Skip to comments."The Bombing of Tokyo" Doolittle's Raiders and the Story of the USS HORNET
Posted on 04/19/2002 1:49:39 PM PDT by 45Auto
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 USS 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 USS 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.
TASK FORCE 16 Ships Task Group 16.1 Task Group 16.2 Carriers: USS Enterprise CV-6 USS Hornet CV-8 Cruisers: USS Vincennes II CA-44 USS Northampton CA-26 USS Nashville II CL-43 USS Salt Lake City CA-25 Destroyers: USS Gwin III DD-433 USS Balch DD-363 USS Grayson DD-435 USS Benham DD-397 USS Monssen DD-436 USS Ellet DD-398 USS Meredith DD-434 USS Fanning DD-385 Oilers: USS Cimarron AO-22 USS Sabine AO-25
In addition, the submarines USS Thresher and USS 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 Russia, 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 Russia, 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 USS 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.
They planned to ditch their planes and swim back if needed.
USS Hornet, a 19,800 ton Yorktown class aircraft carrier, was constructed at Newport News, Virginia. Commissioned in October 1941, she spent the next four months shaking down in the Atlantic.
Transferred to the Pacific in March 1942, Hornet was immediately employed on the Doolittle raid. On 18 April 1942, she launched 16 Army B-25 bombers to attack Japan, a strike that caused relatively little damage, but which had enormous strategic implications.
Hornet was then sent to the South Pacific to reinforce U.S. units there following the Battle of Coral Sea, but was recalled to Pearl Harbor in mid-May. She then took part in the Battle of Midway, on 4-6 June, during which her planes shared in the sinking of the Japanese cruiser Mikuma.
In August 1942, Hornet returned to the South Pacific to join in the fight for Guadalcanal. During much of September and October, she was the only operational U.S. aircraft carrier available to oppose the Japanese in that area. On 26 October 1942, during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, her planes attacked and badly damaged the Japanese carrier Shokaku.
In return, however, Hornet received heavy bomb and torpedo damage, necessitating her abandonment. Though accompanying U.S. destroyers attempted to scuttle her, she remained afloat until torpedoed and sunk by Japanese ships early in the morning of 27 October.
Several years prior to the war, medals of friendship and good relationship were awarded to several people of the United States by the Japanese government. In substance these medals were symbolic of the friendship and cooperation between the nations and were to represent the duration of this attitude. It was decided by the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Frank Knox, that the time was appropriate to have these medals returned. They had been awarded to Mr. Daniel J. Quigley, Mr. John D. Laurey, Mr. H. Vormstein and Lt. Stephen Jurkis.
After arrangements had been made and the medals secured, a ceremony was held on the deck of the Hornet during which the medals were wired to a 500 lb. bomb to be carried by Lt. Ted Lawson and returned to the Japanese government in an appropriate fashion. During the ceremony the bomb was inscribed by various crew members with various sentimental inscriptions such as, I dont want to set the world on fire just Tokyo! and similar phrases.
The medals were subsequently delivered in small pieces to their donors in Tokyo by Lt. Ted Lawson at about noon, Saturday, April 18, 1942. 
Through the courtesy of the War Department your Japanese medal and similar medals, turned in for shipment, were returned to His Royal Highness, The Emperor of Japan on April 18, 1942. 
The USS Hornet. A valiant ship for her courageous crew and country. Her service was brief, but she went into the sea with honor.
Well, it took some doing for this raid to happen. However: 1) The raid shock and horrified Japan, rather than weakening their spirit to fight. 2) The raid convinced the Japanese that the US were monsters. The Pearl Harbor attack as at a serious military target. The Doolittle Raid targetted civilian targets. 3) The Pearl Harbor raid destroyed military targets and actually almost changed the course of the war. The Doolittle Raid accomplished nothing and killed almost only civilians.
When I was a young person, I thought the Doolittle Raid was great stuff, wonderful adventure. Over the years, I've come to reverse my thinking and now I see the raid as a horrible, pointless military exercise.
