday morning, but it bore little realism. No sirens sounded. Air raid wardens gazed at a placid sky. Fire-fighting brigades trundled their equipment through the streets. Barrage balloons rose along the waterfront. It all seemed a matter of going through the motions.
At about noon the drill came to an uneventful end. Because no sirens had announced its beginning, none signaled its conclusion. War workers laid down their tools and began their midday break. Millions of other Tokyo residents went shopping, visited parks and shrines, attended festivals, and watched baseball games.
US ARMY PHOTO
Although their nation was now engaged in a world war, Tokyo’s citizens had reason enough to feel secure. Radio Tokyo had repeatedly assured the people that they, their nation, and, most importantly, Emperor Hirohito, were safe from enemy attack.
Their kamikaze mystique constituted a spiritual fortress around the Japanese homeland. No foreign attacker had seriously threatened Japan’s sacred soil since Kublai Khan in 1281. And on that occasion a violent storm had turned back and devastated the Mongol invader’s fleet the Japanese called the magical occurrence kamikaze—”divine wind.”
Now the nation’s defenders had far more tangible forces—antiaircraft guns, warships, and aircraft—with which to shield Japan. These man-wrought defenses, in harmony with Heaven’s will, seemed powerful enough to insure the safety of the home islands.
The Japanese, indeed, basked in a sense of euphoria. During the previous four and a half months their armed forces had scored triumph after triumph on the war fronts of the Pacific. “Victory fever” swept the land.
Minutes after noon, the sense of serenity enveloping the capital suddenly shattered. Here and there on the outskirts of Tokyo, dark-green planes appeared, flying so low that they almost touched the ground. People on beaches, or riding bicycles, or walking along roads paused to glance up at the fleeting shapes. Quite a few waved at the fast-moving, twin-engined aircraft.
A French journalist rushed outside: “I heard a rugged, powerful sound of airplane engines. A raid at high noon! Explosions. I spotted a dark airplane traveling very fast, at rooftop level. So they’ve come!”
Now air raid sirens belatedly shrieked. Fighter planes took off. Bursts of antiaircraft fire smudged the sky.
At first the people in the streets did not understand what they were seeing. Then, when they understood, they could not quite believe. High noon in Tokyo. Dark planes with white stars painted on them. Americans!
History would dub it the “Tokyo Raid” or the “Doolittle Raid”—after its legendary leader, Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle. A startling attack by American bombers that seemed to appear out of nowhere–only to vanish as suddenly as they had appeared. An assault on Japanese pride that left a firebrand mark. A feat of flying that seemed impossible–yet one that with dash and daring actually had been achieved.
For Americans, still gripped by the shock of Pearl Harbor, the spring of 1942 was a time of testing. Time magazine summed up the mood: ‘The Japanese had attacked the great U.S. island-bridge which stretches to the Orient. It was premeditated murder. The nation had taken a heavy blow.’
Japanese troops had smashed into Hong Kong, Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies. They had captured Wake and Guam. The fall of the Philippines was at hand. The Hawaiian Islands would soon stand as America’s last Pacific outpost. U.S. authorities even feared that Japanese forces might strike the American mainland. Day after day, all of the news was bad.
The Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor had infuriated President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In meeting after meeting with his military chiefs—General George C. Marshall of the U.S. Army, General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold of the U.S. Army Air Corps and Admiral Ernest J. King of the U.S. Navy—Roosevelt urged that they find a way to bomb Japan. He sought the means to bring home to Japan some measure of the real meaning of war.
The plan eventually adopted for the daring raid originated not with a flier but with a submarine officer, Captain Francis Low, operations officer for Admiral King. In mid-January, Low had been sent to Norfolk, Virginia, to look over the navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS Hornet. While at the naval air station there, he noticed the outline of a flight deck painted on one of the runways. Navy fliers used the depiction to practice carrier landings and takeoffs.
As Low stared, twin-engined army bombers swept overhead on a mock bombing attack. In a split-second—as the planes’ shadows raced along the carrier shape—he had it. What if army bombers could take off from an aircraft carrier? U.S. commanders dared not attempt a carrier attack against Japan using short-range navy aircraft, because the enemy’s shore-based planes could detect and attack the ships before they arrived at their launch point. But Army bombers could reach much farther. A long-range punch using such planes might catch Japanese defenders with their guard down.
That night, Low tried his idea on Admiral King. “You may have something,” replied the taciturn admiral. He asked Captain Donald Duncan, his air officer, to turn Low’s glimmer into something more concrete. Duncan worked on the scenario for five days. Then, in longhand, he wrote out the plan. The script, envisioning a dramatic surprise attack on Japan’s major cities by U.S. Army bombers launched from an aircraft carrier, projected the very sort of dramatic retribution that Roosevelt—and America—so intently desired.
General Arnold selected Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle as the man who would marshal the aircraft and men for the mission. By age 45, James “Jimmy” Doolittle had earned flying fame perhaps second only to that of Charles A. Lindbergh. Doolittle was one of the leather-jacket breed: aviation pioneers who had flown in open cockpits, with goggles pushed up and eyes on the horizon—larger-than-life figures like Eddie Rickenbacker, Billy Mitchell, and Roscoe Turner.
A stunt flier, a test pilot, and an Army Air Corps officer, Doolittle had always been entranced with planes—and with finding out how high, how fast, and how well they could fly. The steel-nerved airman had set aviation speed records. He had won the “Big Three” air races—the Schneider Cup, the Bendix Trophy, and the Thompson Trophy. He had performed the first outside loop. He had scored a first in ‘blind flying.’ And beyond these accomplishments, he had earned a doctor of aeronautical science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. If it had wings and looked like a plane, chances were good that Jimmy Doolittle either had flown or could fly it.
Doolittle accepted the challenge without hesitation. Arnold made it clear, however, that it was Doolittle the planner he wanted for this job, not Doolittle the pilot. Jimmy was 20 years older than many of the new crop of fliers. And he had too much know-how, Arnold felt, to risk on a dangerous combat mission.
IN EARLY FEBRUARY, Doolittle dutifully put details on paper. “The purpose of this special project,” he wrote, “is to bomb and fire the industrial center of Japan.” Eighteen army B-25s carried to within four or five hundred miles of the Japanese home islands by a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier would be launched in predawn darkness, reaching their military and industrial targets in the Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka-Kobe, and Nagoya sectors at first light. Each plane would carry four 500-pound demolition and incendiary bombs.
Because carrier landings were impossible for the 10-ton aircraft, this would be a one-way mission. Instead of returning to their launch point after the raid, the planes would continue west to the Asian mainland, arriving at fields in China or the Soviet Union. Doolittle estimated the chances for the mission’s success at 50-50.
Although Vladivostok was closer to the targets than any available landing fields in China, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin would soon rule out that destination. Already hard-pressed by Germany’s invading army, he was not about to risk Japanese enmity by giving aid to Americans who had just bombed Japan’s home islands.
Thus thwarted, Washington turned to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. Marshall and Arnold asked—forcefully—that he permit American raiders to land in eastern China. The bombers would home in on a radio signal at Chuchow, 200 miles south of Shanghai. After landing at fields there and refueling, they would continue on another 800 miles to Chungking, the wartime capital deep in the heart of China. Although fearful of Japanese reprisals, Chiang Kai-shek reluctantly assented.
Despite Arnold’s wishes to the contrary, Doolittle deliberately wrote himself into the script as pathfinder. He would pilot the first B-25 off the carrier. His plane would illuminate Tokyo with incendiaries as a beacon for the fliers following him.
Doolittle and Duncan had concurred that the North American B-25—a twin-engined, high-winged medium bomber–was the only aircraft capable of meeting the mission requirements. The five-man plane could carry a ton of bombs at close to three hundred miles per hour. It had an impressive two-thousand-mile range. Best of all, the plane was compact: 53 feet long with a wingspan a shade wider than 67 feet.
The make-or-break question was whether a B-25 could take off from an aircraft carrier. Duncan arranged to hoist two B-25s, stripped to their lightest weights, aboard the Hornet at Norfolk. Then the big ship put to sea.
IN A LIGHT SNOWFALL OFF the Virginia coast, puzzled sailors watched as an army pilot gunned the first B-25’s engines and then, at the launch officer’s signal, released the brakes. The bomber rolled forward, the carrier’s motion into the wind giving it a running start. The plane became airborne almost immediately, its right wing tip barely missing the ship’s ‘island’ structure. The second B-25 followed suit. Word went to Doolittle. With care and luck, the takeoffs could be accomplished.
Admiral King ordered the Hornet‘s skipper, Captain Marc Mitscher, to have the carrier ready to sail by March 1. He was to proceed through the Panama Canal to the West Coast.
For his planes and fliers, Doolittle turned to the Seventeenth Bombardment Group, a B-25 unit based at Pendleton, Oregon. He asked for, and got, 24 aircraft and about 140 volunteers—pilots, copilots, navigators, bombardiers, and flight engineer/gunners.
