The Doolittle Raid of April 18 1942, was the first air raid by the USA to strike the Japanese home islands during WW-2. The mission was notable in that it was the only operation in which USAAF bombers were launched from a US Navy aircraft carrier. It was the longest combat mission ever flown by the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. This raid had its start in a desire by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, expressed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a meeting at the White House on Dec 21, 1941, that Japan be bombed as soon as possible to boost public morale after the disaster at Pearl Harbor.
The Japanese people 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, and equally important, psychological reason for this attack. Americans badly needed a morale boost. Doolittle, later in his autobiography, recounted that the raid was intended to bolster American morale and to cause the Japanese to begin doubting their leadership, in which it succeeded.
The concept for the attack came from Navy Capt Francis S. Low, Assistant Chief of Staff for the anti-submarine warfare who reported to Adm Ernest J. King on Jan 10, 1942, that he thought twin-engine Army bombers could be 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. The attack was planned and led by Lt Col James Doolittle, a famous civilian aviator and aeronautical engineer before the war.
The requirements to accomplish this operation requested that the aircraft had to have a cruising range of 2400 nautical miles (4400 km) with a 2000-pound (910 Kg) bomb load, resulted in the selection of the B-25-B Mitchell to carry out the task. The Martin B-26 Marauder, the Douglas B-18 Bolo and the Douglas 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 of the plane that could be taken aboard a carrier and posing risks to the ship’s island (superstructure). The B-18, one of the final two types considered by Doolittle, was rejected for the same reason.
In 1942, the B-25 had still to be tested in combat, but subsequent tests indicated they could fulfill the mission’s requirements. Doolittle’s first report on the plan suggested the bombers might land in Vladivostok USSR, shortening the flight by 600 nautical miles (1100 Km) on the basis of turning over the B-25s as Lend-Lease.
Negotiations with the Soviet Union, which had signed a neutrality pact with Japan in April 1941, for permission were fruitless. Something else was also pointed out: bombers attacking defended targets often relied on a fighter escort to defend them from enemy fighters; not only did Doolittle’s aircraft lack a full complement of guns to save weight, but it was not possible for fighters to accompany them.
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 (CV-8) at Norfolk, Virginia, and flown off the deck without difficulty on Feb 3, 1942. The raid was approved and the 17th Bomb Group (Medium), the first Medium Bomb Group with 4 Squadrons using B-25s in the AAF, was chosen to provide the pool of crews from which volunteers would be recruited. Based in Pendleton, Oregon, the Group was moved to Lexington County Army Air Base at Columbia, South Carolina, to fly similar patrols off the East Coast of the US and prepare for the mission against Japan.
Initial planning calling for 20 aircraft, 24 of the group’s B-25-B Mitchell were diverted to the Mid-Continent Airlines modification center in Minneapolis, Minnesota which became the first modification center operational. From nearby Fort Snelling, the 710-MP Bn provided tight security around this hangar as well as the entire Base.
The airplanes had to be modified. These modifications were the removal of the lower gun turret; the installation of De-icers and Anti-icers; steel blast plates mounted on the fuselage around the upper turret; the removal of the liaison radio set (a weight impediment); the installation of a 160-gallon collapsible neoprene auxiliary fuel tank fixed to the top of the bomb bay, and support mounts for additional fuel cells in the bomb bay, crawl-way and lower turret area to increase fuel capacity from 646 to 1141 gallons; installation of mock gun barrels installed in the tail cone; the replacement of their Norden bomb-sight with a makeshift aiming sight devised by pilot Capt Charles Ross Greening and called the Mark Twain. Note that two bombers also had cameras mounted to record the results of bombing.
The 24 crews selected picked up the modified bombers in Minneapolis and flew them to Eglin Field, Florida, beginning Mar 1, 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, primarily out of Wagner Field, Auxiliary Field 1. Lt Henry Miller, USN, from nearby Naval Air Station Pensacola supervised their takeoff training and accompanied the crews to the launch.
On Mar 25, 1942, after three weeks of intensive training, the 22 remaining B-25-B twin-engine medium bombers of the 17-BG, completed a two-day low-level transcontinental flight and arrived at the Sacramento Air Depot, McClellan Field, California, for final modifications, repairs, and maintenance before an upcoming secret mission. 16 B-25s were flown to Naval Air Station in Alameda, California, on Mar 31. Fifteen raiders were the mission force and a 16th aircraft, by last-minute agreement with the Navy, was 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.
Air Task Force Doolittle
On Apr 1, 1942, the 16 modified bombers, their five-man crews and Army maintenance personnel, totaling 71 officers and 130 enlisted men, were loaded onto the USS Hornet (CV-8) at the Naval Air Station Alameda. Each aircraft carried four specially constructed 500-pound (250 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 US servicemen before the war.
Each bomber launched with two .50 Cal (12.7 MM) HMG in an upper turret and a .30 Cal (7.62 MM) LMG in the nose. One simulated gun barrel mounted in the tail cones, intended to discourage Japanese air attacks from behind. The aircraft were clustered closely and tied down on the Hornet’s flight deck and in the order of launch.
Operation Planing – January 1942
Things started moving ahead when Capt Francis S. Low, Assistant Chief of Staff for antisubmarine warfare, knocked on US Fleet commander Admiral Ernest King’s door on the evening of January 10 1942. Low had spent much of his career in the undersea service before he landed on the admiral’s staff. On that day, he had what he later described as a foolish idea, but given the dark early days of the war he thought it was at least worth a mention. Francis Low had just returned from Norfolk, where he had observed planes practicing takeoffs on an airfield marked up to resemble a carrier deck.
