Doolittle Raid was 70 years ago today
April 17, 2012
Seventy years ago today – April 18, 1942, during the dark days of World War II – came the first good news for every American and our Allies in World War II.
Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle flew the first of 16 B-25B Mitchell bombers off the flight deck of the USS Hornet to bomb the Japanese cities of Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Osaka and Kobe.
Doolittle’s Raiders caught the Japanese homeland defenders with their pants around their ankles as the medium bombers flew at wave-top level under the Japanese radar to attack the home islands. Japanese military leaders had convinced their citizens that they were invincible and safe from foreign attack.
It took Doolittle’s crew four months to complete planning, plane modifications and training. Twenty-four volunteer flight crews were selected from the 17th Bomber Group. Their training began on March 1, 1942, practicing simulated carrier takeoffs, low-level and night flying, low-altitude bombing and navigation over water.
After flying to Alameda, Calif., on March 31, 1942, 16 Mitchells were lifted by crane to the deck of the Hornet by April 1. Fred Perdomo, a retired Carson High School principal, related that his father was a member of the crew that loaded the Mitchells on the Hornet.
The USS Hornet was commissioned Oct. 20, 1941, under the command of Captain Marc A. Mitscher. The first two ships commissioned in the Continental Navy were the Hornet and Wasp, the same names of two powerful aircraft carriers in the war.
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The damage wrought by the U.S. bombs also inflicted psychological damage on Japan. At least one of Lt. Edgar E. McElroy’s four 500-pound bombs damaged the Japanese aircraft carrier Ryuho. Her launch was delayed seven months, missing the Battle of Midway.
The raid caused the Imperial Japanese Navy to recall Adm. Chuichi Nagumo’s fighting ships to the defense of the home islands. The Japanese Navy’s decision-makers were confused by the attack of the Mitchells. Being vulnerable to air attacks, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto decided to capture Midway Island.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt awarded Doolittle the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony.
Six Doolittle Raiders did not return. The remaining Raiders continued to fly missions during the war; nine were killed in action.
There are five remaining Raiders: Lt. Cols. Richard E. Cole, Wright Patterson, Robert L. Hite and Edward J. Saylor; Maj. Thomas C. Griffin; and Master Sgt. David J. Thatcher. They will be attending the anniversary ceremonies this week at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
This year marks five WWII-related 70th anniversaries: Doolittle’s Raid on April 18, the Battle of the Coral Sea on May 4-8 (the first naval battle in which the combatants did not see the enemy’s ships), the Battle of Midway on June 4-7, the Guadalcanal Campaign Aug. 7, and the invasion of North Africa on Nov. 8.
• Ken Beaton of Carson City is an occasional contributor to the Nevada Appeal.