Briefing the volunteers soon after their arrival at Eglin Field on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Doolittle warned that this would be a top-secret and extremely hazardous mission. It would take them out of the United States for a few weeks. Beyond that, he could disclose few details. Anyone who wanted to bow out should do so now. No one did.
Throughout March, the B-25 pilots practiced short-field takeoffs. Coached by Lieutenant Henry Miller, a navy flight instructor, the army men learned to hang on their props, fighter style. Flags every fifty feet along the runway’s edge helped them gauge the minimum distance required to get their planes airborne. “We practiced, over and over, ramming the engines at full power,” says copilot Jack Sims, “taking off at 65 miles per hour in a 500-foot run. It could be done, as long as an engine didn’t skip a beat.”
Doolittle, at his own say-so, also trained and qualified at the short runs.
Flights over the Gulf of Mexico gave navigators experience above open water. Pilots and bombardiers practiced low-level bombing runs across the hills of Texas, New Mexico, and Kansas. The B-25s flew so low they ducked under high-tension power lines.
Flight Surgeon Thomas White asked to join the mission. Much as the presence of a doctor would be appreciated, the only way one could take part would be as a full-fledged crew member. With hurry-up gunnery training, White won an assignment as gunner/surgeon.
To extend the B-25s’ range, technicians installed 225-gallon auxiliary fuel tanks in the planes’ bomb bays and replaced the bottom turret mechanism with a 60-gallon tank. Engineers at the Martin Aircraft Company designed a 160-gallon collapsible tank for use in the crawlway over the bomb bay.
Gunnery and bombing officer C. Ross Greening came up with two homemade innovations. The mission was too risky to use the highly classified Norden bombsight, and the complex mechanism was not suitable for low-level runs anyway. Greening devised a two-piece gadget, at a cost of 20 cents, in its place. And to discourage enemy fighter planes, he mounted two broomsticks, painted black to resemble gun barrels, in each bomber’s tail cone.
By the end of March, Doolittle knew that the men were mission-fit—and that he had chosen the right lead pilot: himself. Arnold still insisted he needed Doolittle in Washington. Doolittle felt he was needed over Tokyo: “I know more about this mission than anyone else. And I know how to lead it.” Arnold, with reluctance, finally agreed.
Late in March, 22 B-25s and their crews flew from Eglin to McClellen Field near Sacramento, California. After final maintenance, they continued on to Alameda Naval Air Station near Oakland, California. There, cranes hoisted 16 of the planes aboard the carrier Hornet.
ON THE AFTERNOON OF APRIL 2, with the dark-green bombers lashed onto its flight deck, the aircraft carrier, escorted by two cruisers, four destroyers, and an oiler, sailed into the Pacific. The Hornet had just cleared the Golden Gate Bridge when the bosun’s whistle sounded, and Captain Mitscher announced over the public address system that “the target of this task force is Tokyo!” The ship’s crew broke out in cheers.
It would take a phalanx of U.S. Navy warships—Task Force 16—to get the Doolittle Raiders within striking distance of Japan. On April 8, Admiral William Halsey led the second half of this force—built around the aircraft carrier Enterprise—out of Pearl Harbor. Five days later, the two groups rendezvoused in the North Pacific.
Halsey, in overall command of the task force, hoped to close to within about 400 miles of the Japanese coast before launching the B-25s. There was a taste of retribution in the sea air. Just as Kido Butai, the Japanese task force, had moved furtively eastward across the North Pacific toward Pearl Harbor four months earlier, so now American ships stealthily sailed westward toward Japan. The stakes were high. The task force was sailing boldly into treacherous waters. The Hornet and Enterprise represented half of America’s carrier strength in the Pacific. The lives of thousands of American sailors on 16 warships were at risk.
With the Hornet‘s own planes stored below the flight deck to make room for Doolittle’s bombers, the task force relied on the Enterprise to provide scouting and air cover. Ships’ radars scanned the seas ahead for enemy ships and aircraft. Task Force 16 steamed almost due west at twenty knots through rain, fog, and heavy seas.
Doolittle allowed each crew to pick its targets. Some wanted to bomb the Imperial Palace. He forbade this, not out of regard for Emperor Hirohito, but because such an assault would only inflame Japan’s fighting spirit.
The fliers devoted hours to poring over their target maps. “Doc” White held first aid sessions. Commander Frank Akers, the Hornet‘s navigator, helped his Army counterparts sharpen their skills. Lieutenant Commander Steve Jurika, an intelligence officer, gave the men briefings about Japan and taught them a phrase that he thought was Chinese for “I am an American.”
The hand-picked flight crews felt confident. Their training had been thorough. They would be given the best chance that the Navy could get for them. But most of them had never experienced combat.
One night, Corporal Jacob DeShazer, bombardier for Plane No. 16, Bat Out of Hell, stood alone on the flight deck. “I began to wonder how many more days I was to spend in this world,” he recalled. “Maybe I wasn’t so fortunate, after all, to get to go on this trip.”
Task Force 16 was due for an unpleasant surprise. Even before Mitscher’s ships had rendezvoused with Halsey’s, the enemy knew they were coming. During April 10-12, Japanese fleet radio intelligence picked up messages transmitted between the two task groups and Pearl Harbor.
The Japanese command calculated that the Americans would have to close to within about three hundred miles of the coast to make a carrier strike. That distance marked the outer limit for U.S. Navy planes flying out from and back to their carriers. The Japanese 26th Air Flotilla put 69 land-based bombers on alert. Ranging out as far as 600 miles, they would hit the carrier force before its planes could be launched.
Unknown to the commanders of Task Force 16, Japan had yet another line of defense—a flotilla of radio-equipped trawlers situated along an arc about 600 miles out from the coastline. Any enemy force crossing that line was in jeopardy of being seen and reported by a picket boat.
On April 14, back in Washington, D.C., Admiral King went to the White House to give the president the first detailed information that Roosevelt had of the planned raid.
On April 16-17, the tempo of preparations aboard the Hornet increased. Deck crews moved the B-25s to the rear of the flight deck in preparation for launch. Fueling teams topped off the bombers’ gas tanks. Ordnancemen hoisted four bombs into each aircraft, and the army gunners loaded .30- and .50-caliber ammunition. Flight engineers checked and rechecked the planes’ mechanical and hydraulic systems.
By the morning of the 17th, when the American vessels had closed to within about 1,200 miles of Tokyo, the task force refueled from the oilers. Then, at 2:40 p.m., the two carriers and four cruisers increased speed to 28 knots for the final run to the launch point. The destroyers and oilers soon disappeared astern.
At 3 a.m. on April 18, radar operators aboard the Enterprise picked up images of two small ships about 11 miles ahead. ‘General quarters’ sounded, startling the task-force crew members, and especially the Doolittle Raiders. Halsey veered the task force to starboard to avoid the contacts.
Day dawned gray. A scout plane from the Enterprise, forty miles out at 5:58 a.m., spotted a Japanese patrol boat. Maintaining radio silence, the pilot scrawled his sighting report, placed it in a canvas bag, then dropped it on the carrier’s deck.
Halsey again shifted course. Pitching and rolling in thirty-foot swells, the fast-moving ships swept in and out of rain squalls. Each mile gained brought the Army fliers closer to their objectives—and placed the task force in greater danger.
Luck—and time—finally ran out at 7:38 a.m. Lookouts aboard the Hornet spotted an enemy patrol boat. The tiny craft was just visible in the mist, about ten miles away. The task force had encountered Japanese Patrol Boat No. 23, the Nitto Maru.
General quarters sounded again. As Doolittle and Mitscher watched from the Hornet‘s bridge, the cruiser Nashville opened fire on the boat with her six-inch guns, but switched to rapid fire after one salvo. Dive bombers from the Enterprise joined in the attempt to sink the Japanese vessel, and finally, at 8:23 a.m., the Nitto Maru went down.
The Nitto Maru‘s radio operator had time enough to get a message off to the Japanese Fifth Fleet, warning that ‘three enemy carriers’ had been sighted. Enterprise radio operators picked up a sudden burst of signals between Tokyo and Japanese warships. The Japanese knew the Americans were out there–and where.
The Hornet was now about seven hundred miles from Tokyo. Nine more hours of sailing would have gotten the fliers to the planned takeoff point. Such, however, was not to be. Hurriedly, the B-25 crews gathered together their personal gear and made last-minute preparations for takeoff.
At 8 a.m. Halsey flashed the go-signal to the Hornet:
launch planes x to colonel doolittle and gallant command x good luck and god bless you.
Loudspeakers blared: “Army pilots, man your planes!”
“Even before we took off,” David Jones recalled, “we knew we had a fuel problem. With the task force spotted, we would have to fly maybe four hundred miles farther than planned. Chances of reaching those airstrips in China were worse than bad.”
