On April 18th, 1942, less than four months after the attacked Pearl Harbor the United States was about to launch their first offensive against the Japanese. Leading this incredibly dangerous mission into unknown territory was the legendary Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle. He assembled the finest B-25 Mitchells crews went through rigorous training with them to prove they could go headfirst into the belly of the beast.
THE DOOLITTLE RAID Also called the “Tokyo Raid,” this mission was direct retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor a few months before and showed the Japanese the United States is capable of bombing their homeland, something they haven’t’ seen before.
Eighty U.S. Army Air Forces airmen in 16 modified B-25B Mitchell bombers launched from the aircraft carrier Hornet, about 650 nautical miles east of Japan, to strike Tokyo. Eighty gallant men volunteered for that successful mission — which turned out to be a one-way attack — vengeance for Japan’s strike on Hawaii that crippled the US Navy fleet and left 2,403 dead.
Led by Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle, 16 B-25 Mitchells departed from USS Hornet (something that’s never been done before) on April 1942 and headed toward Tokyo and other strategic targets.
Since there was no way to land a medium bomber on a carrier, the crews were instructed to hit their targets and fly into China for safety. At the end 77 of the 80 crewmembers survived the initial raid, but eight were later caught by the Japanese Army of which three were executed.
Things took a turn for the worse when their aircraft carrier was spotted by Japanese patrol boats. Doolittle was not certain if the boat had radioed their location but couldn’t take that risk and launched the assault eight hours ahead of schedule. Knowing that the planes would be low on fuel if they made the journey over 800 miles away to the Japanese mainland.
Colonel Doolittle knew the attack at its best would only inflict minimal damage but he had other intentions for this attack. He claimed that a successful bombing assault on the Japanese mainland would put them on edge, fearful that another attack would follow suit.
“Although the Doolittle Raid of April 18, 1942, caused only minor damage, it forced the Japanese to recall combat forces for home defense, raised fears among the Japanese civilians, and boosted morale among Americans and our Allies abroad.”
His hunch paid off because that paranoia kept more Japanese fighters on the mainland for defensive purposes rather than in the South Pacific where they would have been a threat to the Allies Forces. This newsreel shows archival footage of extreme challenges they faced during the Doolittle Raid and America’s first victory in WWII.
While it only caused minor damage, the mission boosted morale on the U.S. homefront a little more than four months after Pearl Harbor and sent a signal to the Japanese people not only that the U.S. was ready to fight back but also that it could strike the Japanese mainland.