December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor outside of Honolulu, Hawaii, started the Pacific war for the United States.
It was a complete surprise.
That raid, conducted from Japanese aircraft carriers out in the Pacific, devastated the American Pacific fleet.
American morale was low. Something had to be done.
That something would come in the form of one of the most daring bombing raids in the history of WWII; Maj. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle’s raid over Tokyo. The raid would come some four months after Pearl Harbor.
The B-25 bomber that would undertake the raid were under the Maj. Gen. Doolittle’s command. The carrier USS Hornet and its escort fleet were under the command of Admiral “Bull” Halsey. For the first time in history, huge, normally land-based, B-25 bombers would be flown off of the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier. Because it had never been done before, no one was certain that it would work. But this raid was going to be an important response to the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor; one that they did not expect.
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If it was successful, it would prove to the Japanese that they were vulnerable, that they were not out of reach of American military power.
On April 18, 1942, the carrier USS Hornet, with its decks loaded with 16 B-25 bombers and its escort fleet under the command of Admiral “Bull” Halsey, was still beyond the planned launch point when they were spotted by a Japanese fishing boat. The fishing boat was attacked and destroyed to prevent it from sending a message about the carrier task force now within striking range of Tokyo. The survivors of the fishing boat were picked up and brought aboard one of the ships.
A decision had to be made.
The original plan was to launch the planes about 400 miles out. They decided to sail for another hour and a half and then launch. They would be launching 200 miles further out, and 10 hours earlier than originally planned. The pilots and crews knew that they would not be able to return to the carrier after their bombing raid, but none of them hesitated to board their individual planes.
Imagine the tension in those big bombers. Would they be able to take off? Would all of them make it off and into formation for the mission over Tokyo?
Doolittle, piloting the first B-25 to take off that day, gave full throttle to his engines and the big bomber lumbered down the flight deck seemingly in slow motion. The front wheel lifted, his flaps in full position to get as much lift as possible, the behemoth, with its bomb load, caught air and lifted off. Now, the other pilots’ confidence was also lifted. They knew it could be done and one by one they took off from the deck of the Hornet.
Eighty men, pilots, and crew, took off that day to give the Japanese a little taste of their own medicine. They had several targets to hit, all of them military targets. When they got over Tokyo, Doolittle himself reported flying right over the Emperor’s Palace, and he knew he could have dropped a load right on top of it, but stuck to the planned military targets.
While the damage done by the raid was relatively minimal, the psychological effect on both the Japanese population and the American population was immense. The Japanese suddenly came face to face with the fact that they were not invulnerable, that they could be attacked in their cities. The American spirits were lifted by this daring and never done before raid by Doolittle’s bombers and crews.
After they had unloaded their bombs the B-25s continued west to either crash-land, or bail out over Chinese territory. Of the 80 men who participated in this daring raid, 71 of them eventually returned safely home.
That is a whole other story in itself.
What Maj. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle and his crews did that day has gone down in history as one of the most daring feats in U.S. Army Air Force and American military history. It accomplished what it had set out to do. Just the fact that those B25s were able to take off from the deck of the USS Hornet was an unbelievable accomplishment.
The video attached will give you the sense of the drama of that accomplishment.
The Veterans Site is honored to keep the memory of this important event of WWII alive in the minds of our readers. The sailors and the Army Air Force crews that accomplished this harrowing feat, must never be forgotten. They turned the emotional tide of war for the American populace, which was still reeling from the devastating attack at Pearl Harbor.
Those pilots and crews on those B-25s were truly brave men who did what they had to do, even in the face of the mortal risks that lay ahead of them. We honor their memory.
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.