The task force adjusted course to starboard, turning into a 27-knot wind. Green water broke over the Hornet‘s pitching flight deck.
Time for Plane No. 1 to go. Doolittle waved a farewell to Mitscher up on the bridge. Mitscher saluted.
At 8:15 a.m. Doolittle gunned the engines of his B-25, now weighing some 15 tons with its full load of fuel and bombs. A Navy flight deck officer, whirling a black checkered flag, gave Doolittle the ‘go’ signal. Deck crews pulled the chocks from the wheels. Then the starter hit the deck as the bomber began rolling down the 470 feet of clear flight deck.
Pilot Ted Lawson, writing in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, his 1943 account of the raid, described Doolittle’s takeoff:
“We watched him like hawks, wondering what the wind would do to him, and whether we could get off in that little run to the bow. If he couldn’t, we couldn’t.
Doolittle picked up speed and held to his line, and, just as the Hornet lifted up on top of a wave and cut through it at full speed, Doolittle’s plane took off. He had yards to spare. He hung his ship almost straight up on its props, until we could see the whole top of his B-25. Then he leveled off and I watched him come around in a tight circle and shoot low over our heads.”
Doolittle had circled back to match his magnetic compass heading with the ship’s course. Copilot Richard Cole remembers looking down at the carrier’s deck: “We were leaving the ‘last friendly patch of earth.’ It was a kind of farewell.”
Pilot Travis Hoover went off second Robert Gray third Everett Holstrom fourth David Jones fifth Dean Hallmark sixth. Lawson, in Plane No. 7, nicknamed the Ruptured Duck, inadvertently left his flaps up and dipped perilously low before finally becoming airborne at 8:30 a.m. At intervals that ranged from one to five minutes, the next eight planes took off without incident.
Task Force 16 had accomplished its mission. Within minutes the carriers and cruisers reversed course and headed back toward Pearl Harbor at 25 knots.
Jimmy Doolittle was on his way. His B-25 whipped along over the Pacific Ocean, barely forty feet above the waves. Flying at a fuel-conserving 150 miles per hour, the plane would reach land at about midday.
AT 9:45 AM, a Japanese patrol plane, six hundred miles off Japan’s east coast, sent an odd report to Tokyo. The crew had spotted what they took to be a twin-engine land-plane flying toward Japan. Tokyo intelligence dismissed the report.
Flying independently, the 16 B-25s stretched out in a ragged line some two hundred miles long. They pushed against 20-mile-an-hour headwinds. Shifts in the winds scattered them.
The planes were to go in as lone raiders. Three of those following Doolittle would hit the northern sector of Tokyo, three the central sector, and three the southern sector. Three others would strike Kanagawa, Yokohama, and the Yokosuka Navy Yard. The last three bombers would hit targets in Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe.
A few minutes before noon, Doolittle’s plane crossed the coast about eighty miles northeast of Tokyo. Minutes later, as Doolittle raced south toward the city at a 30-foot altitude, he saw nine Japanese fighters a thousand feet above him. At a little past noon the first B-25 was over Tokyo.
A light haze lay over the city. Visibility downward was good. The bomber passed over the Imperial Palace. Then it reached the target area–a complex of factories. Doolittle climbed to 1,200 feet. Bombardier Fred Braemer peered at checkpoints on his map-grid. He lined up the first target in his twenty-cent bombsight. The bomb-bay doors opened. At about 12:15 p.m., a red light blinked in rapid succession on Doolittle’s instrument panel. Four incendiary clusters rained down on Tokyo.
Antiaircraft fire burst around the B-25, rocking the plane. Doolittle was later to write laconically of the getaway: “Lowered away to housetops and slid over western outskirts into low haze and smoke. Turned south and out to sea.”
Scattered by headwinds and by variances in the settings for their magnetic compasses, the arriving B-25s swept in over Tokyo from several directions–confusing its defenders as to their point of origin.
The Raiders skimmed over treetops and hillocks. Pilots gunned their planes up to about a thousand feet over the sprawling city. Bombardiers brought their sights to bear on targets. Then came the blink, blink, blink as four five-hundred-pound bombs plummeted from each bomber.
Everett Holstrom, finding his plane’s gun turret jammed, had to veer out of the path of a squadron of fighters. Richard Joyce, pursued by half a dozen fighters, put his engines ‘right on the red line’–increasing speed to more than three hundred miles an hour–to elude them. Some fighters made skittish runs at the B-25s. In response, raider gunners were able to hit at least two, and perhaps more of them.
Black splotches of antiaircraft fire marked the sky. Bursts hit barrage balloons. Although erratic, ground gunners did send shell fragments into several B-25s. But no American plane was shot down.
The Raiders went after war-industry targets: steel works, oil refineries, ammunition dumps, aircraft factories, dockyards, and supply centers. In the main, because of their careful study of target maps, their low altitude, and their arrival in broad daylight, the attackers scored quite accurate bomb hits.
It was all fast and furious. As soon as each pilot dropped his bombs he pushed the control yoke forward, dove to rooftop level, and then bore southwest along the Japanese coast, toward what he hoped would be the haven of China.
In the afternoon’s fading light, all the fliers became sharply aware of one looming fact: they probably weren’t going to be able to reach the airstrips near Chuchow. “We were about an hour out of Japan,” flight engineer/gunner Joseph Manske remembered. “The pilot said on the intercom that we wouldn’t have enough fuel to reach the landing fields. That was a real attention-getter. I said to myself, ‘Joe, what in the world did you get yourself into?”’
Turning west over the East China Sea, the B-25s encountered fog, then rain. The ceiling kept getting lower. The navigators had to estimate their positions by dead-reckoning. The planes bounded through updrafts and downdrafts.
Then, to their surprise, the Raiders picked up a tailwind. Weather maps based on 75 years of data showed the prevailing winds as blowing from China toward Japan. But on this perilous day, the winds blew toward China.
There was an almost poetic irony to it. The wind had become an American kamikaze—the fliers’ “divine wind”—and they had found it just as they left Japan.
Thirteen hours after takeoff, the B-25s were somewhere near the China coast. Blackness enveloped the bombers. Fuel gauges read close to empty. The pilots listened for the homing signal—a ” transmitted in Morse code–that was to guide them to the airfields near Chuchow. But they heard only silence.
Out in the far reaches of China, the paper-plan had fallen apart. The B-25s were supposed to land at five designated airstrips. Radio homing signals from each field would guide them to their touchdowns.
But the Tokyo Raiders were caught in an inadvertent web of command intrigue. Marshall and Arnold, wary of security leaks, had given Chiang Kai-shek few details of the raid, and none at all to Colonel Claire Chennault, commander of the Flying Tigers. At the last possible moment they called upon General Joseph W. Stilwell, U.S. commander in the China-Burma-India theater, to get radio beacons to the five fields.
There was confusion in communiqués. Japanese troops neared the airstrips. Chiang Kai-shek wanted the “special project” delayed. The plane dispatched to deliver the radio beacons crashed in a storm. There would be no radio signals to guide the Doolittle Raiders to safe landings.
In his memoirs, Chennault years later bitterly criticized the U.S. high command for not taking him into their confidence: “If I had been notified, a single Flying Tigers command ground radio station plugged into the East China net could have talked most of the Raiders into friendly fields.”
B-25s dropped flares into the night. Crew members looked down for some sign as to whether they were over water or land. But the flare-light disappeared in the clouds.
In a last bid to reach the airfields, most of the pilots continued west toward Chuchow. Crew members wondered how close they were to Japanese-occupied territory. By now the gas gauges read a hair above ‘zero.’ Engines began to sputter. The end, some pilots figured, would come in the China Sea. They would keep flying until they ran out of gas and then jump out.
Eleven crews did just that. At 9:30 p.m., Doolittle switched his controls to the automatic pilot and ordered his crew to bail out. Then he, too, left the aircraft
FORTUNE TURNED ITS BACK on the crew of Plane No. 16, “Bat Out of Hell.“ After flying 200 miles into China, pilot William Farrow ordered his men to jump. All came down in Japanese-held territory. By morning, the five fliers—Farrow, copilot Robert Hite, navigator George Barr, bombardier Jacob DeShazer, and engineer/gunner Harold Spatz—were prisoners.
Four of the B-25s made forced landings along the China coast. Trav Hoover’s bomber ran out of fuel near Japanese-held territory. His flight engineer/gunner, Douglas Radney, suggested over the intercom that “we ought to stick together.” Instead of ordering his crew to bail out, Hoover belly-landed the B-25 on a hillside rice paddy. The crew members emerged unhurt and, after Hoover set fire to the bomber to destroy anything of use to the Japanese, scrambled westward into the hills.
