The Americans were losing morale against the Japanese after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt requested to the Joint Chief of Staff in a meeting that Japan be bombed. Navy Captain Francis Low came up with a plan for an attack and reported it to Admiral Ernest J. King. Later, it was planned and led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle.
Doolittle commenced the raid bearing in mind that the attack would lead to confusion and doubt to the Japanese since they were being fed with propagandas, which were about them being invulnerable in war, by their officials or leaders.
He chose B-25 Mitchell bombers, the only aircraft named after a person, General William Lendrum “Billy” Mitchell, ‘Father of the Air Force’, over B-26 Marauders, B-18 Bolos, and B-23 Dragons because it fit the requirements he needed for the attack. This descendant of the XB-21 was improved with Wright R-2600 radial engines.
From the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers were planned to launch 400 miles out to hit military targets in Japan while it was still dark, then land in China before sunrise. But after the bombing, all of the sixteen B-25s were lost because it was launched 700 miles out and actually hit the military targets during early afternoon and landed in China after sunset.
Although the raid only did little damage to Japan, it did boost the American’s morale since it caused Japan to withdraw a carrier group from the Indian Ocean to defend their country. Soon, the Battle of Midway occurred. One thing led to another, and soon, the Japanese lost in the war. Its mask of invulnerability was taken off. It was a historic day on April 18, 1942.
Each B-25 had five crewmen so 80 men were part of the raid. After the raid, three were bailing out while eight were caught by the Japanese. From those eight, 1 died of malnutrition and mistreatment, 3 were Prisoners of War (POW) and 4 were repatriated after four months of captivity. Then, ten were killed in action in Europe, North Africa and Indo-China. Also, four were shot down and served as German POW.
Still alive, well, and busy with his farm in Texas is Dick Cole, one of Doolittle’s crew and a member of the Greatest Generation. Crew 8 landed in Russia because of engine trouble. They were caught but escaped through Iran in May 1943. Crew 11’s Captain Ross Green was shot down over North Africa on July 17, 1943. He was captured, then escaped but was captured again. He was a POW for the rest of the war. Six weeks after the Doolittle Raid, crew 12’s Sgt. Duquette was killed when he crashed into a mountain after bombing mission. Crew 15 was captured by the Japanese, and Lt. Farrow and Sgt. Spatz along with Lt. Hallmark from crew 6 were executed. As of December 2005, there are still sixteen raiders with us.
After the raid, Doolittle earned a medal of honor for his courage and leadership. Before the war, Doolittle was a well-known civilian aviator and aeronautics engineer.
The B-25 Mitchell Bombers first flew in August 1940 and continued to serve until 1979. A total of 9,984 were built.