THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: APRIL 18, 1942

Doolittle Leads Air Raid on Tokyo

In early 1942 the United States, still tormented by the shock of Pearl Harbor and the continuing succession of Japanese victories, needed some type of victory to raise morale. To effect this, a scheme was concocted to have army B-25 bombers take off from the navy aircraft carrier Hornet and attack the Japanese mainland. Arnold, now commanding general of the Army Air Forces, chose Doolittle to lead the air strike. Colonel Doolittle set about to supervise the training of his volunteer crews and the modification of their B-25s to obtain maximum range. His crews, who had never taken off from a carrier deck, knew nothing about the mission until they were far out to sea. On the morning of April 18, 1942, the Japanese observed the carriers Hornet and Enterprise, compelling Doolittle to schedule the raid a day earlier and at a greater range from their targets. All 16 B-25s dropped their bombs, but as a consequence of the 150-mile extended flight path all but one aircraft, which landed in the Soviet Union, ran out of fuel and went down in Japanese-occupied China. Of the 80 crewmen, 71 survived, one died and eight were captured. The Japanese executed four of the captured American airmen as war criminals; the others survived cruel treatment and were freed at the war’s end. Most of the pilots, including Doolittle, maneuvered their way to friendly lines. Unfortunately, the Japanese subsequently executed many of the Chinese peasants who had assisted Doolittle’s raiders. While the actual damage of the Doolittle raid was slight, the psychological effect on the Japanese was significant: their army and navy had failed to protect their homeland. In June, Japanese strategists decided to attack Midway Island, where they lost four large carriers and one cruiser. One of the decisive battles in human history had taken place because of Doolittle’s action. Doolittle was made a brigadier general following the raid and received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Promotion to major general soon followed.

Doolittle, James Harold. (2001). In K. T. Jackson, K. Markoe, & A. Markoe (Eds.), The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives (Vol. 3, pp. 148-151). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.


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