April marks the 69th Anniversary of Jimmy Doolittle's famous "30 seconds over Tokyo" air raid which marked the first offensive blow of the United States in the Pacific War during World War II.

From the start of the Pacific War, with the simultaneous attacks on the United States at Pearl Harbor and in the Philippines, all the war news had been grim and negative.

The lightning quick attacks of the Imperial Japanese navy and army had gained them victories throughout Southeast Asia and the western Pacific. The British colonies at Hong Kong, Singapore, Burma and Malaysia had fallen as had the Netherlands East Indies (today's Indonesia).

The Philippines had been overrun (except for the island fortress of Corregidor) and Japanese forces were rapidly approaching Australia.

Everywhere the Allied nations in the Pacific fought, it was either a defeat or a grim delaying action without hope.

Realizing Napoleon's maxim of "morale is to physical as three is to one," President Franklin Roosevelt was determined to launch an attack for morale and psychological purposes for both the American public, the American military and the Allied forces fighting alongside America. Then a U.S. naval officer of the submarine service came up with the concept of launching light bombers off of an aircraft carrier.

Since the three U.S. Navy aircraft carriers had missed the disaster at Pearl Harbor one of them was chosen to lead this first blow for freedom. It was the USS Hornet. The airman chosen to lead the air assault was Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, a veteran of World War I and the leading airplane racer in America in the 1930s. Not many people knew then or now but Doolittle had a Ph.D. in aeronautics from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

So in mid-April of 1942, in the stormy waters of the north Pacific, the U.S. Navy Task Force with sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers on board the USS Hornet were sailing toward their launching point when they were discovered by a Japanese picket boat which radioed their sighting back to Japan. Doolittle had to make a very hard decision as to whether or not to launch some hundreds of miles further east than his plan, knowing that to do so would cause his aircrews to have to arrive on the coast of China with little or no gasoline left in their aircraft, thereby making their mission even that much more hazardous.

Doolittle made the decision to launch, the raid was successfully carried out and American morale and that of her Allies soared like eagles. Yes, the Western powers, led by America, could and would successfully strike back against what had seemed to be an invincible Japanese war machine. One of the pilots, Ted Lawson, would even write a best-selling book titled "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" about the raid.

He lost a leg and his book was made into a movie in which the noted actor Van Johnson would portray him and Spencer Tracy would portray Doolittle.

When asked in the oval office where the aircrews had launched from, Roosevelt had replied: "Shangri-La" which was the mythical city in Tibet of the then current novel and Hollywood movie, "Lost Horizon."

However there were losses amongst the crews in Japan, China and in Russia. Those taken prisoner in Japan were harshly treated and some were executed following a show trial. Of those who had to crash-land along the China coast, most were rescued by the brave Chinese civilians even though the Japanese military murdered tens of thousands of them to try to get to the raiders.

There were even some who had to do emergency landings in Russia (then the Soviet Union) which was neutral vis-a-vis Japan, so they were interned for a length of time before being allowed to find their way back to Allied lines through Iran.

Overall the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo caused Adm. Yamamoto to re-think Japanese strategy in the Pacific War.

He decided that to stop all further potential raids against the sacred soil of Japan, he would need to eliminate the American naval base at Midway Island.

Less than two months later the famous battle of Midway would be fought in which Japan would lose her four main naval aircraft carriers along with their trained airmen and air crews, thereby signaling the great turning point in the Pacific War.

And all because "Doolittle Doed It!"

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16