If the Army has some plane that could take off in that short distance, he asked King, why could we not put a few of them on a carrier and send them to bomb the mainland of Japan? Might even bomb Tokyo! Low waited for the notoriously irascible admiral to brush him off or worse but to his surprise the Admiral leaned back in his chair thinking. Low, he finally answered, that might be a good idea. Discuss it with Duncan and tell him to report to me! Low immediately phoned Capt Donald Duncan, King’s air operations officer, and arranged for the two of them to meet the next morning.
As a fellow US Naval Academy graduate, Duncan held a master’s degree from Harvard. He had served as navigator on the carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3), executive officer of at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, and later commanded the first escort carrier of the Navy, the USS Long Island (CVE-1).
There are two big questions that have to be answered first, Low explained. My first question is as follows. Can an Army medium bomber land aboard a carrier, and can this land-based bomber loaded down with bombs, gas, and crew take off from a carrier deck? Duncan considered the questions, explaining that a carrier deck was too short for a bomber to land. Furthermore, the fragile tail would never handle the shock of the arresting gear nor would landing bombers fit on the aircraft elevator. My second question is Low pressed I’ll have to get back to you! Duncan started right away, searching for what, if any, bomber could handle such an operation. Low had initially suggested the bombers might return to the carrier and ditch in the water, though Duncan’s study showed it would be better if the planes could fly on to airfields in China.
Since intelligence indicated that Japanese patrol planes flew as far as 300 miles offshore, America would need a bomber that could launch well outside that range, strike Tokyo, and still have enough fuel to reach the mainland. Duncan reviewed the performance data of various Army bombers before settling on the B-25 Mitchell. Not only would its wings likely clear the island, but with modified fuel tanks the B-25 could handle the 2400-mile range (3860 KM) and still carry a large bomb load. Duncan next turned to ships. The Pacific Fleet had just four flattops: the USS Enterprise (CV-6), the USS Lexington (CV-2), the USS Yorktown (CV-5), and the USS Saratoga (CV-3). Another one, the USS Hornet (CV-12), a new carrier, was undergoing shakedown in Virginia. He knew she would report to the Pacific at about the time it would take to finalize such an operation. Low had recommended the use of a single carrier, but Duncan realized the mission would require two. With the cumbersome bombers crowding the Hornet’s flight deck, a second flattop would have to accompany the task force to provide fighter coverage, along with more than a dozen cruisers, destroyers, and oilers. Lastly, a check of historical data revealed a likely window of favorable weather over Tokyo from mid-April to mid-May. When Duncan concluded his preliminary study, he and Low presented the results to King. The aggressive admiral liked what he heard. Go see Gen Arnold about it, and if he agrees with you, ask him to get in touch with me, King ordered. And don’t you two mention this to another soul!
United States Navy – Aircraft Carriers Available – Doolittle Raid
USS Enterprise (CV-6) was the seventh US Navy vessel to bear the name. Colloquially called ‘The Big E’, she was the sixth aircraft carrier of the USN. A Yorktown-class carrier, she was launched in 1936 and was one of only three American carriers commissioned before World War II to survive the war (the others being the Saratoga and the Ranger). She participated in more major actions of the war against Japan than any other United States ship. These actions included the Attack on Pearl Harbor (18 dive bombers of VS-6 were over the harbor; 6 were shot down with a loss of 11 men—she was the only American aircraft carrier with men at Pearl Harbor during the attack and the first to sustain casualties during the Pacific War), the Battle of Midway, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, various other air-sea engagements during the Guadalcanal Campaign, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Enterprise earned 20 battle stars, the most for any US warship in World War II, and was the most decorated US ship of World War II. She is also the first American ship to sink an enemy warship during the Pacific War when she sank Japanese submarine I-70 on 10 December 1941. On three occasions during the Pacific War, the Japanese announced that she had been sunk in battle, inspiring her nickname ‘The Grey Ghost’.
USS Lexington (CV-2) nicknamed ‘Lady Lex’, was an early aircraft carrier built for the US Navy. She was the lead ship of the Lexington class; her only sister ship, Saratoga, was commissioned a month earlier. Originally designed as a battlecruiser, she was converted into one of the Navy’s first aircraft carriers during construction to comply with the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, which essentially terminated all-new battleship and battlecruiser construction. The ship entered service in 1928 and was assigned to the Pacific Fleet for her entire career. Lexington was at sea when the Pacific War began on Dec 7, 1941, ferrying fighter aircraft to Midway Island. Her mission was canceled and she returned to Pearl Harbor a week later. After a few days, she was sent to create a diversion from the force en route to relieve the besieged Wake Island garrison by attacking Japanese installations in the Marshall Islands. The island surrendered before the relief force got close enough, and the mission was canceled.
A planned attack on Wake Island in January 1942 had to be canceled when a submarine sank the oilier required to supply the fuel for the return trip. Lexington was sent to the Coral Sea the following month to block any Japanese advances into the area. The ship was spotted by Japanese search aircraft while approaching Rabaul, New Britain, but her aircraft shot down most of the Japanese bombers that attacked her. Together with the carrier Yorktown, she successfully attacked Japanese shipping off the east coast of New Guinea in early March. Lexington was briefly refitted in Pearl Harbor at the end of the month and rendezvoused with Yorktown in the Coral Sea in early May. A few days later the Japanese began Operation Mo, the invasion of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and the two American carriers attempted to stop the invasion forces. They sank the light aircraft carrier Shōhō on May 7 during the Battle of the Coral Sea but did not encounter the main Japanese force from the carriers Shōkaku and Zuikaku until the next day. Aircraft from Lexington and Yorktown badly damaged the Shōkaku, but the Japanese aircraft crippled the Lexington. A mixture of air and aviation gasoline in her improperly drained aircraft fueling trunk lines (which ran from the keel tanks to her hangar deck) ignited, causing a series of explosions and fires that could not be controlled. Lexington was scuttled by an American destroyer during the evening of May 8 to prevent her capture. The wreck of Lexington was located in March 2018 by an expedition led by Paul Allen, who discovered the ship about 430 nautical miles (800 km) off the northeastern coast of Australia in the Coral Sea.
