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Doolittle’s Raiders and the Air Force Global Strike Historical Connection

  • Published
  • By Dr. Isaac Hampton
  • Air Force Global Strike Command Office of the Historian

On Dec. 7, 1941, at 7:55 in the morning a Japanese strike force of 353 aircraft launched from six carriers executed a sneak attack on the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, near the city of Honolulu. The entire attack took only one hour and fifteen minutes and nearly crippled the United States Navy destroying or damaging nineteen ships. This included the sinking of two battleships and heavily damaging six others. Tragically, 2,403 service members and civilians lost their lives during the attack.

Aware that President Franklin D. Roosevelt favored a quick strike to boost American morale and to instill insecurity in the Japanese about the safety of their homeland, Capt. Francis Low, a submariner working for the Chief of Naval Operations, came up with a startling proposal to bomb the Japanese homeland with Army twin-engine B-25B “Mitchell” medium bombers. The U.S. attack on Tokyo was thrown together in little more than two months’ time. The bombing mission would be a one way flight with the B-25Bs landing in China if all went according to plan.

A 44-year-old Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, the famous pre-war aviation pioneer, would lead the mission and train the crews personally. How ironic that during one of the cross country training flights, Doolittle’s “Raiders” landed at Barksdale Field in Shreveport, Louisiana, the future home of Air Force Global Strike Command and Eighth Air Force.

On the morning of April 13, 1942, each of the 16 B-25Bs was loaded with 1,450 rounds of ammo and four 500-pound bombs. Doolittle’s raiders launched from the aircraft carrier Hornet and struck military targets in Kobe, Osaka, Nagoya, Tokyo, Yokohama and Yokosuka. Of the 16 raiders, one landed in Vladivostok and was interned by the Soviets. The crews of the other 15 B-25Bs ran out of fuel, crash landed, or bailed out over the mainland China shore. Seven of the 80 men on the mission died while ditching, bailing out or at the hands of the Japanese after they were captured.

Doolittle’s Tokyo Raid did little real damage to Japan by military terms, but it did hurt the Japanese government’s prestige and shattered the illusion of Japan’s impregnable air space over the home island. Back in the United States the reaction to the Doolittle raid was positive and lifted the morale of the American public. Doolittle was promoted to brigadier general, skipping the grade of colonel and awarded the Medal of Honor. All of the other air crews were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In 1944, Doolittle was promoted to lieutenant general and took command of the mighty Eighth Air Force in England.

The Tokyo Raid of 1942 demonstrated the great reach and planning brilliance of American air power tacticians. Today, AFGSC’s legacy has direct ties to Doolittle’s raiders with the Eighth Air Force and 341 Bombardment Group, which is now the 341st Missile Wing. After the raid, the 341 BG would fight in the China-Burma-India Theater.

Many of Doolittle’s raiders served with the 341 BG primarily in the 11th and 22nd Bombardment Squadrons. Crews were first assigned to 7 BG then assigned to 341 BG on Sept. 15, 1942. Other connections to AFGSC are the “Innovation Working Group,” which was renamed the “Doolittle Working Group.” By that same token the Doolittle Trophy for innovation excellence, formerly known as the Innovation Trophy, was presented to the 341 MW at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, in November of 2019. This trophy recognizes the innovation efforts of the base and their dedication to staying competitive in the 21st century.

Just as the innovative planners for the Doolittle raid enlisted aircraft carriers to launch medium bombers for the Tokyo Raid, a first in military history, AFGSC seeks out new innovations with it forthcoming STRIKEWerx program that will be located at the Cyber Innovation Center, in Bossier City, Louisiana.

Doolittle once said, “There's nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer.” Today’s Air Force is a microcosm of volunteers who foster innovation and bring the best ideas to fruition so the Air Force can fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace.