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Louis la Vache is an avid reader of the history of la deuxième Guerre Mondiale, so he occasionally will post an article about that cataclysm. The Doolittle bombing raid on Tokyo on le 18 avril 1942 is one such occasion.
The Doolittle Raid of le 18 avril 1942, was the first air raid by the United States to strike the Japanese home islands during la deuxième Guerre Mondiale. The mission was notable in that it was the only operation in which United States Army Air Forces bombers were launched from a US Navy aircraft carrier. It was also the longest combat mission ever flown by the B-25 Mitchell bomber. The Doolittle Raid proved that the Japanese home islands were vulnerable to American retaliation for Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor Hawaii on le 7 décembre 1941.
The raid was planned and led by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, already a famous civilian aviator and aeronautical engineer before the war. However, the raid had its roots in the mind of Navy Captain Francis Low, who early in the war observed that, under the right conditions, twin-engined Army bombers could be successfully launched from an aircraft carrier. Subsequent calculations by Doolittle indicated that the B-25 "Mitchell" could be launched from a carrier with a reasonable bomb load, hit military targets in Japan, and fly on to land in China.
On le 1 avril 1942, following two months of intensive training, 16 highly modified North American Aviation B-25B medium bombers, their five-man volunteer crews, and maintenance personnel were loaded onto the Yorktown- class carrier, USS Hornet (CV8) at Pier 3 at the Naval Air Station, Alameda, California. Each plane carried four 500 lb bombs, two .50-caliber machine guns in an upper turret, a .30-caliber machine gun in the nose, and extra fuel tanks. To discourage Japanese air attacks from the rear of the planes, each B-25 was also "armed" with two dummy wooden machine gun barrels mounted in the tail cone.
The planes were arranged and tied down on the flight deck of the Hornet in the order of their expected launch. The Hornet left the port of Alameda on le 2 avril, and a few days later met with the carrier USS Enterprise (CV6) and its escort of cruisers and destroyers in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The Enterprise's fighters would provide protection for the entire task force in the event of a Japanese air attack, since the Hornet's fighters were stowed below decks to allow the B-25s to use the flight deck. The two carriers and their escorting ships then proceeded, in radio silence, towards their intended launch point in enemy-controlled waters east of Japan.
On the morning of le 18 avril, at a distance of about 650 miles from Japan, the task force was sighted by a Japanese picket boat, which radioed an attack warning to Japan. Although the boat was quickly destroyed by gunfire from an American escort ship, Doolittle and Hornet skipper Captain Marc Mitscher decided to launch the B-25s immediately - a day early and about 200 miles further from Japan than planned. All the B-25s took off safely and flew single-file towards Japan at wavetop level to avoid detection. They reached Japan at about midday, where they bombed military targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe, Osaka, and Nagoya. The planes then proceeded across the East China Sea towards China, where recovery bases supposedly awaited them.
The raiders, however, faced several unforeseen challenges during their flight to China: night was approaching, the planes were running low on fuel, and the weather was rapidly deteriorating. As a result of these problems, the crews realized they would probably not be able to reach their intended recovery bases in China, leaving them the option of either bailing out over eastern China or crash landing along the Chinese coast. Fifteen planes did so; one crew, against Doolittle's advice, successfully landed at Vladivostok, Russia, where their B-25 was confiscated and the crew interned until they managed to escape through Iran in 1943.
Doolittle and his crew, after safely parachuting into China, received assistance from John Birch, an American missionary in China, whom Doolittle subsequently recommended for intelligence work with General Claire Chennault's Flying Tigers. Birch, who was shot by Chinese Communists 10 days after the war ended, was later the namesake of the John Birch Society.
Following the Doolittle Raid, most of the B-25 crews who came down in China eventually made it to safety. But the crews of two planes (10 men total) were unaccounted for. On le 15 août 1942, the United States learned from the Swiss Consulate General in Shanghai that eight of the missing crewmembers were prisoners of the Japanese at Police Headquarters in that city (two crewmen had died in the crash landing of their plane). On le 19 octobre 1942, the Japanese announced that they had tried the eight men and sentenced them to death, but that a number of them had received commutation of their sentences to life imprisonment. No names or details were included in the broadcast. The Japanese poured ridicule on the raid calling it the "Doonothing Raid."