USS Yorktown (CV-5) was an aircraft carrier commissioned in the United States Navy from 1937 until she was sunk at the Battle of Midway in June 1942. She was named after the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 and the lead ship of the Yorktown class which was designed after lessons learned from operations with the large converted battlecruiser Lexington class and the smaller purpose-built USS Ranger. She was sunk by Japanese submarine I-68 on 6 June 1942 during the Battle of Midway.
USS Saratoga (CV-3) was a Lexington-class aircraft carrier built for the US Navy during the 1920s. Originally designed as a battlecruiser, she was converted into one of the Navy’s first aircraft carriers during construction to comply with the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. The ship entered service in 1928 and was assigned to the Pacific Fleet for her entire career. The Saratoga and her sister ship, the Lexington, were used to develop and refine carrier tactics in a series of annual exercises before World War II. On more than one occasion these exercises included successful surprise attacks on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. She was one of three prewar US fleet aircraft carriers, along with Enterprise and Ranger, to serve throughout World War II. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Saratoga was the centerpiece of the unsuccessful American effort to relieve Wake Island and was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine a few weeks later. After lengthy repairs, the ship supported forces participating in the Guadalcanal Campaign and her aircraft sank the light carrier Ryūjō during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons in August 1942. She was again torpedoed the following month and returned to the Solomon Islands area after repairs were completed.
In 1943, the Saratoga supported Allied forces involved in the New Georgia Campaign and invasion of Bougainville in the northern Solomon Islands, and her aircraft twice attacked the Japanese base at Rabaul in November. Early in 1944, her aircraft provided air support during the Gilbert and Marshall Islands Campaign before she was transferred to the Indian Ocean for several months to support the British Eastern Fleet as it attacked targets in Java and Sumatra. After a brief refit in mid-1944, the ship became a training ship for the rest of the year. In early 1945, the Saratoga participated in the Battle of Iwo Jima as a dedicated night fighter carrier. Several days into the battle, she was badly damaged by kamikaze hits and was forced to return to the United States for repairs. While under repair, the ship, now increasingly obsolete, was permanently modified as a training carrier with some of her hangar deck converted into classrooms. The Saratoga remained in this role for the rest of the war and was then used to ferry troops back to the United States after the Japanese surrender in August. In mid-1946, the ship was a target for nuclear weapon tests during Operation Crossroads. She survived the first test with little damage but was sunk by the second test.
USS Hornet (CV-8) the seventh ship to carry the name Hornet was a Yorktown-class aircraft carrier of the US Navy. During World War II in the Pacific Theater, she launched the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo and participated in the Battle of Midway and the Buin-Faisi-Tonolai Raid. In the Solomon Islands campaign, she was involved in the capture and defense of Guadalcanal and the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands where she was irreparably damaged by an enemy torpedo and dive bombers. Faced with an approaching Japanese surface force, the Hornet was abandoned and later torpedoed and sunk by approaching Japanese destroyers. The Hornet was in service for a year and six days and was the last US fleet carrier ever sunk by enemy fire. For these actions, she was awarded four service stars, a citation for the Doolittle Raid in 1942. Her Torpedo Squadron 8 received a Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism for the Battle of Midway.
Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold jumped at the idea, assigning his staff troubleshooter, Doolittle, to oversee the AAF’s role in the raid, including the modification of the bombers to include three added fuel tanks. Doolittle and Duncan both agreed that the B-25 was the only suitable bomber, but the question remained whether one could, in fact, take off from a carrier. To find that out, on the frigid Sunday afternoon of Feb 1, 1942, Duncan reported to the Hornet, moored alongside Pier 7 at Norfolk Naval Operating Base. Arnold’s staff had ordered three B-25s with the ‘best combat crews available’ to report to Norfolk no later than Jan 20; ‘Airplanes will have combat equipment installed, less bombs’.
The plan called for the first B-25 to take off carrying only a full load of gas. The second bomber would then roar down the flight deck with a medium load, followed lastly by a fully loaded plane: ‘Successive takeoffs will, of course, be gauged by the preceding ones’. A burned-out engine on the eve of the test had sidelined one of the bombers. In following Adm King’s order for secrecy, the Hornet’s deck log contains no record of the bombers being hoisted aboard. The following morning, as light snow began to fall, the Hornet slipped out of port escorted by the destroyers USS-Ludlow (DD-438) and the USS-Hilary P. Jones (DD-427).
First up was Army Lt John Fitzgerald, who released the brakes and charged down the flight deck at 1327. Duncan watched nervously as the B-25 stubbornly remained on deck. Just a few feet before the edge of the deck the bomber finally climbed into the skies. The experience felt much different for Fitzgerald in the cockpit as he told: when I got the signal to go, I let the brakes off and was airborne almost immediately, he later recalled, the wing of my plane rose so fast I was afraid I’d strike the ship’s ‘island’ over the flight deck, but I missed it.
Lt James McCarthy went next. He throttled up the B-25’s engines, released the brakes, and roared into the skies, this time in just 275 feet. The Hornet returned to port and Duncan hurried back to Washington, thrilled his calculations were correct. There was a six-foot clearance between the wingtip and the island, he wrote in a two-page memo to Adm King. This did not seem to bother the pilots, as both airplanes maintained perfectly straight courses on the take-off run and appeared to be under excellent control.
