Doolittle’s Raid

Doolitte's Raid - 1942

           Following the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States was in desperate need of hope. The Doolittle Raid was their answer. The Doolittle Raid, also known as the Tokyo Raid, was an air raid that took place on April 18th, 1942 by the United States against the Japanese capital Tokyo, and other places on Honshu during World War II. The raid’s primary purpose was to cause material damage by destroying military targets, consequently impeding Japanese war production and creating fear in the people of Japan. Although the raid caused little damage, it demonstrated that the Japanese mainland was vulnerable to American air attacks, and served as a boost in morale for the American people.

           The raid was led by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle. On April 1st, 1942, 16 B-25B Mitchell bombers, each with a crew of five, and Army maintenance personnel were loaded onto the USS Hornet at Naval Air Station Alameda in California. Hornet and Task Force 18 got underway from San Francisco Bay on April 2nd. A few days later, the carrier met with Task Force 16, commanded by Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr, upon the USS Enterprise carrier and her escort of cruisers and destroyers in the mid-Pacific Ocean, north of Hawaii. Enterprise’s fighters and scout planes provided protection for the entire task force in the event of a Japanese air attack since Hornet’s fighters were stowed below decks to allow the B-25s to use the flight deck. In total, two carriers, three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, eight destroyers, and two fleet oilers set off for Japan.

          On the morning of April 18th, when the task force was still about 650 nautical miles (750 mi) from Japan, it was sighted by a Japanese picket boat that radioed an attack warning to Japan. The boat was eventually sunk by gunfire from USS Nashville, the light cruiser in the force. The chief petty officer who captained the boat killed himself rather than be captured, but five of the eleven crew were picked up by Nashville. Due to this intervention, it was decided that they would launch the B-25s immediately, ten hours early and 170 nautical miles (200 mi) farther from Japan than planned. Although none of the B-25 pilots, including Doolittle, had ever taken off from a carrier before, all 16 aircraft launched safely within the hour. The B-25s then flew toward Japan, mostly in groups of two to four aircraft, before flying separately at wave-top level to avoid detection.

            Six hours after launch the aircrafts began arriving over Japan, bombing ten military and industrial targets in Tokyo, two in Yokohama, and one each in Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe, and Osaka. During the raid no bomber was shot down, only the B-25 of 1st Lt. Richard O. Joyce received any battle damage. Fifteen of the 16 aircraft then proceeded southwest off the southeastern coast of Japan and across the East China Sea toward eastern China. One B-25 was extremely low on fuel, and headed instead for the Soviet Union rather than be forced to ditch in the middle of the East China Sea. Due to low fuel and deteriorating weather, the flight to China was a far greater challenge than anticipated. Had it not been for a tailwind as they came off target, increasing their ground speed by 29 mph for seven hours, none of the raiders would have reached China. After 13 hours of flight, realizing they wouldn’t be able to reach their intended base, all 15 aircraft either crash-landed on the Chinese coast or had crews bail out.

            The 16th aircraft, commanded by Capt. Edward York flew to the Soviet Union and landed 40 miles beyond Vladivostok at Vozdvizhenka. As the USSR was not at war with Japan, and a Soviet-Japanese neutrality pact was officially in force, the Soviet government could not immediately repatriate any Allied personnel involved in hostilities. Per international law, the crew members were interned for several months before being relocated. Eventually in mid-1943, they were allowed to cross the border into Allied-occupied Iran. A cover story was concocted that York had bribed a smuggler to assist them in escaping from Soviet custody. The fact that the “smuggling” had been staged by the NKVD was later confirmed by declassified Soviet archives.

            Following the Doolittle Raid, most of the B-25 crews who had reached China eventually achieved safety with the help of Chinese civilians and soldiers. Of the 16 planes and 80 airmen who participated in the raid, all either crash-landed, ditched, or crashed after their crews bailed out, with the single exception of Captain York and his crew, who landed in the Soviet Union. Despite the loss of these fifteen aircraft, sixty-nine airmen escaped capture or death, with only eight being captured, three of which were executed by the Japanese government. Of the remaining five, four were eventually freed by American troops in 1945, and one passed away while in captivity. While the Doolittle Raid successfully served its purpose in raising American morale when fear and doubt were at an all-time high, it also put into perspective the great brutality of the war as the aftermath of the raid proved fatal for an estimated 250,000 Chinese civilians by the Japanese Imperial Army for the aid provided to the crashed raiders.

Videos About the Doolittle Raid

The Tokyo Raid 1942: America Strikes Back (9:56) (General information on the raid)

DOOLITTLE RAID and the B-25 Mitchell bomber (1942) (20:32)
(More info on raid, specifics on the B-25)

The Prairie Aviation Museum wants to thank Mckenna Skeate.  Mckenna developed the information as part of a Senior Volunteer activity at Normal Community High School.  Mckenna is very interested in aviation and will pursue her interests in college.

Mckenna also served as an assistant host during the weekends. 

Thanks Mckenna!