The engines of the Green Hornet, piloted by Dean Hallmark, sputtered and failed four minutes short of the coast. Hallmark brought the plane down in the stormy sea the impact tore off a wing. Hallmark smashed through the windshield. After four hours in high waves, Hallmark, copilot Robert Meder, and navigator Chase Nielsen made it to shore—cut, bleeding, and exhausted. Bombardier William Dieter and flight engineer/gunner Donald Fitzmaurice were both seriously injured in the crash their bodies later washed ashore. Local Chinese fishermen tried to hide the survivors. But three days later Japanese soldiers captured all three men. Their ordeal was just beginning.
Plane No. 15, piloted by Donald Smith, also ditched in the East China Sea. The five crew members climbed into a life raft. After capsizing three times, they finally reached shore safely.
Ted Lawson, piloting the Ruptured Duck, attempted a beach landing. But as the plane made its approach, both engines suddenly lost power. The B-25 landed in six feet of water at 110 miles per hour. The terrific impact drove Lawson, his copilot, and the navigator out through the top of the cockpit. The bombardier flew head-first through the plastic nose. The gunner was knocked unconscious in his turret.
Lawson and copilot Dean Davenport came to underwater, still strapped into their seats. Both managed to unfasten their belts and struggle to the surface. Lawson crawled out of the surf torn and bleeding, barely alive. His left leg had been shorn of much of its flesh. Bones above and below the knee were exposed. He had deep gashes on his arms, head, and chin. Most of his front teeth had been knocked out. Blood poured down into his eyes.
Of the 16 B-25s, only one managed a safe landing at an airfield. Plane No. 8, piloted by Edward York, burned fuel at such a prodigious rate during the flight to Tokyo that he realized it could never reach haven in China. After dropping their bombs, the fliers turned northwest toward Vladivostok. Landing at a small military field, the airmen were taken into custody by the Russians. After more than a year of being treated more like prisoners than internees, they eventually escaped through Iran.
In the night, peasants, villagers, and soldiers in scattered regions of East China heard the sounds of engines overhead. Airplanes, seemingly from nowhere, crashed amid the wind and rain. Men plummeted onto mountainsides and river beds. One flight engineer/gunner dangled until daylight in a tree atop a cliff, his parachute caught in branches.
Doolittle landed in a rice paddy, splashing chest-deep into the smelly “night soil.” Seeing lights in a farmhouse, the raid’s commander unharnessed his parachute and slogged to the front door. He called out to those inside. The lights went out. Come daylight, a farmer brought Chinese guerrillas to Doolittle. Gesturing to the sky and himself, Doolittle finally gained glimmers of understanding from the Chinese. In a matter of days, he gathered together his four crew members.
With Sergeant Leonard, Doolittle hiked to the site where their B-25 had crashed. The bomber’s wreckage was scattered across a mountaintop. Doolittle picked through the debris and found an oil-soaked Army blouse of his. Scavengers had already picked off the buttons. He sat down in dejection near a shattered wing.
“I was very depressed,” he later recalled. ‘Paul Leonard took my picture. He tried to cheer me up. He said, “What do you think will happen when you go home, Colonel?”
Doolittle answered: “Well, I guess they’ll send me to Leavenworth.”
“I stood up on my two legs for the last time in my life at about dawn on April 20,” recalled Ted Lawson. He and the other injured men of his crew had been carried to a small hospital by Chinese villagers. The hospital had few supplies, and the Chinese doctor there could do little for Lawson’s shattered leg.
Fortuitously, flight surgeon/gunner “Doc” White showed up at the hospital. White tried, at first, to scissor the dying flesh from Lawson’s lower left leg, giving him morphine for the pain. But the limb showed unmistakable signs of gangrene.
On May 3, as Japanese aircraft flew overhead, White told Lawson what he was going to have to do. The pilot assented. Using novocaine the Chinese had smuggled out of Shanghai, White gave Lawson a spinal anesthetic. Nurses held Lawson’s wrists down.
“Doc had a silver saw,” Lawson relates. “It made a strange, faraway, soggy sound as he sawed through the bones of my leg. Except for the tugging fear that I was coming back too soon, the actual amputation was almost as impersonal to me as watching a log being sawed in half.”
Lawson watched as the nurses picked up his severed leg and carried it out the door. He could see White’s hand sewing the stump: “His hand went up and down, up, down.” Then Doc used a syringe to take blood from himself and infuse it into his patient.
Those fliers who had evaded capture began their trek to Chungking. Chinese country folk were startled, day by day, as Caucasian men wearing brown leather jackets and torn trousers materialized on rocky landscapes or on the outskirts of villages. Peasants, woodcutters, and farmers looked at the alien beings with curiosity and fear. Many had never before seen an American.
The fliers viewed the local populace with similar trepidation. There being no clear battle lines, they worried that they were walking into the hands of the Japanese.
The Americans were walking wounded: men with wrenched backs, cracked ribs, burned legs, and bloodied noses. Haggard and mud-spattered, they sought the help of those who gathered to stare at them.
Guerrillas led the aviators from one settlement to another. Missionaries gave them refuge. “Along the way,” said Travis Hoover, “a Chinese aeronautical engineering student named Tung-sheng Liu showed up. He was on the run from the Japanese. He spoke English. He became our guide and interpreter—and saved our lives.”
Whole towns turned out to see the visitors. “I walked through villages, heading west,” recalls Frank Kappeler. “Friendly Chinese followed me. Before long, my caravan was two hundred strong. I felt like Lawrence of Arabia.”
The fliers made their various ways into the heartland—by foot, riding shaggy ponies, and on river boats, charcoal-burning trucks, rickshas, and even sedan chairs borne by field workers. During a three-week period, groups of Raiders finally straggled into Chungking and journey’s end. There grateful Chinese leaders bestowed decorations upon them.
Newspaper headlines of the raid electrified America. New York Times: “Japan reports Tokyo, Yokohama bombed by ‘enemy planes’ in daylight.” Columbus Evening Dispatch: “US warplanes rain bombs on leading cities of Jap empire.” New York Daily News: “US bombs hit 4 Jap cities.”
Surprisingly, the initial news reports came not from the U.S. government but from Radio Tokyo. “Enemy bombers appeared over Tokyo for the first time in the current war,” the Japanese broadcast declared. “Invading planes failed to cause any damage on military establishments.” According to the announcer, nine of the attacking planes had been shot down.
The White House and the War Department, uncertain of the outcome of the mission, remained silent. Members of Congress wondered whether a raid on Tokyo had even taken place. At first, Washington simply said that ‘American planes might have participated in an attack upon the Japanese capital.”
On April 21, Arnold received a message from Doolittle, somewhere in the depths of China: “Mission to bomb Tokyo has been accomplished. On entering China we ran into bad weather and it is feared that all planes crashed. Up to the present five fliers are safe.”
An anxious Arnold was soon to learn that most fliers were alive and accounted for—but, ominously, that a few had been captured.
Roosevelt had been at his residence in Hyde Park, New York, when informed of the raid. The president realized he had to keep secret the Hornet‘s role in the mission. He asked adviser Samuel Rosenman what he might say if reporters wanted to know where the bombers came from. Rosenman reminded him about Lost Horizon, James Hilton’s fantasy novel. The book was set in a remote and mysterious Himalayan valley called “Shangri-La.” FDR took the cue.
At his press conference on April 21, Roosevelt affirmed that U.S. planes indeed had bombed Japan. A reporter asked him the name of the base used by the bombers. With a cryptic smile, he answered: “They came from our new secret base at Shangri-La.”
Doolittle and some of the Raiders were ordered back to the United States others remained in the China-Burma-India theater. America was more than proud of the fliers. Doolittle was promoted to the rank of brigadier general.
On May 19, Generals Marshall and Arnold picked up Doolittle in a staff car in Washington, D.C. They told him they were going to the White House.
“Well,” said Doolittle, “if you were to tell me what this is all about, I’m sure I could comport myself better.”
Marshall and Arnold glanced at one another. Then Marshall explained that President Roosevelt was going to present Doolittle with the Medal of Honor.
“Well, I don’t think I earned the Medal of Honor,” said Doolittle, frowning. “The medal was given when one chap lost his life saving somebody else’s life. So I don’t think I earned it.”
“I think you earned it,” responded Marshall sternly.
“Yes, sir,” answered Doolittle.
FDR pinned the medal on Doolittle that afternoon. A month later, General Arnold awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross to a score of Raiders who had returned to the United States.
Compared to the havoc wreaked at Pearl Harbor four and a half months earlier—or to what American B-29s would unleash over Japanese cities three years later—the damage inflicted by the Tokyo Raid was rather light. Japanese authorities reported 50 persons killed, 250 wounded, and 90 buildings destroyed—among them gas tanks, warehouses, and factories.
The true pain had been psychological—a shattering blow to Japanese pride. Japan’s army and navy had failed to shield the homeland. Even more unforgivingly, they had not been able to safeguard the emperor.
In a strategic sense, the raid put the initiative of the Pacific War into the hands of the Americans. The attack showed that the Japanese could not limit the scope of the war they had started.