Duncan reported that the Hornet could carry between 15 and 20 bombers, depending on whether the Navy wanted to leave enough deck space to operate a possible squadron of fighters. King reviewed the memo, scrawling a single word of approval across the bottom in pencil : Excellent. Doolittle meanwhile had arranged for his volunteer airmen—drawn from several squadrons with the 17-BG in Pendleton, Oregon to train at Eglin Field in the Florida Panhandle. In advance of the airmen’s arrival, the Army had likewise reached out to the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics : It is requested that a Naval aviator, experienced in the art of taking heavily loaded airplanes off from the deck of a carrier, be available at Eglin Field, Valparaiso, Florida, from March 1 to March 15, for the purpose of instructing Army pilots in this art.
The Navy had answered that request with Lt Henry Miller, a former Saratoga pilot who worked as a flight instructor and personnel officer at Naval Air Station Ellyson Field near Pensacola. Over several weeks, Miller drilled Doolittle’s men. It became an intense competition to see who could take off in the shortest distance with the greatest load, recalled Lt Bower, one of the raid’s pilots. The only weight we had for the airplane was .50 Cal ammunition in boxes, and people, so one man would make his attempt and record the distance, and then we’d all climb in the next airplane and load it up a little more, and see whether we could best that distance.
As Miller wrapped up the airmen’s training, Duncan flew to Pearl Harbor to see the Pacific Fleet commander Adm Chester Nimitz on Mar 19. The sole record of Duncan’s secret visit was the terse notation in Nimitz’s Gray Book, the admiral’s detailed operational diary: arrived for conference. The audacious operation existed only in the form of a handwritten plan, one so secretive that Duncan refused to allow even his trusted secretary to type it. I had been told by Adm King to tell Adm Nimitz that this was not a proposal made for him to consider but a plan to be carried out by him, Duncan recalled. So that cleared up any matter of whether we should do it or not; it was on the books by then.
Nimitz understood the incredible risk involved in a raid against Tokyo – his own staff had even proposed and then nixed just such an idea in February. Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines had wrecked two of America’s three fleets. Even with the addition of the Hornet, the backbone of America’s Pacific defense rested on just five aircraft carriers, half the number Japan counted.
Two of America’s five Pacific carriers – the flattops Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto so hungered to destroy – would steam to within 400 miles of the enemy’s homeland. The opportunities for disaster were numerous. This strike force would have to thread its way across the Pacific in complete radio silence, avoiding the constellations of Japanese bases that stretched from the Marianas to New Guinea. Enemy fighters, bombers, and reconnaissance planes crowded the skies, while warships, patrol craft, and submarines plowed the Pacific waters, any one of which could jeopardize the mission.
But as Duncan had made things clear with Admiral Nimitz that had no choice because the mission was a go. He asked Vice Admiral William Bull Halsey Jr if he thought the operation would succeed. They’ll need a lot of luck, Halsey replied. Nimitz then asked if Halsey was willing to lead the task force. Yes, I am. Good, Nimitz replied. It’s all yours ! On the eve of the task force’s departure, Halsey flew to San Francisco to review the operation with Doolittle. During the three-hour conference on Mar 30, in a room at the Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill, Halsey and Duncan walked Doolittle through the Navy’s plan. The submarines Trout (SS-202) and Thresher (SS-200) would scout weather conditions and search out enemy naval forces the surface ships might encounter. The Hornet, two cruisers, four destroyers, and an oiler would depart Alameda on Apr 2 as Task Force 16.2 under the command of Capt Marc Mitscher.
After flying back to Pearl Harbor, Halsey would put to sea on April 7 in command of Task Force 16 (TF-16), consisting of the carrier Enterprise, plus another two cruisers, four destroyers, and a second oiler. The two task forces (16.1 and 16.2) would rendezvous at sea on April 12 to create TF 16. These 16 warships would then steam toward Tokyo, refueling some 800 miles from Japan. At that point the oilers would remain behind while the carriers, cruisers, and destroyers steamed to within 400 miles of the enemy’s capital.
Task Force 16 (TF-16), was one of the most storied task forces in the US Navy, a major participant in a number of the most important battles of the Pacific War. It was formed in mid-Feb 1942 around the USS-Enterprise (CV-6), with VAdm William F. Halsey in command, and supported by two cruisers, the USS-Salt Lake City (CA-25) and the USS-Northampton (CA-26), along with a half-dozen destroyers. The task force’s first mission was to shell Wake Island and Marcus Island, then, joined by USS-Hornet (CV-8) and the rest of Task Force 18 (TF-18). In April 1942, the force conducted the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. In May Halsey was ordered to join Task Force 17 (TF-17) in the Coral Sea, but the Battle of the Coral Sea was over before TF-16 could join in.
Halsey was then hospitalized with a skin disease, so RAdm Raymond A. Spruance took over TF-16 and along with TF-17, led it to victory in the Battle of Midway. In August, the task force supported the landings on Guadalcanal, then fought in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, followed by the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in October, the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November, and covered the retreat of TF-18 after the Battle of Rennell Island. In March 1943, TF-16.6 fought the Battle of the Komandorski Islands, then bombarded Attu in April, and the whole force supported the recapture of the Aleutians in the Battle of Attu. In 1944 and 1945, the task force was a refueling unit consisting of destroyer escorts and oilers.
