Sixty Years Ago ...
Dateline: 18 April 1942
The Daring Doolittle Raid
Pacific Theater of Operations
by Jennifer King and Timothy Rollins
April 22, 2002
Reflections on World War II
A Special Note to Our Readers: In the days immediately following the embarrassing and tragic losses at Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt (FDR) and his military advisors was looking for a way to "even the score" as it were with the Japanese and wreak upon them a level of destruction such as we had experienced that previous December 7th.
More than a proportional response, he was looking to 'send a message' as it were - that you just don't mess with America and its people. In all of the thought and effort that went with it, Lieutenant Colonel (and eventually General) James Doolittle hatched up a plan that succeeded in both sending that message to the Japanese as well as giving American morale a desperately needed shot in the arm, for which President awarded him the Medal of Honor, a copy of the citation of which is displayed below.
It was the sheer genius and courage of men the likes of Doolittle as well as Admiral William "Bull" Halsey and others that allowed this plan to fall into place at the time it did, and through their efforts and tireless courage, led to the events of Midway, which was the turning point of the war for the Allies in the Pacific. - Jennifer and Tim
In January of 1942, a grim-faced and resolute President Roosevelt faced his senior advisors and demanded that they figure out a way for the United States to properly retaliate for the ignominy of Pearl Harbor. Although a few minor raids on the Pacific Islands had already taken place, what was really needed was a one-two punch that would send a message to the Japanese - you don‘t push America around and get away with it. The Japanese home islands had to be targeted.
This task was a seeming impossibility. The enemy had shore based aircraft with a patrol range of 300 miles, and Japanese picket boats had an effective range of 500 miles. U.S. carrier bombers could not operate outside of this range, and putting one of the invaluable carriers inside of it invited disaster. Good old American ingenuity would solve this seemingly intractable problem, and a fantastically daring plan was concocted.
Captain Francis Lowe, attached to Admiral Ernest King’s staff in Washington, had been dispatched to Virginia in order to inspect a new carrier, the USS Hornet CV-8 (right). While there, Lowe noticed an airfield on which the outline of a carrier landing deck had been painted. This inspired Lowe with a new thought. What if an aircraft carrier could be used to transport long range bombers within distance of Japan? By 16 January 1942, Lowe’s and his air operations officer, Captain Donald Duncan, had developed a tentative plan. The Army Air Force had, in its fleet, a medium bomber named the Mitchell, designated the B-25. With additional fuel tanks added, the B-25 had a range of 2000 miles, and they could each carry four 500 pound bombs.
Duncan and Hornet’s commander Captain Marc Mitscher, ran some trial runs off the coast of Virginia in early February. This convinced them that the plan might actually be feasible. Since the B-25s would be unable to land on the carriers, they would divert to China after bombing the key Japanese cities. Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle (left) was a well-known air racing pioneer known as the “King of the Sky”. Doolittle, who also possessed a doctorate in aeronautical engineering from MIT, volunteered to command the mission. Doolittle set about finding the B-25 unit with the most experience, and asked for volunteers. The entire unit, including the group commander, volunteered.
In late March, the plans approved by Admiral King and Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey were approved by Admiral Nimitz. Admiral Halsey was given command of the newly designated Task Force 16. Sixteen B-25s were flown across the country to Alameda Air Station in San Francisco, where they were loaded on the deck of the Hornet on 1 April. Hornet sailed the next day, on her way to rendezvous with Enterprise, who had left Pearl Harbor on 8 April. When Admiral Halsey announced over Enterprise’s PA, “This force is bound for Tokyo”, the entire ship exploded in cheers.
On 13 April, the two ships met at a point between Midway and the western Aleutians. Hornet’s own planes had been stored below decks in order to make room for the B-25s, so Enterprise CV-6 (right) was to provide the air cover for the mission. Task Force 16 was also accompanied by four cruisers, eight destroyers and two oilers. After the cruisers and carriers were refueled on 17 April, they detached from the rest of the force in order to make a high speed run to the launching point. The plan was for a nighttime raid, with Colonel Doolittle launching first, with a cargo of incendiary bombs. The other planes would follow, guided in by the lights of the incendiaries.
The first hitch in the plan occurred early on the morning of 18 April. At 0210, Enterprise’s surface radar spotted two Japanese contacts and Halsey altered course in order to avoid them. At 0500, a reconnaissance plane spotted a Japanese picket ship, and sent word that she had seen him. At 0644, a third ship was visually sighted by lookouts on the Hornet, and the gig was up. Halsey would have to launch there, 150 miles short of his desired launching position, or retreat. The decision was made to launch. Halsey sent the men a message: “To Col. Doolittle and his gallant command, good luck and God bless you - Halsey”
Admiral Halsey would later recall that “the wind and sea were so strong…green water was breaking over the carriers’ ramps.” Nevertheless, the B-25s, one-by-one, lumbered off the pitching deck and formed a ragged line behind Doolittle. At 1400 (noon, Tokyo time) the bombers were over Tokyo, having achieved complete surprise despite the initial warnings given by the picket ships. Ironically, the Japanese forces were conducting an anti-aircraft exercise with feinted attacks by Japanese planes on this same day. As this mock air raid ended, the real one began.
