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The Doolittle Raid

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In late 1941 Japanese bombers bombed the US naval base of Pearl Harbor. During Pearl Harbor, the USA lost four battleships, two destroyers, and hundreds of aircraft. Thousands of military casualties also resulted from the Pearl Harbor airstrike. As such, the war in the Pacific had very much begun, and the USA was aiming for some quick way to respond.

However, given the set-back of Pearl Harbor the US were not immediately ready to begin full-scale counter-attacks in the Pacific. Japanese advances in the Pacific in early 1942 further exacerbated the war for the Allies. During the early months of 1942, Japan captured Hong Kong, Manila and then Malaya. The Battle of Singapore saw a large garrison of British troops surrender to the Japanese.

As such, as the US Army also struggled in the Philippines; in early 1942 the Allied armies were not faring especially well in the Pacific. To this extent, the USA felt that a bombing raid on Japan as soon as possible would be the best way that they could provide some sort of counter-attack.

With a successful bombing raid on Japan, the USA could prove that the Japanese could indeed be bombed. It would in some way provide a response to Pearl Harbor that would boost Allied morale at a time when they were losing battles.

As such, Jimmy Doolittle planned the bombing raid that became the Doolittle Raid. Doolittle was an American aviation pioneer and aeronautical engineer who was now serving in the USAF (United States Air-Force). For the mission, Doolittle selected B-25 Mitchell bomber aircraft which would be used to deliver the payload on Tokyo and other Japanese cities.

Therefore, in April Jimmy Doolittle and his crew of B-25 Mitchell pilots set sail for Japan aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. By mid-April they had reached a suitable position, and carrier launched the bombers towards Japan. Doolittle's B-25 Mitchells bombed T0kyo and primary targets.

The Doolittle Raid was by no means the most devastating airstrike of the war, and casualties were light. However, despite this the mission had met its intended targets, and the US celebrated when it became clear that Japan had indeed been bombed. Now it proved that the Japanese could be bombed, and further bombing raids continued as the Allies gained greater naval and air superiority.[1]

Overall, the Doolittle Raid surprised Japan. In many respects, that they were being bombed at an early stage in the war was enough to convince the Japanese to bolster their home island defenses. Likewise, the need to remove the US aircraft carriers had become more obvious, eventually leading to the Battle of Midway.

For Jimmy Doolittle, it was "mission accomplished." He returned to the USA and was awarded the Medal of Honor as commander of the raid. During the war, Jimmy Doolittle continued to serve in USAF European and Mediterranean operations.

However, not all the pilots from the raid returned to America. As Japanese picket boats detected the U.S. carriers, they had to launch the Doolittle Raid's aircraft from a greater distance than originally planned. This ensured that not all the planes reached their landing sites in China. In fact, none of the planes made it back to the Chinese airfields, and instead a number crashed-landed in China. They lost 15 of the bombers that originally took off from the aircraft carrier.

With parts of China occupied by the Japanese army, they captured some of the aircraft crews. Another landed in Vladivostok where the Russians captured him. That pilot later returned to America, but those taken by the Japanese stood trial.

The hunt was on for the other crews not captured in China. Troops of the Japanese 22nd Infantry Division began to conduct searches in provinces along the Chinese coast. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese troops swept through various airfields in east China. The air crews had the support the native civilians, and they provided transport for them to reach the wartime capital Chungking. Overall, 69 escaped capture.

After the Doolittle Raid, the hunt was also on for the carriers that launched the B-25s. They dispatched large numbers of Japanese warships to intercept them. However, none found any of the aircraft carriers that returned to home ports.

With those aircraft carriers, and others, the Allies took the war to the IJN in the months that followed the Doolittle Raid. At the Battle of Coral Sea, the IJN fleet retreated from Port Moresby, which was held by the Allies. The coup de grâce came at the Battle of Midway in which three U.S. aircraft carriers wiped out four Japanese fleet carriers and hundreds of their planes.

After those triumphs, the Allies captured new positions and airfields in the Pacific from which to bomb Japan. As the Japanese Empire crumbled, they stepped up their air raids. The Japanese military hierarchy boasted that Japan would not be bombed in the Pacific War, but it ended with two nuclear bombs reducing the country's cities to rubble.



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  1. "Doolittle Raid ." WW 2 Database. 11/02/2016 <Web >

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