Sunday, August 8, 2021

Target Tokyo


In the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics, Americans won 113 medals including 39 gold medals -- more than anything other nation.  Evidently many American athletes have been targeting Tokyo for some time now with their training.  Congratulations to the American athletes and all Olympians.  In April of 1942, eighty young Americans were targeting Tokyo as -- but their intention was to bomb it.  Doolittle's Raiders were  responding to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which was being planned exactly 80 years ago.  Dooltttle's Raiders did not win gold but their efforts materially helped to win World War II and create a lasting peace in which events such as the Olympics can take place. 

James Scott, author of the previously reviewed Rampage (, tells the full story behind the Doolittle Raid in his 2015 book Target Tokyo (

Jimmy Doolittle
1896 - 1993

Less than six months after the catastrophe at Pearl Harbor the USA launched an attack on the Japanese homeland.  Sixteen US Army B-25 bombers launched from the deck of the USS Hornet and led by forty five year old Jimmy Doolittle would avenge Pearl Harbor and make history.  Doolittle was a 5'4" dynamo of a man from Alaska who had trained as a pilot for World War I.  The Great War ended before Doolittle ever saw combat.  Between the wars, Doolittle became an accomplished racing aviator and barn stormer.  In 1930 he left the Air Force to join Shell oil company.  In January 1942, General "Hap" Arnold of the US Army Air Corps summoned Doolittle back to the military for "the most important military assignment of" his life.

B-25 Mitchell
RAF Museum, Hendon, UK

The B-25 "Mitchell" twin engine bomber was not as famous as the B-17 or the B-29 that succeeded it.  It did offer a 3,500-pound payload.  It only required 5 airmen to operate as opposed to 10 on a B-17.  Scott informs us that the B-25 "was chosen for the Tokyo raid for one reason -- its sixty-seven foot wingspan would clear the superstructure of an aircraft carrier."  

The Doolittle Raiders were all on a one way flight.  The B-25 had a 1,300 mile range.  It could take off from a carrier but could not land on one.  The Raiders' mission was to bomb Tokyo or other targets in Japan and then to fly on to airfields in Nationalist China.  Three minutes after the last B-25 roared off the Hornet's deck Admiral Halsey ordered the carrier to turn back to Pearl Harbor.  One of the Raiders, low on fuel, would fly north from Japan to a landing field in Soviet Siberia.  That B-25 was the only one that landed.  Their crew would suffer a harsh captivity in Soviet hands before eventually being allowed to "escape" across the border into Iran.  All the other Raiders followed their orders attempting to fly to China with most of the crews bailing out via parachute.

Three Raiders were killed on the day of the Raid. The Japanese executed three crew members that were subsequently captured in Japanese-occupied China.  Second Lieutenant Robert Meder starved to death in a Japanese prison camp.  Twelve other Raiders would subsequently be killed during the war.  The remaining 61 Raider survivors would celebrate their feat in memorable reunions that ran up until the last was held at the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio in 2013.  Richard Cole of San Antonio, Texas was Doolittle's copilot and the last surviving Raider; he died in 2019. 

FDR, when asked by reporters for the launching base for the Doolittle Raid, told them that they came from Shangri-La (a fictional place described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by Jame Hilton).  Before the days of Instagram, secrets could be kept!

In America Invades (, we wrote, "The raiders inflicted minimal physical damage, but the psychological impact was enormous as the Japanese felt compelled to initiate the disastrous (for the Japanese) Midway campaign to prevent future American air attacks on their homeland."    On April 18, 1942 bombs were dropped on targets in Tokyo and other Japanese cities.  The Yokosuka naval base, for example was hit.  Some Japanese civilians were killed in the Raid and Japanese propaganda attempted to make the most of this in their reporting.  The Emperor's Palace was strictly forbidden as a target.

Chinese Civilians assist Raiders
National Museum of the US Air Force
Dayton, OH

By far the greatest casualties of the Raid were suffered by the Chinese civilian population.  Many Chinese had aided the American aviators.  For this they paid an awful price.  Scott informs us that as many as a quarter million Chinese were killed in retribution for the Doolittle Raid.  The Japanese employed gruesome torture methods and even employed bacteriological warfare to exterminate whole towns and villages.

The Doolittle Raid confirmed for the Japanese their plans to launch their attack on Midway.  To prevent a future attack on the Japanese homeland the defensive perimeter of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere had to be expanded.  Their plans called for Japanese marines to invade and occupy Midway Island.  The Midway campaign was a catastrophe for the Japanese who lost 4 aircraft carriers and control of the Pacific in the June 1942 battle.  The tide of battle had decisively turned in the Pacific.

In the closing days of the war, the Japanese home islands would be subjected to an unrelenting bombing campaign waged by B-29 Superfortress bombers.  This aircraft was so powerful that it,"staggers the imagination" according to Jimmy Doolittle.  A two day incendiary raid abasing Tokyo in March of 1945 killed over 83,000 people and left a million homeless.  In all Allied bombing would kill 330,000 Japanese and injure a further 475,000.  The atomic bombs dropped by B-29s on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the most destructive war in human history and seared a wound into the human psyche that endures to this day.

World War II in the Pacific was a colossally brutal war.   We may be grateful that brave young Americans answered the call to volunteer for the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo.  Their heroism helped earn the enduring peace that we enjoy to this day in the Pacific and most of our world.

You can find signed copies of our books at these web sites...


No comments: