Doolittle’s Pilot Lt Col Richard “Dick” Cole with the original April 1942 B-25J Panchito (Plane #01 S/N #402244, 34th Bomber Sq), at Charlotte County Airport in Punta Gorda, Florida on Friday, March 25, 2011. © 2011 Robert Seale (Source : www.www.robertsealeblog.com)
The Doolittle Raid of April 18, 1942, was the first air raid by the United States to strike the Japanese home islands during World War II. The mission was notable in that it was the only operation in which United States Army Air Forces 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 CoS for anti-submarine warfare, who reported to Admiral 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 Doolittle, a famous civilian aviator and aeronautical engineer before the war.
Requirements that the aircraft 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-25B Mitchell to carry out the mission. The Martin B-26 Marauder, Douglas B-18 Bolo and 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 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.
Wonderful picture of a B-25 doing a low pass above a wall of fire. (Source :Richard Seaman)
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, 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 on Apr 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.
Anchored in Alameda, California, the USS Hornet has become a floating museum. (Source : Aerial Photography of the Bay Area by John Ballou)
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 at Norfolk, Virginia, and flown off the deck without difficulty on Feb 3 1942. The raid was approved and the 17th Bomb Group (M), (first Medium BG 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-25B 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 710th Military Police Battalion provided tight security around this hangar.
(Source : Photo : Doug Fisher, s.wallpaperhere.com)
- Removal of the lower gun turret.
- Installation of de-icers and anti-icers.
- Steel blast plates mounted on the fuselage around the upper turret.
- Removal of the liaison radio set (a weight impediment).
- 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, crawlway and lower turret area to increase fuel capacity from 646 to 1141 gallons.
- Mock gun barrels installed in the tail cone.
- Replacement of their Norden bombsight with a makeshift aiming sight devised by pilot Capt Charles Ross Greening and called the “Mark Twain”.
Note : 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 at Eglin Field, the 22 remaining North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell 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 NAS 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.
Doolittle Combat Group
B-25 #01 #402244 : 34th Bomber Sq : Tokyo
- Pilot Lt Col J. H. Doolittle
- Co-Pilot Lt R. E. Cole
- Navigator Lt H. A. Potter
- Bombardier S/Sgt F. A. Braemer
- Engineer Gunner S/Sgt. P. J. Leonard
B-25 #02 #402292 : 37th Bomber Sq : Tokyo
- Pilot Lt T. Hoover
- Co-Pilot Lt W. N. Fitzhugh
- Navigator Lt C. R. Wildner
- Bombardier Lt R. E. Miller
- Engineer Gunner S/Sgt D. V. Radney
B-25 #3 #402270 : 95th Bomber Sq : Tokyo
- Pilot Lt R. M. Gray
- Co-Pilot Lt J. E. Manch
- Navigator Lt C. J. Ozuk
- Bombardier Sgt A. E. Jones
- Engineer Gunner Cpl L. D. Faktor
B-25 #4 #402282 : 95th Bomber Sq : Tokyo
- Pilot Lt E. W. Holstrom
- Co-Pilot Lt L. N. Youngblood
- Navigator Lt H. C. McCool
- Bombardier Sgt R. J. Stephens
- Engineer Gunner Cpl B. M. Jordan
B-25 #5 #402283 : 95th Bomber Sq : Tokyo
- Pilot Capt D. M. Jones
- Co-Pilot Lt R. R. Wilder
- Navigator Lt E. F. McGurl
- Bombardier Lt D. V. Truelove
- Engineer Gunner Sgt J. W. Manske
B-25 #6 #402298 : 95th Bomber Sq : Tokyo
- Pilot Lt D. E. Hallmark
- Co-Pilot Lt R. J. Meder
- Navigator Lt C. J. Nielsen
- Bombardier Sgt W. J. Dieter
- Engineer Gunner Cpl D. E. Fitzmaurice
B-25 #7 #402261 : 95th Bomber Sq : Tokyo
- Pilot Lt T. W. Lawson
- Co-Pilot Lt D. Davenport
- Navigator Lt C. L. McClure
- Bombardier Lt R. S. Clever
- Engineer Gunner Sgt D. J. Thatcher
B-25 #8 #402242 : 95th Bomber Sq : Tokyo
- Pilot Capt E. J. York
- Co-Pilot Lt R. G. Emmens
- Navigator Lt N. A. Herndon
- Bombardier S/Sgt T. H. Laban
- Engineer Gunner Sgt D. W. Pohl
B-25 #9 #402203 : 34th Bomber Sq : Tokyo
- Pilot Lt H. F. Watson
- Co-Pilot Lt J. M. Parker Jr
- Navigator Lt T. C. Griffin
- Bombardier Sgt W. M. Bissell
- Engineer Gunner T/Sgt E. V. Scott
B-25 #10 #402250 : 89th Bomber Sq : Tokyo
- Pilot Lt R. O. Joyce
- Co-Pilot Lt J. R. Stork
- Navigator Bombardier Lt H. E. Crouch
- Engineer Gunner Sgt G. E. Larkin Jr
- Gunner S/Sgt E. W. Horton Jr
B-25 #11 #402249 : 89th Bomber Sq : Yokohama
- Pilot Capt C. R. Greening
- Co-Pilot Lt K. E. Reddy
- Navigator Lt F. A. Kappeler
- Bombardier S/Sgt W. L. Birch
- Engineer Gunner Sgt M. J. Gardner
B-25 #12 #402278 : 37th Bomber Sq : Yokohama
- Pilot Lt W. M. Bower
- Co-Pilot Lt T. Blanton
- Navigator Lt W. R. Pound Jr
- Bombardier T/Sgt W. J. Bither
- Engineer Gunner S/Sgt O. A. Duquette
B-25 #13 #402247 : 37th Bomber Sq : Yokosuka
- Pilot Lt E. E. McElroy
- Co-Pilot Lt R. A. Knobloch
- Navigator Lt C. J. Campbell
- Bombardier Sgt R. C. Bourgeois
- Engineer Gunner Sgt A. R. Williams
B-25 #14 #402297 : 89th Bomber Sq : Nagoya
- Pilot Maj J. A. Hilger
- Co-Pilot Lt J. A. Sims
- Navigator Bombardier Lt J. H. Macia Jr
- Radio Gunner S/Sgt E. V. Bain
- Engineer Gunner S/Sgt J. Eierman
B-25 #15 #402267 : 89th Bomber Sq : Kobe
- Pilot Lt D. G. Smith
- Co-Pilot Lt G. P. Williams
- Navigator Bombardier Lt H. A. Sessler
- Flight Surgeon Lt T. R. White MD
- Engineer Gunner Sgt E. J. Saylor
B-25 #16 #402268 : 34th Bomber Sq : Nagoya
- Pilot Lt W. G. Farrow
- Co-Pilot Lt R. L. Hite
- Navigator Lt G. Barr
- Bombardier Cpl J. DeShazer
- Engineer Gunner Sgt H. A. Spatz