Col. Doolittle and his accompanying 12 bombers hit various military targets in Tokyo, including an oil farm, a steel mill and several power plants. The other three planes bombed targets in Nagoya, Osaka and Kobe. Inevitably, some of the bombs went awry and hit civilian targets instead of the intended military targets. This error would prove fatal to four airmen later captured by the Japanese.
The sixteen planes all made it out of Japan. Running perilously low on fuel, Lieutenant Edward J. York’s B-25 made an emergency landing at the supposedly “friendly” airfield at Vladivostok. There, the plane was impounded by the Russians and the crew imprisoned until they effected an escape some thirteen months later. The other planes continued until they were over China, where four planes crash landed. Crews of the other eleven planes bailed out in the night - one man was killed and four were drowned when they landed in lakes. A few of the men landed in trees, wisely deciding to spend the night right there after being unable to determine the height at which they were lodged. Most of these men eventually made it to Chinese villages where they were cared for until they could be passed on to friendly forces in Chungking.
Eight men, however, were captured when they landed in Japanese controlled territories. All were tried by military court and sentenced to die, the Japanese “graciously” commuted the sentences of five of them. Lieutenant Dean E. Hallmark, Lieutenant William G. Farrow and Sergeant Harold A. Spatz were executed by the Japanese, and Lieutenant Robert J. Meder died later in captivity after torture and brutalization. Nevertheless, 71 of the Doolittle Raiders returned to the United States, and Col. Doolittle was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt himself.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of The Congress the Medal of Honor to
JAMES HAROLD DOOLITTLE (AIR MISSION)
UNITED STATES ARMY AIR CORPS
Rank and organization: Brigadier General, U.S. Army. Air Corps. Place and date: Over Japan. Entered service at: Berkeley, California. Birth: Alameda, California. G.O. No.: 29, 9 June 1942.
For conspicuous leadership above the call of duty, involving personal valor and intrepidity at an extreme hazard to life. With the apparent certainty of being forced to land in enemy territory or to perish at sea, General Doolittle personally led a squadron of Army bombers, manned by volunteer crews, in a highly destructive raid on the Japanese mainland.
While the actual damage done by Doolittle’s Raid was slight, the raid had the desired effect of simultaneously boosting American morale while damaging that of the Japanese. The Japanese high command, inflicted with what they later would term “victory disease”, were outraged by the attack. Putting their dissent aside they immediately agreed to Admiral Yamamoto’s plan to execute a major operation in the central Pacific, near a small atoll called Midway.
The Doolittle Raid also caused the diversion of four Japanese Army fighter-plane groups, urgently needed elsewhere, into defense of the homeland, which wouldn’t actually be attacked again for many months. However, it was perhaps the Chinese people who suffered the most from the aftereffects of the raid. In a four month reign of terror, Japanese forces slaughtered up to 250,000 Chinese civilians in retaliation for the aid that a few brave peasants had given to Doolittle’s downed crews. We shall forever be in their debt. ***
*** President Roosevelt, announcing the raid to a jubilant American people, would humorously report that the planes were launched “from Shangri-La”.
For additional information on the Doolittle raid, you are encouraged to check out these web sites:
US Air Force Museum - Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio
Arlington National Cemetery
USS Enterprise Web Site
USS Hornet Web Site
United States Naval History Web Site
© 2002 Jennifer King and Timothy Rollins
General Doolittle retired from active duty on 10 May 1946, returning briefly for service in the Korean Conflict. He was promoted to the rank of General in June of 1985 and died in California on 27 September 1993 at age 96. He was buried in Section 7-A of Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors alongside his wife and high school sweetheart Josephine Daniels Doolittle (24 May 1895 - 24 December 1988). In addition to the Medal of Honor he received from FDR, he was the recipient of not one, but TWO Distinguished Serviced Service Medals, the Silver Star, THREE Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Bronze Star, FOUR Air Medals, and had also been decorated by Great Britain, France, Belgium, Poland, China and Ecuador. His service to his country in what was perhaps its darkest hour remains an example to all Americans - whether military or civilian.
COPYRIGHT © 2002 BY THE AMERICAN PARTISAN. All writers retain rights to their work.