Enraged Japanese military leaders took out their wrath for the raid on the people of East China. More than 600 air raids on towns and villages signaled the start of the retribution.
The Japanese made it a point to burn to the ground those villages through which the airmen had passed. “They killed my three sons,” related one aged Chinese man. “They killed my wife. They drowned my grandchildren in the well.” Catching a villager who had sheltered an American pilot, Japanese soldiers wrapped him in a kerosene-soaked blanket, then forced his wife to set it afire.
Over 100,000 Japanese troops shot, bayoneted, raped, drowned, and beheaded Chinese civilians and soldiers in numbers estimated in the tens of thousands. It was their way of warning the Chinese against helping American fliers in the future.
The epilogue to the Tokyo Raid was bitter. The Japanese held Barr, DeShazer, Farrow, Hallmark, Hite, Meder, Nielsen, and Spatz. They would make them pay, man by man.
The captors moved the survivors of The Green Hornet and Bat Out of Hell to Tokyo. There, handcuffed and leg-cuffed, the fliers were placed in the hands of Kempei Tai, the Japanese army’s military police, who knew how to make a man wonder whether life was worth living.
The interrogators struck the prisoners. They shouted the same questions at them again and again: “Where do you come from?,” “Are you Army soldiers?,” “Why were you in China?”
“I would give name, rank, and serial number,” recalls Nielsen. “They would hit me. I would say, ‘Lieutenant Chase J. Nielsen, 0-419938.’ They would hit me.”
The Japanese interrogators stretched Hallmark on a rack. They put bamboo poles behind Hite’s knees, forced him to squat, and then jumped up and down on his thighs. They suspended Nielsen by handcuffs from a peg on a wall, so that his toes barely touched the floor.
The captors bound wet towels over the mouths and noses of the eight fliers, nearly suffocating them. They placed pencils between their fingers, then crushed their fingers together. The soldiers stretched the men out on the floor, forced them to swallow water, then jumped on their stomachs. As many as five guards worked over each prisoner at a time.
The torture continued for more than three weeks. Resisting, the fliers told the interrogators their planes had come from a Pacific island. From China. From the Aleutian Islands. “I was blindfolded,” recalls DeShazer. “They hit me. They asked, ‘How do you pronounce the letters H-O-R-N-E-T?,’ ‘Who is Doolittle?,’ ‘How long is the deck of an aircraft carrier?’ They hit me again.”
Then, one day the soldiers brought in maps and charts obtained from the wreckage of a B-25. They had tortured the men in order to corroborate what they had known all along: the B-25s had taken off from the USS Hornet.
Bloodied and bowed, the prisoners at last told of the raid. On May 22, the fliers were given documents written in Japanese. These were confessions of war crimes against civilians. Each man was seated at a table and told to sign—or be executed on the spot. Incapable of further resistance, the prisoners signed the false confessions.
On June 19, 1942 the battered Americans were transferred to a prison in Shanghai. “We were bitten by bugs, rats, and lice,” remembers Hite. “Our faces and hands swelled from the bites. The toilet facility was a bucket.”
Urine and excrement covered much of the floor. Hallmark lay in a corner, stricken by dysentery. His fellow prisoners dragged him to the bucket as often as every 15 minutes. After a time, they became too weak to help him.
The men had not washed, shaved, or changed clothes since their last day aboard the Hornet. They were forced to sit cross-legged. If a guard saw a prisoner shift position, he poked him with a pole.
On August 28, the Americans were taken into a small courtroom, where they underwent a mock trial before five Japanese officers. Hallmark lay on a stretcher. Barr was too weak to stand.
The “trial” lasted twenty minutes. The judge read the verdict. The prisoners asked him what their sentences were. The interpreter would not tell them. Unknown to the fliers, all had been condemned to death.
On October 14, Hallmark, Farrow, and Spatz were taken into a room, one by one, and told that they were to be executed the next day. The officer said they could write letters to their families.
Twenty-three-year-old Bill Farrow wrote, in part, to his mother in Darlington, South Carolina: “Just remember that God will make everything right and that I will see you again in the hereafter.”
To his father and mother in Robert Lee, Texas, Dean Hallmark said: “Try to stand up under this and pray. I don’t know how to end this letter except by sending you all my love.”
Twenty-one-year-old Harold Spatz wrote to his father in Lebo, Kansas: “I want you to know that I died fighting like a soldier. My clothes are all I have of any value. I give them to you. And Dad, I want you to know I love you. May God bless you.”
After the war, the letters were found in Japanese military files. The prison officials had never sent them.
On October 15, 1942, a black limousine entered the First Cemetery grounds outside of Shanghai. Farrow, Hallmark, and Spatz were brought out. Prison guards marched the men to three small wooden crosses situated twenty feet apart. The three Americans were made to kneel with their backs against the crosses. Guards removed the handcuffs and tied the prisoners’ wrists to the cross-pieces. They wrapped the upper portions of the men’s faces with white cloth, marking black ‘X’s just above the noses. A six-man firing squad took positions 20 feet in front of the Americans. At the count, they pulled the triggers. There was no need to fire a second time.
The next day, the five other Americans—DeShazer, Hite, Meder, Nielsen, and Barr—were led into the courtroom. The presiding officer read a long statement. They had been found guilty of bombing schools and hospitals and machine-gunning civilians, but the emperor had commuted their death sentences to life in prison.
Four days after the execution of Farrow, Hallmark, and Spatz, Japanese English-language broadcasts reported that “cruel, inhuman, and beast-like American pilots” had been “severely punished.” The reports noted the names of the three men, but did not say what their punishment had been.
Several months later, President Roosevelt learned what had happened to the captive American fliers. He wanted the American people to know, but at this stage of the war Japan held some 17,000 other Americans in the Pacific. Roosevelt felt great concern for them. As well, he expected that America would launch new air raids against Japan and worried that more fliers might become prisoners. Through diplomatic channels, he told the enemy leaders that the U.S. would not tolerate the maltreatment of American prisoners.
With the passing of the first anniversary of the Tokyo Raid, Roosevelt decided the time had arrived to tell Americans “the full facts—both the bright and the bitter.”
On April 20, 1943, the War Department at last released a detailed communique on the raid. The next day the Washington Post headline read: “Details of Tokyo raid told: Hornet’s ‘Shangri-la.”’ Across the front page was a photograph of Doolittle’s B-25 taking off from the aircraft carrier. The report explained that 15 planes were wrecked in China or Chinese waters, with another forced down in Russia. “Of the eighty Army Air Force men taking part,” stated the Post, “five men were interned in Russia, eight are prisoners of Japan or are presumed to be, one was killed, two are missing, and the rest made their way safely into Chinese territory. Seven were injured in landing but survived.” The account warned the Japanese that “further attacks still lie ahead for their homeland.”
Americans applauded the raid as a stunning success. But they soon learned the dark side. On April 22, Roosevelt, with a “feeling of deepest horror,” told the nation of the executions. Referring to them with such expressions as “barbarous,” “depravity,” and “killing in cold blood,” he termed the Japanese “savages.”
A wave of revulsion swept across the nation. Secretary of State Cordell Hull resolutely declared that the United States would never settle for less than the “unconditional surrender” of Japan. There would be no negotiation with a country that executed prisoners of war.
Radio Tokyo retorted that any American fliers who dared attack Japan in the future would be on a “one-way mission to hell.”
The five men still in Japanese hands could attest to such “hell.” As the world learned of the executions, they were blindfolded, handcuffed, and moved to a prison near Nanking, 175 miles west of Shanghai.
The captors told their captives that Japan was winning the war. The fliers would die in a Japanese prison. If, somehow, America won the war, they were to be beheaded.
The prisoners drifted into dream-states. They invented mind games. Nielsen “built” a house in his mind, brick by brick. Hite worked out plans for a farm. DeShazer wrote poems on an imaginary blackboard. Wracked by dysentery, Meder grew weaker. Then he contracted beriberi. During a rare exercise period, Meder asked Nielsen to pray for him.
On December 1, 1943, four of the five prisoners heard hammering. The next day, one at a time, they were escorted into Meder’s cell. His body lay in a wooden coffin. A Bible was on the lid.
Amid the encircling gloom of their cells, the men tried to find inner light. Hite asked the chief guard for a Bible. “Each of us,” he recalls, “read through the King James version. It was passed from one cell to the other. It kept our spirits alive.”
Their cells were hot ovens in summer, and icy chambers in winter. Guards singled out Barr for vicious treatment. He was far taller than his captors and had bright red hair. In one horrifying episode, they forced him into a straight-jacket, laced his arms behind his back, and thrust him face-down in snow for an hour. Barr screamed again and again.
Hite had fallen away to fewer than ninety pounds. He remembers: “I found my strength by calling on my Lord. Whosoever called upon the Lord, would be saved.”
