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Doolittle Raider Ed Saylor — No. 15 “TNT” would have been pushed over the side except for him

9 May 2012

Doolittle Raider Ed Saylor — Plane No. 15 (TNT) would have been pushed over the side except for him

It is an open secret that NCOs are why the military works, as well as usually not getting the credit they deserve. One such NCO was on the Doolittle raid. His name is Ed Saylor and he managed to remove and repair his aircraft’s Number 2 engine while at sea, on the flight deck with crude equipment — and it had not been done outside a heavy maintenance facility before. The aircraft flew because of Ed Saylor’s outstanding work, otherwise it would have been committed to the Pacific Ocean so that the USS Hornet would be able to launch her aircraft for patrolling and air defense.

Life can be whimsical and a last minute replacement of a crewman on the Number 15 (next to last) allowed a crewman to survive injuries from a crash landing of the Number 7 aircraft (Ruptured Duck) on the Doolittle raid. The man saved was her pilot, Ted Lawson, who went on to write about the Doolittle raid with his famed book, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.

Incredibly, TNT and Ruptured Duck landed near each other within moments of one another near Tantou Shan, China.

We are fortunate that Gene Fioretti has recorded this story otherwise this incredible story might have been lost. He has kindly provided his written work, retaining the copyright, for us to read about Ed Saylor’s journey leading to his flying on the Doolittle raid and after. It is quite a story!

The entire story can be read here 9CCC VOL.9, 2.0 THE DOOLITTLE RAID FINAL VERSION (1.2Mb file size PDF) — and below is an abridged section of Ed Saylor’s experiences regarding the raid — and to get onto his email distribution list for the Cole Creek Chronicle you only need to email Gene at 🙂


Abridged from the link above and written by Gene Fioretti (copyrighted)


Symbol of the Doolittle Raiders — Gene Fioretti photo



Ed Saylor during WW II — photo provided by Gene Fioretti

On April 18, the USAF Museum in Dayton hosted the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. The 5 remaining members of the 80 were honored. Last December, the National WWII Museum in New Orleans also praised these airmen. They spoke of the mission and Roosevelt’s plea to stem Japan’s advance across the Pacific. The Doolittle raiders gave America its first glimmer of hope since Pearl Harbor. In New Orleans, it was riveting hear their first hand accounts. I talked with one of those Raiders, Sgt. Edward J. Saylor, and learned about his remarkable story of improvisation to keep his plane no. 15 airworthy. Ed’s work would be a stroke of luck for pilot, Ted Lawson, and the crew of the iconic, plane no. 7, the Ruptured Duck. Lawson would later author the first personal account of the Raid in his book, THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO. LTC Edward J. Saylor would complete a distinguished 28 year military career in aircraft maintenance with a stellar record of never grounding a plane for lack of air worthiness. That record started on the deck of the HORNET with plane no. 15.



TNT’s crew: Lt. Howard Sessler (nav/bombardier), Lt. Donald Smith (pilot), Lt. Thomas White (doctor/gunner), Lt. Griffin Williams (copilot), Sgt. Edward Saylor (engineer/gunner) — photo provided by Gene Fioretti


It’s every mechanic’s nightmare. Your machine has a potential catastrophic problem and you are miles away from your shop. That’s what confronted Engineer/ Gunner Sgt. Edward J. Saylor, thousands of miles from his air base; at sea, and on the deck of a pitching and yawing carrier.

About a week under way; while doing his routine checks, Ed found the disturbing evidence. Checking the oil level of the right engine sump, Ed pulled the dual purpose dipstick. The magnet at the bottom, designed to pick up metal shavings and ferrous sludge picked up some bad news.

♦ From page 113 THE WAY IT WAS by Kay Saylor Spencer (Ed Saylor’s sister)

On this day when I pulled the magnetic plug out of the right engine, there were 2 horseshoe-shaped keys stuck to the plug and I knew that the planetary drive gear system in the accessory case of the engine couldn’t run without the gear system because it drove all the accessories and the hydraulic and the fuel pump and everything, the engine couldn’t run without it. If one of those gears slid out on its shaft a little too far, then it would just strip out and the engine would quit. So I reported this to the General. And he said, “Can you fix it?” I said “Probably, but I’ve never done anything like this before.” He said “You’ve either got to fix it or push it over the side.” So I took the engine off.

