Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Doolittle's Raid

General Doolittle thanking the workers at the B-25 plant

Pre-Viet Nam, long before children had rights, young boys with toy guns in hand would liberate their fathers Army helmets and ammo belts or visit the Army-Navy surplus store to gather their kit for playing war games with the neighbor boys. Along with plastic army men it was an essential part of growing up.

When it was too dark to play, we read the pulp WWII story books of the wars heroes and villains written for children. It gave us ammo for the next days war. As we became too old to play with our war toys, our taste in war books improved. I still have my favorite, a first printing of the 1943 Random House Wartime book "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo", by Captain Ted Lawson.

It opens: "I helped bomb Tokyo on the Doolittle raid of April 18, 1942. I crashed in the China Sea. I learned the full, deep meaning of the term "United Nations" from men and women whose language I couldn't speak. I watched a buddy of mine saw off my left leg. And, finally I got home to my wife after being flown, shipped and carried around the world." Who wouldn't be hooked?

Reminded of the Doolittle raid, it took place 70 years ago today, by a friend over the weekend, I reread Lawson's tome Monday.

Several weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, barnstormer Lt. Col Doolittle convinced his superiors that with luck and a lot of preparation it might be possible to bomb mainland Japan, providing the first U.S. offensive blow against the Japanese empire and boosting morale at home. The morale part was key to having the mission approved.

The plan was to have a squadron of 16 B-25 bombers on board the aircraft carrier USS Hornet take off on April 19th 400 miles from Japan. Flying low, at night, they would hit Tokyo, Kobe and Nagoya, unseen by Japanese war planes and land 100 miles inland in China.

The Hornet was spotted early on the 18th, by a Japanese cruiser, which was quickly sunk, but without knowing if the cruiser had radioed an alert. Believing it had, the bombing raid began immediately, in daylight, 800 miles from their intended target. Burning a gallon of fuel a minute the big bombers hit Tokyo on the fumes, all but one ran out of fuel before reaching their intended landing base, their mission a huge success.

As good a read as it is, it made a better movie, best seen on the Late Show. Filmed, using video from the raid, the movie is incredibly realistic. Spencer Tracy as Doolittle and Van Johnson as Lawson.



Main Line Sportsman said...

Read that book in 5th grade...
I also submit that the movie "Pearl Harbor" did a fairly nice job depicting the Dolittle raids...

Old Polo said...

I read the book many times. Still have it on my bookshelf. Met Doolittle summer of 1965. Too bad you grew up so far away. You would have been a great playmate!