by Gerald Boerner


“Special training was given in cross country flying, night flying and navigation.”
— Gen. Doolittle’s Report on Japanese Raid

“Inasmuch as it was planned, in the interest of security, to maintain radio silence throughout the flight and weight was of the essence, the 230 lb. Liaison radio set was removed.”
— Gen. Doolittle’s Report on Japanese Raid

“We anticipated that some difficulty might be experienced due to our targets being camouflaged. Little or no effective camouflage was observed in the Tokyo area.”
— Gen. Doolittle’s Report on Japanese Raid

“Twenty-four airplanes were prepared for the mission. Preparation consisted of installing additional tankage and removing certain unnecessary equipment. Three additional gasoline tanks were installed.”
— Gen. Doolittle’s Report on Japanese Raid

“Each airplane will carry its normal compliment of five crew members; pilot, co-pilot, bombardier-navigator, radio operator and gunner-mechanic. one crew member will be a competent meteorologist and one an experienced navigator. All navigators will be trained in celestial navigation.”
— Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation

“The Doolittle Tokyo Raid was perhaps the most famous exploit of the B-25 Mitchell. It was carried out in an attempt to shore up morale on the home front during the early months of 1942, which was sagging as a result of suffering defeat after defeat in the Pacific. It was also the turning point of the war in the Pacific. Prior to the Doolittle Raid we had only known defeat. After the Doolittle Raid we knew only victory.”
North Texas Vets web site

“All pilots were given selected objectives consisting of steel works, oil refineries, oil tank farms, ammunition dumps, dock yards, munitions plants, airplane factories. They were also secondary targets in case it was impossible to reach the primary target. In almost every case, primary targets were bombed. the damage done far exceeded out most optimistic expectations. A high degree of damage resulted from the highly inflammable nature of Japanese construction.”
— Gen. Doolittle’s Report on Japanese Raid

“The method contemplated is to bring carrier borne bombers to within 400 or 500 miles (all distances mentioned will be in statue miles) of the coast of Japan, preferably to the south-southeast. They will then take off from the carrier deck and proceed directly to selected objectives. These objectives will be military and industrial targets in the Tokyo-Yokahama, Nagoya and Osaka-Kobi areas. Simultaneous bombings of these areas is contemplated with the bombers coming in up waterways from the southeast and, after dropping their bombs, returning in the same direction. After clearing the Japanese outside coastline a sufficient distance a general westerly course will be set for one or more of the following airports in China: C…chow, Chuchow (Lishui), Yushan and or Chien. C …chow is about seventy miles inland and two hundred twenty miles to the south south west of Shanghai.”
— Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation


Pearl Harbor: The Doolittle Raid on Tokyo

Army_B-25_Doolittle_Raid The Doolittle Raid, 18 April 1942, was the first air raid by the United States to strike a Japanese home island (Honshū) during World War II. It demonstrated that Japan itself was vulnerable to Allied air attack and provided an expedient means for U.S. retaliation for Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. The raid was planned and led by Lieutenant Colonel James "Jimmy" Doolittle. Doolittle would later recount in his autobiography that the raid was intended to cause the Japanese to doubt their leadership and to raise American morale:

The Japanese had been told they were invulnerable. An attack on the Japanese homeland would cause confusion in the minds of the Japanese people and sow doubt about the reliability of their leaders.
There was a second, equally important, psychological reason for this attack…Americans badly needed a morale boost.[1]

B-25 on Hornet DeckSixteen B-25B Mitchell bombers were launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet deep within enemy waters. The plan called for them to hit military targets in Japan, and land in China. All of the aircraft were lost and 11 crewmen were either killed or captured. One of these B-25s landed in Soviet territory where its crew remained interned for more than a year. The entire crews of 13 of the 16 aircraft, and all but one of a 14th, returned to the United States or to Allied control. The raid caused little material damage to Japan, but succeeded in its goal of helping American morale. It also caused Japan to withdraw a carrier group from the Indian Ocean to defend their homeland and contributed to Japan’s decision to attack Midway.


The raid had its start in a desire by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, expressed to Joint Chiefs of Staff in a meeting at the White House on 21 December, 1941, that Japan be bombed as soon as possible to boost public morale after the disaster at Pearl Harbor.

The concept for the attack came from Navy Captain Francis Low, Assistant Chief of Staff for Anti-submarine Warfare, who reported to Admiral Ernest J. King on 10 January 1942, that he thought that twin-engined Army bombers could be successfully launched from an aircraft carrier after observing several at a naval airfield in Norfolk, Virginia, where the runway was painted with the outline of a carrier deck for landing practice. It was subsequently planned and led by Doolittle, a famous civilian aviator and aeronautical engineer before the war.

