Wednesday, November 1, 2017

What Happened to the Doolittle Raiders? & A GIVEAWAY

by Cindy K. Stewart

Jimmy Doolittle and the Crew of Plane #1 - Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force via Wikipedia
After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the American people longed to strike Japan where it would hurt – in their homeland. But four months after the United States entered World War II, the Japanese continued to conquer territory in Asia and defeat the allies at every turn.

In January 1942, top commanders in the American military began planning a sneak air attack on Japan, targeting military sites and industrial facilities supporting the war effort. Dubbed "Special Aviation Project #1," the planned bombing was kept so secret that the volunteer army pilots selected to participate didn’t know their target until after they'd sailed out of San Francisco aboard the USS Hornet aircraft carrier.

The Japanese Empire in 1942 - Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

One hundred forty Army Air Corps volunteers from the Seventeenth Bombardment Group had trained for this mission at Eglin Air Force Base near Pensacola, Florida. Everything about the mission was peculiar from the start. Their B-25’s had been altered en route to Florida, and the men had to quickly adjust to the changes. A navy pilot arrived to train the soldiers and select who would go on the mission. The pilots trained to taxi for no more than five hundred feet and lift off at fifty miles per hour. This had never been done in a  B-25. Then the crews practiced flying at extremely low levels and pulling up to accurately drop practice bombs.

Jimmy Doolittle - Pre-WWII
Courtesy of U.S. Air Force
via Wikipedia
Shortly after their training began, the airmen met their mission commander—Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle. Doolittle was a legend and many considered him to be America’s greatest aviator. Doolittle warned his men of the project's danger and gave them the opportunity to drop out without repercussions. He said that "some of them would come home as heroes, and others, as angels," but none of the men took Doolittle up on his offer to quit.

Three weeks later the airmen who'd been selected were roused from sleep, ordered to load up their gear, and immediately fly to McClellan Field near Sacramento. Those not chosen for the mission were heartbroken. Ordered to practice their “hedgehopping” on the way to California, the airmen enjoyed flying under power lines, racing dust clouds in the desert, banking through an open drawbridge, and frightening cattle in the fields. One twenty-two-year-old pilot landed on a Texas highway and went to say goodbye to his mom and dad. 

At McClellan, the B-25’s were tuned-up and further modified. Unfortunately, the civilian mechanics who couldn’t be told of the operation, made unauthorized adjustments, undoing previous changes unique to the mission. There wasn’t time to undo the damage.

B-25's Aboard the USS Hornet En Route to Japan
Courtesy National Museum of the U.S. Air Force via English Wikipedia
On April 1st, the army airmen flew their planes to Alameda Naval Air Station, outside San Francisco. The first sixteen B-25’s to arrive and not have anything wrong with them were loaded on the aircraft carrier, Hornet. This was the first joint mission coordinated by the army and navy since the Civil War, and the navy men and marines did their best to put the army men in their place. But all the rudeness and snubs evaporated two days out to sea. The Hornet’s captain announced over the loudspeakers that the mission's target was Tokyo, the army was going to bomb Japan, and the navy would get them as close to the enemy as possible. Cheers and screams broke out, and the navy men couldn’t do enough to accommodate the army airmen for the rest of their journey aboard the Hornet. They realized the danger of the mission and wanted to honor the volunteer airmen for their bravery.

Doolittle Raiders Aboard the USS Hornet
Courtesy of the U.S. Navy via Wikipedia
Doolittle had already briefed his men about their mission and informed them that their chances of making it back were slim. The goal was to sail within 450 miles of Japan, bomb the islands at night, and fly to unoccupied landing fields in eastern China. The airmen knew that if their B-25 bombers successfully lifted off the aircraft carrier, they could not return to the ship because the landing strip would be too short. They also knew the likely probability of running out of gas before reaching safe landing strips in China. Again, Doolittle gave his men the opportunity to stay behind, but none did.

Sinking of the Japanese
Fishing Boat Nitto Maru
Courtesy of U.S. Navy
via Wikipedia
On April 10th, the Hornet's fleet rendezvoused with the fleet of the aircraft carrier Enterprise, and they proceeded west under radio silence. The Japanese had intercepted an earlier transmission between the two fleets and knew where they were headed. The Japanese made plans to hit the American ships when they were six hundred miles from Tokyo. The weather grew bad, but the terrible squalls rendered the fleets invisible to the enemy. On April 18th, the American ships encountered and sank a seventy-ton Japanese fishing boat, picketed about six hundred miles from Japan. The Enterprise picked up radio traffic indicating that the Japanese fleet had changed course, and the Americans knew they’d been discovered.

The American commanders realized the B-25’s wouldn’t have enough fuel to reach Japan and the Allied airfields in China, but the fleets couldn’t sail closer and put themselves in range of bombers flying out of Japan.  And so, Admiral Halsey, the task force leader, sent a message: "LAUNCH PLANES. TO COL. DOOLITTLE AND GALLANT COMMAND: GOOD LUCK AND GOD BLESS YOU." The army airmen were either waiting for  breakfast or just getting up when the order came over the ship’s loudspeakers for them to man their planes. 

