The Doolittle Raid, 18 April 1942, was the first air raid by the United States to strike the Japanese home island of Honshū during World War II. It demonstrated that the Japanese home islands were vulnerable to Allied air attack, and provided an expedient means for U.S. retaliation for Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. The Doolittle Raid was the only time that United States Army Air Forces bombers were launched from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier on a combat mission.
The raid was planned and led by Lieutenant Colonel James "Jimmy" Doolittle, with the North American B-25B Mitchell the airplane selected to carry out the mission. The plan was to launch them from a carrier, hit military targets in Japan, and fly on to land in China.
All 16 aircraft were lost on the mission, and 11 crewmen were either killed or captured. The crews of 14 aircraft, including one interned in the Soviet Union for more than a year, were recovered and returned to the United States. While the military significance of the raid was minimal, it proved to be a substantial morale booster for Americans.
The concept for the attack came from Navy Captain Francis Low, a submariner, who reported to Admiral Ernest J. King on January 10, 1942, that he surmised that twin-engined Army bombers might be successfully launched from an aircraft carrier after observing several at a naval airfield in Norfolk, Virginia, where the runway was painted with the outline of a carrier deck for landing practice. It was subsequently planned and led by Doolittle, already a famous civilian aviator and aeronautical engineer before the war.
Requirements for the aircraft for a cruising range of 2,400 miles (3,900 km) with a 2,000 pound (900 kg) bomb load resulted in the selection of the North American B-25B Mitchell to carry out the mission. The B-26 Marauder, B-18 Bolo, and B-23 Dragon were also considered, but the B-26 had questionable takeoff characteristics from a carrier deck, and the B-23's wingspan was nearly 50% greater than the B-25's, reducing the number that could be taken aboard a carrier and posing risks to the ship's island. The B-18, one of the final two types considered by Doolittle, was rejected for the same reason.
Subsequent tests with B-25s indicated it could be launched from a carrier, hit military targets in Japan, and fly on to land in China. Doolittle's first report on the plan suggested that the bombers might land in Vladivostok, shortening the flight by , on the basis of turning over the B-25s as Lend-Lease. However, negotiations with the Soviet Union (which was not at war with Japan) for permission were fruitless.
The 17th BG, then flying antisubmarine patrols from Pendleton, Oregon, was immediately moved cross-country to Lexington County Army Air Base, Columbia, South Carolina, ostensibly to fly similar patrols off the east coast of the United States, but in actuality to prepare for the mission against Japan. The group officially arrived in Columbia on February 9, where its combat crews were offered the opportunity to volunteer for an "extremely hazardous" but unspecified mission. On February 17 the group was officially detached from the Eighth Air Force.
Initial planning called for 20 aircraft to fly the mission, and 24 of the group's B-25B Mitchell bombers were diverted to the Mid-Continent Airlines modification center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Modifications included:
Two bombers also had cameras mounted to record the results of bombing.
The 24 crews selected picked up the modified bombers in Minneapolis and flew them to Eglin Field, Florida, beginning 1 March 1942. There the crews received intensive training for three weeks in simulated 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. One 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. 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. (The 16th bomber was made part of the mission force instead.)