DoolittleRaidDisplayAtAFMuseum NMUSAF Doolittle Raid exhibit

Requirements for the aircraft for a cruising range of 2,400 miles (3,900 km) with a 2,000 pound (900 kg) bomb load resulted in the selection of the North American B-25B Mitchell to carry out the mission. The B-26 Marauder, B-18 Bolo, and B-23 Dragon were also considered, but the B-26 had questionable takeoff characteristics from a carrier deck, and the B-23’s wingspan was nearly 50% greater than the B-25’s, reducing the number that could be taken aboard a carrier and posing risks to the ship’s island. The B-18, one of the final two types considered by Doolittle, was rejected for the same reason.

Subsequent tests with B-25s indicated they could fulfill the mission’s requirements. Doolittle’s first report on the plan suggested that the bombers might land in Vladivostok, shortening the flight by 600 miles (1,000 km), on the basis of turning over the B-25s as Lend-Lease. However, negotiations with the Soviet Union (which was not at war with Japan) for permission were fruitless.


When planning indicated that the B-25 was the aircraft best meeting all specifications of the mission, two were loaded aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet at Norfolk, Virginia, and subsequently flown off the deck without difficulty on 3 February 1942. The raid was immediately approved and the 17th Bomb Group (Medium) chosen to provide the pool of crews from which volunteers would be recruited. The 17th BG had been the first group to receive B-25s, with all four of its squadrons equipped with the bomber by September 1941. The 17th not only was the first medium bomb group of the Army Air Corps, but in the spring of 1942, also had the most experienced B-25 crews. Its first assignment following the entry of the United States into the war was to the U.S. Eighth Air Force.

Doolittle_LtCol_i02457 Lt. Col. Doolittle wires a
Japanese medal to a bomb,
for "return" to its originators.

The 17th BG, then flying antisubmarine patrols from Pendleton, Oregon, was immediately moved cross-country to Lexington County Army Air Base, Columbia, South Carolina, ostensibly to fly similar patrols off the east coast of the United States, but in actuality to prepare for the mission against Japan. The group officially transferred to Columbia effective 9 February, where its combat crews were offered the opportunity to volunteer for an "extremely hazardous" but unspecified mission. On 17 February the group was detached from the Eighth Air Force.

Initial planning called for 20 aircraft to fly the mission, and 24 of the group’s B-25B Mitchell bombers were diverted to the Mid-Continent Airlines modification center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Modifications included:

  • Removal of the lower gun turret
  • Installation of de-icers and anti-icers
  • Steel blast plates mounted on the fuselage around the upper turret
  • Removal of the liaison radio set (a weight impediment)
  • Installation of three additional fuel tanks and support mounts in the bomb bay, crawl way and lower turret area to increase fuel capacity from 646 to 1,141 U.S. gallons (2,445 to 4,319 litres)
  • Mock gun barrels installed in the tail cone, and
  • Replacement of their Norden bombsight with a makeshift aiming sight, devised by pilot Capt. C. Ross Greening and called the "Mark Twain".

Two bombers also had cameras mounted to record the results of bombing.

Doolittle_Raider,_Plane_1The 24 crews selected picked up the modified bombers in Minneapolis and flew them to Eglin Field, Florida, beginning 1 March 1942. There the crews received intensive training for three weeks in simulated carrier deck takeoffs, low-level and night flying, low-altitude bombing, and over-water navigation. Navy Lt. Henry Miller supervised their takeoff training and accompanied the crews to the launch. For his efforts, Lt. Miller is considered an honorary member of the Raider group. Lt. Col Doolittle stated in his after action report that an operational level of training was reached despite several days when flying was not possible because of rain and fog. One aircraft was heavily damaged in a takeoff accident and another taken off the mission because of a nose wheel shimmy that could not be repaired quickly enough.

On 25 March, the remaining 22 B-25s took off from Eglin for McClellan Field, California. They arrived on 27 March for final modifications at the Sacramento Air Depot. A total of 16 B-25s were subsequently flown to Alameda, California, on 31 March. Fifteen raiders would be the mission force and a 16th aircraft, by last minute agreement with the Navy, would be squeezed onto the deck to be flown off shortly after departure from San Francisco to provide feedback to the Army pilots about takeoff characteristics. (The 16th bomber was made part of the mission force instead.)

