Doolittle’s Raid on Tokyo

Historical MarkerApril 18, 1942, is a very important day in the history of World War II. On this day, Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle launched his fighter-bomber group, consisting of sixteen B-25Bs in a six-hundred-mile bombing mission over Tokyo, Kobe, Nagoya and Yokohoma, Japan. The original plan called for Vice Admiral William Halsey to maneuver the US Navy fleet, so that the bombers, after dropping their bombs, could fly and join up with Chennault’s AVG Flying Tigers.

This significant event was very important to the United States, as it was the first offensive mission against Japan after their attack on Pearl Harbor. However, the attack on Japan didn’t go exactly as planned. While the US Navy aircraft carriers Enterprise and Hornet attempted to slip undetected close enough to Japan to launch the attack, they were spotted by Japanese patrol boats. These eighty brave men immediate went to their back-up plan, launching some four-hundred miles earlier than planned, changing the already-dangerous bombing run over the enemy’s country to a ditching mission, after completing their bombing run. While they were told to spare the Japanese Imperial Palace, Doolittle himself buzzed the palace in his plane. Fifteen of the sixteen planes made it to China. The remaining plane made to the Soviet Union—our great World War II ally—where its crew was interned.

Doolittle and his fighter-bomber group practiced their mission at Lake Murray, South Carolina, a recently constructed lake. They practiced on Doolittle Island, Shull Island and Dreher Island, flying out of Columbia Army Air Base, which is now the commercial airport for Columbia. Following the raid, Doolittle’s B-25s continued to train at Lake Murray for the duration of the war. Sixty-four of these men continued to fly throughout the remainder of the war.

While Doolittle’s raid did little damage to Tokyo, it gave the United States hope during a very dark time in our history and showed the Japanese that they were indeed venerable. Hirohito had grossly miscalculated that the United States would be willing to enter into peace talks after their six-month campaign throughout the Pacific. But Roosevelt and his Joint Chiefs had a different answer than the Japanese had anticipated. This surprise attack forced the Japanese to attempt to extend their defensive perimeter, which led to the Battle of Midway, ending their offensive war.Silhouette fedora

Doolittle and his crewmen held annual reunions around the country, up until last year. They often came to Columbia, SC for these reunions, the last time being April of 2009. In 1956, Hennessy Distillers presented Jimmy Doolittle with a bottle of 1896 cognac, in honor of his birthday. Three years later, the City of Tucson present them with eighty gobbles (shot glasses) commemorating the airmen, thus starting the annual reunion ritual.  Each living member would toast the mission, those who had passed and the remaining survivors. Last year, the four remaining living members celebrated with their last toast of cognac at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, FL. One of the survivors was too ill to make the trip.

How should we continue to honor these brave men from the greatest generation on their anniversary date this year? I recommend that a toast of cognac or our favorite adult beverage would be very appropriate, along with a moment of silence to commemorate their brave mission.

3 Thoughts on “Doolittle’s Raid on Tokyo

  1. Jim Triant on February 15, 2015 at 1:36 pm said:

    These were the real heroes, men who sought no recognition and put their lives in harm’s way for our country.

  2. Very interesting. I like your idea of celebrating with an adult beverage.

  3. Jeannine on April 11, 2014 at 5:31 am said:

    Don,
    I agree whole heartily with you that Doolittle and his fighter bomber squadron were a great and brave unit who knew that the probabilities were against them from returning from Japan after dropping their load! I salute everyone of them for their courage and selflessness to serve our country in a most terrible time and war.

    But I must interject here, this is not the only fighter bomber squadron in our past that has faced the same statistical odds that were stacked against them, yet they still climbed into their cockpits and fired up their engines and jettisoned from there runway . Again, I have been witness to the “secret cold war” that our country has covertly been engaged to strike the Soviet Union, since the fall of Stalin.

    The cold war during the the 50’s and 60’s there were many covert missions that the fighter bomber squadrons undertook but were never recognized for their insane bravery and gut belief in their mission to safe guard our country. Time Frame : 1958-62, Military assignment Bentwater’s AFB England. Squadron of F101’s fighter bombers their mission was to be ready to strike the Soviet Union at a moment’s notice. As a child and living on base housing, I have vivid memories of this horrible siren going off in our home in the middle of the night. It was a blaring non-stopping noise you could not turn off with a pillow over your head. Every fighter pilot would jump into their cigarette smelling flight suits, grasp their survival packs and race to the flight line. They had a target goal of 10 minutes to be out of their homes and in their cockpits , bombs locked and loaded and their jet engines fired and ready to fly east. Many of them sucking on oxygen to clear their heads of alcohol from being at their ritual beer call at the O’Club and squawking their war games at the bar or playing craps or the notorious game of dead bug.

    I only learned the significance of those secret missions recently from a wonderful friend of my family and a brother fighter pilot of my fathers, his name is Col (ret) Jim Ramsey. In the late 50′, they did not have the capabilities or technology to refuel in mid air, Every pilot knew if they were given that green light to strike, they would not return to their home base or to their families. Our country has asked many different generations of airmen to risk their lives for the sake & safety of our country. The cold war was a secret war that many brave airmen climbed into their cockpits and flew off to complete their mission and understood they may never return or ever be recognized. They still painted their names on their fighter bombers and painted names of their children on the side. I have seen my nickname on that F101. Like Dolittle’s famed mission and his heroic crew, they were a crew of brothers who fearlessly climbed that ladder not knowing if they would return.

    So I too shall raise my glass and salute Dolittle and his fearless airmen but I also know they were not the only generation of airmen who deserve that moment of silence and recognition for their unsung bravery. Salute!

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