If the crew of the USS Hornet had been perplexed two months earlier by the sight of two B-25s being loaded onto and then taking off from the deck of their ship, the loading of fifteen B-25s at San Francisco must have seemed like a bad April Fools Day prank. Doolittle originally planned to load eighteen of his bombers for the mission, but as each airplane was lifted by crane and tied to the fantail of the carrier, the deck grew increasingly smaller.
The unspoken but unmistakable look of incredulity in the eyes of his pilots told Doolittle that his airmen were unsure that their bombers could safely take off from the floating runway. He decided to load a sixteenth B-25 for the purpose of addressing that concern. One hundred miles out to sea he planned to launch that extra bomber to fly home for the sole purpose of proving to his men that it could be done. Hank Miller, the Navy lieutenant who had trained the men for this moment, boarded the Hornet with the crew. He would return with to his duty station on the mainland with that sixteenth bomber. (Originally Miller came aboard to supervise the loading of the aircraft and had no orders to sail with the Hornet when it departed San Francisco.)
The sailors who quickly and professionally did their job of loading and tying down the Army airplanes were obviously curious about what was transpiring. Some of the airmen had begun to guess at their mission, but they remained tight-lipped. Since several of the ship's officers knew Hank Miller from his days at the Naval Academy, it was common knowledge that he was from Alaska. His presence seemed to indicate that perhaps the Hornet was bound for Alaska to deliver the cargo tied to its deck. It appeared this would be an inglorious first assignment for the Navy's newest aircraft carrier.
Though no tension was evident among the men of the two different branches of service, the sailors showed no deference to the presence of the airmen. Lieutenant Lawson later pointed out that though he outranked the Naval ensigns with whom he was assigned to bunk, they slept on bunks and pointed him to a small cot in the corner.
On the afternoon of April 2 the Hornet sailed out of San Francisco Bay under sealed orders, passing beneath the same bridge Lawson had flown under a day earlier. Accompanying the big carrier were 2 cruisers, 4 destroyers, and 1 tanker. Under the command of Captain Mark A. Mitscher aboard his flagship the Hornet, the 8-vessel force was called Task Group 16.2. Instead of sailing northward towards Alaska, the convoy steamed westward towards Hawaii.
When the California coastline vanished in the distance Captain Mitscher had his signal officer flash a message to the other vessels in the group, then delivered the same message himself over the Hornet's loudspeaker:
"This force is bound for Tokyo."
The announcement was greeting with cheers that could be heard across the swells of the otherwise empty Pacific.
While en route, Doolittle's airmen began daily briefings to cover all aspects of their role in the mission. The Hornet was destined to steam to an area northwest of Midway Island where it was to rendevous with the eight ships of Task Group 16.1. The united force would then become Task Force 16 under Vice Admiral William Bull Halsey, and proceed through more than 1,500 miles of enemy controlled ocean to within 500 miles of Japan. There, the B-25s would be launched to bomb military installations on the Japanese home island.
The mission had a secondary purpose as well. Since the beginning of the war the President had wanted to base American bombers in China. After Doolittle's B-25s dropped their payloads they were expected to proceed southeast to cross the Chinese coastline. The Japanese controlled the coast all the way from Hong Kong to Shanghai, so the bombers were expected to proceed deep inland to refuel at prepared airfields, and then continue further inland to base out of Chungking.
On April 3 Doolittle had Lieutenant Dick Joyce prepare the sixteenth bomber for the planned demonstration he hoped would reassure his pilots that indeed a B-25 could get off the carrier safely.
I asked Hank (Navy Lt. Henry Miller) to get up into the cockpit (of Joyce's bomber) with me. "Hank, that deck looks mighty short to me," I told him, implying that I wondered if Joyce could get off safely.
"Don't worry about it, Colonel," he said. "You see that toolbox way up there on the deck ahead? That's where I used to take off in fighters." His confidence was encouraging. He was not only willing but eager to ride in the B-25 that would prove how easy a takeoff would be.
"What do they call 'baloney' in the Navy?" I said, facetiously. I went to the bridge to see Captain Mitscher and told him I wanted to take that sixteenth bomber with us.
