The Doolittle Tokyo Raiders

Lt Col Doolittle and Capt. Mitscher aboard USS Hornet

Lt Col Doolittle and Capt. Mitscher aboard USS Hornet

“For conspicuous leadership above 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, General Doolittle personally led a squadron of Army bombers, manned by volunteer crews, in a highly destructive raid on the Japanese mainland.” —Medal of Honor citation of Brigadier General James H. Doolittle, as printed in the Congressional Document “Medal of Honor Recipients –1863-1963, page 135

At 10:00 in the morning on April 2, 1942 the USS Hornet passed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge carrying 16 B-25B Mitchell bombers, each equipped with four 500 pound bombs. According to Wikipedia, “…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 U.S. servicemen before the war…” [Note: those bombs were marked “returned with interest”]

The first Doolittle Raider takes off from the deck of the USS Hornet

The first Doolittle Raider takes off from the deck of the USS Hornet

James H. Doolittle was born in Alameda, California on December 14, 1896. He grew up in Alaska and Los Angeles, received a BA at UC Berkeley and obtained Master of Science and Doctor of Science degrees in the Aeronautics program of MIT.

After college, Doolittle worked with the Naval Test Board and, in 1927, became the first person to perform an Outside Loop, thought by many to be impossible. He dove from an altitude of 10,000 feet and at 280 mph Doolittle bottomed out upside down, then climbed to complete the loop.

Perhaps Jimmy Doolittle’s most important work was developing the theory and practice of Instrument Flying. He was the first to recognize the freedom a pilot would have if he could maneuver his aircraft from take off to landing regardless of the view from the cockpit. In 1928 he became the first man to “fly blind” (on instruments only).

Doolittle’s destiny was to lead a raid on five Japanese cities 4 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. 16 days after leaving San Francisco Bay, Jimmy Doolittle and his band of volunteers launched their planes from the deck of the Hornet and flew into history. Although the raid was light in terms of battle damage, the boost to the morale of US soldiers and citizens was immense. Japan was so surprised that they pulled back vital troops to defend the homeland and that alone weakened their advances in the Pacific theater and gave an edge to Allied forces.

This painting by John Ford depicts the pensive gaze of the Raiders, both individually and collectively, as they headed out to sea. Mirrored in aviator glasses are the deck of the USS Hornet, majestic arches of the Golden Gate Bridge, and distant western horizon. No rank is shown on the flight cap nor is there a specific identity on the jacket nametag. This is meant to symbolize the 80 men who shared a singular purpose. The risks they took and the commitment they shared, thrust them forever into history.

Of the 80 men who flew off the deck of the Hornet, 69 were back in the US within six months. No planes were shot down, however 8 men were captured and 3 of them executed by the Japanese Army.

One plane flew to Russia and landed at an airstrip in Siberia and that brings up an interesting side story to this post: On October 7, 2007 Nolan Herndon, navigator-bombardier on the 16th plane (the last one added to the mission), died. For the last 5 years of his life Nolan Herndon claimed that his plane had been on a top secret mission within the Doolittle Raid and the assignment “was to test the Soviet Union’s resolve as an ally.” Mr. Herndon further asserted that only the pilot and co-pilot knew of this additional assignment.

This year the 70th Reunion of The Doolittle Tokyo Raiders will take place at:

National Museum of the US Air Force
Wright Patterson AFB
Dayton, Ohio
April 17th—20th, 2012

Jimmy Doolittle had never been a Captain or a Colonel. He resigned his regular commission as a 1st Lieutenant in 1930 and left active duty. He was given Reserve commission as a Major. He was recalled to active duty at his own request in 1940 as a Major. He was a Lieutenant Colonel at the time of the Tokyo Raid. He was promoted to Brigadier General after the raid, skipping the rank of Colonel. He retired as a Lieutenant General, Air Force Reserve – the only Reserve officer to ever retire in that rank. He gave 1/2 of his reserve retired pay to Air Force Aid Society and the other 1/2 to the Air Force Academy Foundation. Doolittle was promoted to full general in 1985 by special act of Congress. —Facts About the Doolittle Tokyo Raid, Official Doolittle Tokyo Raiders website

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  6 comments for “The Doolittle Tokyo Raiders

  1. March 29, 2019 at 5:26 PM

    Really enjoyed learning about Doolittle and the Tokyo Raiders, Allan. Crazy to think about all those bombs going under your bridge. I imagine you have visited the USS Hornet in Alameda. Enjoyed the video too. Lots of heroes here. Interesting that he was the first pilot to fly blind. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 29, 2019 at 5:51 PM

      I’m just happy he wasn’t the first blind pilot.

      I haven’t been to the Hornet, yet, but I did work with a contractor on the toll system at the bridge who wrote a book about the original USS Hornet. He was here from France for the job and made several trips to the ship over the course of his stay.


  2. March 29, 2017 at 3:01 PM

    Nice history, Allan. Liked the tie to the bridge 🙂 .


    • March 30, 2017 at 7:39 AM

      Thank you, RX. There is a lot of history over, under, across, and throughout that span.


    • April 11, 2012 at 8:12 AM

      It is not just about baseball is it?

      You really put yourself into that story and as a result I felt like I was right there with you as you were growing up.

      Please keep it up.


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