The Raid

On 1 April, the 16 modified bombers, their five-man crews and Army maintenance personnel, totaling 71 officers and 130 enlisted men, were loaded onto USS Hornet at Alameda. Each aircraft carried four specially-constructed 500-pound (225 kg) bombs. Three of these were high-explosive munitions, and one was a bundle of incendiaries. The incendiaries were long tubes, wrapped together in order to be carried in the bomb bay, but designed to separate and scatter over a wide area after release. Five bombs had Japanese "friendship" medals wired to them — medals awarded by the Japanese government to U.S. servicemen before the war. To decrease weight (and thus increase range), the bombers’ armament was reduced. Each bomber launched with two .50-caliber (12.7 mm) machine guns in an upper turret and a .30-caliber (7.62 mm) machine gun in the nose. The simulated gun barrels mounted in the tail cones, intended to discourage Japanese air attacks from behind, were cited afterward by Doolittle as being particularly effective. The aircraft were clustered closely and tied down on the Hornet’s flight deck in the order of their expected launch.

B-25 on Hornet Deck  B-25Bs on USS Hornet
en route to Japan

The Hornet and Task Force 18 left the port of Alameda at 10:00 on 2 April and a few days later rendezvoused with Task Force 16, commanded by Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr.: the carrier USS Enterprise and her escort of cruisers and destroyers in the mid-Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii. The Enterprise‘s fighters and scout planes 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 combined force, two carriers, three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, eight destroyers, and two fleet oilers, then proceeded in radio silence. On the afternoon of 17 April, the slow oilers refueled the task force, then withdrew with the destroyers to the east, while the carriers and cruisers dashed west at 20 knots towards their intended launch point in enemy-controlled waters east of Japan.

Doolittle Raid Crews  Orders in hand, Navy Capt.
Marc A. Mitscher, skipper of the
USS Hornet chats with
Lt. Col. James Doolittle.

At 07:38 on the morning of 18 April, while the task force was still about 650 miles (1,050 km) from Japan, it was sighted by Japanese picket boat No. 23 Nitto Maru which radioed an attack warning to Japan. Although the boat was fatally damaged by gunfire from the cruiser USS Nashville, Doolittle and Hornet skipper Captain Marc Mitscher decided to launch the B-25s immediately—10 hours early and 170 miles (270 km) farther from Japan than planned. After respotting to allow for engine start and run-ups, Doolittle’s aircraft had 467 ft (142 metres) of takeoff distance. Despite the fact that none of the B-25 pilots, including Doolittle, had ever taken off from a carrier before, all 16 aircraft launched safely between 08:20 and 09:19. (The 16th B-25 had been included only as a reserve, intended to fly along as an observation and photographic platform, but when the mission was compromised, Doolittle made a command decision to utilize the reserve aircraft.) This was the only time that United States Army Air Forces bombers were launched from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier on a combat mission.


Compared to the devastating B-29 Superfortress attacks against Japan later in the war, the Doolittle raid did little material damage. Eight primary and five secondary targets were struck, and the Japanese reported that the two planes whose crews were captured had also struck their targets. At least one bomb from the plane of Lt. Edgar E. McElroy struck the Japanese aircraft carrier Ryūhō. Nevertheless, when the news of the raid was released, American morale soared. Stinging from the attack on Pearl Harbor and Japan’s subsequent territorial gains, it was important for the American public to know that a successful military response had been undertaken.

DoolittleRaiders_China_h97502 The raid also had a strategic impact, though it was not understood at the time, in that it caused the Japanese to recall some fighting units back to the home islands for defense. The Fast Carrier Task Force, consisting of six carriers under Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, had inflicted serious losses on the Royal Navy in the Indian Ocean Raid; after the Doolittle Raid, Nagumo’s task force was recalled to Japan, relieving the pressure on the Royal Navy in the Indian Ocean. The Japanese Navy also bore a special responsibility for the fact that an American carrier task force had approached the Japanese Home Islands in a manner similar to that on Pearl Harbor, and then escaped unpunished. The fact that land-based bombers carried out the attack served to confuse Japanese war planners about the source of the attack. This confusion and an assumption that Japan was vulnerable to air attack strengthened Admiral Yamamoto’s resolve to seize Midway Island, resulting in the decisive Battle of Midway.

"It was hoped that the damage done would be both material and psychological. Material damage was to be the destruction of specific targets with ensuing confusion and retardation of production. The psychological results, it was hoped, would be the recalling of combat equipment from other theaters for home defense thus effecting relief in those theaters, the development of a fear complex in Japan, improved relationships with our Allies, and a favorable reaction on the American people." 
— Gen. James H. Doolittle, 9 July 1942


Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

The Doolittle Raid that can be found at…