A few minutes later, Hank was called to the bridge. Mitscher said, "We've got a light wind. You probably can't get 40 knots down the deck, Miller. Still want to try it?"
Hank assured him that he did and that they could get off in less space than the 450 feet available with the Hornet at top speed.
"Do you have any of your clothes aboard?" Mitscher asked Hank.
"Yes, sir. I do because we're going to take that B-25 all the way back to Columbia, South Carolina. Why do you ask, sir?"
"Well, if you think it'll be so easy, we'll take that sixteenth bomber with us."
I Could Never Be So Lucky Again
Lieutenant Miller was initially quite concerned by this change in plans, not because he was eager to part ways with the airmen he had spent a month training to do the impossible, but because he had no orders to be at sea. Captain Mitscher assured Miller that he would not be demoted or face other repercussions as a result. Doolittle was pleased to now have a sixteenth bomber for his mission. The happiest man aboard the Hornet that afternoon however, had to be Lieutenant Joyce who now knew he would be able to join his fellow pilots in creating history.
A new sense of mutual respect developed between the airmen and their navy counterparts when the details of the secret mission unfolded. For the Navy it was a gutsy call, putting all their eggs in one basket in a sense, to get the raiders within striking distance of Japan. The Pacific Fleet had been devastated by the raid at Pearl Harbor and was trying to fight a war with very limited assets. To accomplish this mission alone the Navy was committing sixteen ships including two of its eight aircraft carriers, and sailing them more than 1,500 miles into enemy waters. During the trip the Hornet itself would be defenseless against air attack. The fighter planes that normally sat on her deck to take to the skies and repel invaders had to be stowed below to make room for the B-25s.
The sailors viewed the airmen's mission as suicidal. Ted Lawson later recounted how, after the mission was announced, one of the ensigns with whom he bunked promptly gave up his own comfortable bed and slept on the cot himself. Through more than two weeks of planning, briefing, and sharing quarters, Army and Navy men developed an unusual friendship. That mutual respect however, did not keep the sailors from taking most of the airmen's money in the nightly poker games.
At dawn on April 13 Captain Mitscher's group met up with Task Group 16.1 under Vice Admiral Halsey at 38o North, 180o East. (As a point of reference, Midway Atoll is located at 28o North, 177o East.) Within hours the combined force of sixteen ships, now called "Task Force 16", had reached the outside edges of the Pacific region controlled by the Japanese navy.
Task Force 16
Vice Admiral William F. Halsey
Task Group 16.1
Carrier Enterprise CV-6 (Flagship)
Cruiser North Hampton CC-1
Cruiser Salt Lake City CA-25
Destroyer Balch DD-363
Destroyer Benham DD-397
Destroyer Fanning DD-385
Destroyer Ellet DD-398
|Tanker Sabine AO-25
Task Group 16.2
Carrier Hornet CV-8
Cruiser Vincennes CA-44
Cruiser Nashville CL-43
Destroyer Gwin DD-433
Destroyer Grayson DD-435
Destroyer Meredith DD-434
Destroyer Monssen DD-436
Tanker Cimmaron AO-22
Also operating in the area were the submarines Trout and Thresher
By April 15 the task force was within 800 miles of Japan. Halsey ordered the refueling of his ships and then sent the tankers back to Pearl Harbor. Now deep into enemy waters, the carriers were making good time but the need for a rapid withdrawal after the bombers were launched was also a concern. Halsey dispatched the slower moving destroyers to return with the tankers, leaving only the two carriers and four cruisers to speed on towards their mission with destiny. Scout planes were routinely dispatched from the Enterprise to watch for, and warn of, any enemy presence. The small American task force would be easily overwhelmed if they were found by the Japanese, so close to the enemy homeland.
Unknown at the time to the American commanders, the Japanese were indeed aware that a convoy was steaming towards Japan. Intercepted radio transmissions indicated the presence of the U.S. Naval Task Force nearby. In response the enemy began stationing a series of picket boats 650 miles away from its shorelines to watch for and warn of any American ships. Since the Japanese commanders knew that the one-way range of carrier-launched fighters was about 300 miles, the American ships would be detected and destroyed long before they got within striking distance. They had no way of even guessing that the convoy carried long-range Army bombers.
