Pacific News Minute: Unexpected Consequences of the Doolittle Raid

Apr 18, 2018

The Doolittle Raid's B-25 bombers on the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet
Credit U.S. Air Force / National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

76 years ago today, 16 B-25 bombers took off from the aircraft carrier Hornet to attack Tokyo and other Japanese cities. The famous Doolittle Raid lifted American morale in the early days of the Second World War, and while it inflicted very little damage, there were unexpected consequences. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

When Japanese patrol boats spotted the American task force, Admiral William Halsey had no choice but to order the army bombers to take off 200 miles short of their planned launch point. That meant the planes had enough fuel to reach their targets, but not enough to reach landing fields in Free China.

After the mission, one plane diverted to Vladivostok in Russia; three men died when the other fifteen crews bailed out or crash landed. Eight men were captured by the Japanese, three of them were executed, one starved to death in a prisoner of war camp; the other four survived until the end of the war.

The rest of Doolittle’s raiders made it back to allied lines with the help of Chinese villagers and missionaries. In retaliation, Japanese forces killed an estimated 250,000 Chinese, an atrocity on the scale of the infamous Rape of Nanking.

Japanese aircraft attack U.S. facilities in the Battle of Midway.
Credit U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons

The embarrassment of the Doolittle Raid ended a debate within the Japanese Navy over what to do next in the Pacific. The aircraft carriers that launched the bombers had to be destroyed before they could do it again. The commander of Japan’s Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto had a plan to do exactly that.

He was sure that a threat to Midway Island, just a thousand miles from Pearl Harbor, would lure the remnants of the U.S. Fleet into a one sided battle. It didn’t turn out that way; forewarned by code breakers, the U.S. Navy laid an ambush at Midway that changed the course of the war in the Pacific.