Sixty-eight years ago . . .

. . . guts, determination, innovation & courage were defined
(and well before Joint was “cool”)

Conceived in the dark aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the raid had its genesis in the idea of CAPT Frank Lowe, USN who predicted that Army twin-engine bombers could be launched form a carrier under the right conditions. Planned by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, USA and executed by 16 modified B-25B’s of the 34th BS, 17th BG flying from the deck of the USS Hornet (CV-8 ) – 650 nm from Tokyo, history was made and an enemy left shocked. The raid took place after only two months of planning and special training with 16 all volunteer crews. More on the raid itself here, here and here.

North American B-25B Mitchell

The B-25 emerged from an Army Air Corps competition that was won by Martin with their B-26 design. The contest was a novel one in that the Army would order the winning design straight into production, by-passing the prototype phase. Despite having garnered almost double North American’s score, Martin was adamant that they were not going to be able to produce the B-26 in the numbers the Army Air Corps wanted – so they awarded North American with the remainder of the contract. The B-26 was fast, rugged and could carry a significant bomb load – outstripping he B-25 in each category. It’s airframe was designed and constructed such that the ability to take punishment was legendary and second only to the B-17. Yet because of its high wing loading, the B-26 was also notable for its fast landing speeds and long takeoff requirements. The B-25, on the other hand, reached production sooner, also demonstrated a capable bomb carriage capability and, for the purposes of this mission, had take-off requirements that suited it for the carrier.

Still, when all was said and done, these were (relatively speaking) big aircraft on a small flight deck. Carriers wouldn’t see the likes of this until after the war with the advent of the specially modified P2Vs for the nuclear mission – and then those were limited to the much larger decks of the Midway-class carrier.

Armament: Six .50-cal. machine guns; 3,000 lbs. of bombs
Engine: Two Wright R-2600s of 1,700 hp each
Maximum speed: 328 mph
Cruising speed: 233 mph
Range: 2,500 miles (with auxiliary tanks)
Ceiling: 21,200 ft.
Span: 67 ft. 6 in.
Length: 53 ft.
Height: 16 ft. 9 in.
Weight: 29,300 lbs. maximum
Cost: $109,670 (1943)

Post Script:

Some number of years ago (OK, 27 years) I was standing in line at a bank in the main building of the Naval Postgrad School in Monterey, quite engrossed in some transaction I had to make. Standing in front of me was an elderly, quite dignified gentleman who also was quietly waiting his turn at the busy counter. As he approached, the teller exclaimed with considerable joy and surprise “Why General Doolittle! What a pleasure to see you sir – we see so little of you lately it seems!” Needless to say, I jerked my head up so fast I swear I’d broke my neck. Still, it’s not every day you got to meet a living legend and a very gracious and humble one at that…


Posted by SteelJaw in History
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  • Grandpa Bluewater

    “Still, it’s not every day you got to meet a living legend and a very gracious and humble one at that…”

    Class will tell….

  • Bill

    This has always been one of my favorite stories, a true-life drama to rival the best of them. The psychological impact on the American psyche –not to mention the Japanese psyche must have been enormous. I get a little choked up every time mention is made of the dwindling reunions knowing that that “last toast” to departed raiders can’t be too far away. How many are left, I wonder?

  • Byron

    I had the good fortune to talk to a retired merchant mariner that was on the infamous Murmansk convoy runs, including the terrible one that was dispersed when the Tirpitz supposedly was coming out, and got picked off one by one. The look on his face was one I’ll never forget: I’ve been through hell, and nothing will ever frighten me again.

  • Roy Beavers

    Marvelous article…… Love the photos……. How far back in USNI Proceedings do your archives reach?
    I wanted to forward this to my daughter. (She is a beginning ‘producer’ in Hollywood. LT/COL USAF Reserves: Can you forward it to her? I don’t see that choice for me on this page.) Roy Beavers, CDR USN Retired

  • Chuck Hill

    Doolittle’s life story would make a hell of a movie.

  • @Roy:

    Drop me a note offline at:

  • Chuck Hill

    Doolittle won the Schneider Cup race for sea planes in 1925. In 1931, the Bendix Trophy Race from Burbank to Cleveland, Ohio. Took the Thompson Trophy Race in the notoriously dangerous Gee Bee R-1.

    Developed Instrument flight.

    Commanded the twelfth, Fifteenth, and “The Mighty 8th” Air Force against Germany in WWII

    Shaped post War civil Aviation.

    Married to the same woman for 71 years

    Two sons that went into the Air Force, one headed Edwards AFB.

    What is seldom mentioned are the terrible reprisals the Japanese took on Chinese Civilians.

  • Charley

    I’ve always wondered if the US would attempt a similar mission today. It was a one-way mission from the start – almost a suicide mission. How many aircrews did the planners expect to survive and be recovered? Could we afford to lose today’s expensive, almost irreplaceable aircraft on a mission that had more to do with PR than tactical significance? Granted we have different tools available today, but did we consider the loss of personnel more acceptable then than now?

  • Chuck Hill

    It wasn’t supposed to be a suicide mission. Compared with some of the Heavy bomber missions in Europe the personnel loss rate don’t look that bad, and the heavy bomber crews were doing it 25 times. For truly suicidal assignments consider the first year with the Eighth Air Force or the U-boat arm that lost 33,000 out of 39,000 that served. The reason “Memphis Belle” making 25 missions was big news was because there was some doubt if it were possible.

    Contrary to the Movie portrayal in “Pearl Harbor” these were not hand picked men. Doolittle went to the only operational B-25 squadron, asked for volunteers, and the entire squadron volunteered.

    The planes were not intended to be thrown away. The intention was to launch closer to Japan. There were supposed to be lighted, marked landing areas in China, and the planes were intended to be
    used there.

    And of course they genuinely expected to do some damage. Estimates of the effectiveness of air power were wildly overblown at the time.

  • SwitchBlade

    A couple of notes:

    I almost always notice the red dot in the middle of the star on U.S. Aircraft because it does such a fine job of dating a photo. It was deleted sometime in 1942 – I used to know when. I believe the Midway aircraft had them and subsequent photos with the red dot are few if any.

    While the U.S. was still trying to abide by some sort of rules of war in April 1942, I wonder what the impact would have been of a bomb load of napalm at that time. The Japanese had already conducted “war crime” such as indiscriminate bombing of civilians in China and the allies were to later commit comparable acts (Dresden and fire bombing Japan). And as General La May proved later – Tokyo would burn. It may have had an larger impact, but probably wouldn’t have changed anything in the long run.

  • pk

    during the middle 70’s i heard general doolittle speak at a “mariners night dinner” at san pedro california. he spoke at length on the same ticket as buzz aldrin and earnest borgnine.

    it was really something seeing john wayne, jimmy doolittle, buzz aldrin and earnest borgnine getting each others autographs after the dinner.


  • Bill Wells

    Doolittle’s air crews trained at Bush Field in Augusta, Georgia. They marked off the runway to the dimensions they would see on board.

  • We cannot fail to continue to study the Doolittle Raid. The courage and committment that led to the success of this mission, especially to the American Public, cannot be overshadowed. This example is replete with some of the most creative and adaptive thinking espoused by the United States.

    General Doolittle led an exemplary life, military career, and was a sterling example of selfless leadership. His lessons on creative thinking are American through and through. An example of what it is to be an American.

  • Malcom next

    Sadly ,,Cole ,,,doolittles co pilot the last survivor