En route the raiders picked up a report from Tokyo on an English-language radio station in which the Japanese responded to a Reuter's report that three American bombers had raided Tokyo. The enemy response to the erroneous accout was: "It is absolutely impossible for enemy bombers to get within 500 miles of Tokyo. Instead of worrying about such foolish things, the Japanese people are enjoying the fine spring sunshine and the fragrance of cherry blossoms."
With the knowledge of what they were about to attempt, the broadcast brought nervous smiles to the faces of Doolittle's Raiders.
Other radio reports were not so humorous. Shortly after Bataan fell on April 9 Doolittle and his crew became aware of the sad loss in the Philippines, and learned of the treachery being laid upon prisoners of the Japanese along the route of the infamous Death March. Every man destined to fly over Tokyo knew there was great potential to be shot down and taken captive, and the subject came up from time to time in the bull sessions that were used to relieve tension. During one of these Doolittle advised his men, "Each pilot must decide for himself what he will do and what he'll tell his crew to do if that happens. I know what I'm going to do."
"I don't intend to be taken prisoners. I'm 45 years old and have lived a full life. If my plane is crippled beyond any possibility of fighting or escape, I'm going to have my crew bail out and then I'm going to dive my B-25 into the best military target I can find. You fellows are all younger and have a long life ahead of you. I don't expect any of the rest of you to do what I intend to do."
The original plan was for the mission to begin on the late afternoon of April 19 when the task force was between 400 and 500 miles of Japan. Doolittle planned to take off first, three hours ahead of the rest of his bombers. His B-25 carried four incendiary bombs, which would not only destroy targets on the ground, but would also serve as a beacon in the night skies when the rest of his bombers reached the island. The optimal schedule had the raiders flying over Japan at night when they would be unfettered by barrage balloons, and when they would be difficult targets for enemy fighters. That schedule would have them making landfall on the Chinese coast with the dawn of the following day.
None could have predicted when the launch date was moved forward one day because of the unexpected speed with which the carriers neared Japan, that the time would again be moved forward nearly a dozen hours forcing a daylight raid over Tokyo.
On April 17 Captain Mitscher called Doolittle to the bridge to advise him of the task force's close proximity to the launch site. It was time to begin gassing and arming the bombers. Doolittle planned lift off the following afternoon to arrive over Tokyo at dusk. The remainder of his planes were to take off three hours later. "I think its time," Captain Mitscher said, "for that little ceremony we talked about."
Among the supplies flown out to the Hornet a few days out of San Francisco had been a small package from Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. It contained medals forwarded to him by three former Navy enlisted men who had been decorated by the Japanese during a 1908 visit of the American battle fleet. The men had sent these medals to Secretary Knox requesting they be properly returned. After a rousing ceremony Doolittle wired them along with an impromptu similar donation from the Hornet's intelligence officer Lieutenant Commander Stephen Jurika, to one of the bombs intended for Tokyo.
While navy deck hands began the process of fueling the bombers, loading the bombs, and arming the machineguns that evening, Doolittle held a final briefing for his crews. Again he reminded his men that they were to bomb ONLY military targets, and no matter how tempting it might be, they were not to attack the Imperial Palace. This latter was an instruction he had repeated almost daily to the consternation of his bombardiers. Doolittle the young fighter found success when he learned to fight smart, and not from his emotions. The purpose of this mission was to shake the resolve of the Japanese, and the bombing of a sacred shrine such as this would probably serve only to infuriate the Japanese people and strengthen their resolve.
Before parting Doolittle advised his men to get a good night's sleep. He wished them luck and made a final promise. "When we get to Chungking," he announced, "I'm going to give you all a party you won't forget."
Despite Doolittle's admonition to get a good night's sleep, most of the men were too nervous to sleep. Many were still awake and playing their last games of poker with the sailors when the Enterprise flashed a warning to the Hornet at 3:00 a.m. that two enemy ships had been sighted. The sounding of general quarters woke everyone aboard and the task force changed course to avoid detection.
