Seventy-five years ago today Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle with copilot Dick Cole flew the first of 16 B-25B “Mitchell” medium bombers from the USS Hornet, CV-8. The “Mitchell” had a crew of five; pilot, copilot, navigator, bombardier/gunner and flight engineer/gunner. Each pilot timed his takeoff when the Hornet was on the crest of a wave.
This story begins shortly after receiving the casualty and damage reports in the early afternoon of Dec. 7, 1941. One of the thoughts on President Roosevelt’s mind: Find a way to bring the war to Japan.
On Dec. 21, 1941, two weeks after the attack, President Roosevelt met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He wanted to bomb Japan as soon as possible to lift the morale of our country. USN Captain Francis Low, Assistant Chief of Staff for Anti-submarine Warfare, on Jan. 10, 1942, reported to Admiral Ernest J. King; he had seen twin-engine bombers practicing takeoffs from a runway at the Naval Air Station in Norfolk, Va., with the outline of a carrier deck painted in white on the runway.
Twenty-four flight crews with the most flying hours in “Mitchells” were selected from volunteers. They began training on March 1, 1942, at Wagner Field in Pensacola, Fla. The crews spent hours simulating carrier takeoffs, low-level and night flying, low-altitude bombing and navigation over water.
On March 25, 1942 the B-25s flew to McClellan Field, Calif. On March 31 they flew to the Naval Air Station in Alameda, Calif. By April 1, 16 “Mitchells” were lifted by a crane to the deck of the USS Hornet. Captain Marc A. Mitscher sailed the Hornet on April 2, 1942 with Task Force 18. Their sealed orders were opened on April 4. They joined CV-6, the USS Enterprise, and Task Force 16 in the Pacific. The two carriers were escorted by the Salt Lake City, Northampton, Vincennes, Nashville, Balch, Fanning, Benham, Ellet, Gwin, Meredith, Grayson, Monssen, Cimarron, and Sabine.
On Saturday, April 18, 1942, a Japanese patrol ship, No. 23 Nitto Maru, was spotted force and sunk by the cruiser USS Nashville. The Hornet was 200 miles from the planned launch. The decision was made, “Launch.”
The following quotes were written by Michael Dolan in the magazine, World War II July/August 2016 Vol. 31 No 2. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Richard “Dick” Cole was Doolittle’s copilot. At 100 years young, Dick is the last Doolittle Raider standing.
“How was Doolittle as a boss and mentor? Every moment I spent with Colonel Doolittle I was in a state of awe. He was a powerful personality, but you never experienced a sense of separation between him and you. In his realm you were a team. He really put the concept of ‘team’ on the map.”
What was your reaction when, at sea aboard the USS Hornet, you learned that you would be bombing Tokyo?
“I guess I felt the same way as the rest of the people aboard. There was a lot of jubilation and so forth, and then it got kind of quiet as people realized what they were getting mixed up in. But nobody jumped ship and nobody bailed.”
As you and Colonel Doolittle began your bomb run, what was going through your head? As we were flying over the Japanese countryside, I was impressed by the beauty of the place, and as we came over Tokyo I was amazed that nobody was jumping us and that there was no ack-ack. This was the first time that any of us who were on the raid had seen combat, and I thought, so far, so good.”
Last year Dick Cole visited the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas, the hometown of Fleet Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Fleet. Dick visited the exhibit of a B-25B “on the deck of the Hornet.”
For anyone who never heard of the Doolittle Raid before reading this commentary, ask yourself, “How many hours a day am I in front of an electronic device?” Consider having at least one “device-free day” a week to read more. I have two suggestions to expand the theatre of your mind: “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” by Captain Ted Lawson (1943) and “1984” by George Orwell (1949). If you read “1984,” compare and contrast the book to 2017.
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.