On that encounter, Colonel Doolittle actually had cut Sgt. Saylor some slack. The colonel’s normal modus operandi was to pose the question; but never reveal his appropriate and sometimes harsh directives prior to the response. Upon arrival at McClellan Field, San Francisco, each of the pilots of incoming B-25s was asked: ‘How’s your plane?” If the responding pilots had given any inkling of a problem, Doolittle was prepared to scrub that plane and its crew from the mission. One such pilot had a mechanical problem; thought better of telling, and reported it to be flight ready. The repairs were repaired under normal maintenance check procedures. Sgt. Saylor likely saved his plane and the crew from Doolittle’s imperative to push it overboard. If he had ‘misspoken’; knowing how attached the engineer was to his plane, one wonders if Sgt. Saylor would have chosen to follow the navy tradition of the captain going down with his ship?

Removing the 2000 lb. engine from the B-25 was no easy task. It had never been done at sea. There were many constraints. To start with, the bomber was going nowhere. Even if it could, it was too large to elevator down to the hanger deck. Whatever Ed’s plan was, it would have to be done in place. That meant the engine removal would require some extraordinary rigging to both lift the engine and secure the plane from the resultant change in the center of gravity. If not done right, the engine could damage the airframe or once removed, the tail would drop onto the deck. Any airframe damage and ‘TNT’ would have likely been pushed over to meet the Neptune of the Sea.

The Hornet’s machine shop and personnel rallied around Sgt. Saylor and ‘Democracy’s Ace in the Hole’. First task was to rig additional tie downs to the nose. Then a lift over the right engine was put in place. It all had to withstand the static and dynamic forces of the engine removal, and withstand the pitch and roll of the carrier deck as it cut through the terrible weather of the Pacific. As mentioned, the procedure had never been done on a carrier deck. Sgt. Saylor not only had never done it before, but also stated that according to the Army Air Corps he was not authorized to perform the work. It wouldn’t be the only disregard of regulations. “It would have normally been done at the maintenance depot. He added, “On land.”

Removal of the cowling and all those bolts, fasteners, hoses, tubing, and wiring harnesses had to be secured from the wrath of wind and sea. Ed saw to it that every piece was safely stowed away in the plane. As he put it, “If one part got washed overboard, that would have been it.” Safely removed and in the machine shop, work on the engine’s planetary gear system began. It appeared that there was just too sloppy a clearance for the displaced keys. They needed to be a little tighter. Unable to fabricate new keys, the navy’s machine shop came up with the solution. They would knurl the surfaces just enough to make it a tight fit.

I wanted to find out just what these keys looked liked. If only, I could get my hands on a pair and present them to the sergeant for verification. That proved difficult. We are not definitively there yet, but well on our way. It served as an excuse to make several visits to Sgt. Saylor’s home. Valuable information came from Aero Traders and their A&E technician, Carl Scholl. Aero Trader is a premier player in the restoration and rebuilding of vintage WWII aircraft engines. My first phone contact with Carl was a big letdown, to say the least. When I told the story and explained the part I was seeking, Carl politely informed me that there were no such keys on the planetary gear assembly of the Curtiss twin row 14 cylinder engine.

In an effort to bridge the gap between Ed’s description and Carl’s statement of fact, I set out to create a replica of what Ed was describing. Somewhere between the MK1 & MK2 versions I received the following picture and comment from Carl:

My partner and I have done a little research on this “key”. We overhaul R-2600 engines which are used on the B-25. The early model -9 engines used on the B-25B has a different method of attaching the gears in the supercharger planetary assembly than used on later -29 models. I have included a few photos of the actual gears and the “clips” that retain the gears. I think these might be the parts he is referring to. There are no -9 engines around, but the -8 is similar I suspect. It does not conform exactly to the photos you sent. Is that an actual photo of the part or something made up?

When I showed Ed the pictures of the assembly, we appear to be getting closer to his 70 year old recollection. For now, the MK3 replica is being worked on. To get a hold of one of those originals would be a real gift.

Once repaired, the reverse operation to re-install the engine was started.

