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Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Turning Point - The Doolittle Raid


Shortly after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by Japanese bombers from aircraft carriers on December 7, 1941, American Navy and Air Force personnel gave an okay to the retaliatory Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, Japan.  The raid, conceived by Lieut. Col. James Doolittle of the Air Force, called for attacking Tokyo from 16 B-25 bombers flown from an aircraft carrier.  These Bombers were twin engine and much heavier and larger than the single engine Japanese bombers which attacked Pearl Harbor; but the Air and Naval Forces managed to fit these bombers on the new aircraft carrier Hornet.  

It took time to gather together the voluntary Air Force pilots and crewmen to fly this dangerous mission; but by April 2, 1942, the 80 volunteers and 16 bombers were on the Hornet leaving San Francisco Bay scheduled to arrive on April 18 at the departure point for the bombers only 600 miles from Tokyo; because of early detection by Japanese fishing boats it was decided to launch the bombers from 800 miles from Tokyo, so at 8 AM the 16 bombers cleared the deck of the Hornet on their way to Japan. After they dropped their bombs on industrial sites in Tokyo, the bombers headed for China to land at certain pre-designated airfields there. 

However, none of the 16 planes made it to the pre-designated airfields in friendly China because of lack of fuel; 15 crashed in Chinese territory occupied by the Japanese and one landed in the Soviet Union. Only 3 pilots were killed and 8 captured by the Japanese; the remaining airmen found their way to unoccupied China, escaping capture, and returning home.  The Chinese who helped them were savaged by the Japanese with 250,000 civilians killed while searching for the airmen.  Three of the 8 airmen captured by the Japanese were executed, the rest held prisoner, one dying in captivity.

Following the end of World War II, Doolittle and the remaining pilots and crew of the original 80 agreed to meet every year to celebrate the heroic effort to take the war directly to the Japanese by bombing Tokyo and other major cities in Japan. The first of these celebrations involving a toast given by one of the remaining airmen at the celebration was 1954; in the following years a toast was made to honor all of the pilots and crewmen who made the raid.  

Originally it was planned to have the last toast made by one of the 2 remaining Raiders by opening a special 1896 cognac provided by their commander, Lt. Gen. James "Jimmy" Doolittle; but at their Veterans Weekend of 2013 celebration there were only 4 survivors, one of whom could not make the meeting because he was in the hospital for reasons of health. Since all 4 survivors are in their 90’s, the 3 who attended this celebration held at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio decided that this meeting would be the last; opening the 1896 cognac, the last toast honoring the 80 heroes was made. 

These 80 men were truly heroes and the Doolittle raid was not just a show of our ability to give it to the Japanese homeland; it actually embarrassed the Japanese so much that they changed their plans of securing their positions in Southeast Asia and Australia.  Admiral Yamamoto, the head of the naval forces of Japan decided to instead attack our base on Midway Island and draw the American carriers into the battle to destroy them.   

Fortunately for America this decision resulted in not only the time needed by General Douglas MacArthur to forestall the takeover of all of Southeast Asia and Australia by the Japanese forces, it also resulted in the sinking of all 4 top aircraft carriers used by the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbor, with a loss on our side of only the carrier Yorktown. It was the turning point in the Asian war and the Japanese forces from then on were in retreat.

References:
1) http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/11/10/world-war-ii-surviving-doolittle-raiders-make-final-toast/
2) http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/wwii-pac/misc-42/dooltl.htm