Nielsen thought about killing himself. But he made up his mind that if he did so he would first get hold of a guard’s sword and make at least one captor die. “Faith kept me alive,” Nielsen declares. “Faith in my nation. My religion. My Creator.”
DeShazer became weak from dysentery. More than seventy boils covered his body. He would get on his knees, face the cell door, and repeat passages from the Bible.
From out of the depths, DeShazer searched for God. “The way the Japanese treated me,” he reflects, “I had to turn to Christ. No matter what they did to me, I prayed. I prayed for the strength to live. And I prayed for the strength, somehow, to find forgiveness for what they were doing to me.”
One season became another. By the summer of 1945, the prisoners seemed but shadows. One morning, in August 1945, DeShazer experienced something like a vision. An interior voice urged him to pray, all that day, for an end to the war. And he did so, from seven that morning until two in the afternoon.
The date was August 9, the day on which an atomic bomb fell on Nagasaki. The next day, unknown to the prisoners, Japan surrendered. A few days, later guards escorted Barr, DeShazer, Hite, and Nielsen out of their cells. “The war is over,” a prison official told them. Nielsen wept.
The Japanese gave back to the men the uniforms they had been wearing, 40 months earlier, when they had taken off from the Hornet. On August 20, U.S. Army paratroopers came to their rescue. The last of the Doolittle Raiders headed home.
For these last, as for all of the Raiders, there would be cause for remembrance. During World War II, many of the other fliers went on to combat duty in Europe, North Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific. Some were killed, others wounded. At war’s end 61 remained of the original 80 men.
The Raiders would never forget the experience they had shared. Each April 18, on the anniversary of the Tokyo Raid, as many survivors as could do so have gathered to reminisce—and to mark the memories of fellow Raiders no longer living.
A set of 80 silver goblets, each one inscribed with a Raider’s name, has been kept on display at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and flown to each reunion. There, in a private ceremony, the survivors raised their cups in a toast to Raiders departed and inverted the cups of those men who died since the previous get-together. When the last man is gone, his goblet, too, will be reversed.
Like the B-25 bombers they once flew, these courageous men will have made worthy passage.
This article was written by Edward Oxford and originally published in August 1997 issue of American History Magazine.
For more great articles be sure to pick up your copy of American History.
The B-25 was not the first choice for the raid
While the Doolittle Raid would make the B-25 one of the most famous warbirds in history, mission planners initially explored using a number of other medium bombers before settling on the then unproven Mitchell. The Douglas B-23 Dragon , which had a longer range than the B-25, was initially considered. However, the pre-war bomber’s 92-foot wingspan was judged too unwieldy for a cramped carrier deck. The smaller Martin B-26 was also in the running, but it wasn’t clear if the plane could be modified to take off from a carrier. It was ultimately decided that, despite its limited range and payload, the B-25 was small enough (and nimble enough) to launch at sea.
April 18, 1942: What Was the Doolittle Raid?
On April 18, 1942, Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle led one of the most famous bombing raids in aviation history when he led 16 B-25 medium bombers over Tokyo, Kobe, Nagoya and Yokohama, Japan. After the devastating sneak attack against Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the US military in the Pacific was reeling, as was the shocked and furious American public. With one Japanese success after another, the US finally mounted an offensive action by flying 16 stripped down B-25B Mitchell twin engine medium bombers off the deck of the USS Hornet, something that had never been done at that time.
NOTE: On April 9, 2018, the last surviving Doolittle Raider, Lt. Colonel Dick Cole, age 103, died in Texas. He had been hospitalized at the Brooke Army Medical Center and had been visited by numerous dignitaries, including the Secretary of the Air Force.
The bombers, led by the famous military and civilian pilot Jimmy Doolittle, bombed Tokyo and other Japanese cities causing light damage, but giving America a tremendous boost in morale. At the same time, the Japanese public and military were dealt a crushing blow in morale, and for the rest of the war numerous Japanese fighter planes were diverted from front line theaters to defend the homeland against potential future raids. The dangerous nature of the raid, accepted as a possible suicide venture, is demonstrated by the loss of 15 of the 16 bombers, and the deaths of 7 of the 80 airmen involved. (3 died in action, 4 died in captivity, 3 of which were executed). Another 4 crewmen lived out the war as POW’s. Doolittle received the Medal of Honor and a promotion to Brigadier General and went on to command other bomber units.
Lt. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle (left) with Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay (right), standing in front of a Lockheed P-38 Lightning in Britain, 1944
The bomber chosen for the sorely needed answer to Pearl Harbor was the North American B-25B Mitchell twin engine medium bomber, the only American bomber with the range and ability to take off from an aircraft carrier deck that could also deliver a reasonable payload. For the Doolittle Raid, the planes were stripped of excess guns and weight and equipped with extra gas tanks, doubling the fuel load. The bomb load selected for each bomber was 3 X 500 pound normal aerial blast bombs and a 4th 500 pound bomb constructed with explosives and incendiary devices. Select crews of 5 men per bomber practiced short takeoffs on land until they could consistently take off in the few hundred feet allowed by a carrier deck. (The only US warplane named after an actual person, the B-25 was the premier medium bomber of World War II and served until 1979 with the Indonesian Air Force! Carrying as many machine guns as the larger B-17 and B-24, no other light bomber could defend itself like the Mitchell. Superb in the low altitude ground attack role, some B-25’s were equipped with the ability to fire 16 .50 caliber machine guns forward for strafing! In addition, some models were equipped with a forward firing 75 mm howitzer, the heaviest forward firing armament on any plane ever! The almost 10,000 B-25’s saw service with all branches of the armed forces and was famous as the bomber used in the “Doolittle” raid on Japan. The B-25 was one of the most versatile American aircraft of World War II.)
Exhibit at USAF Museum depicting a B-25B Mitchell in preparation for the Doolittle Raid.
Unfortunately for the raiders, the USS Hornet and its accompanying fleet was spotted by a Japanese fishing/patrol boat prior to reaching the planned takeoff point, still 650 nautical miles from Japan, instead of the planned 480 nautical mile distance. The Japanese boat was quickly sunk, but in the event it had gotten off a radio warning (it did) a choice had to be made: scrap the mission or send the bombers right now, with the strong possibility the planes could not make safe landfall in China due to the extra 170 nautical miles from the planned launch point. The decision to send the bombers was a foregone conclusion, and all 16 of the heavily laden aircraft took off successfully and delivered their bomb loads as planned. No bombers were shot down despite light anti-aircraft gunfire and minor fighter interception, and one of the bombers actually shot down a Japanese fighter plane. Damage to Japan was slight, but the raid rocked Japanese confidence and security, while news of the raid caused jubilation in the United States.
The extra distance to the proposed Chinese landing sites coupled by a headwind meant the planes would not make their scheduled landings. One bomber landed in the Soviet Union and was impounded by the Soviets, the crew interned until 1943 since the USSR was not at war with Japan. The other 15 bombers flew to China, all either crash landing or crashing after the crew bailed out. The planned for homing beacons to be sent from Chinese landing fields were never transmitted, because Admiral Halsey, the task force commander, never sent the radio message to do so, probably to avoid his ships being found by Japanese radio direction finding analysts. Of the 75 crewmen that landed in China, 3 were killed in action, 3 were executed by Japanese soldiers, 4 spent the war in POW camps, and the remainder were eventually repatriated to American forces.
The Doolittle Raid had little impact on Japan’s war industry, but nervous Japanese planners kept considerable anti-aircraft artillery and interception aircraft in Japan that could have been put to good use elsewhere, giving the Raid a disproportionate impact on the War. Japanese military and civilians were taken aback by the realization their country could be bombed, a severe blow to their confidence. Americans smugly rejoiced in the retribution for the Pearl Harbor attack and the fact that the US Army and US Navy proved that land-based bombers could be flown from aircraft carriers impressed the world.
Doolittle himself, a record breaking pilot before the War, landed in his parachute in a large dung pile in China, a soft landing, but a messy one! He had also thought he landed in a dung pile figuratively as well, thinking the loss of the aircraft would result in a court martial for himself. He was wrong and was awarded the Medal of Honor and given a promotion. The other crewmembers were decorated and began a tradition of meeting annually on April 18th to toast their lost comrades. Only one crewman from the famous Doolittle Raid survives today (as of when this article was written, see note above about his death), Col. Richard Cole, age 102, the co-pilot for Doolittle himself. Doolittle died at the age of 96 in 1993.
The Doolittle Raid ranks among the most famous bombing raids in aviation history, and Jimmy Doolittle ranks among the most famous bomber pilots/tacticians in military history. The B-25 bomber was one of the most versatile and useful medium bombers of World War II, and a whopping 9800+ were built, the most of any US medium bomber.
Question for students (and subscribers): Can you think of a more famous bombing raid of World War II? Please let us know in the comments section below this article and see our articles for more about bomber people and bomber aircraft: Greatest Bombers,” Famous Bombers,” Great Military Feats,” Versatile Aircraft.”
