Remember the Doolittle Raid On Tokyo, 18 April 1942

Doolittle_takeoff_Hornet

Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, piloting his B-25 “Mitchell” bomber, is the first of the 16 B-25s off the flight deck of U.S.S. Hornet, CV-8.

Today is the 75th Anniversary of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, 18 April 1942. It was a bold and imaginative raid, just what would be expected of Yankee ingenuity. Although the raid did little lasting damage to the Japanese war machine, it served its purposes of putting the Japanese on notice that the U.S. will fight back. It also served the badly-needed purpose of boosting morale at home. The U.S. reluctantly entered the war against the Axis powers after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Worldwide, the news up to this point in 1942 had been of one setback after another for the Allies in all theaters of the war.

The planes were launched from Hornet some 650 miles from Tokyo. The attack convoy had been sighted by a Japanese boat, so the decision was made to launch early. It was not an easy launch – the seas were very choppy and the pilots had to time their take off to the up pitch of the bow of the ship. There was only about 4 feet of clearance between the wingtips of the planes and the island on the flight deck on the starboard side and only about 4 feet of clearance on the port side. Nonetheless, all 16 planes were successfully launched.

USS_Hornet_CV8_Doolittle

Not an inch to spare – 16 B-25 bombers crowded onto the flight deck of U.S.S. Hornet, CV-8. CV-8 made a lot of history in her brief 13 month career.

The crews of the planes had practiced over land areas that had been laid out like the target cities. The planes were prepared at McClellan Army Air Force base northwest of Sacramento, California and flown to the Naval Air Station at Alameda, California in San Francisco Bay. At NAS-Alameda, the planes were hoisted onto Hornet which was docked at Pier 3 of the NAS. Hornet CV-8 participated in the Battle of Midway and was lost at the Battle of Santa Cruz Island, all in 1942. As the U.S. Navy has had a Hornet in its arsenal almost since the beginning of the Navy, CV-12, which was under construction when CV-8 was lost, was quickly re-named Hornet rather than Kearsarge as originally planned. CV-12 went on the have a storied career herself, including fetching two of the Apollo space capsules and their crews from the ocean. CV-12 is now docked at the same Pier 3 in Alameda as was CV-8 and is open for tours. When CV-33 was built, she then took the Kearsarge name originally slotted for CV-12.

Marc Mitscher

Captain (later Admiral) Marc Mitscher commanded Hornet CV-8 during the Doolittle Raid. He preferred wearing a long bill baseball cap rather than the more traditional officers’ hat.

Hornet was commanded by Captain Marc Mitscher who was promoted to Admiral soon after the raid on Tokyo. Mitscher and Hornet would figure largely in the the Battle of Midway later in 1942. Mitscher looked out for the welfare of his crews, famously turning on the deck lights at night (against Navy protocol) during Midway so that his air crews could find their way back to the ship. He is largely forgotten today. He shunned publicity and burned his papers after the war. He died in 1947, only 60 years old.

The Tokyo task force was commanded by the flamboyant Admiral William Halsey, who, unlike Mitscher, was not shy about possibilities for publicity.

Japanese Premier Hideki Tojo was inspecting military bases during the raid. One B-25 came so close that Tojo could see the pilot, though the American bomber never fired a shot at the inspection party. The raid did cause the Japanese government the thing that all Asian cultures seek to avoid at all costs: to lose face. Believing the air raid had been launched from Midway Island, approval was given to Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s plans for an attack on Midway. Midway turned out to be a costly defeat for the Japanese, causing Tojo and his warlords to lose even more face. Midway is considered to be the turning point in the war in the Pacific, the point where the U.S. and its Allies began to stop the Japanese advance across the Pacific.

Doolittle-Mme_Chang Kai-Shek

Mme. Chang Kai-Shek fetes Lt. Col. Doolittle and his Raiders after their attack on Japanese targets.

