Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle
"The Bombing of Tokyo"

Doolittle's Raiders
and the Story of the

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by Bert W. "Bud" Whited, ADRC USN
Retired U.S.S. HORNET CV-8 & Scouting Squadron Eight VS-8
Member of the Seniors Coalition

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During the early months of WWII, America suffered a devastating series of losses, leaving the public's morale at a dangerously low tide. In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt secretly authorized an extremely dangerous mission to retaliate against the Japanese Empire. This Expeditionary Mission was to bomb major industrial targets in Tokyo and other large cities on the Japanese homeland.

One obstacle was how to place heavy Army bombers in range of Tokyo, something that had been impossible to do with aircraft carriers before. To accomplish this, the aircraft carrier U.S.S. HORNET, CV-8, on February 2, 1942, successfully launched two Army Air Force B-25 bombers from its flight deck, in the Atlantic Ocean, off Norfolk, Virginia. In late February 1942, she sailed for the Panama Canal to join the Pacific Fleet. After a short stop in San Diego, she proceeded to the Alameda Naval Air Station in San Francisco Bay, where on April 1, 16 Army B-25 bombers were towed to the dock alongside the HORNET and hoisted aboard. The crew assumed they were ferrying the bombers to Hawaii or some other South Pacific island.

On April 2, the HORNET sailed under sealed orders, with its screen of Cruisers and Destroyers. We were all aware of the ship's vulnerability because the B-25s occupied more than half the flight deck, preventing use of the elevators to get any of our own planes up to the fight deck if we were attacked.

That afternoon Captain Marc A. Mitscher revealed our destination over the loudspeaker system. We were going to span the Pacific Ocean, over 5000 miles, to bring Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle's bombers and crews within striking distance of Tokyo. The HORNET's job was to get the bombers within 400 miles of Japan, then streak from there as fast as possible.

After the bull-horn squawked off, and a moment of stunned silence, wild rebel yells began to respond throughout the ship. Thrilled signalmen sent the word from ship to ship in the escort, where echoing cheers rang out.

A welcome sight came on the morning of April 13, in the form of the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE CV-6 and her screen of ships, sent to escort the HORNET on the last leg of her mad dash to Japan. The re-newed presence of patrol planes overhead served to abate some of our tension. The combined Navy Task Groups 16.1 and 16.2 were made up into Task Force 16 and comprised the ships listed in the chart below.

Ships Task Group 16.1 Task Group 16.2
Carriers: U.S.S. Enterprise CV-6 U.S.S. Hornet CV-8
Cruisers: U.S.S. Vincennes II CA-44 U.S.S. Northampton CA-26
U.S.S. Nashville II CL-43 U.S.S. Salt Lake City CA-25
Destroyers: U.S.S. Gwin III DD-433 U.S.S. Balch DD-363
U.S.S. Grayson DD-435 U.S.S. Benham DD-397
U.S.S. Monssen DD-436 U.S.S. Ellet DD-398
U.S.S. Meredith DD-434 U.S.S. Fanning DD-385
Oilers: U.S.S. Cimarron AO-22 U.S.S. Sabine AO-25

In addition, the submarines U.S.S. Thresher and U.S.S. Trout were operating off the Japanese coast, watching for enemy fleet movements and weather conditions.

The fleet crossed the 180th Meridian on Friday, April 17, in a latitude considerably higher than Tokyo and following the same route that the Japanese took to bomb Pearl Harbor. At 2 P.M. that day we heard "Tokyo Rose" speaking from the Japanese Radio Station JOAK, telling her listeners why it was impossible that Tokyo would ever feel the sting of bombs.

Dawn of the 18th showed a stormy sea, so violent that the destroyers found themselves unable to keep up with the carriers and cruisers, so they and the tankers laid behind to be picked up on the return run. A 45 mile gale was blowing, breaking water over the HORNET's towering flight deck.

It was an ever present fear throughout the dash west, that we would be sighted by an enemy ship or patrol plane that would radio in an alarm, warning the Japanese of our coming.

At 2:10 A.M. that morning, we picked up two blips on the Radar Screen showing enemy ships dead ahead. We altered course to avoid them, and at dawn we launched reconnaissance planes from the ENTERPRISE. At 5:00 A.M. the ENTERPRISE pilots reported a picket boat 42 miles ahead, and an hour later a third vessel was sighted visually from the HORNET. Within ten minutes our cruisers and dive bombers were blasting them from the water, but there could be no assurance that they had not successfully sounded a warning.