Doolittle's Plane Launching from the USS Hornet
Courtesy of the U.S. Navy via Wikipedia
Doolittle was the first pilot to ever fly a B-25 loaded with bombs, extra fuel, and a crew of five from an aircraft carrier. The skies poured rain, and the sea churned in thirty-foot swells, but the ship’s turbulence contributed to the successful launch of all sixteen bombers. The navy flagman timed each take-off so that the planes started down the runway when the ship’s bow started down and then the planes launched as the ship’s deck came up. After the last plane was in the air, the carrier fleets immediately reversed course and safely reached Hawaii.

The Doolittle Raiders bombed Japan in the middle of the day, and despite heavy anti-aircraft fire and attacks from Japanese fighter planes, each B-25 dropped its payload on various targets and left Japanese airspace safely. Radio Japan announced the attack on Tokyo, and the American papers picked up the news. On April 21st, President Roosevelt held a press conference and confirmed "that the United States Army Air Corps planes had very successfully attacked 'from our new base in Shangri-La'" (a fictitious place because Roosevelt didn’t want to give away the mission’s launch site.) The mission accomplished its purpose—it was the first victory for the Allies in World War II and greatly boosted the morale of Allied civilians and soldiers.

But what happened to the Doolittle Raiders after they bombed Japan? In the coming months, I’ll share many exciting stories told by the Raiders.

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Source:  The First Heroes: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raid—America’s First World War II Victory by Craig Nelson (Viking, 2002)

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Cindy Stewart, a high school social studies and language arts teacher, church pianist, and inspirational historical fiction author, semifinaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s 2017 Genesis contest, and won ACFW’s 2014 First Impressions writing contest in the historical category. Cindy is passionate about revealing God’s handiwork in history. She resides in North Georgia with her college sweetheart and husband of thirty-six years and near her married daughter, son-in-law, and three adorable grandchildren. She’s currently writing a fiction series set in WWII Europe.


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Giveaway:  Leave a comment below by Friday, 11/3, at 8:00 PM (EST) and earn a chance to win Sarah Sundin’s WWII book, Anchor in the Storm. Share on Facebook or another favorite social media site and earn an extra chance to win. Don’t forget to leave your e-mail address and let me know if you’ve shared.

23 comments:

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    1. Thank you so much, Finley! Glad you enjoyed the post. You'll be entered in the drawing for the giveaway.

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  2. I was blessed to hear one of the survivors give a lecture. This was truly a brave group of men.

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    1. Oh, that's so exciting, Linda! Do you remember which survivor gave the lecture. I'll be writing about the survivors in the coming months. Thank you for dropping by. You're entered in the drawing for the giveaway.

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  3. Wow! I was reading with "bated" breath, waiting to see if all 16 planes made it to safety. Can't wait for the rest of the posts!

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Pam. Although the American planes all made it out of Japanese airspace safely, many were forced to re-enter it in occupied China. And, of course, there was the problem with the fuel shortage. More to come!

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  4. Cindy, this story is close to my heart since I live very close to Eglin Air Force base, which is between Fort Walton Beach Florida and Valparaiso, Florida. We've had the survivors of the Doolittle Raiders visit the area many times since the war and it is always a special occasion to honor them. Thanks for covering their story.

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    1. How special that you had contact with the surviving Doolittle Raiders, Marilyn! Thank you for sharing.

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  5. Cindy, thank you for sharing this great post. Great men with a great mission! I cannot wait to read the rest of the story.

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    1. Thank you for being such a faithful reader at HHHistory, Melanie. And I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. You're entered in the giveaway.

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  6. oh wow, I have never heard of this group. thank you for sharing. I look forward to the next installments
    quilting dash lady at Comcast dot net

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    1. Lori, thank you for dropping by and commenting. I hope you'll enjoy the exciting stories to come. You're entered in the drawing.

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  7. That was so interesting, Cindy. Thank you for sharing. I’d never heard of the Dolittles as well as much of the other information. So interesting.

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    1. Debbie, thank you so much for your kind words. I've really enjoyed reading the stories about these brave men - especially about what happened to them after the raid on Japan.

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  8. Thank you for this post! Now I will try to wait patiently for more of the story...

    lindajhutchins at gmail dot com

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    1. Hi, Linda. I'm so glad you want to learn more about the Doolittle Raiders' story. They were a special group of fellows! One is still living - he just turned 102. I've entered you in the drawing for the giveaway.

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  9. Cindy, thank you for this fascinating post!

    psalm103and138atgmaildotcom

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    1. Thank you for dropping by and commenting, Caryl, and I'm glad you enjoyed the post. You're entered in the drawing for When Tides Turn.

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  10. I'm always impressed with what our service men and women (there were more women in these wars than people realized. Nurses and spies are just two examples) I can't imagine how brave they were to complete these missions. God Bless them!

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    1. Yes, I'm so thankful for those who've risked their lives for our freedom - and for those who continue to do so. Thank you for dropping by and leaving a comment, Marty. You're entered in the drawing

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  11. Thanks for this post. I learn so much from them. Thanks for the giveaway as well!
    bcrug(at)twc(dot)com

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    1. Hi, Connie. Thank you for dropping by and reading the post. You're entered in the drawing for the giveaway.

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  12. Lori is the winner of Sarah Sundin's new book, When Tides Turn. Congratulations, Lori!

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