Order of Battle US Navy – Doolittle Raid
CV-6 USS Enterprise (Aircraft Carrier),(see above)
CV-8 USS Hornet (Carried B-25 bombers), (see above)
CA-25 USS-Salt Lake City (Heavy Cruiser), was a Pensacola-class cruiser, later reclassified as a heavy cruiser, sometimes known as Swayback Maru or Old Swayback. She had the (unofficial) distinction of having taken part in more engagements than any other ship in the fleet. She was also the first ship to be named after Salt Lake City, Utah. The USS-Salt Lake City was laid down on Jun 9, 1927, by the American Brown Boveri Electric Co, a subsidiary of the New York Shipbuilding Co, at Camden, New Jersey; launched on Jan 23, 1929, sponsored by Mrs Helen Budge, a granddaughter of the leading Mormon missionary, William Budge; and commissioned on Dec 11, 1929, at the Philadelphia Navy Yard with Capt Frederick Lansing Oliver in command. After the war, the Salt Lake City was used in evaluating the effects on surface vessels during an initial test with an aerial atomic bomb burst on July 1 and during the second test of a subsurface burst on July 25. Surviving two atomic bomb blasts, she was decommissioned on Aug 29 and laid up to await ultimate disposal. She was sunk as a target hull on May 25, 1948, 130 mi off the coast of California and struck from the Naval Vessel Register on Jun 18 1948.
CA-26 USS-Northampton (Heavy Cruiser), was the lead Northampton-class cruiser in service with the US Navy. She was commissioned in 1930, originally classified a light cruiser because of her thin armor but later reclassified a heavy cruiser because of her 8-inch guns. During WW-2 she served in the Pacific and was sunk by Japanese torpedoes during the Battle of Tassafaronga on Nov 30, 1942. She was named after the city of Northampton, Massachusetts, the home of former President Calvin Coolidge.
CA-44 USS-Vincennes (Heavy Cruiser), was a US Navy New Orleans-class cruiser, sunk at the Battle of Savo Island in 1942. She was the second ship to bear the name. She was laid down on Jan 2, 1934, at Quincy, Massachusetts, by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Company’s Fore River plant, launched on May 21, 1936, sponsored by Miss Harriet Virginia Kimmell (daughter of Joseph Kimmell, mayor of Vincennes, Indiana), and commissioned on Feb 24, 1937, with Capt Burton H. Green in command. The New Orleans-class cruisers were the last US cruisers built to the specifications and standards of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. Such ships, with a limit of 10.000 tons standard displacement and 8-inch caliber main guns may be referred to as ‘treaty cruisers’. Originally classified a light cruiser when she was authorized, because of her thin armor, the Vincennes was reclassified a heavy cruiser, because of her 8-inch guns. The term ‘heavy cruiser’ was not defined until the London Naval Treaty in 1930. This ship and the Quincy were a slightly improved version of the New Orleans-class design.
CL-43 USS-Nashville (Light Cruiser), was a Brooklyn-class cruiser. She was laid down on Jan 24, 1935, by New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey. She was launched on Oct 2, 1937, sponsored by Misses Ann and Mildred Stahlman and commissioned on Jun 6, 1938, with Capt William W. Wilson in command. After the war, the Nashville departed eastward from San Francisco on Jan 21, 1946, and she arrived at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard for a pre-inactivation overhaul. Decommissioned on Jun 24, she remained in reserve until 1950. After an overhaul at the Philadelphia Naval Yard, she was sold to Chile on Jan 9, 1951, and she served in the Chilean Navy as the Chilean cruiser Capitán Prat (CL-03) until the arrival of the Chilean destroyer Capitán Prat (1967) in 1982. Then, the old Prat was renamed Chacabuco and served until 1985.
DD-363 USS Balch (Destroyer), was a Porter-class destroyer in the USN. She is named for Adm George Beall Balch. The second Balch was launched on Mar 24, 1936, by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation’s Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts; sponsored by Miss Gertrude Balch, granddaughter of Adm Balch; and commissioned on Oct 20, 1936, under the command of Commander T. C. Latimore. On Dec 1, 1941, the Balch put to sea as a unit of Task Force 8, and remained with the Task Force after the Pearl Harbor attack.
She cruised in the Pacific during the early months of the war, and participated in the bombardment of Tarawa Island, Marshall Islands (Feb 1, 1942). Between Feb 1942 and Jun 1944, Balch performed widespread screening, patrolling, and fire support duties during the Wake Island raid (Feb 24, 1942), the Doolittle Raid (Apr 18, 1942), the decisive Battle of Midway (Jun 4/7), during which she rescued 545 survivors of the Yorktown; Guadalcanal landings (Aug 7/30); Attu invasion (May 11 – Jun 2); Toem-Wakde-Sarmi landings (May 25/28, 1944) and Biak Island invasion (May 28 – Jun 18). On Jul 15, 1944, Balch arrived at New York. Between Aug 2, 1944, and May 23, 1945, she completed five trans-Atlantic convoy escort crossings to various North African ports. On Apr 12, 1945, Capt Alfred Lind took command and participated in Task Group 60 until May 8, 1945 (VE Day). During this time, they rescued 46 survivors from a torpedoed SS Belgium (April 14) and also anchored at Oran, Algeria, and passed thru the Straits of Gibraltar. On June 16 1945, she commenced her pre-inactivation overhaul at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was decommissioned on October 19 1945 and scrapped in 1946.
DD-385 USS Fanning (Destroyer), was a Mahan-class destroyer, in the USN named for Nathaniel Fanning. Her first action was during WW-2, immediately following the Dec 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. The Fanning continued to serve in the Pacific Theatre throughout the war. She was one of the last Mahan-class destroyers. the Fanning and the USS Dunlap were built from the same basic Mahan design but slightly modified. Some sources refer to them as the Dunlap-class destroyers. The Fanning was decommissioned under the command of Commander Earnest ‘Bud’ Conant at Norfolk, Virginia, on Dec 14, 1945, and later sold.