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The featured image in this article, a U.S. Navy photograph of a B-25 taking off from USS Hornet for the raid, is a work of a sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, it is in the public domain in the United States. This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 520603.
Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.
Doolittle`s Raid on Tokyo
The increasingly powerful advances of the Japanese during the months following the Pearl Harbor Attack were reason for serious concern to the United States government. The morale of the American people and armed services was low — the U.S. needed a victory, and soon. American losses at Pearl Harbor and the Philippine Bataan Peninsula ultimately sparked a tactically irrelevant, but priceless morale mission to bombard Tokyo. At the beginning of April 1942, as the Japanese were completing their conquest of the Philippines, U.S. forces were ready to launch a raid on Tokyo. Insight President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered an air strike on Tokyo as early as December 1941. However, his military advisers were not able to conjure up a feasible mission to carry out his order. There were no Allied airfields close enough to the Japanese home islands for heavy Army Air Force bombers to launch an attack. The first piece of the puzzle fell into place in the second week of January 1942. Captain Francis Lowe, attached to Admiral Ernest King's staff in Washington, paid a visit to Norfolk, Virginia, to inspect the new carrier U.S.S. Hornet CV-8. At a nearby airfield, he noticed the birds-eye outer edges of a carrier painted on the tarmac, which inspired Lowe to pursue the possibility of launching bombers from an aircraft carrier. Right man for the job Since medium bombers were in the U.S. Army Air Force, the project was then passed to it, and General Henry "Hap" Arnold wisely appointed Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle as mission commander. Doolittle would soon prove to be the right man for the technically challenging mission. Doolittle wasted no time in selecting the correct aircraft for the mission. With a doctorate from M.I.T., Jimmy Doolittle had to find a bomber capable of taking off from the short runway of an aircraft carrier, carrying a ton of bombs, and flying no fewer than 2,400 nautical miles. He selected the twin-engine B-25B Mitchell. Sixteen bombers would participate in the mission. The plan The bombers had to be stripped of any non-essential metal, to make room for extra fuel and reduce the overall weight. With the engines optimized for fuel efficiency, 200-gallon rubber tanks were installed in the bomb compartment, another 160-gallon fuel tank was put in the crew corridor, and a 60-gallon fuel tank replaced the machine guns in the ventral turret. Lastly, 10 five-gallon tanks were taken, to be manually added in flight. The plan called for Doolittle to depart first, to attack Tokyo at dusk. The fire from his bombs would help the following fliers with their navigation. The remaining 15 bombers, in five formations of three, were given prime industrial and energy targets throughout Tokyo, and also in nearby Nagoyo, Osaka, and Kobe. With a proposed launch distance of 400 miles from Japan, and after dropping their payload, the 16 B-25s would head to a secure location in China under the protective cover of night. After much-needed technical training, Doolittle and his 79 special mission volunteers braced for the flight. Change of plan The Hornet departed from San Francisco on April 2, with its oversized fleet of 16 B-25 bombers parked on the rear flight deck. The Hornet soon met up with the U.S.S. Enterprise north of Midway, on April 12th. Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey, commander of the Pacific Fleet, preceded Task Force 16 westward. On April 17th, the carriers and their four escorting cruisers would leave their accompanying destroyer canopy and tankers behind to commence a high-speed race toward the Japanese home islands. Takeoff was scheduled for April 19th in the afternoon, but on April 18th, 1942, at dawn, the task force was detected by a Japanese patrol boat — some 600 miles from the islands. The patrol boat, full of civilians, was quickly incinerated by one of the cruisers. However, it was correctly assumed that the Americans' presence had already been reported to Tokyo — a report which was ignored by disbelieving Japanese officials. Early detection posed a major difficulty. On the one hand, the carriers were still more than 200 miles from their calculated takeoff point, and fuel supplies were already a problem. On the other hand, Admiral Halsey knew that the group might be attacked by Japanese carrier aircraft at any time. At 8 a.m. he ordered Doolittle's raiders to take off. Doolittle's raid The morning of April 18th, 1942, dawned upon a blustery and unrelenting sea. With 30-foot swells, zero degrees, and a typhoon-force wind buffeting the Hornet, the men prepared for an uncertain lift-off. Doolittle called all of his men onto the deck and said, "If there's any of you who don't want to go, just tell me. Because the chances of you making it back are pretty slim." Nobody batted an eye. The crews rushed to their bombers. The Hornet turned into the strong wind. Engines came alive. Doolittle released the brakes, and after a short run (with room to spare), launched his aircraft from the "cork-bobbing" carrier. All 15 bombers successfully followed, and then the carrier task force quickly turned back for Pearl Harbor. At 12:30 p.m., Doolittle pulled up to 1,200 feet over Tokyo and released four magnesium fire bombs in rapid succession. The rest of "Jimmy's Raiders" followed suit, delivering a "hello" to Tokyo, Yokahama, Kawasaki, Nagoya and Kobe. All bombers escaped Japan's airspace without so much as a scratch. After releasing their terror over Japanese soil, they headed eastward for sanctuary. Because of punishing China Sea winds and a premature takeoff, the bombers did not have enough fuel to reach their original landing objectives. One of the bombers landed in Vladivostok in the Soviet Union, where it was promptly seized, while the other 15 were lost over China. Of the 80 crew members launched on the perilous mission, the five who arrived in the USSR were interned, and 62 of the others (including Doolittle) were saved by the Chinese. Five died while evacuating their plane — and eight were captured by the furious Japanese (of whom three were executed as war criminals, and one left to starve in prison). The remaining four were released. Aftermath The raid on Tokyo, like the attack on Pearl Harbor, exerted a profound impact on the conduct of the Pacific war. Colonel Doolittle's command suffered a 100-percent loss of aircraft and a 22-percent loss of crew members. However, the morale boost that followed for fellow soldiers and the general public helped America and its allies gain important momentum in the Pacific Theater. The Japanese itemized the actual damage as:
This Day in History: The Doolittle Raid
April 18th, 2021 is the 79th Anniversary of the Doolittle Raid. The months after the attack on Pearl Harbor were dark times for America 2,403 men died at Pearl Harbor, with 188 aircraft destroyed. The Philippine Islands had fallen, and the country needed a moral boost.
The United States wanted to show Japan that their mainland was vulnerable to air attack and extract revenge for Pearl Harbor. The raid was planned and led by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle.
The only way to strike Japan was by aircraft carrier. The problem was that the fighter aircraft did not have the necessary range. The decision was made to use a medium-range bomber that could take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier, fly 400 miles, and drop their payload on Imperial Japan. The bombers would then return to the carrier.
The USAAF considered a few aircraft for the mission, such as the Martin B-26 Marauder and the Douglas B-23 Dragon, until deciding on the North American B-25 Mitchell. The original plan called for these bombers to be launched and recovered on the U.S.S. hornet. Initial flight tests near Norfolk showed that while the B-25 could be launched from a carrier relatively easy, the carrier landing was not going to happen. The plan was modified, and the bombers would now continue on and land in China.
Twenty-four volunteer crews were taken from the 17 th Bombardment Group from Pendleton Field, Oregon and began intensive training at Eglin Field, Florida in early March 1942. Their bombers were modified with extra fuel tanks installed, all unnecessary equipment removed, and a unique bombsight created and produced at Eglin Field at a cost of 20 cents each! At the end of March 1942, 16 of the B-25s were flown to Alameda to be loaded onto the USS hornet.
Task Force-16, as it was called, was making way for the Japanese mainland when it was discovered by Japan’s “Early Warning Radar System.” The Japanese had fishing trawlers equipped with radios, and the No. 23 Nitto Maru radioed a sighting of Task Force-16. The ship was then promptly sunk. As the mission had been compromised, Admiral Halsey ordered the launch of the aircraft some 250 miles further than planned. The bombers now had to launch some 650 miles from their targets. The bombers reached their targets in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kobe in daylight and dropped their 400-500lb bombs. Now they had to get to China safely. Due to the extra distance, the bombers began running out of fuel.
Of the 16 aircraft, 15 crash landed and one landed intact in Vladivostok, Russia. Three Raiders would perish from the crash landings. Eight of the Raiders were captured by Japanese forces near Shanghai, China. Three of them were executed for war crimes, and one passed away from the starvation diet given the men while in captivity.
Even though the raid caused minimal physical damage to Japan, the psychological effect was enormous. Japan was shown they were vulnerable to attack, and strategic war plans were changed due to the fact the Doolittle raid occurred unimpeded. Admiral Yamamoto stepped up the attack on the U.S. Base on Midway, which ended up being a loss for the Japanese.
In June 1942, Lt. Col Doolittle was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt and promoted to General. Not too bad considering Doolittle himself believed he would be court martialed for the loss of all the aircraft.
