"The Ruptured Duck" was a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell (S/N 40-2261), which was piloted by Lt. Ted W. Lawson from the 95th Bombardment Squadron, USAAC. It participated in the Doolittle Raid commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, but after bombing Tokyo on the return leg, Lawson ditched "The Ruptured Duck" in the sea near Shangchow, China, being too low on fuel to fly back to an air base. A different B-25 is on display at the Pacific Aviation Museum in the colors and livery of "The Ruptured Duck".
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, a reprisal raid on Japan was approved, After considering other aircraft types, a total of 24 operational B-25B medium bombers were selected to undertake the raid.
The medium bombers were detached from the 17th Bomb Group (Medium), based at Lexington County Army Air Base, Columbia, South Carolina, and sent to the Mid-Continent Airlines modification center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for installation of additional fuel tanks. The aircraft were further modified by:
Two bombers also had cameras mounted to record the results of bombing.
Volunteer crews, including Lt. Ted W. Lawson, were gathered for an unspecified "extremely hazardous" mission were also solicited from the 17th BG. The 24 crews selected picked up the modified bombers in Minneapolis and flew them to Eglin Field, Florida, beginning 1 March 1942. At Eglin, the crews received intensive training for three weeks in carrier deck takeoffs, low-level and night flying, low altitude bombing, and over water navigation.
Lt. Col Doolittle stated in his after action report that an operational level of training was reached despite several days when flying was not possible because of rain and fog.
During a practice run, Lawson scraped the bottom of the tail when he pointed the nose of the bomber too high before attaining flight speed. The following is from Lawson's book Thirty Seconds over Tokyo (Random House pub. 1943). "One morning I came out to my plane and found that somebody had chalked the words 'RUPTURED DUCK' on the side of the fuselage. I grabbed Corporal Lovelace, a gunner I knew, and asked him to paint some sort of design on the ship. He's a good caricaturist. Lovelace got out his stuff and painted a funny Donald Duck, with a head-set and the earphone cords all twisted around his head. Lovelace did a swell job in blue, yellow, white and red. Then he added something that gave all of us another laugh. Under Donald Duck he drew a couple of crossed crutches. The other boys now got busy with insignias.
The origins of the name, "The Ruptured Duck" referred to a patch (later an Honorable Service Lapel Pin) worn on the uniform of returning veterans," explained K.T. Budde-Jones, Pacific Aviation Museum director of education. "It meant they were being discharged and said, 'I'm not AWOL, I'm allowed to wear this uniform until I get my civilian clothes.' And of course everyone wanted one because it meant you were going home. The patch was of an eagle in a wreath, but everyone thought it looked like a duck, a ruptured duck.
Although "The Ruptured Duck" became one of the most famous of the Doolittle Raiders, seven other bombers carried distinctive nose art and individual aircraft names: "Whiskey Pete" (aircraft No. 3), "Green Hornet" (aircraft No. 6), "Whirling Dervish" (aircraft No. 9), "Hari Kari-er" (aircraft No. 11) "Fickle Finger" (aircraft No. 12) and "(The) Bat Out of Hell" (aircraft No. 16). Doolittle's personal aircraft, S/N 40-2344, carried no special markings.
As a result of the operational training, one other aircraft was heavily damaged in a takeoff accident and another taken off the mission because of a nose wheel shimmy that could not be repaired in time.
On 25 March, the remaining 22 B-25s took off from Eglin for McClellan Field, California. They arrived on 27 March for final modifications at the Sacramento Air Depot. A total of 16 B-25s were subsequently flown to Alameda, California, on 31 March to be loaded aboard the USS Hornet. Fifteen raiders would be the mission force and a 16th aircraft, by last minute agreement with the Navy, would be squeezed onto the deck to be flown off shortly after departure from San Francisco to provide feedback to the Army pilots about takeoff characteristics. Once underway, Doolittle decided to forgo the reconnaissance flight.
The raiders flew towards Japan in sections of three-four aircraft before changing to single-file at wavetop level to avoid detection. After bombing 10 military and industrial targets in Tokyo where Lawson dropped his bombs, the other targets were two sites in Yokohama, and one each in Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka. Subsequently, 15 of the 16 bombers proceeded southwest along the southern coast of Japan and across the East China Sea towards eastern China. One B-25, extremely low on fuel, headed instead for the closer land mass of Russia.
With night approaching and weather rapidly deteriorating, the aircraft were also running low on fuel. Lawson realized he would probably not be able to reach the intended "safe" bases in China. Like other crews who decided on either abandoning their aircraft by bailing out or crash-landing on the coast, the mission of "The Ruptured Duck" ended prematurely when Lawson crash-landed off the coast near Shangchow, China.
Lawson who lost a leg and suffered other serious injuries as a result of his crash landing, but like most of the B-25 crews that came down in China, eventually made it to safety with the help of Chinese civilians and soldiers. Rather than considering the Doolittle Raid a failure, the U.S. government awarded the survivors a Distinguished Flying Cross.
The Doolittle Raid was the subject of two 1944 feature films including Thirty Seconds over Tokyo based on a book of the same title by Captain Lawson (promoted after his return to duty). Spencer Tracy played Doolittle and Van Johnson portrayed Lawson in an accurate depiction of the mission. Throughout both the book and film, "The Ruptured Duck" formed the backdrop of the Doolittle Raid. Over the years, the imagery of Lawson's aircraft became identified closely with the Doolittle Raiders. Recently, the Pacific Aviation Museum – Pearl Harbor opened its doors and one of its premier displays was a Doolittle Raiders B-25 marked in the colors of Lt. Lawson's "The Ruptured Duck.
After the Doolittle Raid, he authored Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, an account of his participation in the Doolittle Raid. The book was subsequently adapted into a film of the same name.
Davenport was injured during the crash-landing in China after the raid. He managed to evade capture with the help of friendly Chinese. After successful escape and recuperation, he returned from India in October, 1942. He was later technical advisor for the film Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. Davenport served in Alaska, flying P-40, P-38 and P-51 aircraft from 1944 until 1947. He had been commanding officer of several fighter units and also commanded an Air Defense Command unit flying F-106 interceptors.
He also served in Korea and flew 86 combat missions and rose to the rank of colonel. His decorations include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Commendation Medal with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Chinese Army, Navy, Air Corps Medal, Class A, 1st Grade. Davenport died on 14 February 2000 in Panama City, Florida, aged 81.
McClure dislocated both of his shoulders in the crash after the raid and was hospitalized until June 1943. He was assigned duties as a navigator instructor and again hospitalized from February 1945 until June 1945. He was retired for physical disability on June 1945 with the rank of captain. His decorations include Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and the Chinese Army, Navy, and Air Corps Medal, Class A, 1st Grade.
Thatcher was the only crew member to avoid serious injury when "The Ruptured Duck" crash-landed just off the China coast, enabling him to help the rest of the crew evade capture.
Upon returning to the United States, Thatcher later served in England and Africa until January 1944. He was discharged from active duty in July 1945 after stateside assignments in California. Thatcher reached the rank of staff sergeant. His decorations include the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Chinese Army, Navy, and Air Corps Medal, Class A, 1st Grade.
Thatcher is the last survivor of the crew. Only 11 out of original 80 raiders are currently alive. He was portrayed in the 1944 film, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo by actor Robert Walker.