Three members of the Doolittle Raid crew were captured and executed by the Japanese after the American plane crashed. A fourth starved to death in prison. One crew, whose plane landed in Russia, was interned by the Russians. The others landed safely in China as planed and were feted by Mme. Chang Kai-Shek.

This video, just short of 10 minutes play time, recounts the Doolittle Raid:

Seventy-five years ago, the men on this mission put their lives on the line for our future. It is important that we remember what they accomplished.

14 Comments

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  1. Thanks for the reminder. What a raid, and what men who KNEW but still went. Doolittle a leader for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read about Doolittle raid many years ago in magazine “Modelist-Konstruktor”. Now we can see this magazine in Internet http://historius.narod.ru/spravka/carriers/carriers-10.htm Some images and many Russian words 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. John Lawrence 19/04/2017 — 09:15

    Here is another little known fact about the Doolittle raid and the USS Hornet that carried the planes. The CO, Marc Mitscher was the pilot on one of the four Navy Curtiss sea planes that attempted to fly across the Atlantic in 1919. His plane did not complete the flight, NC-4 was the sole survivor and the only one to complete the flight. NC-4 was the first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic, 8 years befor Lindbergh’s solo flight in 1927. JWL

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  4. The Doolittle raid on Tokyo captured my attention in grade school because of the pure audacity of it and the selflessness of the crews who participated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was indeed an audacious raid! I’m not sure we are made of the same stuff anymore that we would attempt to do that now – though if it is true that the U.S. hacked the Nutty NORKs missile launch last week, that might be something bordering on the audaciousness of the Doolittle Raid. I say “bordering” because the hacking might be audacious, it still didn’t involve the men, ships, planes and equipment required to pull off the Doolittle Raid. It was certainly one of the most bold strokes of WWII in any theater.

      A few years back I was lucky enough to be on the flight deck of Hornet CV-12 when a group of restored B-25 bombers flew over and dipped their wings. Seated on the flight deck was a group of B-25 pilots from WWII. This was done on the 60th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid. CV-12 is berthed at Pier 3 at the former Alameda Naval Air Station where Hornet CV-8 took on the 16 B-25s of the Doolittle Raid.

      There’s certainly not many of “The Greatest Generation” left. However, here’s one, who turned 97 last Saturday, talking about flying Packard Merlin-powered planes in the video toward the bottom of the page. (It’s on page 3 of the thread.)
      He is also a Packard collector. At one point, he had about 12 Packards. He has a Scottish Heather/Dover White ’56 Four Hundred that I may be able to buy if he decides he no longer wants it.

      Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment, Yogi!

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  5. John Lawrence 24/04/2017 — 12:22

    I was fortunate to attend a gathering of the Raiders when they celebrated the 60th anniversary of the raid. It was hosted and held at Travis AFB, but a luncheon event took place at the Nut Tree airport, a general aviation facility near Travis AFB. This event was open to the public. What impressed me was how the hanger was decorated for the event. There was a large round table for each of the 16 B-25s. Balloons with the names of each aircraft’s crew floated over each table. The surviving Raiders were seated at the head table along with air force and other officials. It was an inspiring and unforgetable sight. JWL

    Liked by 1 person

    • What an honor it would be to have attended that!

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      • John Lawrence 26/04/2017 — 06:49

        I have a large scale model of the Hornet with the 16 Mitchell’s poised on the deck. Each B-24 has a tail number coinciding with one of the Raiders. I have them placed in order of take off with Doolittle’s plane lifting off from the deck. I also have the four squadron patches plus the “Wright” patch of Doolittle. JWL

        Liked by 1 person

  6. John – I would be in awe of that model! Wow! 🙂

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  7. John Lawrence 27/04/2017 — 07:10

    Oops, that would be … Each B-25 has a tail number… The B-24 is a different aircraft, the four-engined “Liberator”. Also, the reference to Mitchell should be in the plural not possessive. Sorry – JWL

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