Doolittle Tokyo Raiders
Doolittle Tokyo Raid - April 18, 1942
See the full crew list for all 16 planes
“Behind the Scenes of the Doolittle Raid”
- By Fernando Silva
On 2 February, 1942, barely two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) departed Norfolk, Virginia. On her flight deck were two Army Air Force B-25B bombers. Once at sea, both aircraft were launched into the wind, to the utter surprise and amazement of the entire crew of the Hornet. They had no idea why such an experiment was conducted.
“USS Hornet” 1941
On 4 March, the Hornet sailed for the West Coast of California via the Panama Canal. After arriving at Alameda NAS on 20 March, she took aboard 16 B-25s, which were placed on her flight deck. Meanwhile, in February, at Long Beach Airport, which had been made a USAAF Air Transport Command Base, my father was part of a full crew who were given unusual orders for a B-25 mission. They were ordered to fly a B-25 configured to carry a dummy bomb load of 2,000 pounds and 1,141 gallons of fuel. The fuel was dispersed throughout the aircraft: 646 gallons in the wings, 225 gallons in the bombay, 160 gallons in the collapsible tank in the crawlway, 60 gallons in the area where the lower turret had been removed, and in 10 five-gallon cans. The total weight of the aircraft on takeoff was 31,000 lbs. From Long Beach, my father’s crew was instructed to fly through the Grand Canyon and as close to its walls as possible. Once they cleared the Canyon, they were to fly at tree-top level all the way to the steel mills of Gary, Indiana.
From take off to Gary, they monitored their two 1700 HP, 14 cylinder Wright-Cyclone R-2600 engines every ten minutes, checking the manifold pressure, cylinder head temperature, carb air temperature, hydraulic pressure, throttle settings, fuel mixtures, prop settings, supercharger and oil shutter. In addition, they watched and recorded head winds, tail winds, cross winds, barometric pressure and outside air temperature.
Gasoline weighs about 6 ½ lb per gallon. Knowing the fuel consumption, they could calibrate the weight of the aircraft as it used up fuel. As the aircraft burned fuel, it became lighter and wanted to fly higher and faster. They were not after speed. Instead, they wanted to determine the maximum range that could be squeezed from every drop of gas by setting the correct throttle, prop pitch and mixing the controls. From Gary they flew back to Long Beach where all the raw data was turned over to North American Aviation’s engineers. Their goal has been to reach a range of 2,400 miles. About the same time that my father’s crew was carrying out this mission, another flew a B-25 from Long Beach over the Pacific Ocean to Canada and back, again going as low as possible.
And out at China Lake, high performance B-25 takeoffs and their ground positions were being evaluated. Why were the aircraft placed so close together? This was a big field in the middle of nowhere. Why do we have to takeoff in very short ground runs with the engines at full power and with the brakes on, then release the brakes and bolt for the sky? Why are a group of Navy guys telling us Air Force guys how we have to fly our planes?
Deck of the USS Hornet
Shortly thereafter, on 18 April, the whole world knew that the United States had bombed Tokyo. My father had made his contribution to the Doolittle Raid. Later he was told why his crew had to fly through the Grand Canyon. During the raid on Japan, the crews were to fly through downtown Tokyo between tall buildings!
The B-25 that my father flew on this mission had the Walt Disney character Thumper painted on one side of the fuselage. Later in the war, Thumper was transferred to a B-29 in the air war against Japan.
Myths and Facts about General Doolittle and the Tokyo Raid
- By Col. Carroll V. Glines, USAF (Ret)
Col. Carroll V. Glines
As the Historian for the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders and Curator for the Doolittle Library at the University of Texas at Dallas, I receive many e-mails and letters asking for verification of information about General Doolittle and the Raiders.
I am often surprised at the misinformation that has arisen over the years and the repetition of myths about the men and their mission that are perceived as facts by the general public.
Here are some examples:
- Myth: A number of Raiders were killed on the Raid and some were decapitated after being captured by the Japanese.
- Fact: After reaching China, two Raiders drowned swimming to shore and one died on the bailout. Eight Raiders were captured and three of them were executed by a Japanese firing squad after a mock military trial held in the Japanese language. The five others were sentenced to life imprisonment. One of these men died of malnutrition in December 1943. Three of these four survive and attended the reunion at Travis AFB in April 2003.
- Myth: Some of the B-25s were shot down by enemy aircraft or anti-aircraft artillery over Japan.
- Fact: No aircraft were shot down. Fifteen of the 16 planes crashed or crash-landed in enemy-held territory in China. One aircraft landed intact near Vladivostok, Russia and the crew and plane were interned. The crew escaped to Iran after nearly 14 months in house confinement.
- Myth: The Russians still have the B-25 and used it during the war.
- Fact: The plane was never released to the U.S. and there is no firm evidence that it was used in combat, survived the war or is somewhere in Russia today.
- Myth: Jimmy Doolittle was a Colonel and was promoted to Brigadier General after the Raid.
