On the morning of December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked and 2403 people lost their lives. America mourned, but she also planned and united in her commitment to retaliate. The Japanese had attacked hoping to force her hand in lifting sanctions. Instead, they got war. One month after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, a secret joint Army-Navy bombing initiative was put together. The plan was to bomb the industrial areas of Japan with B-25 bombers, led by then United States Army Air Forces Colonel James Doolittle and his raiders.
The task force to get them there was commanded by Vice Admiral William Halsey. The bombers would then take off the aircraft carrier Hornet, commanded by Captain Marc Mitscher. The 80 men who would fly to complete this dangerous mission all willingly volunteered for it.
The Raiders were ready.
Under the hope of complete secrecy, the Hornet made its way to Tokyo. The plan was to launch the bombers once they were within 400 miles of their target. During their journey, they encountered a small Japanese fishing boat when they were around 650 miles from the coast. Fearing that the boat had alerted Tokyo to their location, they launched a day early, on April 18, 1942 — 78 years ago this week. Everything within the planes that wasn’t deemed essential had been stripped to allow for the vital fuel to make it to China after the attack. With their new launching location, their safe return was at risk.
The men did it anyway, with Col. Doolittle leading their way in the first plane over the skies.
Although the Japanese were alerted to the presence of the Americans, they were still surprised by the long range execution of the bombers. Doolittle’s Raiders, as they would come to be known, hit targets in Tokyo, Yokosuka, Yokohama, Kobe and Nagoya. They even managed to damage an aircraft carrier during their attack. Most of the airmen made it safely to China, aided by locals. The Japanese would go on to slaughter 250,000 of them for this kindness.
Although they were unable to complete their original plan, the Doolittle Raiders’ mission changed the narrative for the United States. It forced Japan to move resources to defend its coasts and gave the American military the boost it desperately needed.
Two months later the Battle of Midway would signal to the world that American victory was within reach.