Not exactly. One of my friends was there at the time as a civilian. He told me that many non-combatants were injured and killed by Japanese bombs which hit areas outside of the military installations. I beg to differ with your opinion about the raid. The Doolittle raid was quite a feat of tactics for those days; it demonstrated that the Japanese homeland was not immune from the war which the Japanese started.
Of course, thanks to Joe Rochefort and Edwin Layton, we were able to ambush Kido Butai and rip the heart out of Japanese naval aviation. Their intel was so good, that we managed to win the battle even though Frank Jack Fletcher was the guy in tactical command (eventually, Yorktown was hit, and he turned over command to Spruance).
Of course, a year after the Tokyo raid, Tom Lanphier managed to settle the score with the mastermind of Pearl Harbor.
However, it DID evaporate a lot of opposition--the Army jumped on board because they (wrongly) believed that the bombers came from Midway, and the Navy because they recognized the need to extend the Japanese defense perimeter out as far as feasible, to prevent further raids from getting the free ride that the Hornet raid had.
Aircraft Carrier Hornet Museum
P.O. Box 460
Pier 3, Alameda Point
Alameda, CA 94501
Fax (510) 521-8327
Email (for overnight encampments): email@example.com
The veteran Essex-class carrier USS Hornet (CV-12, CVA-12, CVS-12) is the eighth and most distinguished namesake in a long line of U.S. Navy warships with proud naval histories, beginning with the first Hornet in 1775. Second Hornet took the Marines "to the shores of Tripoli" in 1805. Third Hornet, under the legendary Captain Lawrence, sank the British warships Peacock and Penguin in the War of 1812. Seventh Hornet (CV-8) took the Doolittle Raiders to Tokyo, helped with the Battle of Midway, and was sunk in October 1942, defending Guadalcanal in the Battle of Santa Cruz.
The eighth Hornet (CV-12) had an extraordinary combat record in WW II, engaging the enemy in the Pacific in March 1944, just 21 months after the laying of her keel and the shortest shakedown cruise in Navy history (2 weeks). For eighteen months, she never touched land. She was constantly in the most forward areas of the Pacific war - sometimes within 40 miles of the Japanese home islands. Her pilots destroyed 1,410 enemy aircraft and over one million tons of enemy shipping. Her planes stopped the Japanese super-battleship Yamato and played the major part in sinking her. She launched the first strikes in the liberation of the Philippines, and in Feb. 1945, the first strikes on Japan since the Doolittle raid in 1942. The "Grey Ghost" participated in virtually all of the assault landings in the Pacific from March 1944 until the end of WW II, earning 9 battle stars and the Presidential Unit citation. In 1969, Hornet recovered the Apollo 11 space capsule containing astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin - the first men who walked on the moon - and Michael Collins. A short time later, she recovered Apollo 12 with the all-Navy crew of "moon walkers". The F/A 18 fighter plane is named after this distinguished ship.
USS Hornet is a National Historic Landmark and a State Historical Landmark. The ship is located on the east side of San Francisco Bay. A "Living Ship" demonstration is presented on the first Saturday of each month.
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Version 1.17, 16 Apr 01
Jimmy Doo Much
History trended against US from Pearl
even as record Old Glories would unfurl.
It was up to the U.S. Army Air Corps
to shift the balance of power and war.
It was Sixty great years ago today
an air raid was fought near Tokyo Bay.
Sixteen B-25s soared through the skies:
the missions secret was kept under lie.
The bombing raid was determined to fail
and be recorded a terrible tale.
Yet, victory is known to the reader
for the mission had picked the right leader.
U.S. planes came so fast as bombs hit low.
The enemys fate blew out their window.
What was (four months) a war we all thought lost
became one won (albeit) at great cost.
And, as our foe Japan became aflame
the Irony truly was in a name:
"Jimmy Doolittle." The Colonel met Fate.
Jimmy did a lot. The Colonel was great!
Jimmy Doolittle, I know where you are.
Youre above us in the skies as a star.
So, I raise my glass filled past a Zero
to a great American Air Hero!
Thank You, Jimmy Doolittle and All Vets, for Defending My Freedom!
Thanks for the ping, Coteblanche.