BackgroundOn December 7 and 8 ( think International Date Line ) Japanese Forces attacked US bases in Hawaii and the Philippines. In quick succession US bases and strategic strongpoints fell before the Japanese military forces and pushed US and Allied Forces back to a small islands chain (Hawaii, of which Midway is a part of) and The continent of Australia and New Zealand. The US Command sought to slow down or stop the rapid advance and to also give the Americans at home some good news to help keep moral up and aid the war effort. One of their plans was a daring raid on the Japanese homeland; despite the fact that there were no bases close enough for US Aircraft to launch from.
Known as the Doolittle raid (
After the leader of the mission
), the plan was an audacious joint-service raid involving the US Navy and US Army Air Corps (
predecessor to the US Air Force
). The raid's concept was originally developed by a US Navy Captain named Francis Lowe who was attached to Admiral King's staff. It involved a carrier strike on the Japanese homeland. The initial problem with this was that Carrier-based aircraft did not have the range to strike Japan from a distance that would keep their home ship out of range from a counter attack. At this point of the war the US only had three aircraft carriers in the Pacific Theatre and the loss of even one would be disastrous. In order to overcome this problem Lowe suggested that Army Air Corps bombers be used and launched from the carrier decks.
Initially this would seem to be a ludicrous Idea. Bombers are heavier and have a much longer take off run. But the idea had enough merit that further exploration was done. Captain Donald B. "Wu" Duncan, Admiral King's Air Ops officer researched data on Air Corps bombers and concluded the that the B-25 medium bomber might be able to take off from a carrier with a load of bombs and make the flight. Based on this, the US Army Air Corps brought in Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle to lead a project investigating and training the crews necessary to perform such a raid. Doolittle had the perfect experience for the job; he had been a famed air racer and had helped developed instrument flying; techniques used to this day when flying in clouds or bad weather.
PreparationThe first thing that Doolittle did was recheck the data and compare other possible aircraft for the mission. In addition to the B-25, the B-18, B-23, and B-26 were possible candidates. In the end though, the B-18 didn't have the bomb load, the B-23 had a wingspan that was too large to operate from a carrier, and the B-26 required too much length to take off; and so the decision was made to proceed with the B-25B, a twin engined bomber crewed by XX and capable of carrying 2000 pounds of bombs.
There was a lot of preplanning that went into the mission. Typically, the B-25 had a take-off run of 1,400 feet. Doolittle and his crews would have 500. They were aided by the fact that the carrier would be steaming into the wind and would provide at least 30mph of wind, but they would still need special techniques to safely get the heavy aircraft off the deck and remain out of the water. In addition, they had to make plans for recovering the bombers and crew. While originally planning to land the bombers back on the carrier, this plan was scrapped when it was decided there wasn't enough room on the carrier to recover the bombers and that a flight of aircraft back to the carrier would give Japanese fighters an excellent method of finding the ships the bombers had been launched from. It was decided that the bombers would fly on after the mission and land in either China or Russia.
After the initial planning, Doolittle needed to find some aircraft and crews to use on the mission. He found a squadron that had just received new B-25B bombers, the 17th Bombardment Group, and paid them a visit; asking for volunteers. He took 24 aircraft and their crews and sent them to Eglin Field ( Current home of US AIr Force Special Operations Flights ) for training. In early March of 1942, four months after the initial attack on American Forces, the crews and their aircraft began to experiment with short takes offs. members of the unit began to modify the aircraft to lighten them as lessons were learned.
The lower aft gun turret was removed when it was found to be ineffective at the low altitudes the bombers would be flying at and also prone to jamming. This lessened the aircraft's weight by some 600 pounds and allowed more fuel to be carried for further range. A collapsible fuel bladder was mounted in the bomb bay that allowed 225 extra gallons to be carried. The complex and highly secret Norden bomb sight was removed and replaced with a simple metal one that cost $.20 to make and was more accurate at low levels. The rear-facing machine guns were removed and replaced with black-painted broomsticks to give the appearance that the aircraft were still fully armed. Each aircraft was still defended by a single nose gun and a twin .50 machine gun mounted in the upper rear fuselage.