|AAF serial #||Nickname||Sqdn||Target||Pilot||Disposition|
|40-2344||34th BS||Tokyo||Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle||crashed N Chuchow, China|
|40-2292||37th BS||Tokyo||Lt. Travis Hoover||crashed-landed Ningpo, China|
|40-2270||Whiskey Pete||95th BS||Tokyo||Lt. Robert M. Gray||crashed SE Chuchow, China|
|40-2282||95th BS||Tokyo||Lt. Everett W. Holstrom||crashed SE Shangjao, China|
|40-2283||95th BS||Tokyo||Capt. David M. Jones||crashed SE Chuchow, China|
|40-2298||The Green Hornet||95th BS||Tokyo||Lt. Dean E. Hallmark||ditched at sea Wenchu, China|
|40-2261||The Ruptured Duck||95th BS||Tokyo||Lt. Ted W. Lawson||ditched at sea Shangchow, China|
|40-2242||95th BS||Tokyo||Capt. Edward J. York||interned Primorskkai, Siberia|
|40-2303||Whirling Dervish||34th BS||Tokyo||Lt. Harold F. Watson||crashed S Nanchang, China|
|40-2250||89th RS||Tokyo||Lt. Richard O. Joyce||crashed NE Chuchow, China|
|40-2249||Hari Kari-er||89th RS||Yokohama||Capt. C. Ross Greening||crashed NE Chuchow, China|
|40-2278||Fickle Finger||37th BS||Yokohama||Lt. William M. Bower||crashed NE Chuchow, China|
|40-2247||The Avenger||37th BS||Yokosuka||Lt. Edgar E. McElroy||crashed N Nanchang, China|
|40-2297||89th RS||Nagoya||Maj. John A. Hilger||crashed SE Shangjao, China|
|40-2267||TNT||89th RS||Kobe||Lt. Donald G. Smith||ditched at sea Shangchow, China|
|40-2268||Bat Out of Hell||34th BS||Nagoya||Lt. William G. Farrow||crashed S Ningpo, China|
On 1 April, the 16 modified bombers, their five-man crews and Army maintenance personnel, totalling 71 officers and 130 enlisted men, were loaded onto USS Hornet at Alameda. Each aircraft carried four specially-constructed 500-pound (225 kg) bombs. Three of these were high-explosive munitions, and one was a bundle of incendiaries. The incendiaries were long tubes, wrapped together in order to be carried in the bomb bay, but designed to separate and scatter over a wide area after release. Five of these bombs had Japanese "friendship" medals wired to them - medals awarded by the Japanese government to U.S. servicemen before the war. To decrease weight (and thus increase range), the bombers' armament was reduced. Each bomber launched with two .50-calibre (12.7 mm) machine guns in an upper turret and a .30-caliber (7.6 mm) machine gun in the nose. Two wooden, simulated gun barrels mounted in the tail cones were intended to discourage Japanese air attacks from that direction, and were cited afterward by Doolittle as being particularly effective. The aircraft were clustered closely and tied down on the Hornet's flight deck in the order of their expected launch.
The Hornet and Task Force 18 left the port of Alameda at 10:00 on 2 April and a few days later rendezvoused with Task Force 16, commanded by Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr.: the carrier USS Enterprise and its escort of cruisers and destroyers in the mid-Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii. The Enterprise's fighters and scout planes would provide protection for the entire task force in the event of a Japanese air attack, since the Hornet's fighters were stowed below decks to allow the B-25s to use the flight deck. The combined force, two carriers, three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, eight destroyers, and two fleet oilers, then proceeded in radio silence. On the afternoon of April 17, the slow oilers refueled the task force, then withdrew with the destroyers to the east, while the carriers and cruisers dashed west at 20 knots towards their intended launch point in enemy-controlled waters east of Japan.
At 07:38 on the morning of 18 April, while the task force was still about 650 miles (1,050 km) from Japan, it was sighted by Japanese picket boat No. 23 Nitto Maru which radioed an attack warning to Japan. Although the boat was fatally damaged by gunfire from the cruiser USS Nashville, Doolittle and Hornet skipper Captain Marc Mitscher decided to launch the B-25s immediately—10 hours early and 170 miles (275 km) farther from Japan than planned. After respotting to allow for engine start and run-ups, Doolittle's aircraft had 467 ft (142 metres) of takeoff distance. Despite the fact that none of the B-25 pilots, including Doolittle, had ever taken off from a carrier before, all 16 aircraft launched safely between 08:20 and 09:19. (The 16th B-25 had been included only as a reserve, intended to fly along as an observation and photographic platform, but when the mission was compromised, Doolittle made a command decision to utilize the reserve aircraft.)
