Sixteen B-25 bombers took off from the deck of the USS Hornet aircraft carrier in a spectacular low level attack against Tokyo and other Japanese targets on Honshu island. After completing their mission all 16 planes were lost in bad weather over China, 3 US airmen died and 8 were taken prisoner. The Doolittle Raid provided a much needed morale boost to the nation and proved to the Japanese that their home islands were vulnerable to American attacks.
Facts about Doolittle Raid
The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941 had shocked the American nation. The United States declared war on Japan and entered WW2 on December 8, 1941.
By April 1942, the Philippines, Indochina, and Singapore had fallen and were under Japanese occupation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt needed to boost the morale of the American people following all the bad news.
FDR knew that if the US were able to launch a retaliatory bombing raid on Japan, and its capital Tokyo. the nation would rally. However there was a massive problem. American short-range bomber aircraft could only reach Tokyo if an aircraft carrier brought them close enough to Japan.
Japan was 2,000 miles away. The type of planes used on Aircraft Carriers at that time were short range and could only hit targets within 300 miles. Nobody wanted to take the remains of the Pacific Fleet so dangerously close to Japan as the Imperial Japanese Navy ships in the North Pacific posed a serious threat to aircraft carriers.
Jimmy Doolittle had been assigned to Army Air Forces Headquarters on January 2, 1942 to help with the planning of the first retaliatory air raid on the Japanese homeland.
Early in 1942 US military planners including Captain Francis Low, the US Navy's Assistant Chief of Staff for Anti-submarine Warfare, conceived a potential solution for striking Japan. The idea was to replace the aircraft carriers short range bombers with long-range B-25 bombers that could attack from further away.
Jimmy Doolittle selected the B-25B Mitchell for the mission as it possessed the range required, as well as a carrier-friendly size.
Another serious problem to face the planners was that although the B-25B Mitchell bombers could take off from an aircraft carrier, they could not land on the short deck. The tails of the B25's were too weak to take the shock of a sudden landing and were too high off the ground for landing hooks to be attached to them.
The only answer was for the B25's to launch from an aircraft carrier, drop their bombs on Japan, and then fly further west to land in a part of China that was still free.
The B25's were modified. Additional fuel tanks and de-icing equipment were installed and the lower gun turrets were removed and other modifications were made to reduce the weight of the plane.
The early B-25B's had no guns installed in the tail section. As a deception tactic black-painted broomstick handles were installed in the fuselage as dummy guns, called Quaker Guns, to deceive the enemy.
The 17th Bombardment Wing, based at Pendleton Field in Oregon, provided 24 B-25s and their crews for the raid. The 17the BG's crews were offered the opportunity to volunteer for an unspecified, "extremely hazardous" mission.
Jimmy Doolittle selected 80 men as the flight crews for the mission and specialized training commenced at Eglin Field in Florida on February 17, 1942 in five-man crews.
The US navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the Hornet, was chosen for the mission and US Navy Lieutenant Henry Miller, taught the Doolittle raiders how to take off from an aircraft carrier in less than 230 meters (750 feet). Their relentless training program included night flying, low-altitude flying and bombing practice
On April 13, 1942 the USS Hornet rendezvoused with Vice Admiral William F. Halsey's Task Force, north of Hawaii. The aircraft carriers Hornet and Enterprise, together with fourteen other U.S. Navy ships, consisting of four cruisers, eight destroyers, and two oilers, made up the raid task force and designated Task Force 16.
Task Force 16 headed for their position for the launch which was to be 725 kilometers (450 miles) east of Tokyo. The Doolittle Raid was planned to take place on April 19, 1942 but was spotted by a Japanese boat on April 18 and radio communication intercepts indicated that Japan had been alerted to their presence.
Task Force 16 was still 1,050 kilometers (650 miles) from Tokyo but Vice Admiral Halsey could not risk the danger to the force and ordered the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders to launch their B25's on April 18, 1942.
The B25's were loaded with additional fuel to compensate making the mission even more hazardous. The airplane commanded by Jimmy Doolittle was the first to take off and the other 15 B-25s followed over the next hour at 3 -4 minute intervals.
The 16 B25s headed for Japan in a staggered line 50 miles wide and 150 miles long. The first 10 planes were to target Tokyo and the other six planes attacked targets in Osaka, Yokohama, Kobe, and Nagoya and on the Yokosuka Naval Base
The "Doolittle Tokyo Raiders" dropped their bombs on their targets without any real opposition from the Japanese. Although their anti-aircraft fire was intense it was also inaccurate and all 16 planes left Japan practically unscaved.
The Japanese were shocked, their homeland had been attacked. American bombers had seemed to appear out of nowhere and vanished as suddenly as they had appeared. The Doolittle Raid was a shattering blow to Japanese pride
The "Doolittle Tokyo Raiders" headed for China to land their planes and refuel. Chuchow Field, was supposed to have been their main refueling base, but due to a communication blunder the Chinese were not informed that the raid had taken place earlier than expected. An air raid alarm sounded at the Chinese base and the landing lights were turned out.
11 of the crews had no alternative to bail out into the pitch black of night and sacrifice their airplanes. Leland Faktor, engineer-gunner of plane 3, was killed in the fall.
4 of the other B-25s crash-landed, three in the water and one (Doolittle's) in a rice paddy. William Dieter and Donald Fitzmaurice on plane 6, drowned just off the China coast. The crew of plane 7 were seriously injured.
Plane 8, which had been low on fuel during the entire trip, had been forced to head towards Vladivostok, Russia, instead of China. The crew members landed safely, but were interned by the Russians before they escaped into Iran in May 1943
Eight of the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, the surviving crew members of planes 6 and 16, were captured by the Japanese. The names of the captured raiders were Hallmark, Meder, Nielsen, Farrow, Hite, Barr, Spatz, and DeShazer.
Three of the raiders, Lt. Dean E. Hallmark, Lt. William G. Farrow and Sgt. Harold A. Spatz were executed by the Japanese in October 1942.
One of the raiders, Lt. Robert J. Meder, died of malnutrition in prison on December 1, 1943.
The other four prisoners managed to survive in Japanese prison camps until they were rescued in August 1945.
Four Japanese officers were tried and found guilty for their war crimes against the eight captured Doolittle Tokyo Raiders. Three were sentenced to hard labor for 5 years and the fourth was given a 9 year sentence.
On April 21, 1942 President Roosevelt gave a press conference confirming that U.S. planes had bombed Japan.
All 80 raiders received the Distinguished Flying Cross for the Doolittle Raid
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