At dawn Halsey sent up patrol planes from the Enterprise to sweep the area. At 6:00 a.m. a Navy scout bomber flew over the carrier to drop a message which was quickly passed up to the bridge. It read: Enemy surface ship--Latitude 36o04N, Long. 153o10E, Bearing 276 Degrees True--42 miles. BELIEVED SEEN BY ENEMY."
Again Halsey ordered his task force to alter its course to avoid detection. It seemed futile; the Japanese appeared to be everywhere. When morning turned to full light the crew of the Hornet spotted a small vessel less than a dozen miles distant. Captain Mitscher assumed that if he could see the enemy, certainly the enemy could see the big aircraft carrier that was approaching. From the radio room he received a report that a Japanese radio message had been intercepted nearby. He had to assume that a warning had been flashed to Tokyo.
When one of the scout pilots located yet another enemy ship, this time little more than six miles distant, Admiral Halsey ordered the Nashville to sink it. As the cruiser's big guns boomed the task force commander flashed a message to the Hornet:
LAUNCH PLANES X
TO COL DOOLITTLE AND GALLANT COMMAND
GOOD LUCK AND GOD BLESS YOU
Colonel Doolittle was on the bridge with Captain Mitscher when the message reached the Hornet. The carrier's horn blasted through the early morning and then Mitscher announced: "Army pilots, man your planes!" It was 8:00 a.m. and well ahead of the planned take-off time. The Hornet was still 824 statute miles from the center of Tokyo, nearly twice the distance Army pilots had planned to fly. To make matters worse, what had been two weeks of poor weather seemed to be reaching its crescendo. Gale-force winds pushed the spray of 30-foot swells across the Hornet's deck. It was certainly far from desirable weather for take-off, more so because the launch would be by sixteen overloaded mid-range Army bombers, a feat no one was even sure was possible under optimal conditions.
As a flurry of activity spread across the deck, Doolittle shook hands with Captain Mitscher and headed to his airplane. Mitscher turned the Hornet into the wind and the ship's big engines strained to get maximum speed. From the cockpit of his B-25 Doolittle listened to the whine of own engines and looked through the window at a runway measuring only 467 feet. Two white lines marked the placement of the nose and left wheels. If he could keep his bomber aligned on these, his right wing would clear the carrier's tower by six feet. It was not a comfortable distance considering the way the ship rolled with the high seas, or the shine of salt-water spray across the deck.
Behind the lead aircraft, fifteen pilots and their crews watched anxiously as their commander prepared for takeoff. Months of planning, weeks of intense training, and the risk of much of the Navy's now-sparse Pacific Fleet had gone into preparing for this moment. The moment of truth had arrived for an experiment no one was sure was even possible. Lieutenant Miller watched the waves rolling in, marking instructions on a black board and timing the launch so the Hornet's deck would be rising on a swell when the signal was given. At 8:20 a.m. the checkered flag dropped, Doolittle released the brakes, and the 30,000-pound B-25 began rolling across the flight deck. Everyone else held their breath.
With room to spare Doolittle's bomber was airborne to cheers and shouts across the deck of the Hornet. Climbing quickly, he circled once to orient his compass with the gyros on the Hornet, and then headed west towards Tokyo.
Five minutes later Lieutenant Travis Hoover lifted his own B-25 off the deck. The remaining bombers following at three-minute intervals. At 9:19 a.m. Lieutenant William Farrow's sixteenth bomber was airborne and Admiral Halsey ordered his six ships to turn and make a hasty run more than 2,000 miles for home. There was no doubt that once Doolittle's bombs fell on Tokyo, the full force of the Japanese navy would be out looking for the ships that had brought the raiders so close to their homeland.
Colonel Doolittle dropped his bomber down to 200 feet for the 4-hour flight to Tokyo. In his youth he had skirted the ground to thrill and amaze spectators. On this flight he hoped there would be no spectators. The low-altitude approach was planned to shield the incoming bombers from being detected by the enemy. One hour after lift-off Doolittle spotted a camouflaged Japanese ship, and two hours later he found himself flying directly into any enemy flying boat, but neither saw his low-flying B-25. The only company he had en route was Lieutenant Hoover's B-25 which caught up to him half-an-hour after takeoff and followed him almost all the way to Japan.
