On April 18, 1942, 80 men and sixteen B-25 Mitchell medium bombers set off on what some said was an impossible mission, to change the course of World War II. The actions of these 80 volunteers, led by then Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, were instrumental in shifting momentum in the Pacific theater and setting the stage for victory at the Battle of Midway.
These men, dubbed the Doolittle Raiders, launched sixteen B-25s off the flight deck of the USS Hornet. This marked the raid as catalyst to many future innovations in U.S. air superiority from land or sea. That bold, innovative and courageous spirit of the Doolittle Raiders has been the inspiration behind the name of America’s next generation bomber, the B-21 Raider.
Who was Jimmy Doolittle?
A Medal of Honor recipient, General James H. Doolittle was pioneering holder of speed records, leader of first aerial attack on the Japanese mainland, and famed World War II air commander.
Doolittle was born in Alameda, Calif., in 1896. James “Jimmy” Doolittle was educated in Nome, Alaska, Los Angeles Junior College, and spent a year at the University of California School of Mines. He enlisted as a flying cadet in the Signal Corps Reserve in October 1917 and trained at the School of Military Aeronautics, University of California, and Rockwell Field, Calif.
He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Signal Corps’ Aviation Section March 11, 1918.
In April 1934, Doolittle became a member of the Army Board to study Air Corps organization and a year later was transferred to the Air Corps Reserve. In 1940, he became president of the Institute of Aeronautical Science. He went back on active duty July 1, 1940 as a major and assistant district supervisor of the Central Air Corps Procurement District at Indianapolis, Ind., and Detroit, Mich., where he worked with large auto manufacturers on the conversion of their plants for production of planes. The following August, he went to England as a member of a special mission and brought back information about other countries’ air forces and military buildups.
He was promoted to lieutenant colonel Jan 2, 1942, and went to Headquarters Army Air Force to plan the first aerial raid on the Japanese homeland. He volunteered and received Gen. H.H. Arnold’s approval to lead the attack of 16 B-25 medium bombers from the aircraft carrier Hornet, with targets in Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka, and Nagoya. The daring one-way mission April 18, 1942 electrified the world and gave America’s war hopes a terrific lift. As did the others who participated in the mission, Doolittle had to bail out, but fortunately landed in a rice paddy in China near Chu Chow. Some of the other flyers lost their lives on the mission.
Doolittle received the Medal of Honor, presented to him by President Roosevelt at the White House, for planning and leading this successful operation. His citation reads: “For conspicuous leadership above and beyond the call of duty, involving personal valor and intrepidity at an extreme hazard to life. With the apparent certainty of being forced to land in enemy territory or to perish at sea, Lt. Col. Doolittle personally led a squadron of Army bombers, manned by volunteer crews, in a highly destructive raid on the Japanese mainland.” In addition to the nation’s top award, Doolittle also received two Distinguished Service Medals, the Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, Bronze Star, four Air Medals, and decorations from Great Britain, France, Belgium, Poland, China, and Ecuador.
In July 1942, as a brigadier general — he had been advanced two grades the day after the Tokyo attack — Doolittle was assigned to the 8th Air Force and in September became commanding general of the 12th Air Force in North Africa. He was promoted to major general in November and in March 1943 became commanding general of the North African Strategic Air Forces.
He took command of the 15th Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater in November and from January 1944 to September 1945 he commanded the 8th Air Force in Europe and the Pacific, until war’s end, as a lieutenant general, the promotion date being March 13, 1944. On May 10, 1946 he reverted to inactive reserve status and returned to Shell Oil as a vice president and later a director.
Courtesy of www.af.mil