DD-397 USS Benham (Destroyer), was the lead ship of her class of destroyers and the second ship of the USN to be named for Andrew Ellicot Kennedy Benham. It missed the attack on Pearl Harbor, being an escort for the USS Enterprise on its way to Midway at the time. It also served off Hawaii during the Doolittle raid, rescued survivors from several ships, and operated during the Battle of Midway and the landings on Guadalcanal, among other missions. It was torpedoed and rendered unusable, for which she was sunk at the end of 1942.
DD-398 USS Ellet (Destroyer), was a Benham-class destroyer in the USN during WW-2. She was named for five members of the Ellet family of Pennsylvania who rendered service during the American Civil War: Col Charles Ellet, Jr.; Gen Alfred W. Ellet; Col Charles R. Ellet; Col John A. Ellet; and Edward C. Ellet. The first two officers commanded the Ellet Ram Fleet. The Ellet was launched on Jun 11, 1938, by the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, Kearny, New Jersey; sponsored by Miss Elvira Daniel Cabell, granddaughter of Col Charles Ellet, Jr.; and commissioned on Feb 17, 1939, under the command of Lt Commander F. J. Mee. When hostilities ended, the Ellet was repairing at Mare Island. She was decommissioned there on Oct 29, 1945, and sold on Aug 1, 1947.
DD-433 USS Gwin (Destroyer), a Gleaves-class destroyer, was the third ship of the USN to be named for Lt Commander William Gwin, an American Civil War officer who commanded river boats against Confederate forces in Alabama. The Gwin was launched on May 25, 1940, by the Boston Navy Yard; sponsored by Mrs. Jesse T. Lippincott, second cousin of Lt Comdr Gwin. The destroyer was commissioned at Boston on Jan 15, 1941, under the command of Lt Commander J. M. Higgins. The Gwin was sunk by a torpedo launched by a Japanese destroyer during the Battle of Kolombangara in the Solomon Islands Campaign in Jul 1943.
DD-434 USS Meredith (Destroyer), a Gleaves-class destroyer, was the second ship of the USN to be named for Jonathan Meredith, a USMC sergeant who served during the First Barbary War. Meredith was laid down on Jun 1, 1939, by the Boston Naval Shipyard and launched on Apr 24, 1940, sponsored by Miss Ethel Dixon Meredith. The ship was commissioned on Mar 1, 1941, under the command of Lt Comdr William F. Mendenhall, Jr.
DD-435 USS Grayson (Destroyer), a Gleaves-class destroyer, was the only ship of the USN to be named for Rear Admiral Cary Travers Grayson, who served as personal physician and aide to President Woodrow Wilson during WW-1. He also served as chairman of the American Red Cross from 1935 until his death on Feb 15, 1938. The Grayson was laid down on Jul 17, 1939, by the Charleston Navy Yard, South Carolina and launched on Aug 7, 1940; sponsored by Mrs. Alice Gertrude Gordon Grayson Harrison (Mrs. George Leslie Harrison), widow of RAdm Grayson. The ship was commissioned on Feb 14, 1941, under the command of Lt Cmdr Thomas M. Stokes.
DD-436 USS Monssen (Destroyer), a Gleaves-class destroyer, was the first ship of the USN to be named for Mons Monssen, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions aboard the USS Missouri (BB-11) in 1904. Commissioned in 1941, the destroyer saw service during World War II in both Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Monssen was sunk at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on Nov 13, 1942.
AO-22 USS Cimarron (Oiler) was a Cimarron-class oiler serving with the USN and the second ship to be named for the Cimarron River in the Southwestern USA. She was launched on Jan 7, 1939, by the Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, Chester, Pennsylvania; sponsored by Mrs. William D. Leahy; and commissioned on Mar 20, 1939, under the command of William W. Behrens, Sr.
AO-25 USS Sabine (Oiler) was a Cimarron-class fleet replenishment oiler serving in the USN, was the second ship named for the Sabine River on the Texas-Louisiana border.
The Sabine was laid down on Sep 18, 1939, as SS Esso Albany, MC hull 10, by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation, at the Bethlehem Sparrows Point Shipyard, Sparrows Point, Maryland; launched on Apr 27, 1940; sponsored by Miss Ellen Klitgaard; renamed the Sabine on Sep 19, 1940; acquired by the Navy through purchase on Sep 25, 1940; and commissioned on Dec 5, 1940, under the command of Edmund W. Strother.
We discussed the operation from every point of view, Doolittle recalled. We tried to think of every contingency that might possibly arise and have an answer to that contingency. If the task force was within range of Japan, the bombers would immediately take off, execute the mission, and hopefully reach China or get picked up by submarines. If the task force was within range of either Hawaii or Midway, the bombers would take off for those destinations. The worst-case scenario called for crews to push the B-25s overboard to clear the Hornet’s deck so the Navy could launch fighters. This was understandable and I accepted this possibility, Doolittle wrote. After all, if the two carriers, the cruisers, and the destroyers were lost, it would mean the end of the American Naval strength in the Pacific for a long time. The Navy was, therefore, taking an extraordinary risk in our attempt to bring the war to the Japanese homeland.
The warships pulled anchor one by one the morning of Apr 2, as a heavy fog hung low over the bay. In a single column separated by a thousand yards, the task force navigated through the gate of the antisubmarine net, then passed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge at 1113, the majestic red symbol of San Francisco that divided the bay from the Pacific. Sailors lined the flight deck as the Hornet headed to sea, a scene captured in the diary of Army engineer-gunner S/Sgt George Larkin: as we passed under the great Golden Gate Bridge, we wondered if we would see it again.
Once at sea, Navy Lt Stephen Jurika briefed Doolittle and his men. No one knew the sprawling Japanese capital better than Jurika who had served as an assistant naval attaché in Tokyo in the years before the war. Jurika had spent much of that time preparing target maps. As an aviator I was interested in more than just ships, he recalled, I became also interested in targets. Oil depots, chemical plants, and blast furnaces. The industrial might that powered a nation and its war machine would prove the Achilles’ heel in a life-and-death struggle and in Japan’s capital and sprawling suburbs, the studious attaché had found such industry everywhere. Each time I drove from Tokyo down toward Yokohama, going through the fantastic industrial district of Kawasaki, I would take a different route and go by the petrochemical factories, the chemical factories, the iron and steel mills, and see for myself where these big things were located, factories that covered hundreds of acres. It was really unending, just one succession of one big factory after another, all the way down.
On Apr 13, VAdm William F. Halsey’s flagship USS-Enterprise joined. Task Force 16.1 and 16.2 merged to form Task Force 16 as planned. Halsey had been delayed by bad weather in his return to Pearl Harbor, setting back his departure. On the afternoon of Apr 17, the slow oilers refueled the task force, then withdrew with the destroyers to the east while the carriers and cruisers dashed west toward their intended launch point in enemy-controlled waters east of Japan. In the dark predawn morning of April 18, radar men began to pick up small Japanese surface craft, part of a picket line that served as an early-warning alarm system in case of an American raid.
Each new day carried the task force another 400 miles closer to Japan. Radiomen hunched over receivers 24 hours a day, monitoring Tokyo’s commercial stations to decipher news and broadcast routines, while officers and crew manned battle stations at dawn and dusk. Mitscher ran his sailors through countless drills, from gunnery and damage control to abandon-ship exercises. The Navy’s rigorous practice at times irked some of Doolittle’s men. It seemed to me, recalled Sgt Bourgeois, that every time I started to sleep or eat that damn General Quarters would sound off.
Halsey ordered the task force to avoid any contact, proceeded in radio silence, hoping to prolong a fight as long as possible. Every hour, every mile now mattered. Hornet lookouts spotted another picket boat. At 0738, Task Force 16 was sighted by the Japanese picket boat #23 Nittō Maru, a 70-ton patrol craft, which fired off a message to Tokyo: 2 enemy carriers sighted. Position, 600 nautical miles east of Inubosaki. Almost instantly, the #23 was destroyed then sunk by gunfire from the USS Nashville. The chief petty officer who captained the boat committed suicide rather than be captured, but five of the 11 crew survived. They were picked up by the Nashville.
On the Enterprise, Halsey flashed a message to the Hornet: Launch the planes. Then to Col Doolittle and gallant command Good Luck and God bless you all!. Doolittle and the Hornet skipper, Capt Mitscher, decided to launch the B-25s immediately (170 nautical miles farther from Japan than planned). After re-spotting to allow for engine start and run-ups, Doolittle’s aircraft had 467 feet (142 M) of takeoff distance. Although none of the B-25 pilots, including Doolittle, had ever taken off from a carrier before, all 16 aircraft launched safely between 0820 and 0919. (B-25 #16 had been included only as a reserve, intended to fly along as an observation and photographic platform, but when the surprise was compromised, Doolittle decided to use all 16 aircraft in the attack.)
Takeoff Order – Plane ID – Target – Pilot
#01-402344, Tokyo, Lt Col James H. Doolittle; #02-402292, Tokyo, Lt Travis Hoover; #03-402270, Tokyo, Lt Robert M. Gray; #04-402282, Tokyo, Lt Everett W. Holstrom; #05-402283, Tokyo, Capt David M. Jones; #06-402298, Tokyo, Lt Dean E. Hallmark; #07-402261, Tokyo, Lt Ted W. Lawson; #08-402242, Tokyo, Capt Edward J. York; #09-402303, Tokyo, Lt Harold F. Watson; #10-402250, Tokyo, Lt Richard O. Joyce; #11-402249, Yokohama, Capt Charles Ross Greening; #12-402278, Yokohama, Lt William M. Bower; #13-402247, Yokosuka, Lt Edgar E. McElroy; #14-402297, Nagoya, Maj John A. Hilger; #15-402267, Kobe, Lt Donald G. Smith; #16-402268, Nagoya, Lt William G. Farrow.
The B-25s then flew toward Japan, most in groups of two to four aircraft before flying single file at a wave-top level to avoid detection. The aircraft began arriving over Japan about noon Tokyo time, six hours after launch, and bombed 10 military and industrial targets in Tokyo, two in Yokohama and one each in Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe, and Osaka.
Although some B-25s encountered light antiaircraft fire and a few enemy fighters over Japan, no bomber was shot down. Only the B-25 of Lt Richard O. Joyce received any battle damage, minor hits from antiaircraft fire. B-25 #04 (Lt Everett W. Holstrom) jettisoned its bombs before reaching its target when it came under attack by fighters after its gun turret malfunctioned. At least one Japanese fighter was shot down by the gunners of the Whirling Dervish, (#09) piloted by Lt Harold Watson. Two other fighters were shot down by the gunners of the Hari Kari-er, (#11) piloted by Capt Ross Greening. Many military targets were strafed by the bombers’ nose gunners.
Fifteen of the sixteen aircraft then proceeded southwest along the southern coast of Japan and across the East China Sea toward eastern China, where several fields in Zhejiang province were supposed to be ready to guide them in using homing beacons, then recover and refuel them for continuing on to Chongqing, the wartime Kuomintang capital. The primary base was at Zhuzhou, toward which all the aircraft navigated, but Halsey never sent the planned signal to alert them, apparently because of a possible threat to the task force. One B-25, (#08) piloted by Capt Edward J. York, was extremely low on fuel, and headed instead for the closer Soviet Union.
Damage to the intended military targets was modest, and none of the planes reached the Chinese airfields (though all but a few of their crewmen survived). However, the Japanese high command was deeply embarrassed. Three of the eight American airmen they had captured were executed. Spurred by Combined Fleet commander Adm Isoroku Yamamoto, they also resolved to eliminate the risk of any more such raids by the early destruction of America’s aircraft carriers, a decision that led them to a disaster at the Battle of Midway a month and a half later.
Fifteen planes crash-landed; the crew who flew to Russia landed near Vladivostok, where their B-25 was confiscated and the crew interned until they managed to escape through Iran in 1943. Doolittle and his crew, after safely parachuting into China, received assistance from John Birch, an American missionary in China; Doolittle subsequently recommended Birch for intelligence work with Gen Claire Lee Chennault’s Flying Tigers.
B-25 #01 #402244 – Col J. H. Doolittle, 34-BS, crashed N Chuchow, China
B-25 #02 #402292 – Lt T. Hoover, 37-BS, crash-landed Ningpo, China
B-25 #3 #402270 – Lt R. M. Gray, 95-BS, crashed SE Chuchow, China
B-25 #4 #402282 – Lt E. W. Holstrom, 95-BS, crashed SE Shangjao, China
B-25 #5 #402283 – Capt D. M. Jones, 95-BS, crashed SE Chuchow, China
B-25 #6 #402298 – Lt D. E. Hallmark, 95-BS, ditched at sea Wenchu, China
B-25 #7 #402261 – Lt T. W. Lawson, 95-BS, ditched at sea Shangchow, China
B-25 #8 #402242 – Capt E. J. York, 95-BS, interned Primorskkai, Siberia
B-25 #9 #402203 – Lt H. F. Watson, 34-BS, crashed S Nanchang, China
B-25 #10 #402250 – Lt R. O. Joyce, 89-BS, crashed NE Chuchow, China
B-25 #11 #402249 – Capt C. R. Greening, 89-BS, crashed NE Chuchow, China
B-25 #12 #402278 – Lt W. M. Bower, 37-BS, crashed NE Chuchow, China
B-25 #13 #402247 – Lt E. E. McElroy, 37-BS, crashed N Nanchang, China
B-25 #14 #402297 – Maj J. A. Hilger, 89-BS, crashed SE Shangjao, China
B-25 #15 #402267 – Lt D. G. Smith, 89-BS, ditched at sea Shangchow, China
B-25 #16 #402268 – Lt W. G. Farrow, 34-BS, crashed S Ningpo, China
Following the Raid, most of the B-25 crews who had reached China achieved safety with the help of Chinese civilians and soldiers. Of the sixteen planes and 80 airmen who participated in the raid (with the single exception of Capt Edward York and his crew (#40-2242), which landed in Russia and was interned with his crew), all either crash-landed, were ditched or crashed after their crews bailed-out. Nevertheless, 69 escaped capture or death, with only three KIA (Killed in Action) as a result of the loss of their aircraft.
When the Chinese helped the Americans escape, the grateful Americans, in turn, gave them whatever they had on hand. The people who helped them paid dearly for sheltering the Americans. Eight Raiders were captured (POW), but their fate wasn’t fully known until 1946. Accounted for as KIA shortly after the raid was Cpl Leland D. Faktor, the flight engineer/gunner on Lt Robert M. Gray’s crew, (#40-2270).
The citation for his posthumous DFC reported that after Faktor successfully bailed-out with the rest of his crew over mountainous terrain near Sui-Chang, Chekiang Province, China, he was killed shortly afterward when he fell down a cliff.
The crews of two aircraft (ten men in total) were unaccounted for: Hallmark’s crew and Farrow’s crew. On Aug 15, 1942, the United States learned from the Swiss Consulate General in Shanghai that eight of the missing crew members were prisoners of the Japanese at the city’s Police Headquarters. Two crewmen drowned after crash-landing in the ocean. On Oct 19, 1942, the Japanese announced that they had tried the eight prisoners and sentenced them all to death, but said several had received a commutation of their sentences to life imprisonment. No names or details were given.
The story of the missing crews was revealed in Feb 1946 during a war crimes trial held in Shanghai to try four Japanese officers charged with mistreating the eight captured crewmen. It was learned that two of the missing crewmen, S/Sgt William J. Dieter and Sgt Donald E. Fitzmaurice, drowned when their B-25 crashed into the sea. The other eight, Lts Dean E. Hallmark, Robert J. Meder, Chase Nielsen, William G. Farrow, Robert L. Hite, George Barr, Cpls Harold A. Spatz, and Jacob DeShazer, were captured.
On Aug 28, 1942, pilot Hallmark, pilot Farrow, and gunner Spatz faced a war crimes trial by a Japanese court for strafing and murdering Japanese civilians. At 1630 on Oct 15, 1942, they were taken by truck to Public Cemetery and executed by a firing squad.
The other captured airmen remained in military confinement on a starvation diet, their health rapidly deteriorating. In Apr 1943, they were moved to Nanking, where Meder died on Dec 1, 1943.
The remaining men, Nielsen, Hite, Barr, and DeShazer, eventually began receiving slightly better treatment and were given a copy of the Bible and a few other books. They were freed by American troops in Aug 1945. The four Japanese officers were tried for war crimes against the captured Doolittle Raiders. Found guilty they were sentenced to hard labor, three for five years, and one for nine years. DeShazer graduated from Seattle Pacific University in 1948 and returned to Japan as a missionary, where he served for over 30 years.
The total raid casualties were 3 KIA, 2 off the coast of China, 1 in China; 8 POW, 3 executed, 1 died in captivity, 4 repatriated. George Barr died of heart failure in 1967, Chase Nielsen in 2007, Jacob DeShazer on Mar 15, 2008, and the last, Robert L. Hite, died Mar 29, 2015.