Shortly after 8am in the morning of 18 April 1942 all 16 of Jimmy Doolittle’s B-25 Mitchell bombers successfully take off from the carrier deck of USS Hornet (CV-8). Due to the risk of being compromised the launch is done 10 hours early and some 170 nautical miles farther from the targets in Japan than intended.
The first aircraft to take off is B-25B Mitchell #40-2344 commanded by Lt. Cl. Jimmy Doolittle – to his right is co-pilot Lt. Richard “Dick” Cole. The conditions are far from ideal with heavy swells causing the ship to pitch violently. As the lead plane and first in que to take off Doolittle and Cole has only 467 ft of flight deck – adding to the challenge is to time the take off correctly with the rise and fall of the ship’s bow. Their aircraft was witnessed to have almost hit the water before pulling up and climbing away.
6 hours after take-off the bombers hits various military and industrial targets on mainland Japan – the raid does minimal damage but has major psychological effects. In the United States the morale is raised by the raid while in Japan it raised fear and doubt about the ability of military leaders to defend the homeland islands. In order to swiftly gain retribution the plans to attack Midway Island in the Central Pacific is pushed forward, an attack that turned into a decisive defeat of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) in what history records as the Battle of Midway.
As the lead B-25 Doolittle proceeded to Tokyo and bombed the north central industrial area with four incendiary cluster bombs. Over the target, released three demolition bombs and one incendiary bomb. Afterwards, he proceeded to the coast of China where unfavorable weather made it necessary for crew to bail out from 8,000′ north of Quzhou, roughly 70 miles north of Chuchow.
After bailing out, the entire crew landed safely near Tien Mu Shen roughly 70 miles north of Chuchow. After landing, the entire crew was rescued by General Ho, Director of the Western Branch of Chekiang Province who agreed to collect any crews down between Hung Chow Bay and Wen Chow Bay using sampans and junks.
Immediately following the raid, Doolittle told his crew that he believed the loss of all 16 aircraft, coupled with the relatively minor damage to targets, had rendered the attack a failure, and that he expected a court-martial upon his return to the United States. Instead, the raid bolstered American morale. Doolittle was promoted two grades to brigadier general on 28 April while still in China, skipping the rank of colonel, and was presented with the Medal of Honor by Roosevelt upon his return to the United States in June.
On 25 June 2018 Lt. Col Richard “Dick” Cole signed his name to the log book adding tremendous gravitas to the project. I recall reading about the Doolittle Raid as youngster decades ago and earlier this year I had the immense honor of having the Log Book visit me in Sweden. It was a profound feeling to carefully peruse each page and to ‘connect’ with each signature.
It took time to digest and comprehend that I was actually holding the very page that stoic giants such as Mr Cole himself had once held in his hands – the very same hands that was assisting Doolittle in taking off from USS Hornet (CV-8) for one of the most daring raids ever devised.