On April 18, 1942, fueled by the need for action in the devastating aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. commenced a daring and dangerous air raid over Tokyo. Detected by the Japanese in the hours prior to the planned raid and further out to sea than dictated, immediate action was demanded of these airmen.
Led by Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, 16 B-25 bomber planes were swiftly launched from the carrier deck of the USS Hornet. Their targets were industrial and military installations in Japan with subsequent escape to landing destinations in China. With fuel consumption a major concern, as well as threat of anti-aircraft fire and enemy interception, it was a risky endeavor for safe passage of these men.
Beyond the targeted bombing, the mission would prove a success in the lesson of vulnerability which took a toll on Imperial Japan and its military strategy. The operation by the Tokyo Raiders, which greatly boosted American and allied morale, would generate strategic benefits for the U.S. in the Battle of Midway and disaster for the Japanese.
The raid would extract a sacrifice in return. Eighty brave souls had volunteered for a secret and periolous objective. Although most would survive, one would lose his life in parachuting over China and two by drowning off the China coast. Three of eight airmen, captured by the Japanese, would die by execution. A fourth would perish in a Japanese prison. The rest would suffer harsh and extreme confinement. Essentially all 16 bombers inevitably would be lost. Of the 15 reaching China, 11 were destroyed during bail-outs and 1 crash-landing, while 3 were ditched at sea. The remaining, seriously low on fuel, would be confiscated upon landing in Russia and the crew incarcerated.
Recruited from the 17th Bomb Group, these men hailed from 35 states and Texas can proudly claim the largest number at 13.
Orders in hand, Navy Capt. Marc A. Mitscher, USS Hornet skipper, chats with Lt. Col. James Doolittle, attack group leader of the Army Air Forces. This group of fliers, in coordination between the two services, carried the battle of the Pacific to the heart of the Japanese empire with a daring raid on military targets in major Japanese cities. The USS Hornet carried the 16 North American B-25 bombers to within take-off distances of the Japanese Islands.
(U.S. Navy photo)
B-25 bombers on the flight deck of the USS Hornet en route to the mission’s launching point for the Tokyo Raid.
One of the escorting cruisers, the USS Nashville, is seen in the distance. (U.S. Navy photo)