Doolittle's bomber crossed the coastline eighty miles north of Tokyo and changed course to head for its targets. Flying just above the roofs of the houses below, Japanese citizens looked up and waved- -mistaking the bomber for one of their own planes. At one point Doolittle passed over a baseball game that was in process, scattering players and spectators by his low-level flight, but not raising any alarms.
Ten miles from Tokyo he observed three flights of 3-fighters-each approaching, but none of them attacked. At one point co-pilot Dick Cole counted as many as 80 enemy fighters between the bomber and its targets, but the only danger encountered came when ground aircraft batteries were finally alerted and filled the sky with ack-ack.
When the first targets came into view Doolittle climbed to 1,200 feet to release his bombs. They fell on Tokyo at 12:30 p.m., the incendiaries igniting fires that would burn for days. When all four bombs had fallen Doolittle dropped back down to roof-top level and headed southwest towards the South China Sea. Before leaving land five enemy fighters converged on him, but he managed to lose them in a quick "S" turn among the hills.
Beneath him stretched a broad expanse of ocean to separate him from the shelter of inland China. Beneath his bomber he could see scattered ships of the Japanese navy but there was no more threat from the air. Glancing back Doolittle could see smoke rising from the fires started by his bombs, while on the ground the once-confident Japanese populace ran for shelter in panic. A short distance away Lieutenant Hoover dropped his bombs on two factory buildings and a storehouse, then sped to catch up to his commander and follow him to Chungking.
One-by-one the other raiders arrived over Japan to complete the first phase of their mission. Targets were hit in Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe, Nagoya, and Osaka. Only the Number 4 bomber piloted by Lieutenant Everett Brick Holstrom failed to drop its ordnance on the assigned military targets. His bomber was jumped en route by four enemy fighters, and the bomb-load had to be salvoed into Tokyo Bay.
By late afternoon fifteen B-25s were safely flying through a brewing storm in the South China Sea. The Number 8 bomber under Captain Edward Ski York experienced unusual fuel consumption as the result of faulty engines while flying from the Hornet to its assigned targets. After dropping his bombs Captain York knew he did not have enough fuel to reach China and flew northwest towards Russia. The still-neutral Soviets had refused U.S. commanders' previous request to use their bases in the raid, despite their nearness to Tokyo. Already at war with Hitler, Russian leaders did not want to anger the Japanese who controlled the rest of the region. Out of necessity and against prior orders, York landed at a field near Vladivostok in hopes of refueling so that he could fly on to Chungking. Instead, the Russians confiscated his bomber and confined York and his crew for thirteen months. (They subsequently escaped into what is now Iran and returned home to fly other combat missions in World War II.)
The other bombers found themselves fighting a headwind across the South China Sea that both slowed them down and depleted their fuel. That latter was a critical matter since the raiders had launched several hundred miles beyond their initial plan. Had not the wind direction changed when they approached China, providing a strong tail-wind, probably none of the aircraft would have reached land. Most of them reached the coastline with almost no fuel remaining.
In the dark, rainy skies over the mountains of inland China Colonel Doolittle ordered his crew to bail out and then followed them. It was the third emergency jump of his lifetime. His B-25 crashed into a nearby mountainside, but all five of his crew survived without serious injury. The crews of ten other B-25s similarly abandoned their fuel-starved bombers in mid-air. One crewman was killed when he landed, becoming the first casualty of the mission. Three of the bombers ditched in the water just off the coast, killing two more crewmen and severely injuring Lieutenant Lawson. The remaining bomber, flown by Lieutenant Hoover who had parted with Doolittle in the darkness, made a wheels-up landing in a rice paddy.
On the morning after the raid Doolittle located the wreckage of his bomber on a mountainside. Sitting amid the twisted metal he was at what he later described as the "lowest point of my life".
I answered, "Well, I guess they'll court-martial me and send me to prison at Fort Leavenworth."
Paul said, "No sir. I'll tell you what will happen. They're going to make you a general."
I smiled weakly and he tried again. "And they're going to give you the Congressional Medal of Honor."
