Doolittle Raid

US #2697a from the World War II, 1942: Into the Battle sheet.

On April 18, 1942, Jimmy Doolittle led a daring raid against the Japanese in retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Within weeks of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt urged US forces to retaliate.  Navy Captain Francis Low first suggested that twin-engine Army bombers could be launched from an aircraft carrier.

US #2697a – Classic First Day Cover.

Famous civilian aviator James “Jimmy” Doolittle, who had also served as an aeronautical engineer before the war, took over the planning and subsequently led the attack.  Doolittle was a trailblazer and already famous for his daring string of aviation “firsts,” including several speed records.  This mission would test those skills, as the unproven B-25B Mitchell planes, their ability to launch from the aircraft carrier, and the flight distance were tremendous risk factors.

US #2697a – Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover.

The crew’s fate was also a gamble – the B-25Bs could not land on the carrier, so after dropping their bombs they were to continue on to China.  Once there, the men were vulnerable to capture by Japanese patrols.  But Doolittle and his men were willing to take the risks and launched their attack, the Doolittle Raid, on April 18, 1942.  Early that morning, about 650 nautical miles from Japan, Japanese forces spotted the combined fleet of two carriers, four cruisers, eight destroyers, and two fleet oilers.

Item #CNM11534 – Doolittle Raid bronze medal.

Doolittle then made the tough decision to launch the bombers immediately – 10 hours and 170 miles earlier than planned.  Despite having never taken off from a carrier before, all 16 B-25B Mitchells successfully launched from the deck of the USS Hornet.  Within six hours, they arrived over Japan and bombed 16 targets, mostly military installations, in six cities.

Though none of the bombers were shot down during the raid, they were all destroyed because the pilots were unable to reach their refueling station in China.  In the end, 67 of the total 80 pilots survived the raid.  Eleven crewmen were killed or captured.  Three of them were tortured and executed by the Japanese, who also massacred 250,000 Chinese civilians for aiding the US airmen.

US #4822-23s – WWII Medal of Honor mint sheet.

Due to the loss of all 16 aircraft and the relatively minor damage to the targets, Doolittle considered the raid a failure and expected to be court-martialed.  However, the raid had dramatically boosted American morale and proved that Japan was vulnerable to attack.  For his service, Doolittle was awarded the Medal of Honor and promoted two grades to brigadier general.

Additionally, all 80 of Doolittle’s Raiders received the Distinguished Flying Cross medal.  It was a significant success that lifted American spirits and began to raise doubts in the Japanese leadership.

Click here to visit the Doolittle Raiders’ website and here for a neat video about the raid.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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8 responses to "Doolittle Raid"

8 thoughts on “Doolittle Raid”

  1. Far more important than the minimal physical damage done was the psychological effect of the raid. The Japanese military felt humiliated since the sacred soil of Japan had been violated, and Admiral Yamamoto was goaded into launching the ill-fated (for Japan) attack on Midway.

  2. A decent summary, but factual errors are significant. Doolittle was NOT a civilian aviator for the raid; he was a Lt. Col. in the US Army Air Corps. He had recorded multiple aviation records, seven flying as a civilian pilot, prior to 1941. Your text referred to Doolittle as a “civilian aviator” — wrong. B-25B was not an “unproven”aircraft; it had been tested, modified, and fielded with the US Army Air Corps. What was “unproven” was the capability to take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier.

  3. In an attempt to convey a death defying act the choice of words was not thoroughly explained. Although Jimmy Doolittle was in the military in the 20’s and he left it for furthering aviation in civilian life, he was invited back into the service of his country just prior to the outbreak of WWII. Throughout his career in aviation he sought ways to make the business better and safer. He is believed to have received the first aeronautical degree and was asked to use his acquired skills to complete this near impossible mission. He was so absorbed into this mission that he asked to lead it. His leadership inspired other to follow, long after the mission was history. Thanks, again, Mystic for keeping it alive.

  4. My wife and I were privileged to attend the 59th Doolittle reunion in 2001. We met and were able to briefly talk to several of the raiders. When I said hello to Lt. Colonel Robert Hite, I said as we often do, “Thank you for your service.” He replied, “Well, I didn’t do much. I was in a Japanese prison camp until the end of the war.” Can you imagine that? The last of the Doolittle Raiders to die was Colonel Richard “Dick” Cole. He passed away on April 9, 1019 in Texas at the age of 103.

  5. Great history about another Great American and his success in leading the first U.S. air attack directly over six cities in Japan. The detail and the responses above are ALL very interesting sincerely appreciated.. I learned a lot from this Mystic update. I knew about the Doolittle Raid but not as much as I know about it today. Thank you ALL very much !!


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