We were still 550 nautical miles from our intended launching spot, 150 miles from our intended launching spot, 150 miles further away than desired. It was originally planned to fly the planes off in the afternoon of the 19th, which would permit the pilots to drop their bombs at night. Afterwards they would seek out forewarned, but unfamiliar, landing sites in Free China in the daylight of the next morning. As many months of planning had been put into this mission, it could not be abandoned this close to being successful.

Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle conferred with Admiral "Bull" Halsey and they decided to launch the aircraft as soon as they could be made ready. Gasoline tanks were topped off and extra fuel in five gallon cans were stowed aboard each airplane, as every ounce of fuel was needed to help the fliers reach their final destination.

At 7:00 A.M. came the call, "Army Pilots man your planes," and the twin-engine, fully loaded bombers, cranked up their engines with an ear-splitting roar. The spread of the bombers wings left only four feet of clearance between the right wing tip of the bombers and the carrier's island structure; the slightest veering from a white line painted down the flight deck would end in disaster.

The wind and seas were so strong that morning that sea water broke over the HORNET's flight deck. Lt. Col. Doolittle, in the first plane to be launched, charged off the deck at 8:24 A.M. on its way to Tokyo. The Flight Deck Launching Officer had to time each takeoff to coincide with the rise and fall of the bow to give the planes as much of a boost as possible when they left the fight deck. All planes were airborne by 9:20 A.M. But not without cost, one sailor in the flight deck handling crew lost his arm after being struck by a propeller.

Tokyo had been alerted for a large air raid with Japanese planes conducting a mock air raid. The real raid by the American planes followed so closely that the Japanese public never knew of our attack until it was over. No air raid sirens sounded for at least 15 to 20 minutes after Doolittle's Raiders were over the cities. The actual damage inflicted by our bombers on the enemy cities was not great by later bombing standards, but the Japanese officials had a difficult time explaining how such an attack could have happened and they suffered considerable "Loss of Face." The news of the attack on Tokyo gave a great boost to American and allied morale.

None of our attacking bombers were lost over Japan; one landed in RU.S.S.ia, fifteen others in China. Seventy-one of the 80 pilots and crewmen, including Lt. Col. Doolittle, survived the raid. One crewman was killed when he bailed out, two were killed in crash landings, five were interned in RU.S.S.ia, eight were captured by the Japanese and the rest managed to reach Free China and safety. Of the eight that were captured, three were executed, one died and four were freed at the end of the war.

Our part in this spectacular raid completed, the carriers HORNET and ENTERPRISE with their task force ships reversed course and made tracks for safer waters. Admiral Halsey made good our retreat without molestation, even though the Japanese launched both planes and ships in pursuit. Within three hours, the combat air patrols from both carriers attacked 16 enemy surface ships, sinking several of them, with one surrendering to the Light Cruiser U.S.S. NASHVILLE and its crew taken prisoner.

This bombing of Tokyo and other industrial cities in the Japanese homeland was a great "Morale Boosting" action for the American public, as a retaliation for the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor.

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The Seniors Coalition to Congress

The Seniors Coalition is proud of Bud Whited and the men who helped bomb Tokyo, but an injustice has been done to them, one which deserves a resolution.

During this extremely dangerous undertaking, the crews of the "Joint Task Force Ships" knew that to successfully complete this mission they would, if necessary, be sacrificed. While facing this, the crews of the ships in Task Force 16 were told they would be awarded the "Navy Expeditionary Force Medal" for this heroic endeavor. To this day [date unknown] the medal has not been authorized.

On 25 October 1992, because of the International Dateline, it will be the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Santa Cruz and the loss of the U.S.S. HORNET CV-8, and the 11th Joint Reunion of the MUSTIN/HORNET. The HORNET was only one year and six days old when she was lost, but she took her toll of enemy ships during her short life span, where she earned four Battle Stars for her efforts. Without the Hornet's successful launch of Doolittle's Raiders there would have been no bombing run.

The reunion is being held at the Merrimack Inn in Merrimack, New Hampshire, where all the crew members of the two Task Forces have been invited to assemble. This would be the most appropriate time for our Country, the President, the members of Congress and the responsible Military Departments to issue the long overdue "Navy Expeditionary Force Medal" to the crews and the ships of the Task Force 16.1 and 16.2.

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Article Index
If you were part of this "Task Force", here's how to receive your Citation
Mentioned in Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships...SLC Section
Mentioned in U.S.S. SLC Cruise Book History
Reunion of Doolittle's Raiders
Two Texas Men Honored for WWII Doolittle Raid

Doolittle Raiders ...Added: Dec. 31st, 2002

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