The Doolittle Raid

On this day in 1942, sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers, designed solely for land based operations, lifted from the deck of the USS Hornet, and began the long flight to Tokyo.

The  surprise attack on the Japanese capitol shocked the Japanese, and gave an immense boost to American morale. Prior to the news of the daring raid, virtually everywhere the American public looked, doom and despair were to be found. It seemed the US might lose the war. The public was still steeled to fight on, but needed a sign that their faith in the war effort was well placed.

Of the 80 airmen who launched, three were killed, three more were executed by the Japanese, five were held as prisoners by Japan. Only four airmen still live today.

Huzzah for one of the boldest operations ever undertaken. Let their spirit continue to inspire today’s warriors.

15 thoughts on “The Doolittle Raid”

  1. As I already mentioned in another thread, the Doolittle Raid may have done little physical damage. But to prevent other raids, the Japanese occupied much of the Chinese coast. This led to long lines of communication, vulnerable to submarine attack. It also led to a squadron of B-24s intended for a follow up raid to end up no further than Libya. The result of that was the first attacks on Romanian oil fields.

    Another example of unintended consequences greater than the immediately obvious: The B-29 missions out of China in the summer and fall of 1944 inflicted only trivial damage on Japan. There were few aircraft available, supply chains were very restricted and the extremely long range limited payload to one or two bombs. But as with the Doolittle Raid, the Japanese saw more to come in the future. Taking a page from the German playbook, they proceeded to disassemble half dozen factories, intending to hide them in the countryside. But they did not have the organizational skills of an Albert Speer and not one of those factories ever got back into service. For ratio of tonnage of (conventional) bombs delivered to impact on war industry this has got to near the top of the list.

  2. Tragically, the Roosevelt administration decided to go ahead with the Doolittle Raid despite being warned multiple times that it would attract vicious Japanese reprisals on the Chinese people who were supposed to help the fliers make their escape.

    Those warnings came true, and a quarter of a million Chinese were murdered in the days and weeks following the raid.

    I can never read about the Doolittle Raid without thinking about those innocent lives lost for no good reason. The Raid was heroic, yes, but it achieved nothing whatsoever of military significance. I can’t help thinking that those dead Chinese would have said it wasn’t worth their lives. Unfortunately, they weren’t consulted – probably weren’t even considered. In the climate of the day, they were of no account.

    1. I hardly think the Japanese needed the practice after Nanking. The Japanese had been in China 3-4 years before Pearl Harbor doing inhumane practices.

    2. I don’t mean to be offensive, but I am going to need a little documentation for that number before I swallow it. Not that I think they would be unwilling to do it.

    3. Gotta throw the BS flag on this one, unless you can come up with some convincing proof.

      I wonder if this claim was made by the same folks who performed that terrible Lancet study on the number of deaths in Iraq after the invasion.

  3. One of the first books I read as a young lad was about this operation…truly inspirational.

  4. Your SWO addendum:

    The task force was discovered by an unexpected Japanese patrol craft, No. 23 Nittō Maru. Nittō Maru was one of a ring of Japanese picket ships, and she got off a contact report to Japan before the Doolittle raiders had reached their planned launch point.

    14 minutes after the contact report was detected by scanners in Hornet, the USS Nashville (CL-43) was told to sink the picket ship. After a half-hour of shelling, with help from Enterprise aircraft, the Nittō Maru sank. It took 924 six-inch shells, a large percentage of a Brooklyn Class magazine loadout. The commanding petty officer of the Nittō Maru committed suicide, but others of the crew were picked up as POWs. After the USS Nashville returned to Pearl Harbor, it was sent to the Aleutians.

    For further reading try:
    The First Heroes: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raid—America’s First World War II Victory by Nelson, Craig.

    1. I knew a man who had been stationed aboard St. Paul. The ship had been Sent to the new Hebrides for 3 months then was withdrawn and sent to the Aleutians. He said the crew really suffered from the difference in temps. The Navy gave them shots of something to try to thicken their blood, but he said it didn’t really work.

      I can’t remember the operations the ship had been a part of. I haven’t seen George since my oldest was a wee little one back in the 70s.

    2. QM, that ship was probably the USS Salt Lake City (CA-25). It was part of the CV screen in the Doolittle Raid (only the CVs, CAs and CL of the TF went to the launch point). It then went with Wasp as part of the screen into the Solomons. She took part in the Battle of Cape Esperance. After four months in Pearl Harbor repairing battle damage she went to the Aleutians, where she survived the Battle of the Komandorski Islands.

  5. The Japanese were brutal trying to catch the Doolittle Raiders. Tim and Casey look for a copy of The First Heros: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raid . . . Nelson documents the 250,000 Chinese murdered during the Japanese search and chase. This is in addition to all the other Asians and Pacific Islanders murdered by the Imperial Japanese forces.


    1. I must be having a senior moment but I thought that your main point was that in the planning phase little to no consideration was extended the Nationalist Chinese and that the ‘result’ was the 250,000 lives lost. Your point seems to vary in describing as brutal the Japanese search for the Raiders. I would think that some coordination happened prior to the raid with Chiang Kai Shek (sp) or his emissaries and therein would be the actual one with no consideration for the Chinese. I can’t believe a raid such as that would have the briefing prior to the mission ending with something like “… and oh yeah, if you don’t ditch in the water do what you can landing anywhere on the Chinese mainland.” Had to have been pre-coordinated with the Chinese.

    2. Several bases in Zheijiang were to have guided the B-25s with homing beacons but the go signal was never sent to them from the carriers. As for consideration of the civilian population, that has always been a low consideration in China. On a much smaller scale in Europe, de Gaulle gave permission to bomb war industry factories in France even though he was told there would very likely be civilian casualties.

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