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Interview with Gen. James H. Doolittle

The National Museum of the United Air Force features a North American B-25 displayed as it looked on the deck of the USS Hornet. The video presentation that is incorporated into that display is reproduced here in words, photos, sounds and video. The words of Gen. James H. Doolittle, the commander of the Tokyo Raid, are from an interview conducted in 1980.

Narrator: April 18th, 1942. Sixteen B-25s, Mitchell medium bombers, sit on the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier at sea. Their mission, bomb Tokyo, just four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

General Doolittle: It had three real purposes. One purpose was to give the folks at home the first good news that we'd had in World War II. It caused the Japanese to question their warlords. And from a tactical point of view, it caused the retention of aircraft in Japan for the defense of the home islands when we had no intention of hitting them again, seriously in the near future. Those airplanes would have been much more effective in the South Pacific where the war was going on. (Click to hear audio: Three Real Purposes)

A Navy captain named Low conceived the idea of taking Army medium bombers off of a Navy carrier and attacking Japan. The B-25 was selected because it was small, because it had the sufficient range to carry 2,000 pou (of) bombs, 2,000 miles, and because it took off and handled very well. First I found out what B-25 unit had had the most experience and then went to that crew, that organization and called for volunteers and the entire group, including the group commander, volunteered. (Click to hear audio: Getting Ready)

Narrator: The training was hard; no one had ever taken off a fully loaded B-25 in less than 500 feet. First they had to prove it could be done, then they had to train the people to do it. Before they were through, one of the Mitchells would lift off in only 287 feet. The crews proved they were good and so were their airplanes.

The raid was carefully planned, nothing was left to chance. Norden bombsights were replaced by 20 cent improvised models to prevent the secret devises from falling into enemy hands. Doolittle then considered what to do if the task force was spotted by the Japanese.

General Doolittle: If we were intercepted by Japanese surface [ships] or aircraft, our aircraft would immediately leave the decks. If they were within range of Tokyo, they would go ahead and bomb Tokyo, even though they would run out of gasoline shortly thereafter. That was the worst thing we could think of. And if we were not in range of Tokyo, we would go back to Midway. If we were not in range of either Tokyo or Midway, we would permit our aeroplanes to be pushed overboard so the decks could be cleared for the use of the carrier's own, carrier Hornet's, own aircraft. (Click to hear audio: Pre-Launch)

Narrator: On the morning of April 18th, 1942, the task force was sighted by Japanese patrol boats. The boats were quickly destroyed, but they could have transmitted a position report. It was eight hours before scheduled take-off ,an additional 400 miles to the target. Gas reserves would be dangerous low, but they were spotted and they would have to go.

General Doolittle: The program went almost according to plan. We were to go bomb our targets, turn in a general southerly direction, get out to sea as quickly as possible, and after being out of sight of land, turn and take a westerly course to China. (Click to hear audio: The Plan)

We came in on the deck. We pulled up to about fifteen hundred feet to bomb in order to make sure we weren't hit by the fragments of our own bombs. (Click to hear audio: The Raid)

And I would say that the feeling was "Get the job done and get the heck out of there." The actual damage done by the raid was minimal. We were 16 aeroplanes each carrying one ton of bombs. In later raids, General LeMay with his 20th Air Force, sent out 500 planes on a mission, each carrying 10 tons of bombs. (Click to hear audio: The Results)

Narrator: Reaching a safe haven after the raid wasn't easy. And because they had to take-off much sooner than planned, they were very low on fuel.

General Doolittle: One crew went to Vladivostok, the other 15 of us proceeded until we got to the coast of China. When we got to China, two aeroplanes were so low on fuel that they landed in the surf along side of the beach. Two people were drowned, eight of them got ashore. The weather was quite bad, so we flew on until we got to where we thought we were as close as we could get to where we wanted to go. Having been on dead reckoning for quite awhile, we weren't precisely there, and then we all jumped. (Click to hear audio: The Aftermath)

Narrator: Eighty crew members flew in the Doolittle Raid, 64 returned to fight again. They were part of a team, recognized for its professionalism and heroism, a rich heritage remembered by a new generation of airmen.

Click here to return to the Doolittle Raid Overview.