19 April 2017

Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Doolittle Raids

Lt. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle on War and Air Power

Just a little over five months after the devastating Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States  made a daring raid on the Imperial Homeland.  The responsibility to conduct the raid fell upon then Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, a revered test pilot for the U.S. Army Air Corps.   

Sixteen specially modified B-25B bombers carrying 80 men took off at night from the USS Hornet on April 18, 1942, which was positioned 500 nautical miles off the Japanese mainland.  The plan had to be rushed as the Hornet was sighted further out than expected.

The Army Airmen participating in Doolittle's raid understood that they were most likely on a suicide mission. Their intended targets were military and industrial targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe, Osaka, Nagoya and Yokosuka. One of the sixteen planes had to bail before it reached its target.  

Remarkably despite losing 15 aircraft, only four of eighty men were killed  in the Doolittle Raid, eight became POWS (but three were executed), and one crew was interned after landing in Vladavostok, Soviet Russia.  They were held in the USSR for a year and were "smuggled out" (probably arranged by the Russian Secret Police NKVD because the USSR could not release the prisoners because of the neutrality pact with Japan).

Doolittle expected to be court marshaled as his raid lost 15 of 16 aircraft in pin prick air strikes.  But back in the United States, the daring Doolittle Raids was celebrated as a morale building first strike against Imperial Japan.  The Japanese were caught off guard by the Tokyo Raid and the Imperial Military rearranged forces, which might have turned the tide in the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

Doolittle received the Medal of Honor from President Franklin Roosevelt, with the citation:

"For conspicuous leadership above and beyond the call of duty, involving personal valor and intrepidity at an extreme hazard to life. With the apparent certainty of being forced to land in enemy territory or to perish at sea, Lt. Col. Doolittle personally led a squadron of Army bombers, manned by volunteer crews, in a highly destructive raid on the Japanese mainland."

Doolittle was eventually promoted as a Lt. General and became the highest ranking active reserve officer in modern times. 

Sometimes the bigger battle is won through morale boosting and reminding America of its mission.