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Doolittle Raid — 70th anniversary

18 April 2012

Doolittle Raid — 70th anniversary

This day is the 70th anniversary of the famous raid led by Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle. It was an unconventional strike of land based medium bombers launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. Sixteen specially modified North American B-25 Mitchell bombers flew the mission — hardly a significant military force — but they accomplished more than the destructive capacity of their ordinance. These sixteen aircrews, not to mention the daring naval force of Task Force 18 (USS Hornet —  responsible for the transport and launch of the B-25 aircraft) and Task Force 16 (USS Enterprise — responsible for the escort and providing all the air cover until launching of the B-25 aircraft), showed the Japanese population they were not immune from the horrible effects of war as well as elevating the morale of the United States in those initial and gloomy days of its entry into WW II.

There were unintended consequences — as there are always unintended consequences — of this bold action. The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) withdrew much of their naval forces which were ranging at large in the Indian Ocean to their home islands, much to the relief of the Royal Navy. This reallocation of carriers also deprived the IJN of one or two carriers for the assault on Midway as well as the Battle of Midway. The use of two aircraft carriers and less than 1½ dozen Mitchell bombers by U.S. Armed Forces in the early dark days after the attack on Pearl Harbor returned a huge boost in U.S. morale, as well as immense strategic gains — an excellent investment by anyone’s standards.

The vast majority of aircrews made safe landing in China where another, and tragic, unintended consequence unfolded. Japanese military forces ruthlessly searched for the downed airmen, as well as any who had aided them, killing an estimated quarter million Chinese civilians in the process. This was not the first time in WW II that Japan brought death to civilians, or POWs, on a massive scale.

The raid is well recalled at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in a special exhibit representing the B-25 as flown by Jimmy Doolittle on the flight deck of the USS Hornet.


The ship commander and mission commander confer while in the flight deck of the USS Hornet on 18 April 1942, in this diorama at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force — photo by Joseph May

Each B-25 Mitchell was loaded aboard the USS Hornet in Alameda California for the journey west to launch the first strike against the Japanese home islands during WW II — photo by Joseph May

Mannequins in authentic dress representing Capt. Marc Mitscher (USN, in command of the USS Hornet) and LtC James Doolittle (USAAF) on the right — photo by Joseph May

Each Mitchell bomber had a mixed ordinance load with a specific target assigned for each weapon — photo by Joseph May

More information and high resolution photographs can be found at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force web page on the B-25 and Doolittle Raid.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Gene Fioretti permalink
    21 April 2012 00:36

    LTC Edward J. Saylor, one of the five remaining Raiders, lives in the Puget Sound area. He has a unique, little known, story that affected the outcome of not only of his crew, plane no. 15 TNT, but also that of no. 7 crew, Ruptured Duck, whose pilot, Ted Lawson would later write THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO. It was riveting to have Ed tell the story. I wrote a short piece about Ed’s unique contribution. I would be glad to e-mail a copy.

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      21 April 2012 11:26

      You are more than kind — I will send an email to you on this. Thank you for this gem 🙂

  2. V.E.G. permalink
    5 January 2013 14:02

    Ted Lawson became well known! He married to his wife, Ellen Reynolds!

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      11 January 2013 14:05

      We did not know that — thanks for adding to the post’s material!

  3. V.E.G. permalink
    5 January 2013 14:11

    James Doolittle’s ancestry has been in North American for over 300 years! He is related to a hero, “Uncle” Alan Burton Hall, a Doolittle ancestor! Hall gave his life saving a young girl in Florida, was originally from Connecticut!

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      11 January 2013 14:04

      Thanks so much for this information — it is knowledge like this which makes history vibrant and meaningful rather than only dry statistics.

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