- Fact: He was a reserve Lieutenant Colonel at the time of the mission and was promoted to Brigadier General skipping the rank of Colonel. He had resigned his commission as a regular First Lieutenant in 1930 and received a reserve commission as a Major; therefore, he never held the rank of Captain.
- Myth: All officers on the mission received the Distinguished Flying Cross; the enlisted men received no awards.
- Fact: All Raiders received the DFC. General Doolittle was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt. Two men received the Silver Star for assisting their fellow Raiders under extremely difficult circumstances. All Raiders also received medals from the Chinese Government. The three Raiders who died on the day of the Raid, the three who were later executed and the one who died in prison were awarded the Purple Heart posthumously.
- Myth: B-25 aircraft were dispatched on secret flights from California before the Raid to determine if B-25s could fly the distance required from the carrier to the destination airfield in China.
- Fact: No such long-range test flights took place. All arrangements were top secret. The aircraft were flown from Pendleton, Oregon to Columbia, South Carolina. The B-25s were modified en route by the addition of fuel tanks in the bomb bays and crawlways of each aircraft; none of this work was performed in California. The B-25 could not have flown the distance required if these extra tanks had not been installed.
- Myth: The movie Pearl Harbor correctly portrayed the Doolittle Raid throughout.
- Fact: Nothing could be further from the truth. There were so many inaccuracies and fallacies in that movie that it was a great disservice to the brave men who flew the mission. The writer and director purposely distorted the facts and invented actions, personnel and dialog solely in the interest of entertainment. The movie deserved to “bomb” because of this and it did.
- Myth: At least two writers in recent books about the Raid frequently refer to the B-25 Mitchell bombers as “Billies.”
- Fact: Neither I nor any other B-25 pilot, crew member, Air Force member or responsible historian ever referred to the B-25s as “Billies.”
- Myth: General Doolittle was born in Alaska.
- Fact: He was born in Alameda, California but did spend pre-adolescent years in Nome, Alaska.
- Myth: General Doolittle participated in bombing attacks on all three Axis capitals during World War II.
- Fact: He did bomb Tokyo and Rome but was not permitted to participate in combat missions over German-occupied territory because he had been briefed on and given access to Ultra, the code-breaking system that permitted the Allies to listen in on secret German military messages. In addition, he had been briefed on the invasion plans and General Carl Spaatz, his superior, would not allow him to risk being captured.
- Myth: General Doolittle had brothers and sisters but no children of his own.
- Fact: He had no brothers or sisters. He and Mrs. Doolittle had two sons – James, Jr. and John. Both became Air Force pilots. James was a Major when he died in 1958; his son, James III, also became a pilot and retired as a Colonel. John graduated from West Point in 1946 and also retired as a Colonel.
- Myth: Doolittle liked the Gee Bee racing plane in which he won the Thompson Trophy in 1932.
- Fact: He told me it was the most dangerous plane he ever flew. He said the controls were so sensitive that flying it was “like trying to balance an ice cream cone on the tip of your finger.” When asked why he flew it, he said, “Because it was the fastest plane in the world at the time.”
- Myth: Doolittle was awarded an honorary Doctor of Aeronautical Engineering degree by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to honor his flying exploits.
- Fact: He earned a Master of Science degree in 1924 and earned a Doctor of Science degree with a major in aeronautical engineering in 1925, both at M.I.T. while a regular officer on active duty in the Army Air Service.
- Myth: Despite his years of stunt flying, the only time Doolittle bailed out was when his plane ran out of fuel at night after reaching China.
- Fact: He attended Parachute School in 1920 at Kelly Field, Texas and was given the option of testing the ‘chute he had packed or not. He jumped. He later jumped from a Curtiss P-1 Hawk in 1929 when the wings failed. His second jump was in 1931 when the ailerons on a rebuilt Travel Air plane failed. His third jump was over China. Thus he qualified for the Caterpillar Club by parachuting to save his life three times.
- Myth: Doolittle retired as a Lieutenant General in the regular Air Force.
- Fact: He retired as a Lieutenant General in the Air Force Reserves, the only reserve officer ever to hold and be retired in that rank. He was promoted to four-star General by Act of Congress in 1985.
- Myth: After VE Day, Doolittle took the 8th Air Force to the Far East and flew missions in B-29s.
- Fact: General Doolittle transferred from Europe to Okinawa to command the 8th there and some B-29s had begun to arrive on August 7, 1945, the day after the first a-bomb drop. Doolittle was asked by General Carl Spaatz just two days before the Japanese surrendered if he wanted to hurry and get 8th Air Force bombers in combat against the Japanese but he refused. He said, “If the war is over, I will not risk one airplane nor a single bomber crew member just to be able to say the 8th Air Force had operated against the Japanese in the Pacific.”
- Myth: Doolittle is the only pilot to have won both the Bendix and Thompson Trophies.
- Fact: Not true. Roscoe Turner also won both trophies. Roscoe won the Thompson Trophy three times.