In the days that followed, friendly local Chinese rounded up the surviving raiders and fed and sheltered them. Those who were uninjured then proceeded overland to Chuhsien (Chuchow). Doolittle rued the loss of all sixteen of his bombers and his failure to complete the second half of his mission: delivery of an intact American bomber squadron to Chungking. More importantly, he mourned the death of three of his raiders and worried for the fate of eight who were unaccounted for.
The question of the missing was answered when the Japanese announced the capture of all five members of Lieutenant Bill Farrow's crew and the three surviving members of Lieutenant Dean Hallmark's crew. (Hallmark's two enlisted crew members drowned when their B-25 ditched into the ocean off the China coast.)
These eight raiders were charged with war crimes, tried by a Japanese kangaroo court, and sentenced to death. On October 15 Lieutenants Hallmark and Farrow along with Farrow's gunner Sergeant Harold Spatz were led from their cells to a field where they were tied bent over small crosses and executed. Eighteen months later Dean Hallmark's co-pilot, Lieutenant Robert Meder, died from malnutrition and abuse at the hands of his captors. The four remaining POWs survived in solitary confinement until the end of the war. (For a complete accounting of the fates of all 80 raiders, click on the link at the bottom of this page.)
Despite Doolittle's misgivings about the failure of his mission, what his raiders had accomplished was historic. Back in the United States the newspapers quickly spread news of the mission, though many of the details remained secret. When the President formally announced some details of the mission he avoided any indication that the bombers had been launched from a Naval aircraft carrier. That was information he did not want the Japanese to learn. Instead he announced that the raid had been launched from "Shangri-La", a mythical kingdom from James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon.
The impact of the raid on Japanese war strategy was immediate. With confidence among the populace shaken, war planners had to take new steps to protect their homeland. The embarrassment suffered also enabled Admiral Yamamoto to prevail in promoting a hither-to-fore opposed plan to conduct a major operation in the central Pacific to neutralize this new American threat. That plan, a feint to the north with a drive to occupy several American-held islands, resulted in a decisive American victory near an Atoll the raiders had passed en route to Tokyo--Midway.
It was the Chinese, many of whom risked their lives to help the raiders escape and reach Chuchow, that suffered the most. As many as 250,000 civilians in the Chekiang and Kiangsu provinces were murdered in retribution by Japanese soldiers in the months following the raid.
Many of the raiders remained in the Indo-China theater to continue air missions. Others went on to serve in North Africa and Europe. Before the war ended Lieutenants Dean Davenport and Herb Macia each flew more than 80 combat missions. Ten raiders were later killed in action, and four were shot down and sat out the war as German POWs. During recuperation from the amputation of his leg Lieutenant Ted Lawson wrote the first book about the raid titled Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. Lawson's book was published in 1943 while the war was in progress, and served as the basis for a movie by the same name the following year starring Spencer Tracy as Jimmy Doolittle.
Ten days after the raid Doolittle was in Chungking and the first part of Sergeant Leonard's prediction came true. Orders arrived promoting Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle to Brigadier General, skipping the rank of colonel. General Doolittle's first official act was a successful effort to see all of his raiders promoted as well.
It was several years before Jimmy Doolittle was able to keep his promise to give his raiders "A party you'll never forget." Continuing west through Calcutta, India, Iran and Egypt, Doolittle returned home to Washington, DC exactly 30 days after his B-25 took off from the deck of the Hornet. After meeting with Hap Arnold and Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, he was told to go to his local apartment and remain out of public view until called for. Though he hadn't seen his wife since departing San Francisco a month earlier, Arnold's admonishment to stay out of sight was enough to prevent him from calling the West Coast. Had he succumbed to that urge it would have been fruitless. Unknown to Doolittle, under a shroud of secrecy, General Arnold had called Joe Doolittle and instructed her to fly to Washington.
The following morning Hap called Doolittle to advise that he would be by shortly to pick him up. A veil of secrecy continued to permeate the proceedings that set the stage for the only time Jimmy Doolittle angered his long-time friend, General Henry Hap Arnold. When Arnold arrived with the car, Doolittle was surprised to see General Marshall sitting in the back seat. Doolittle saluted, climbed in, and the car sped away.