Japan’s devastating surprise attacks on Pearl Harbor and other Allied strongholds on December 7th, 1941, had far-reaching consequences.
Shocked and angered, the United States officially entered the Second World War. On the home front, people of Japanese descent living in the U.S. faced suspicion and in some cases internment. Abroad, the U.S. Navy, damaged, but not destroyed, sought a chance to strike back. Specifically, some wanted to plan a strike on Tokyo itself.
The new commander in the Pacific, WWI veteran Admiral Chester Nimitz, knew that this would be no mean feat.
His ships were severely outnumbered. In order to get bombers close enough to strike Tokyo, he would have to send an aircraft carrier and escort ships within 300 miles of the target.
At that range, he risked both the planes and ships. How could he risk it?
The answer came in the form of Lt. Cmd James “Jimmy” Doolittle.
Unlike an aircraft carrier’s regular complement of planes, B-25 bombers had a range of 1,200 miles. If pilots could be trained to take off from a carrier’s short runway, these extra miles would make the scheme far less risky to the ships.
The drawback was that the B-25s were to heavy to land on the carriers afterwards.
Doolittle planned on continuing on past Tokyo and landing in China, finding friendly forces there, and eventually making it home.
Nimitz agreed to the plan. Sixteen B-25s with their 80 crewmen boarded the USS Hornet and set out, escorted by the USS Enterprise and her fighters.
The plan succeeded – in part.
The bombers achieved complete surprise, unloaded their payloads, and flew on.
One crew did not make it to China, landing near Vladivostok instead. There they were detained as authorities of the USSR (perhaps overcome with the need to show “hospitality” to their new allies,?) detained them for over a year until they escaped.
Eight were captured by the Japanese and imprisoned. Three were executed. One died as a POW.
However, Doolittle and the majority of the others found shelter with the sympathetic Chinese as planned.
The Japanese authorities downplayed the importance of the “do-nothing” raid. However, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is quoted as saying, “Even though there wasn’t much damage, it is a disgrace that the skies of the Imperial capital should have been defiled without a single enemy plane being shot down.” (Buell pg. 101)
As the Japanese planned their next bold stroke, it seems that this “disgrace” pushed them forward.
Their attempt to spread their influence and control in the Pacific would shortly bring them into a direct clash with U.S. forces in the Coral Sea.
Following is a video of an interview from 2012, featuring 5 of the men who participated in the Doolittle Raid. The site won’t allow you to play it off of my page, but if you’d care to click on the link to go to youtube, it is well worth the 4 minutes to watch.
Many thanks for visiting!
While I studied a number of history sources for this article, this is an excellent site for more information: https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196211/doolittle-raid/
I also referenced the following:
Hyslop, Stephen G. and Neil Kagan. Eyewitness to World War II. Washington, D.C. National Geographic.
Buell, Hal (editor). World War II Album: The Complete Chronicle. New York. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2002. Print.