  • Rule 1: Everything in its place and a place for everything. You don’t want to end up with a basket full of unidentifiable parts.
  • Rule 2: Test out your work.

Now that might be a problem. Just exactly how do you test flight a plane that has fourteen others ahead of it and nowhere to go? The answer, as engineer/gunner Sgt. Saylor related: “You don’t. We started the engine up and it seemed just fine.” In disbelief, I asked: ‘So your test flight was when you took off for Tokyo?’ Ed nodded in the affirmative. ‘Were you or the crew worried that it might not work?’ “No, I was pretty certain it would get us to Tokyo.” Ed elaborated that if they were forced to ditch, in those days there wasn’t much of a rescue plan. No planes were going to search for their aircraft. Naval vessels were ordered to immediately turn direction after the launch and head out of harm’s way. Their rescue resources amounted to life jackets, a rubber raft, and a whole lot of confidence in their pilot, the crew, their plane, and Ed’s capabilities.

There was another item, equally important, that was ‘fixed’ while underway. It would be just as important, maybe even more so, than the air worthiness of plane no. 15. This had to do with retrofitting the crew roster. ‘Doc’ Thomas White had acted as the equivalent of what we call today the flight surgeon. From the inception, he administered the medical needs and instructed the crews on basic and advanced first aid. Aside from that, he desperately wanted to be a crew member. Back in Florida, the brass informed ‘Doc’ that the only remote chance was to at least qualify as a gunner. With purposeful resolve that he did do, qualifying as the 2nd best gunner in the entire squadron.

At sea, it was continued harping and waiting. His opportunity came when the pilot of TNT, Lt. Donald Smith, expressed reservations about a crew member. Right or wrong, for whatever reason, Doolittle did not want to have any doubts about the crew’s cohesiveness. With that, ‘Doc’ White was granted his wish and became a crewman of record for plane no. 15. He also claimed the longest title of record: Lt. Thomas R. ‘Doc’ White, M.D., Flight Surgeon / Gunner. The crew and plane no. 15 were now ready to launch. The waiting game began.


On April 2nd, the USS Hornet steamed out of Alameda Naval Air Station with its hybrid crew of airmen and sailors. Like two dogs confronting each other, the respective services were ‘sniffing’ each other out. With their unusual cargo of bombers and their crews, both groups still assumed they were bound for the Pacific. Nor did they know that the USS Enterprise and Vice Admiral William ‘Bull’ Halsey was steaming to a Pacific rendezvous with Task Force 16.

For the air crews, the first days aboard the Hornet were of discovery. Having never been at sea, they explored the ship while settling in to naval routines, battle station drills, fire drills, air crew drills, etc.. One military protocol was unquestioned. Officers had rank over enlisted men for everything from galley services to bunking assignments. Ed Saylor mentioned that sleeping arrangements for him amounted to a cot in the mess hall that had to be removed every morning at 4:00 am before the cooking staff started breakfast preparations. Seeking undisturbed and longer sleeping hours, some of the airmen slept on deck with their planes.

The corrosive environment of the Pacific added to the normal maintenance checks on the aircraft. Engineers were reporting generator failures, fouled plugs, turret and hydraulic problems. There was plenty of work that kept them and their navy counterparts busy. They quickly bonded as a multi-service team. The Pacific’s turbulent weather and heavy seas constantly swayed, tugged, and jarred at the Hornet’s precious cargo. The mysterious auxiliary fuel tanks fitted in the Mitchells fell victim to leaks. There were no idle hands. This may have served as a distraction from the rumor mills.

On the afternoon of April 12th, the skipper of the Hornet, Capt. Marc Mitscher ordered the semaphore message to all ships of his task force: THIS FORCE IS BOUND FOR TOKYO. The response was more vocal when the same message was delivered over intercom on the Hornet itself. Ed Saylor’s reaction was typical for the air crews. ‘Now it made all sense’. Although he did not say precisely when it was done, but Ed took a piece of chalk and wrote on the side of his aircraft, plane no. 15: DEMOCRACY’S ACE IN THE HOLE. It should be noted that the ‘official’ name painted on plane no. 15 was TNT, Ed’s hand written message was his personal statement about their mission. It was part of the ‘graffiti’ and symbolism that abounded on everything attached to Doolittle’s planes.


