This Day in History: The Doolittle Raid

By: Friedrich Seiltgen

April 18th, 2021 is the 79th Anniversary of the Doolittle Raid. The months after the attack on Pearl Harbor were dark times for America; 2,403 men died at Pearl Harbor, with 188 aircraft destroyed. The Philippine Islands had fallen, and the country needed a moral boost.

The United States wanted to show Japan that their mainland was vulnerable to air attack and extract revenge for Pearl Harbor. The raid was planned and led by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle.

The only way to strike Japan was by aircraft carrier. The problem was that the fighter aircraft did not have the necessary range. The decision was made to use a medium-range bomber that could take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier, fly 400 miles, and drop their payload on Imperial Japan. The bombers would then return to the carrier.

The USAAF considered a few aircraft for the mission, such as the Martin B-26 Marauder and the Douglas B-23 Dragon, until deciding on the North American B-25 Mitchell. The original plan called for these bombers to be launched and recovered on the U.S.S. hornet. Initial flight tests near Norfolk showed that while the B-25 could be launched from a carrier relatively easy, the carrier landing was not going to happen. The plan was modified, and the bombers would now continue on and land in China.

Twenty-four volunteer crews were taken from the 17thBombardment Group from Pendleton Field, Oregon and began intensive training at Eglin Field, Florida in early March 1942. Their bombers were modified with extra fuel tanks installed, all unnecessary equipment removed, and a unique bombsight created and produced at Eglin Field at a cost of 20 cents each! At the end of March 1942, 16 of the B-25s were flown to Alameda to be loaded onto the USS hornet.

Task Force-16, as it was called, was making way for the Japanese mainland when it was discovered by Japan’s “Early Warning Radar System.” The Japanese had fishing trawlers equipped with radios, and the No. 23 Nitto Maru radioed a sighting of Task Force-16. The ship was then promptly sunk. As the mission had been compromised, Admiral Halsey ordered the launch of the aircraft some 250 miles further than planned. The bombers now had to launch some 650 miles from their targets. The bombers reached their targets in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kobe in daylight and dropped their 400-500lb bombs. Now they had to get to China safely. Due to the extra distance, the bombers began running out of fuel.

Of the 16 aircraft, 15 crash landed and one landed intact in Vladivostok, Russia. Three Raiders would perish from the crash landings. Eight of the Raiders were captured by Japanese forces near Shanghai, China. Three of them were executed for war crimes, and one passed away from the starvation diet given the men while in captivity.

Even though the raid caused minimal physical damage to Japan, the psychological effect was enormous. Japan was shown they were vulnerable to attack, and strategic war plans were changed due to the fact the Doolittle raid occurred unimpeded. Admiral Yamamoto stepped up the attack on the U.S. Base on Midway, which ended up being a loss for the Japanese.

In June 1942, Lt. Col Doolittle was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt and promoted to General. Not too bad considering Doolittle himself believed he would be court martialed for the loss of all the aircraft.

Starting in 1946, the Doolittle Raiders held an annual celebration to honor General Doolittle on his birthday. In 1959, the citizens of Tucson, Arizona presented the Raiders with 80 engraved silver goblets, one for each Raider. Every year the Raiders would gather and honored the airmen who passed away.  The last surviving member of the Doolittle Raiders Lt. Col Richard “Dick” Cole passed away on April 9th, 2019 at the age of 103. The goblets now sit in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright Patterson AFB.

Today we honor the Doolittle Raiders. The men of the Greatest Generation were given an impossible mission and through ingenuity, resiliency, and bravery accomplished it! They turned the tide of WWII, and we salute them!

That’s all for now folks!  Please keep sending in your questions, tips, and article ideas. And as always – “Let’s be careful out there.”

Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Master Police Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism, Firearms, First Aid, Active Shooter Response, and Law Enforcement Vehicle Operations in Florida. His writing has appeared in The Counter Terrorist Magazine, American Thinker, Homeland Security Today, and The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International. Contact him at

Photo: By USAF - U.S. Air Force photo 100204-F-1234S-002 from the National Museum of the USAF; also U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph NH 53289 [1], Public Domain,

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