By experimenting it was discovered that the B-25 could take off without bombs in 287 feet. With a full bomb load that rose to just over 450 feet. The aircraft would park on the runway and set their brakes before running the engines up to full power. As soon as the engines were at their full RPM's the brakes were released. Flaps were also used to shorten the run and decrease the takeoff speed With their techniques and modifications complete, the force departed for San Francisco and the waiting carrier on April 1, 1942, less than a month after they had started their training.
Waiting for them was CV-9, USS Hornet, one of the Navy's newest aircraft carriers. Security was tight; the aircrews had been ordered to not talk about their training to their families and friends or even amongst themselves and had not even been told what their mission was. Likewise, the crew on board the Hornet did not know what they were going to be doing on this cruise.
The Hornet had also had some modifications to allow the B-25's to operate from her deck, mainly two white lines painted down the Left side of her deck to give the pilots a visual reference as to where the landing gear should be to avoid striking the aircraft carrier's island with the right wing. In addition, all of her aircraft were stored belowdecks to give the B-25's as much room to take off as possible.
The Hornet set sail and made way for the launch point Southeast of Japan's coast line. Because of the strategic value of the carriers it was agreed upon that if the task force was spotted on the way to the launch point the bombers would be launched as soon as possible, even if they were out of range of Japan or even the US in order to let the carrier's fighters launch and defend the retreating force. As it happened the task force was discovered early and the aircraft launched farther out than planned.
The original plan had called for the aircraft to be launched just before dark so that they could arrive and make their bomb runs at night when it was hardest for the Japanese to defend themselves. However, on the morning of April 18, 1942, the task force was spotted by a patrol boat while maneuvering to hide from another patrol boat. The patrol boat was immediately taken under fire and sunk, but not before it managed to get off a radio message to the Japanese mainland. Although they were still 400 miles short of their intended launching point, the B-25's were manned and immediately launched. Despite being heavy and on the deck of a small tossing runway, each bomber managed to make it off and fly away. In the lead ship, Jimmy Doolittle himself made the first take off having only 467 feet. An hour later, all of the aircraft were on their way to Japan.
The bomber force split up, each aircraft with their own set of targets and attack routes. The routes had been chosen to cause a number of effects: the appearance of a larger force with spread out damage, the dilution of Japanese defense forces who had to chase many separate targets instead of a cluster, and the increased likelyhood of surprise. For the most part the plan worked; only one bomber was prevented from reaching its targets by japanese fighters. All of the aircraft overflew Japan and after discharging their warload headed for the China Coast.
A total of four cities had been attacked; Tokyo, Kobe, Nagoya, and Yokosuka. Because of the high quantity of wood in the Japanese buildings the incindiary bombs used were highly effective and many buildings, docks, and a partially-built boat were completely destroyed. The targets included steelworks, oil refineries, warehouses, docks, aircraft, truck, and tank factories, gas and chemical works, and powder and ammunition manufacturing plants. All were damaged and some left in flames. One aircraft had been fought off by Japanese fighters and had to drop its bomb load in the water, but none were shot down.
One landed in Vladivostok, Russia, crew interned. Two had crew captured by Japanese soldiers in China or members of the puppet government army. Of the 80 members of the raid, 64 survived and were able to make their way back to American forces and fight again during the war.
Final AnalysisWhile many installations were attacked and damaged, the overall effect of the raid was slight in terms of material damage. However, the psychological victory meant far more to the American public and military and helped turn the tide of the war. The sudden appearance of American medium bombers in their airspace caused the Japanese much consternation; the end result was that many fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft guns and crews were kept back on the Japanese mainland instead of on islands in the Pacific where their presence could have made operations more difficult or even impossible for the attacking Americans. The Japanese also sent forces to look for an island called "Shangri-La", which is what President Roosevelt had stated was the bombers point of origin.
The American cost for the raid was light; all sixteen bombers were lost in forced landings off the coast of China or other incidents ( one crew landed in Russian and had their plane interned ), three Americans were killed in the crash landings, eight were captured with four of those dying in prison camps, and seven were injured. But for this loss the American military proved that the Japanese forces were not invincible and caused the Japanese to spend more men and material on defense than needed.
[Narrator] April 18th, 1942
16 B-25s, Mitchell medium bombers, sit on the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier at sea. Their mission, bomb Tokyo, just 4 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
[General Doolittle] It had three real purposes. One purpose was to give the folks at home the first good news that we'd had in World War II. It caused the Japanese to question their warlords. And from a tactical point of view, it caused the retention of aircraft in Japan for the defense of the home islands when we had no intention of hitting them again, seriously in the near future. Those airplanes would have been much more effective in the South Pacific where the war was going on.
A Navy Captain named Low, conceived the idea of taking Army medium bombers off of a Navy carrier and attacking Japan. The B-25 was selected because it was small, because it had the sufficient range to carry 2,000 lbs. (of) bombs, 2,000 miles, and because it took off and handled very well. First I found out what B-25 unit had had the most experience and then went to that crew, that organization and called for volunteers and the entire group, including the group commander, volunteered.
[Narrator] The training was hard, no one had ever taken off a fully loaded B-25 in less than 500 feet. First they had to prove it could be done, then they had to train the people to do it. Before they were through, one of the Mitchells would lift off in only 287 feet. The crews proved they were good and so were their airplanes.
The raid was carefully planned, nothing was left to hance. Norden bombsights were replaced by 20 cent improvised models to prevent the secret devises from falling into enemy hands. Doolittle then considered what to do if the task force was spotted by the Japanese.
[General Doolittle] If we were intercepted by Japanese surface [ships] or aircraft, our aircraft would immediately leave the decks. If they were within range of Tokyo, they would go ahead and bomb Tokyo, even though they would run out of gasoline shortly thereafter. That was the worst thing we could think of. And if we were not in range of Tokyo, we would go back to Midway. If we were not in range of either Tokyo or Midway, we would permit our aeroplanes to be pushed overboard so the decks could be cleared for the use of the carrier's own, carrier Hornet's, own aircraft.
[Narrator] On the morning of April 18th, 1942, the task force was sighted by Japanese patrol boats. The boats were quickly destroyed, but they could have transmitted a position report. It was eight hours before scheduled take-off ,an additional 400 miles to the target. Gas reserves would be dangerous low, but they were spotted and they would have to go.
[General Doolittle] The program went almost according to plan. We were to go bomb our targets, turn in a general southerly direction, get out to sea as quickly as possible, and after being out of sight of land, turn and take a westerly course to China.
We came in on the deck. We pulled up to about fifteen hundred feet to bomb in order to make sure we weren't hit by the fragments of our own bombs.
And I would say that the feeling was "Get the job done and get the heck out of there." The actual damage done by the raid was minimal. We were 16 aeroplanes each carrying one ton of bombs. In later raids, General LeMay with his 20th Air Force, sent out 500 planes on a mission, each carrying 10 tons of bombs.
[Narrator] Reaching a save haven after the raid wasn't easy. And because they had to take-off much sooner than planned, they were very low on fuel.
[General Doolittle] One crew went to Vladivostok, the other 15 of us proceeded until we got to the coast of China. When we got to China, two aeroplanes were so low on fuel that they landed in the surf along side of the beach. Two people were drowned, eight of them got ashore. The weather was quite bad, so we flew on until we got to where we thought we were as close as we could get to where we wanted to go. Having been on dead reckoning for quite awhile, we weren't precisely there, and then we all jumped.
[Narrator] 80 crew members flew in the Doolittle Raid, 64 returned to fight again. They were part of a team, recognized for its professionalism and heroism, a rich heritage remembered by a new generation of airmen.