On April 1, 1942, following two months of intensive training, 16 highly modified North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bombers, their five-man volunteer crews, and maintenance personnel were loaded onto the USS Hornet at Alameda, California. Each plane carried four 500 lb bombs (three high-explosive and one incendiary), two .50-caliber machine guns in an upper turret, a .30-caliber machine gun in the nose, and extra fuel tanks. Each B-25 was also "armed" with two dummy wooden machine gun barrels mounted in the tail cone to discourage Japanese air attacks from that direction. The planes were arranged and tied down on the Hornet's flight deck in the order of their expected launch. The Hornet left the port of Alameda on April 2, and a few days later joined up with the carrier USS Enterprise and its escort of cruisers and destroyers in the mid-Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii. The Enterprise's fighters and scout planes would provide protection for the entire task force in the event of a Japanese air attack, since the Hornet's fighters were stowed below decks to allow the B-25's to use the flight deck. The two carriers and their escorting ships then proceeded, in radio silence, towards their intended launch point in enemy-controlled waters east of Japan.
On the morning of April 18, at a distance of about 650 miles from Japan, the task force was sighted by a Japanese picket boat which radioed an attack warning to Japan. Although the boat was quickly destroyed by gunfire from an American cruiser, Doolittle and Hornet skipper Capt Marc Mitscher decided to launch the B-25's immediately --- a day early and about 200 miles farther from Japan than planned. Despite the fact that none of the B-25 pilots, including Doolittle, had ever taken off from a carrier before, all 16 planes made it off the Hornet safely. They then flew single-file towards Japan at wavetop level to avoid detection. The planes began arriving over Japan about noon, and bombed military targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe, Osaka, and Nagoya. Although some B-25's encountered light anti-aircraft fire and a few enemy fighters over Japan, no bomber was shot down or severely damaged. Fifteen of the 16 planes then proceeded southwest along the southern coast of Japan and across the East China Sea towards eastern China, where recovery bases supposedly awaited them. One B-25, extremely low on fuel, headed instead for the closer land mass of Russia.
The raiders faced several unforeseen challenges during their flight to China: night was approaching, the planes were running low on fuel, and the weather was rapidly deteriorating. As a result of these problems, the crews realized they would probably not be able to reach their intended bases in China, leaving them the option of either bailing out over eastern China or crash landing along the Chinese coast. Fifteen planes did so; the crew who flew to Russia landed near Vladivostok, where their B-25 was confiscated and the crew interned until they managed to escape through Iran in 1943.
Doolittle and his crew, after safely parachuting into China, received assistance from John Birch, an American missionary in China, whom Doolittle subsequently recommended for intelligence work with General Claire Chennault's Flying Tigers.
Following the Doolittle Raid, most of the B-25 crews that came down in China eventually made it to safety with the help of Chinese civilians. But the Chinese paid dearly for sheltering the Americans. The Japanese military slaughtered an estimated 250,000 civilians while searching for Doolittle’s men. The crews of two planes (10 men total) were unaccounted for. On August 15, 1942, the United States learned from the Swiss Consulate General in Shanghai that eight of the missing crewmembers were prisoners of the Japanese at Police Headquarters in that city (two crewmen had died in the crash landing of their plane). On October 19, 1942, the Japanese announced that they had tried the eight men and sentenced them to death, but that a number of them had received commutation of their sentences to life imprisonment. No names or details were included in the broadcast. Japanese propaganda ridiculed the raid, calling it the "Do-nothing Raid", and boasted that several B-25's had been shot down. In fact, none had been lost to enemy action.
After the war, the complete story of the two missing crews was uncovered in a War Crimes Trial held at Shanghai. The trial opened in February 1946 to try four Japanese officers for mistreatment of the eight captured crewmen. Two of the original ten men in the two planes, Dieter and Fitzmaurice, had died when their B-25 ditched off the coast of China. The other eight, Hallmark, Meder, Nielsen, Farrow, Hite, Barr, Spatz, and DeShazer were captured. In addition to being tortured and starved, these men contracted dysentery and beriberi as a result of the poor conditions under which they were confined. On August 28, 1942, pilot Hallmark, pilot Farrow, and gunner Spatz were given a mock trial by the Japanese, although the airmen were never told the charges against them. On October 14, 1942, these three crewmen were advised that they were to be executed the next day. At 16:30 on October 15, 1942 the three were brought by truck to Public Cemetery No. 1, outside Shanghai, and shot.
The other five captured airmen remained in military confinement on a starvation diet, their health rapidly deteriorating. In April 1943, they were moved to Nanking where, on December 1, 1943, Meder died of his abuses. The remaining four men (Chase Nielsen, Bob Hite, George Barr, and Jake DeShazer) eventually began receiving slightly better treatment from their captors, and were even given a copy of the Bible and a few other books. They survived until they were freed by American troops in August 1945. The four Japanese officers who were tried for war crimes against the eight Doolittle Raiders were found guilty. Three were sentenced to hard labor for five years and the fourth to a nine-year sentence. Ironically, survivor DeShazer eventually became a missionary and returned to Japan in 1948, where he served in that capacity for over 30 years.
One other Doolittle Raid crewman was lost on the mission. Corporal Leland Faktor was killed during his bailout attempt over China, the only man on his crew to be lost.
Immediately following the raid, Jimmy Doolittle told his crew that he believed the loss of all 16 aircraft, coupled with the relatively minor damage the planes had inflicted on their targets, had rendered the attack a failure, and that he expected a court martial upon his return to the United States. Instead, the raid bolstered American morale to such an extent that Doolittle was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt and promoted two grades to BrigadierGeneral, skipping the rank of colonel. He went on to command the 12th Air Force in North Africa, the 15th Air Force in the Mediterranean, and the 8th Air Force in England during the next three years.
In addition to Doolittle's award of the Medal of Honor, Corporal Dave Thatcher (an engineer- gunner) and Lieutenant Thomas White (flight surgeon/gunner) each received the Silver Star for their brave efforts in helping several wounded crewmembers evade Japanese troops in China. All the remaining Raiders (including Thatcher and White) were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and those who were killed, wounded, or injured as a result of the raid also received the Purple Heart. In addition, every Doolittle Raider received a decoration from the Chinese government.
The Doolittle Raiders have held an annual reunion almost every year since the late 1940's. The high point of each reunion is a solemn, private ceremony in which the surviving Raiders perform a roll call, then toast their fellow Raiders who passed away during the previous year. Specially-engraved silver goblets, one for each of the 80 Raiders, are used for this toast. When only two Raiders remain alive, they will drink a final toast using the vintage bottle of Hennessy cognac which has accompanied the goblets to each Raider reunion since 1960. Only 16 Raiders are still alive and only eight were able to attend the 64th anniversary reunion held in Dayton, April 18--20, 2006. The oldest Raider is now 93 and the youngest is 84.
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