The B-25s then flew towards Japan, most in groups of two-to-four aircraft before changing to single-file at wavetop level to avoid detection. The aircraft began arriving over Japan about noon (Tokyo time; six hours after launch) and bombed 10 military and industrial targets in Tokyo, two in Yokohama, and one each in Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka. Although some B-25s encountered light anti-aircraft fire and a few enemy fighters over Japan, no bomber was shot down. Only the B-25 of Lt. Richard O. Joyce received any battle damage, minor hits from anti-aircraft fire. Plane No. 4, piloted by Lt. Everett W. Holstrom, jettisoned its bombs before reaching its target when it came under attack by fighters after its gun turret malfunctioned.
15 of the 16 aircraft then proceeded southwest along the southern coast of Japan and across the East China Sea towards eastern China, where several fields in Chekiang (now Zhejiang) Province were supposed to be ready to guide them in using homing beacons, then recover and refuel them for continuing on to Chungking. One B-25, extremely low on fuel, headed instead for the closer land mass of Russia.
The raiders faced several unforeseen challenges during their flight to China: night was approaching, the aircraft were running low on fuel, and the weather was rapidly deteriorating. None would have reached China at all except for a fortuitous tail wind as they came off the target that increased their ground speed by 25 knots for seven hours. As a result of these problems, the crews realized they would probably not be able to reach their intended bases in China, leaving them the option of either bailing out over eastern China or crash landing along the Chinese coast. Fifteen aircraft reached the Chinese coast after 13 hours of flight and crash landed or bailed out; the crew who flew to Russia landed 40 miles (65 km) beyond Vladivostok, where their B-25 was confiscated and the crew interned until they managed to escape through Iran in 1943. It was the longest combat mission ever flown by the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber, averaging approximately 2,250 miles (3,600 km).
Doolittle and his crew, after safely parachuting into China, received assistance from Chinese soldiers and civilians as well as John Birch, an American missionary in China. As did the others who participated in the mission, Doolittle had to bail out but fortunately landed in a heap of dung (saving a previously injured ankle from breaking) in a rice paddy in China near Chuchow (Quzhou). Doolittle thought that the raid had been a terrible failure because the aircraft were lost, and that he would be court-martialed upon his return. Doolittle subsequently recommended Birch for intelligence work with General Chennault's Flying Tigers.
Following the Doolittle Raid, most of the B-25 crews that came down in China eventually made it to safety with the help of Chinese civilians and soldiers. The Chinese people who helped them, however, paid dearly for sheltering the Americans. The Japanese military began the Zhejiang-Jiangxi Campaign to intimidate the Chinese from helping downed American airmen. The Japanese killed an estimated 250,000 civilians while searching for Doolittle’s men. The crews of two aircraft (10 men in total) were unaccounted for; Hallmark's crew (sixth off) and Farrow's crew (last off). On 15 August 1942, the United States learned from the Swiss Consulate General in Shanghai that eight of the missing crew members were prisoners of the Japanese at Police Headquarters in that city (two crewmen had died in the crash landing of their aircraft). On 19 October 1942, the Japanese announced that they had tried the eight men and sentenced them to death, but that several of them had received commutation of their sentences to life imprisonment. No names or details were included in the broadcast. Japanese propaganda ridiculed the raid, calling it the "Do-nothing Raid," and boasted that several B-25s had been shot down. In fact, none had been lost to hostile action.
After the war, the complete story of the two missing crews was uncovered in a war crimes trial held in Shanghai. The trial opened in February 1946 to try four Japanese officers for mistreatment of the eight captured crewmen. Two of the missing crewmen, Sgt. William J. Dieter and Cpl. Donald E. Fitzmaurice, had died when their B-25 crashed off the coast of China. The other eight, Lieutenants Dean E. Hallmark, Robert J. Meder, Chase J. Nielsen, William G. Farrow, Robert L. Hite, and George Barr; and Corporals Harold A. Spatz and Jacob DeShazer were captured. In addition to being tortured and starved, these men contracted dysentery and beriberi as a result of the poor conditions under which they were confined. On 28 August 1942, pilot Hallmark, pilot Farrow and gunner Spatz were given a mock trial by the Japanese, although the airmen were never told the charges against them. On 14 October 1942, these three crewmen were advised that they were to be executed the next day. At 16:30 on 15 October 1942, the three were taken by truck to Public Cemetery Number 1 outside of Shanghai and put before a firing squad.
