I ended up taking yesterday off because they were having a fly-in at the Air Force Museum for the 75th Anniversary of the Doolittle Raid today. They were going to get a number of B-25's to do a flyover. I believe they also were going to have a pair of B-1's flyover. Sadly, I could not see either as I didn't take today off.
I figured that it would still be cool to see the planes fly in, so I headed down to the Air Force Museum yesterday. Since they were supposed to start at around 8:00AM, that meant getting up at 4 in the morning in order to make it in time. I did make it with a little bit of time to spare, that gave me a chance to scope out a decent spot to catch the planes. Originally I thought that there as going to be 17 planes making the appearance but that was cut down to 11 which is still a pretty impressive number considering that the planes are over 70 years old. They also had the last surviving member of the Doolittle Raiders appearing.
The captions for the planes will be in bold. The story about the raid itself will be in normal text.
The roots for the Doolittle Raid probably have their origins in the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 as that forced us to enter the war against the Japanese. Although the idea started to form when President Roosevelt asked that the Joint Chiefs of Staff on December 20, 1941 to make preparations to bomb Japan as soon as possible. The idea of the raid was to bolster American Morale and make the Japanese doubt their leadership.
The concept for the attack came from Navy Captain Francis Low. He thought that a medium bomber could potentially take off from an aircraft carrier. He kind of proved the concept using an outline of an aircraft carrier at Norfolk that was used for training purposed.
Based on the requirements of a 2,400 mile range and payload of 2,000 pounds, it was decided to use a B-25B. It was still a new bomber but all flight testing at that point indicated that it could fulfill the mission. It was thought that the planes could possibly land in Russia but they had signed a neutrality pact with Japan and didn't want to violate that. Instead, it was decided that the planes would try to land in unoccupied China.
When it was decided that the B-25 would be the aircraft, two of them were loaded on the USS Hornet and were flown off on February 3, 1945. The raid was approved and members of the 17th Bombardment Group were selected as the pool of volunteers. At that point, they had the most experience with the B-25. The group was transferred from anti-submarine patrols out of Oregon to bases in South Carolina to train for the mission.
Initial plans called for 20 planes to be used in the raid and those planes were taken to the Mid-Continent Airlines modification center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The lower gun turret was removed. De-icers and anti-icers were added. Steel plates were added for extra protection. One of the radios was removed in order to reduce weight. Additional fuel takes were added. Because of its weight, the famous Norden bomb sight was removed and replaced with an improvised bomb sight. Cameras were added to take pictures of damage results from the raid. The 24 crews selected flew the planes from Minnesota the base in Florida where they would begin training on March 1, 1942. Training included how to take off from an aircraft carrier, over water navigation, night flying and low-level bombing. This was performed by Navy Lieutenant Henry L. Miller who was a flight instructor from the Naval facility in Pensacola. The raid would be lead by Col. James H. Doolittle.
Additionally, the planes would be without fighter escort.
After intensive training, 22 B-25s took off from the base and Florida and were flown to McClellan Field in California. They were transferred to the Sacramento Air Depot where further modifications were made. On March 31, 1942, sixteen planes were flown to Naval Air Station Alameda. These were the planes that would be used in the raid.
On April 1, 1942, the sixteen planes, their crews of 5 men each, Army maintenance crews and there armament were loaded on the USS Hornet. Each plane would be carrying four 500 bombs. Three of them were high explosives and the last was a specially modified incendiary bomb. Most of the machine guns were stripped and the planes were strapped to the deck of the Hornet in the order that they would take off.
The USS Hornet got underway out of Alameda on April 2, 1942. A few days later, she would meet up with Task Force 16 which comprised of the USS Enterprise and her escorts. The Enterprise's planes would be used for scouting and escort since the Hornet's were below deck because of the bombers. The Hornet was commanded by Captain Marc Mitscher.
The ships proceeded towards Japan under radio silence. On April 17th, the fleet oilers refuelled the fleet and turned east with an escort of destroyers. The carriers and cruisers continued west towards Japan.
On the morning of April 18th, 1942, the fleet was spotted by the Japanese picket ship, No 23 Nitto Maru. Although the ship was sunk, it was still able to radio back to Japan that American ships were spotted. The Petty Officer in charge of her committed suicide rather than getting captured. However five of the 11 man crew were picked up the USS Nashville.
Doolittle and Captain Mitscher decided to launch the attack immediately, despite being 170 miles further from Japan than planned. Because Doolittle was in the lead plane, he only had 467 feet to take off. Despite never taken off from an aircraft carrier before, all sixteen planes were in the air within an hour of Doolittle's take off.
The aircraft arrived over Tokyo at around noon local time. There was light anti-aircraft fire and some fighters but none of the bombers were shot down. A total of three fighters were shot down by the bombers however.
Ten industrial targets in Tokyo were hit, two in Yokohama and one each in Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka. This resulted in minor damage to some of the targets and an aircraft carrier.
Fifteen of the planes made it to the Chinese coast because because they took off sooner than planned, the crews either had to bail out or crash land. One plane made it to the Soviet Union, but because of the neutrality pact with Japan, it would take over a year for those crews to be returned to the United States. Three crew members were killed and eight were captured. Of those 8 captured, four were killed in captivity (three executed and one died of disease) and the other four were eventually returned to the United States. Everyone else made it back to the United States.
Tactically the raid had little effect on Japan. Like I said above, there was some minor damage. Most of that was fixable. Strategically, was another story. Up to this point, Japanese soil hadn't been attacked by a foreign power in a long time and this struck somewhat of a blow to their morale. More importantly, it made Admiral Yamamoto realize that he had to sink the American aircraft carriers which lead to the Battle of Midway which lead to the destruction of his aircraft carriers.
After the string of defeats following Pearl Harbor, the Americans needed some good news and this provided that. When asked about the raid and where it came from, President Roosevelt said, "Shangri La" which was the mythological place of perpetual youth in the Himalayas. Later there would be an aircraft carrier named the Shagri-La (CV-38 Essex Class).
Colonel James Doolittle would receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his leadership of this raid. He was also promoted to Brigadier General and in March 1943, he took command of the Fifteenth Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. From January 1944 to September 1945, he took command of the famed Eighth Air Force. He retired from the Air Force in 1959. In 1985, he was promoted to full general by the US Congress. He died in 1996 at the age of 93 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetary.
This raid has been portrayed in a few movies (with Pearl Harbor being the worst depiction). There have been several books written bout it.