Just a few days after the attack on Hawaii by the Japanese, President Roosevelt called his military together to come up with a plan to punish them for their sneak attack. The plan they came up with could turn out to be a suicide mission for the old Army Air Corps.
Our military knew that the Japanese thought they knew all the types of aircraft the United State had, and that they were not capable of attacking Japan from the sea. Bombers could not take off from an aircraft carrier. Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle was picked to train a B-25 (a twin-engined bomber) crew in secret to take off from a carrier. After weeks of training at a secret airbase, Doolittle told the President that they were ready.
The USS Hornet was the carrier that Doolittle and his squadron would launch their daring raid on Tokyo and other Japanese cities on April 18, 1942. The plan was to fly 16 B-25 bombers off the deck of the USS Hornet, strike targets in Japan, and fly on to airbases in China.
Detection of the Hornet by Japanese patrol ships caused the raid to launch early, and Doolittle’s aircraft had only enough fuel to bomb their targets and crash land in nighttime China. It was first thought that the raid was a failure, but as we all know now, it was not. While the raid itself caused negligible damage, it boosted morale, caused the Japanese to withdraw their carrier taskforce from the Indian Ocean, and contributed to the Japanese decision to attack Midway Island, an attack that ended in a decisive defeat of the Japanese Navy.
The USS Hornet was later sunk by Japanese carrier aircraft during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on Oct. 26, 1942.
I served with a few of the men in my early years in the Army Air Corps. I’ve also met General Doolittle during my 11 years at Travis Air Force Base.
A Jimmy Doolittle Air and Space Museum is being built next to the entrance to Travis Air Force Base in California, which will allow the public easier access to the museum.
Contributing writer Everett Vanover lives in Fairfield, Calif.