The other five captured airmen remained in military confinement on a starvation diet, their health rapidly deteriorating. In April 1943, they were moved to Nanking where, on 1 December 1943, Meder died. The remaining four men (Nielsen, Hite, Barr and DeShazer) eventually began receiving slightly better treatment from their captors and were even given a copy of the Bible and a few other books. They survived until they were freed by American troops in August 1945. The four Japanese officers who were tried for war crimes against the eight Doolittle Raiders were all found guilty. Three of them were sentenced to hard labor for five years and the fourth to a nine-year sentence. DeShazer eventually became a missionary and returned to Japan in 1948, where he served in that capacity for over 30 years.
One other Doolittle Raid crewman was lost on the mission. Corporal Leland D. Faktor (flight engineer/gunner with Gray) was killed during his bailout attempt over China, the only man on his crew to be lost.
In addition to Doolittle's award of the Medal of Honor, Corporal David J. Thatcher (a flight engineer/gunner on Lawson's crew) and 1st Lt. Thomas R. White (flight surgeon/gunner with Smith) each received the Silver Star for their efforts in helping the wounded crew members of Lt. Lawson's crew evade Japanese troops in China. All 80 Raiders received the Distinguished Flying Cross and those who were killed, wounded or injured as a result of the raid also received the Purple Heart. In addition, every Doolittle Raider received a decoration from the Chinese government.
Twenty-eight of the crewmen remained in the China Burma India theater flying missions, most for more than a year. Five were killed in action. Nineteen crew members flew combat missions from North Africa after returning to the United States, with four killed in action and four becoming prisoners of war. Nine crew members served in the European Theater of Operations, one killed in action. Altogether 12 of the survivors died in air crashes within 15 months of the raid. Two survivors were separated from the USAAF in 1944 due to the severity of their injuries.
The 17th Bomb Group, from which the Doolittle Raiders had been recruited, received replacement crews and transferred to Barksdale Army Air Field in June 1942, where it converted to B-26 Marauder medium bombers. In November 1942 it deployed overseas to North Africa, where it operated in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations with the Twelfth Air Force for the remainder of the war.
The raid also had a strategic impact, though it was not understood at the time, in that it caused the Japanese to recall some fighter units back to the home islands for defense. The Japanese Navy also bore a special responsibility for the fact that an American carrier task force had approached the Japanese Home Islands in a manner similar to that on Pearl Harbor, and then escaped unpunished. The fact that land-based bombers carried out the attack served to confuse Japanese war planners about the source of the attack. This confusion and an assumption that Japan was vulnerable to air attack strengthened Admiral Yamamoto's resolve to seize Midway Island.
It was hoped that the damage done would be both material and psychological. Material damage was to be the destruction of specific targets with ensuing confusion and retardation of production. The psychological results, it was hoped, would be the recalling of combat equipment from other theaters for home defense thus effecting relief in those theaters, the development of a fear complex in Japan, improved relationships with our Allies, and a favorable reaction on the American people.|20px|20px|Brig. Gen. James H. Doolittle, 9 July 1942
The Doolittle Raiders have held an annual reunion almost every year since the late 1940s. The high point of each reunion is a solemn, private ceremony in which the surviving Raiders perform a roll call, then toast their fellow Raiders who passed away during the previous year. Specially-engraved silver goblets, one for each of the 80 Raiders, are used for this toast. The goblets of those who have died are inverted. When only two Raiders remain alive, they will drink a final toast using the vintage 1896 bottle of Hennessy cognac which has accompanied the goblets to each Raider reunion since 1960.
