Thursday, April 18, 2013

April 18, 1942 - Doolittle Raid on Japan

This daring raid was a notable beginning of the United States showing that it would not only fight back from the attacks on Pearl Harbor, but would just be the beginning of the determination, heart and ingenuity of the American forces to come.

Launching from the USS Hornet, sixteen B-25B bombers flew to Nagoya, Tokyo and Yokohama.  The intent of the raid, which was later verified by Lt. Colonel James Doolittle himself in an autobiography, was to show the Japanese population that they were not immune to attack and to boost the morale of the American people.

An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV-8) at the start of the raid, 18 April 1942.
Note men watching from the signal lamp platform at right.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives collection.

The specific aircraft (B-25B Mitchell twin engine medium bomber) was selected as it was able to take off from an aircraft carrier, carry enough munition for significant bombing runs and have enough fuel to continue to airfields in China.  

Doolittle specially trained his raiders for their mission and they made modifications to the planes just for these flights.  Plans called for the Hornet to get to a point roughly 400 miles from the Japanese mainland before the planes took off, but as so many military missions go, the plans changed.  Enemy boats were encountered nearly 600 miles from shore, and while they served no danger to the Hornet and her escorts, the USS Enterprise with cruisers and destroyers, the ships were able to send radio signals alerting Japan to the American's presence.  The crews had no choice but to take off and begin the mission.

The bombers arrived in 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 antiaircraft fire and a few enemy fighters over Japan, no bomber was shot down.

From the Navy History and Heritage web page :
Damage to the intended military targets was modest, and none of the planes reached the Chinese airfields (though all but a few of their crewmen survived). However, the Japanese high command was deeply embarrassed. Three of the eight American airmen they had captured were executed. Spurred by Combined Fleet commander Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, they also resolved to eliminate the risk of any more such raids by the early destruction of America's aircraft carriers, a decision that led them to disaster at the Battle of Midway a month and a half later.

1942 US newsreel about the raid

The Raiders have a web site with lots of information and audio and video clips. They also still have an annual reunion: