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, V-Adm 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.)
#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 Cmdr 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.
#01 #402244 – Doolittle, 34-BS, crashed N Chuchow, China
#02 #402292 – Hoover, 37-BS, crash-landed Ningpo, China
#03 #402270 – Gray, 95-BS, crashed SE Chuchow, China
#04 #402282 – Holstrom, 95-BS, crashed SE Shangjao, China
#05 #402283 – Jones, 95-BS, crashed SE Chuchow, China
#06 #402298 – Hallmark, 95-BS, ditched at sea Wenchu, China
#07 #402261 – Lawson, 95-BS, ditched at sea Shangchow, China
#08 #402242 – York, 95-BS, interned Primorskkai, Siberia
#09 #402203 – Watson, 34-BS, crashed S Nanchang, China
#10 #402250 – Joyce, 89-BS, crashed NE Chuchow, China
#11 #402249 – Greening, 89-BS, crashed NE Chuchow, China
#12 #402278 – Bower, 37-BS, crashed NE Chuchow, China
#13 #402247 – McElroy, 37-BS, crashed N Nanchang, China
#14 #402297 – Hilger, 89-BS, crashed SE Shangjao, China
#15 #402267 – Smith, 89-BS, ditched at sea Shangchow, China
#16 #402268 – 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, Lt Dean E. Hallmark, Lt Robert J. Meder, Lt Chase Nielsen, Lt William G. Farrow, Lt Robert L. Hite, Lt George Barr, Cpl Harold A. Spatz, Cpl 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.