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"Last of the Doolittle Raiders" Topic

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671 hits since 19 Jul 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Mark 119 Jul 2017 12:53 p.m. PST


(Excerpt and picture from an article first published in the August 2017 edition of WWII History)

Lieutenant Colonel Dick Cole is 101 years old. In April he attended observances of the 75th anniversary of the famed Doolittle Raid on Tokyo that marked the first effort by American bombers to inflict damage on the Japanese home islands during World War II. The anniversary was in some ways quite similar to those that have gone by year after year, with one notable exception.

Cole is the last survivor of the 80 intrepid young aviators led by Lt. Col. James "Jimmy" Doolittle on the April 18, 1942, raid that shook Japanese confidence and caused the high command in Tokyo to rethink its Pacific strategy, particularly in terms of preventing a future attack on their capital city. The Japanese decision to proceed with their assault on Port Moresby, New Guinea, and the seizure of Midway atoll in the Central Pacific were almost certainly influenced by the shock of the Doolittle Raid.

Some lesser known aspects of the Doolittle raid, that I have come across during my readings…

- The original mission was to deliver medium bombers to China, for use against the Japanese.
After the US entered the war, there was a deliberate plan to establish USAAF units of heavy bombers (B-24), medium bombers (B-25) fighters (P-40) and transports (C-47) in China to support the Chinese forces fighting against the Japanese. Doolittle's original mission plan was to deliver a squadron of B-25s to China via aircraft carrier for quick operational readiness (further units, to be sent via overland routes, would take several months longer to arrive). Doolittle then added the "and we can bomb Japan on the way" part, which raised the profile of the mission without doubt, but was not the original purpose of the mission. In his memoirs Doolittle explicitly described the original mission purpose, and in fact stated he initially considered the mission to be a failure, and expected to be court-martialed upon his return to US forces after the raid, because not a single one of the aircraft in his command actually made it to an operational Chinese airfield. He was somewhat surprised on his return to find he was considered a hero, and said he did not think he was deserving of the MoH he received for the mission.

- Doolittle did not originate the idea of B-25s taking off from carriers. His B-25s weren't even the first to take off from the Hornet.
Prior to the organization of the Doolittle mission, the USN and USAAF had already experimented with B-25s taking off from a carrier. And in fact the carrier was the Hornet! 3 B-25s from the 39th Bombardment Squadron were detailed off to practice short-field take-offs at Norfolk VA, and after some practice runs were loaded onto the Hornet, which sailed about 100 miles off the East Coast and launched them to fly back to Norfolk.
This was, ostensibly, to test the concept of using a USN CV to ferry B-25s to remote USAAF bases.
Doolittle himself was reportedly an observer on the Hornet for this event. But he neglected to mention this in his memoires.

- Doolittle also may not have even originated the idea of bombing Japan with B-25s from a USN CV.
Purportedly, a USN aviator who flew over the Norfolk airfield and observed the B-25s practicing take-offs from a runway marked-out as a carrier deck, created a short report suggesting a CV-based mission to bomb Japan. This report made it all the way up the chain to CNO King, who then informally suggested it to the President, who was favorably inclined to the idea. This favorable pre-disposition then met with the Doolittle mission plan to perhaps bomb Japan en route to delivering B-25s to China for local operations.
This whole last point is perhaps just part and parcel of the Doolittle Raid "lore" … I have not seen any original sources (like the "report") referenced, nor even seen a mention of the name of the alleged USN aviator who originated the idea.

The Doolittle Raid remains one of the highest profile (and most storied?) military operations in US history. I've been interested ever since I did a book report on "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" in 5th grade.


(aka: Mk 1)

Darkest Star Games Sponsoring Member of TMP20 Jul 2017 8:08 a.m. PST

Thanks, liked that a lot.

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