The Doolittle Raid Over Japan

The Doolittle Raid Over Japan

By: Corey Gerdeman

On April 18, 1942, the United States military took a significant risk and launched 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers off of the USS Hornet in the hopes of bombing the Japanese mainland. This raid, if successful, would be a major turning point for both the American military and public alike after the events at Pearl Harbor only a few months prior.

After Pearl Harbor, the Pacific campaign looked bleak for all Allied nations involved. The Japanese military immediately launched major offenses in the south and southeastern Pacific after the attack at Pearl Harbor. It appeared to the Allied countries that Japan could brush aside any force that was put up against them. This drastically reduced morale, especially in the United States. President Roosevelt knew that something needed to be done to boost morale in both the military and on the home front if the war in the European and Pacific theaters were going to succeed. A strike on Japan was decided to be the most bold and dramatic way to show that the United States was still a major military force, and to convince the American populace that they should support the war in any way they could.

The raid to be known as the Doolittle Raid after its leader Lt. Col. James Doolittle. It comprised of taking 16 B-25 bombers off of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, bombing several sites in the Japanese mainland, and then flying the bombers to China. The bombers would land and be picked up by Chinese soldiers who would return them to the United States. All of this was planned and prepared in total secrecy, with the true target of the raid not even revealed to the aircrews until they were only a few days from launching.

Everything was going according to plan until the morning of April 18, 1942, when the American ship group was discovered by Japanese picket ships. After being discovered, it was decided to launch the bombers from their current location, about 800 miles from Japan, instead of the planned distance of 500 miles. The bombers took off and proceeded to Japan. Once over Japan, they bombed numerous military factories and other installations before turning south to head to China. Having launched so much sooner than expected, many of the bombers did not have the required fuel to make it all the way to their designated landing field in China. Most of the crews had to bail out of their planes and ended up being helped by the local Chinese villages before linking up with Chinese military forces. Of the almost 80 aircrew members, 12 were killed or were taken prisoner by the Japanese during the mission

To learn more about Doolittle’s historic raid over Tokyo visit:

Research Questions (9th-12th Grades):

Why was boosting the morale of the U.S. military and the U.S. public so important that the government would risk so many ships, especially after the heavy losses at Pearl Harbor?

How did the planning and implementation of the Doolittle Raid help develop important relationships and operational skill sets within all branches of the U.S. military that would be key throughout the rest of the war?

How did the Doolittle Raid lead to the decisive battle at Midway Island?

Helpful Reading: 

Chun, Clayton K. S., The Doolittle Raid 1942: America’s first strike back at Japan., Osprey Publishing.

Posted April 26, 2017
Topics: Military

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