Squadron Signals publication cover which Gene Fioretti asked the crew of TNT to sign — photo provided by Gene Fioretti

The modified planes; drilled and briefed crews, and all the preparation would lead one to believe that it was just a matter of getting the word from command to ‘Launch Your Planes’. From the accounts, that was far from the truth. While the planned day and time of launch had passed on down the chain of command, it ended, under strict orders, at the pilot level. Even there, the information was limited. According to C.V. Glines in THE TOKYO RAID, the pilots were informed on the 17th to be ready at a moment’s notice for the 18th. Doolittle spoke.

♦ From page 64 THE TOKYO RAID by C.V. Glines

 On the afternoon of the seventeenth, he called the flying crews together for a final briefing. “The time’s getting short,’ he said. By now every one of you knows exactly what he should do if the alarm is sounded. We were originally supposed to take off on the nineteenth but it looks like it will be tomorrow, the eighteenth, instead. This is your final briefing. Be ready to go at any time.”

 What prompted Doolittle to forewarn his pilots of the advanced launch date? Could it have been naval intelligence picking up more ‘chatter’ from the broken Japanese code? Did the intelligence value of the code and its protection supersede the importance of the Raid? Or was it just prudent preparation? Remember, this all preceded the actual alert prompted by the Japanese communications trawler radioing Tokyo of the task force’s position.

In any event, at 7:45 am, on the morning of April 18th, confirmed sighting by Ens. J.Q. Roberts, prompted overall task force commander Halsey to semaphore from the Enterprise to Capt. Mitscher of the Hornet:

In response, Mitscher ordered the alarm and spoke through the Hornet’s Intercom:


Following that announcement, pandemonium and chaos broke loose. C.V. Glines does an excellent job in detailing the confusion. Suffice it to say that the crews were not waiting in the ready room, all suited up and ready to go at a moment’s notice. That image was Hollywood. Crews were spread throughout the carrier in varied activities. For starters, most of the crewman had packed their canvass B-4 Air Corps bag as if they were going to land in Chungking as originally planned. The hurried announcement changed their itinerary. Imagine yourself at the airport with a standard 50 lb piece of luggage and your airlines announces that your flight is leaving immediately; at a different concourse, limited to a single carry on, and the final destination will be predicated on fuel capabilities. That picture was the Hornet and its rattled passengers. Ed Saylor said he was somewhere below deck after finishing breakfast and made haste with everyone else.

These moments were pivotal for ‘Doc’ White. His foresight paid off. Back at Alameda, he had ‘acquired’ 80 quarts of ‘medicinal’ bourbon. When on board he parlayed each of them for two pint bottles of rye whiskey from the ship’s pharmacy. His thinking was that these would be more readily portable in their bags or flight jackets. As the crewmen scrambled, ‘Doc’ White passed out as many bottles as possible. Besides the antiseptic properties of alcohol, Sgt. Saylor said that it also served to calm our nerves. He confessed that it was the only time in his long military career that he ever drank on the job. “We passed the bottle around during the flight and drank the whole bottle.” With ‘Doc’ White aboard, they could say they were under direct doctor’s orders.


Once airborne, TNT was assigned to drop their four 500 lb bombs on an aircraft factory and shipyard on the edge of Kobe. There is plenty of documentation in the literature about this phase of the operation. Once again, in spite of the hasty change of plans, luck was with the crews. Fuel was an issue. Upon launch, in spite of the additional fuel tanks, disposable 5 gallon Jerry cans, etc., the crews believed that they stood a slim chance of making it to the mainland of China. On the inbound leg, they were bucking severe head winds, tempestuous weather, and the inevitability of a night landing. What delivered the squadron to a slim chance of hope was the unusual weather pattern in the East China Sea. Normal wind patterns are from the mainland of China towards Japan in an easterly direction. On that evening, as the Raiders were nursing their planes towards the Chinese mainland, they had a tailwind blowing westward.

The pilot of ‘TNT’, Lt. Donald Smith, managed to get sight of what he thought was the mainland of China. He was faced with the decision confronting every plane, where and how to land.