After the war, the complete story of the two missing crews was uncovered in a War Crimes Trial held at Shanghai. The trial opened in février 1946 to try four Japanese officers for mistreatment of the eight captured crewmen. Two of the original ten men in the two planes, Dieter and Fitzmaurice, had died when their B-25 ditched off the coast of China. The other eight, Hallmark, Meder, Nielsen, Farrow, Hite, Barr, Spatz, and DeShazer were captured. In addition to being tortured and starved, these men contracted dysentery and beriberi as a result of the horrible conditions under which they were confined. On le 28 août 1942, pilot Hallmark, pilot Farrow, and gunner Spatz were given a mock "trial" by the Japanese, although the airmen were never told the charges against them. On le 14 octobre 1942, these three crewmen were advised that they were to be executed the next day. At 16:30 on le 15 octobre 1942 the three were brought by truck to Public Cemetery No. 1, outside Shanghai, and shot.
The other five captured airmen remained in military confinement on a starvation diet, their health rapidly deteriorating. In avril 1943, they were moved to Nanking where, on le 1 décembre 1943, Meder died of his abuses. The remaining four men (Chase Nielsen, Bob Hite, George Barr, and Jake DeShazer) eventually began receiving slightly better treatment from their captors, and were even given a copy of the Bible and a few other books. They survived until they were freed by American troops in août 1945. The four Japanese officers who were tried for war crimes against the eight Doolittle Raiders were found guilty. Three were sentenced to hard labor for five years and the fourth to a nine-year sentence.
One other Doolittle Raid crewman was lost on the mission. Corporal Leland Faktor was killed during his bailout attempt over China, the only man on his crew to be lost.
Immediately following the raid, Jimmy Doolittle told his crew that he believed the loss of all 16 aircraft, coupled with the relatively minor damage the planes had inflicted on their targets, had rendered the attack a failure, and that he expected a court martial upon his return to the United States. Instead, the raid bolstered American morale to such an extent that Doolittle was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt and promoted two grades to Brigadier General, skipping the rank of colonel. He went on to command the 12th Air Force in North Africa, the 15th Air Force in the Mediterranean, and the 8th Air Force in England during the next three years.
In addition to Doolittle's award of the Medal of Honor, Corporal Dave Thatcher (an engineer- gunner) received the Silver Star. All the remaining Raiders were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and those who were killed, wounded, or injured as a result of the raid also received the Purple Heart. In addition, every Doolittle Raider received a decoration from the Chinese government.
In comparison to the devastating B-29 Superfortress attacks against Japan later in the war, the Doolittle raid did little material damage. Nevertheless, when the news of the raid was released, American morale soared from the depths to which it had plunged following the Pearl Harbor attack and subsequent territorial gains by the Japanese. The raid also had some strategic impact in that it caused the Japanese to recall some fighter units back to the home islands for defense; these reassignments subsequently weakened Japan's air capabilities against the Allies at the Battle of Midway and later Pacific Theater campaigns. The year 1942 was one of the darkest of the war - the Allies were facing reverses on all fronts, thus the raid was a much-needed morale booster.
Four years later Doolittle was back at the White House, this time to be honored by yet another American President. When George H. W. Bush presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jimmy Doolittle, he became the first and (to date) the only Medal of Honor recipient in history also to earn his Nation's highest civilian honor. President Bush was a Navy pilot who was shot down in the Pacific in World War II.
The U.S. Navy has had a Hornet as a part of its fleet since the late 1700s. CV8 was the seventh Hornet. When she was lost in the Battle of Santa Cruz Island, CV12, originally to be named the Kearsarge was under construction. CV12 was quickly re-named Hornet. CV12, an Essex-Class carrier served with distinction in the remaining Pacific campaign in la deuxième Guerre Mondiale. CV12 picked up the Apollo astronauts and served in the Viet Nam war. She is now a musuem at the very pier (Pier III) where CV8 took on the B-25 bombers for the Doolittle raid at Alameda, California. Three years ago on the anniversary of the Doolittle raid, Louis la Vache was on the flight deck of CV12 along with a group of Hornet CV8 veterns from la deuxième Guerre Mondiale when a squadron of restored B-25 bombers flew overhead, quite a thrilling event to participate in!
For San Francisco Bay Area residents and readers, Doolittle Drive running from San Leandro, the Oakland Airport and to Alameda is named after Jimmy Doolittle.
Thirty Seconds over Tokyo (Brassey's Aviation Classics Series)