Starting in 1946, the Doolittle Raiders held an annual celebration to honor General Doolittle on his birthday. In 1959, the citizens of Tucson, Arizona presented the Raiders with 80 engraved silver goblets, one for each Raider. Every year the Raiders would gather and honored the airmen who passed away. The last surviving member of the Doolittle Raiders Lt. Col Richard “Dick” Cole passed away on April 9 th , 2019 at the age of 103. The goblets now sit in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright Patterson AFB.
Today we honor the Doolittle Raiders. The men of the Greatest Generation were given an impossible mission and through ingenuity, resiliency, and bravery accomplished it! They turned the tide of WWII, and we salute them!
That’s all for now folks! Please keep sending in your questions, tips, and article ideas. And as always – “Let’s be careful out there.”
Doolittle Raid 75 Years Ago Was the Best Psychological Operation of the War
Seventy-five years ago, 16 B-25 land-based bombers took off from the US CV-6, the aircraft carrier Hornet and bombed Tokyo and other major Japanese cities. They did little material damage but the repercussions felt from their tiny pinprick against the Japanese homeland would have a far lasting impact later.
Shortly after the debacle at Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt gave the task to the military to bring the war to the Japanese and wanted their homeland bombed. The Japanese in the following months would sweep across the Pacific, taking the Philippines, Burma and were flush with victory.
Roosevelt’s order to bomb Japan was met with skepticism, how could the US launch an air attack when they had no bases close enough to launch. Roosevelt wanted a victory to stimulate the morale of the American people. The Doolittle Raid was born.
The plan was to launch land-based B-25 bombers off an aircraft carrier, something that had never been attempted. The fact that the Japanese would see B-25s over their skies would be confusing. The Chinese had no air force to speak of and the Japanese military would not expect the Americans to risk their few precious carriers to launch short-range carrier aircraft at Japanese targets so far from home.
LTC Jimmy Doolittle was picked to lead the raid. Doolittle had always been a maverick in the military, he was perhaps the only General never to have attained the rank of Captain or Colonel. When he left the active military after World War I, he was a 1LT, but when he was called back to duty, he was brought in as his reserve rank as a Major. After the raid, he was promoted to Brigadier General skipping over the Colonel rank.
Doolittle selected 24 aircrews from the 17 th Bombardment Group and immediately sent them to Eglin Field, Florida where they began practicing taking off a heavily laden bomber off a short runway that a carrier would provide.
The B-25 was the best choice for the job, but they had to lighten them up a bit. The tail machine gunner was removed, and black broomsticks were put in their place. Three auxiliary fuel tanks, a collapsible 360-gallon bladder and ten five-gallon gas cans were added. The bomb load was small, just three 500-pound bombs and one incendiary cluster bomb was the payload. The Norden bombsights were removed and a specially designed one for low-level bombing was installed. Called the “Mark Twain”, it was designed by CPT C.R. Greening, USAAF.
Read Next: Battle of the Coral Sea: The End of Japan's Expansion
The pilots were not told what the targets were, only that it was a dangerous mission. The only hint was that they were being trained by US Navy Lieutenant Henry L. Miller so, from this clue, the pilots concluded they were heading to the Pacific. Many assumed wrongly at the Philippines, while Doolittle told them to keep their mouths shut, with the secrecy of the mission taking precedence.
The plan was for the bombers to take off from the carriers, bomb Japan and then fly to China, and become the backbone of General Chiang Kai-Shek’s air force. A total distance of 1200 miles. But as all military operations, snags were hit.
On April 1, 16 B-25 bombers were lifted on board the Hornet and lashed to the flight deck. North of Midway, Admiral Halsey’s carrier the USS Enterprise joined the Hornet, as well as four cruisers, eight destroyers, and two oil tankers. The task force headed to Japan.
The pilots finally learned what their target was. “Our destination is Tokyo,” Doolittle said, “we’re going to bomb Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kobe, and Nagoya.” The Army pilots cheered. “It’s going to be a pretty tight squeeze”, Doolittle said. “But it’s all been worked out the best possible way, he added.”
Because he had brought the eight reserve aircrews along, Doolittle asked if any of the men wished to back out of the mission now that they targets had been revealed none did.
Doolittle’s plan was to sail within 450 miles of Japan, launch the aircraft, bomb Tokyo and then make the 650 miles to China. But on the morning of April 18, the task force was sighted by a Japanese picket ship, the Nitto Maru. Rather than risk the carriers so far from home, the order was given to launch the aircraft, 823 miles from Tokyo. This was a full ten hours before scheduled launch. Originally the raid was supposed to take place in hours of darkness. Instead, it was to take place around noon time.
The B-25s all managed to take off without incident and headed to their targets. Their surprise was complete. There were few Japanese interceptors in the sky and the anti-aircraft fire was light and ineffective. Only one bomber received damage from anti-aircraft fire.
Doolittle flew his plane at 100 feet AGL and once over his target, he climbed to 1500 feet and dropped his small bombload. Once his bombs were away, he again dove for the deck and sped south to confuse the Japanese where he came from and where he was going.
Read Next: Next to Last Doolittle Raid Crewman Dies
Despite having only 16 bombers and a light payload, Oil storage tanks, factory areas, military installations were bombed in Tokyo, Kobe, Yokohama, and Nagoya. One bomb slightly damaged the ship Ryuho which was in dry-dock and was being refitted as a carrier. Doolittle reported, “Damage far exceeded the most optimistic expectations.”
The Japanese tried to issue propaganda that the raid had lost nine planes had caused no damage other than hitting schools and hospitals but the word got out. It was a tremendous loss of face as the Japanese had tasted nothing but victory and now their capital had been bombed. The commanding officer in charge of Tokyo’s air defenses committed ritual suicide because he felt dishonored and ashamed by the American attack.
Argentinian commercial attaché to Japan Ramon Muniz Lavelle witnessed and documented the outcome of the raid and he had this to say dispelling the Japanese propaganda of little damage:
“I ran up to our roof and saw four American bombers flying in over the rooftops. They couldn’t have been more than 100 feet off the ground. I looked down the streets. All Tokyo seemed to be in panic…. I could see fires starting near the port…. That raid by Doolittle was one of the greatest psychological tricks ever used. It caught [the Japanese] by surprise. Their unbounded confidence began to crack.”
The pilots headed for China. One pilot flew northwest and landed at the Soviet island of Vladivostok. The plane was confiscated and the crew interned. The remainder headed for China. Aided by a strong tailwind they flew on thru the darkness, rain, and clouds until their tanks ran dry.
The Japanese captured eight crew members after two of the crew members drowned while ditching in the ocean. They were charged with war crimes and in October of 1942 three were executed. The remaining five spent the rest of the war in horrible conditions as POWs. One more died in captivity of disease. 50 more raiders bailed out over China, and 49 were rescued by the Chinese, one died in the parachute jump. The Chinese rescued another 10 more men that crashed landed near the coast.
The resultant morale boost for the American public was tremendous. But the effect the raid had on the Japanese was profound. They were shaken to their core and as a result changed their strategic plans.
They first sent additional troops into China and seized the airfields that the Americans were aiming to land on. They then took terrible reprisals against the Chinese people for helping the US pilots. Chinese estimates put the number of dead after being slaughtered is about 250,000. The amazing thing was that the Chinese people didn’t have hard feelings against the Americans for the reprisals suffered. They treated the pilots as heroes.
The Japanese thought the bombers came from Midway Island so they set out to take it with a diversionary attack in the Aleutian Islands. That took precious resources away from the attack on Port Moresby in the Battle of the Coral Sea. The resulting battle was a draw, but the Japanese navy withdrew.
The US had cracked the Japanese codes and because of this, knew what the operational plan was. The Battle of Midway was a crushing loss for Japan as they lost four of the top aircraft carriers but also all of the combat tested pilots as well.
Japan’s offensive power was crushed at Midway and they’d be forced to fight a strategic defensive battle from that point on.
All of the pilots on the mission received the Distinguished Flying Cross for their bravery. The few raiders that were captured also received a Purple Heart. Jimmy Doolittle was promoted to Brigadier General and was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt after returning home.
Richard Cole is the last surviving Doolittle Raider, as was their custom on the anniversary of the raid, he went and toasted the men as well as the raiders that passed away since the last reunion. At 101-years old, Doolittle’s co-pilot toasted his comrades with the 1896 Hennessey Cognac (the birth year of Doolittle) that has been the tradition.
During those dark days of World War II, the Doolittle Raiders gave the American people the morale boost that they so sorely needed. It remains one of the most daring raids that the US has ever carried out. And it set the tone for later in the war when the US would fill the sky with 500 bombers over Tokyo.
Just a year to the day after the raid, the US intercepted a Japanese message that Admiral Yamamoto, the mastermind of the attack on Pearl Harbor would be visiting the Solomon Islands on an inspection.
The US scrambled long range P-38 fighters and shot down Yamamoto’s Betty bomber killing him in the crash into the jungle.