♦ From page 132 THE DOOLITTLE RAID by C.V. Glines

The visibility was almost zero; the ceiling about 300 feet and it was almost dark, when we caught the outline of a mountain sticking out of the sea directly ahead. I immediately started a bank to the right, began to climb and turned due east to head back out to sea. The right engine was giving very little power, and the left one was back-firing. It was evident we could not remain in the air so we prepared for a water landing alongside the island.

(From my readings, I believe the island in question was Tantou Shan, Zhejiang, China 29.1825° N / 122.0411° E)

Plane no. 15 stayed afloat long enough for the crew to evacuate and deploy their raft. For Ed Saylor, the baptism of the crash landing was not over. As a casual aside he mentioned: “I couldn’t swim”, apparently not a big requirement for Army Air Corps servicemen. Minutes later, the B-25 nosed under, lifting the twin tail out of the water as it began its plunge to the sea bottom. Not yet completely clear of their aircraft, the aileron sliced through their raft, leaving it half inflated. The half mile voyage to shore found Saylor in the water, hanging on to the raft’s rope. The rough seas upended the tiny raft several times, but all made it ashore. With the exception of navigator/ bombardier Sessler who swam ashore, the crew arrived together.

By Divine Providence plane no.7, Ruptured Duck, ditched within a half mile of no. 15, TNT. Ruptured Duck’s landing was violent, like its name portrayed. With landing gears down, Pilot Ted Lawson planned a beach landing on a small island. Because of poor visibility with the darkness reducing depth perception, the Ruptured Duck fell just a few feet short of the beach. The error was just enough for the wheels to catch the surf and Ruptured Duck split open. Bombardier, Lt. Robert Clever was thrown through the plane’s Plexiglas nose. With the exception of engineer/gunner Sgt. David Thatcher, the rest of the crew, pilot Ted Lawson; co-pilot Dean Davenport; and navigator Charles McClure were badly injured. If they were to survive, they would require medical attention beyond the first aid capabilities of the airmen. That is where the good fortune of ‘Doc’ White came into play. Within two days, the two crews managed to link up on the mainland. With the assistance of ‘Doc’ White, Ted Lawson’s mangled and gangrene infected leg was amputated. Lawson’s recovery enhanced his chances for escape. It would also mark his literary debut. As one of the very first personal encounter books on the raid, Ted Lawson was praised for THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO, published in 1943. Subsequently in 1944, the war film of the same title, starring Spencer Tracy as Col. Doolittle; and Van Johnson as Lt. Ted Lawson was a morale booster for the war weary country. 

Ed Saylor more recently — Gene Fioretti photo

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 9 May 2012 08:03

    Joe, we often see articles on other blogs and websites that we tell our readers about. We have no problem with sharing our readership. In fact we want to make we lead our reads to the best information on the internet, that is why we often send them here. I have posted a teaser on our blog for this article. I think it is an outstanding article that shood be read by everyone. I hope you will go and check out the teaser and give it your okay, if you do not like it let me know I’ll take it down. I think it will lead a lot of my readership here to read this article, therefore providing them the reading experience, and making it mutually bebeficial for everyone. If you have a problem you can communicate with me: (thanks Joe) here is the link

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      9 May 2012 17:40

      Jr — you have good practices, I need to catch up and refine my practices but am just a bit busy with visiting family for a few weeks. Then I will start to catch up and modernize like you are. Thanks,


  2. 9 May 2012 08:06

    Please edit the mis-spelling for me Joe thanks “JR”

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      9 May 2012 09:36

      Got them … thought I had run a final F7 when I obviously didn’t. Thanks for the assist 🙂

  3. 6 April 2016 17:24

    Hi, My name Is Joyce. My dad did train under col Dollittle. and he flew the eB-25, and also was the bombardier at times. He left 4 dairies he had flown 51 missions they flew out of africa but I cannot fin the name of the country or town in africa I know they made there own field but I was trying to put this together as a book my dad passed away 5 years ago I know he was part of the rear attachment. can I get any help on some for my story that is my email also there is a story about my dad on my timeline on fb. thanks you


  1. Doolittle Raider | Doolittle Raider Reunion News

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