Only 11 Raiders are still alive; nine are in their early 90s and two are in their late 80s. Only eight were able to attend the 64th anniversary reunion held in Dayton, Ohio, in April 2006. Seven were able to attend the 65th anniversary in April 2007 in San Antonio, Texas. Six of the Raiders were able to attend the 66th anniversary in April 2008 in Dallas, Texas:
The most extensive display of Doolittle Raid memorabilia can be seen at the National Museum of the United States Air Force (on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base) in Dayton, Ohio. The centerpiece is a like-new B-25, which is painted and marked as Doolittle's aircraft (although it is actually a B-25D). The bomber, which North American Aviation presented to the Raiders in 1958, rests on a reproduction of the USS Hornet's flight deck. The scene is made even more realistic through the use of several authentically-dressed mannequins surrounding the aircraft; these include representations of Doolittle, USS Hornet skipper Captain Marc Mitscher, and groups of Army and Navy personnel loading the aircraft's bombs and ammunition. Other highlights of the exhibit are the silver goblets used by the Raiders at each of their annual reunions; pieces of flight clothing and personal equipment; a parachute used by one of the Raiders in his bailout over China; and group photographs of all 16 crews. Many other interesting items are also included in this unique collection.
The recently-opened Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island, Oahu, Hawaii also features a 1942 exhibit in which the centerpiece is a restored B-25 in the markings of "The Ruptured Duck" used on the Doolittle Raid.
The San Marcos, Texas chapter of the Commemorative Air Force Has the actual armor plate from the pilot seat of the B-25 Colonel Doolittle flew in the raid in their museum.
On 21 April 1992, in harmony with other World War II 50th Anniversary festivities, USS Ranger (CV-61) participated in the commemorative re-enactment of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, Japan. Two World War II-era B-25 bombers were craned on board and over 1,500 guests (including national, local and military media) were embarked to witness the two vintage warbirds thunder down Ranger's flight deck and take off.
The raid also inspired two other films. One was the 1943 RKO film Bombardier starring Randolph Scott and Pat O'Brien. The climax of this movie is an attack on Japan by a group of B-17s. The other film, The Purple Heart, made in 1944, starring Dana Andrews, was a fictional depiction based on a Japanese court martial of captured American airmen, from the Doolittle Raid.
The 2001 film Pearl Harbor presented a heavily fictionalized version of the raid, with the attack portrayed as having destroyed an entire industrial area against withering antiaircraft gunfire and with many other technical inaccuracies.
A highly fictionalized film in 1943, Destination Tokyo starring Cary Grant, tangentially involved the raid, concentrating on the fictional submarine USS Copperfin. The submarine's mission is to enter Tokyo Bay undetected and place a landing party ashore to obtain weather information vital to the upcoming Doolittle raid. The film suggests the raid did not launch until up-to-the-minute data was received. However, all the after-action reports indicated the raid launched without time for weather briefings because of the encounter with the picket ships.
Many books were written about the Doolittle Raid after the war. Doolittle's Tokyo Raiders, by C.V. Glines, tells the complete story of the raid, including the unique experiences of each B-25 crew. Guests of the Kremlin, written by copilot Bob Emmens, describes his crew's adventures as internees in Russia after their landing in that country following the raid. Four Came Home, also by C.V. Glines, tells the story of Nielsen, Hite, Barr, and DeShazer, the Raiders who were held in POW camps for over three years. The First Heroes, by Craig Nelson, goes into great detail of the events leading up to the raid and the aftermath for all the pilots and their families.
A related VHS video with contemporary footage of Doolittle and the flight preparations, along with the B-25s launching, is DeShazer, the story of missionary Sergeant Jake DeShazer of B-25 #16 (the last to launch from the Hornet). The video is based on "The Amazing Story of Sergeant Jacob De Shazer: The Doolittle Raider Who Turned Missionary by C. Hoyt Watson. At the end of both the video and the book, DeShazer after the war meets Mitsuo Fuchida, the commander and lead pilot of the Pearl Harbor attack.