April 18, 2012 marks the 70th anniversary of the legendary Doolittle Raid that involved personal sacrifices, engineering ingenuity, human compassion, and deadly vengeance. In the several months after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Japan continued its military success with one victory after another.  In spite of the government rhetoric, because the American government didn’t appear to be able to fight back and infringe damage on Japan, the morale of the American people was very low. To his credit, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, together with the American military, proposed what at first seemed like an impossible mission: Send bombers on a surprise but non-suicidal attack to drop bombs on Japan. What resulted was the Doolittle Raid. This article discusses this “impossible” mission, and its impacts on the U.S. and China.
Mission Impossible Becoming a Reality
Everyone agreed that the best strategy was for the U.S. to unleash a surprise bomb attack on the major cities in Japan, but at first almost everyone thought that it was impossible. Japan is so far away, and the U.S. did not have any significant air base near Japan where she could station her bombers that could fly to bomb Japan and then return safely to the base.  Furthermore, the attack had to be a surprise attack; otherwise, it would be a useless suicide mission because the Japanese fighter planes and anti-aircraft guns could shoot down the American bombers before they could drop their bombs. What about having the bombers take off from American aircraft carriers? The first problem with that was that the required bombers normally used a 2,500 feet-runway for takeoff, and the carriers’ runway was less than 500 feet. Furthermore, after the bombing attack, the bombers needed to land somewhere else, because it was not technically possible for these bomber planes to land on the deck of the carrier. Another problem was that the carriers could not get too close to Japan, otherwise the Japanese fighter planes and the artillery from many Japanese naval ships near Japan could destroy the American carriers and their escorts.  The Japanese’ defense perimeter was about 400-500 miles outside of Japan. If the carriers could not get too close to Japan, then the bombers would require more fuel than the maximum fuel capacity of the bombers under their then design.
These were not trivial problems, and it took American ingenuity at its best to transform this mission impossible to reality. The Doolittle Raid mission was under the command and leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, although the original idea of using longer-range bombers flown from aircraft carriers to bomb Japan came from Captain Francis S. Low, a staff member of Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations. Colonel Doolittle was not just an ordinary pilot. He was also a top-rate aeronautical engineer, with a Masters and Ph.D. degrees from MIT. He was already famous as a record-setting long distance speed pilot, aviation engineering researcher, and a test pilot for the most advanced airplanes. He was considered by the U.S. government to be too valuable to send to the front line during the early part of WWII, instead they kept him behind the front line as a fighter pilot instructor. Since there was no nearby airfield for the bombers to take off, the mission had to originate from aircraft carriers. So Doolittle and his team formulated and practiced new ways of takeoff from runways that were shorter than 500 feet. To keep the mission a secret, the Doolittle Raid pilots never had a chance to practice taking off from an actual aircraft carrier, although during the planning stage other pilots had demonstrated its feasibility. They investigated all the available bombers and chose the B-25. They then made several modifications to the B-25’s design. To make room for three additional fuel tanks to increase its fuel capacity from 646 to 1,141 gallons, the bomber’s armament was reduced and the 230-pound liaison radio was removed since radio silence was required during the mission. Mounting steel blast plates on the belly of the fuselage was installed to protect the bombs from anti-aircraft guns. Because the mission was considered to be extremely dangerous, they chose only volunteers, and people were volunteering without knowing what the mission was except that it was extremely dangerous.
Since it was technically impossible for the bombers to land on the decks of the carriers, the plan was for the bombers after dropping their bombs over Japan to fly to and land on airfields on the east coast of China. The planners would have preferred for the bombers to land on the airfields of Vladivostok, on the east coast of the Soviet Union just north of Korea, which was several hundred miles closer, but the Soviet Union had just signed a neutrality pact with Japan in April 1941, thus ruling out this possibility. To keep the mission a secret, besides Doolittle, all the other members of the bombing crews did not even know the target or nature of their mission until shortly before their mission, except that a few sub-team leaders were informed a few days before the rest of the mission team. They were not allowed to discuss any aspect of their training with anyone, including their wives, and not even among themselves. As a matter of fact, since it was April 1, 1942 when the bomber crews went on board the carrier USS Hornet, they thought that it might be an April Fool joke. Even General Chiang Kai-shek, the head of the Chinese government, was not informed about this mission. In retrospect, this decision is debatable, because many people, including General Claire Chennault of the U.S. thought that had the Chinese government and top U.S. military leaders in China been informed, they probably could have saved most if not all of the bombers, which were destined to go to Chongqing, the wartime capital of China, to become part of the U.S./China air force in China.
The plan was for the task force  to initiate its mission when they reach about 400 miles from the coast of Japan. However, at 07:38 on the morning of April 18, 1942, while the task force was still about 600 miles from Japan, it was sighted by a Japanese sentinel boat which radioed an attack warning to Japan. The U.S. command had to make a quick decision: to cancel the mission, to continue to get closer to Japan before launching the mission, or to launch the mission then. The last option was adopted. After sinking the Japanese sentinel boat, the attacking mission began. While still about 600 miles from Japan, the first bomber piloted by Doolittle took off from the carrier at 8:20 AM, and the other 15 bombers all took off within the next hour. Because they flew off about 200 miles before their original departure point, it meant that they might not have enough fuel to reach China. Furthermore, because they departed in the morning instead of in the evening, it would be nighttime when the bombers reach the China coast, instead of the morning with daylight. To reduce the probability of detection by Japanese radar, the bombers flew just above the water line and after reaching Japan just above the tree line. Surprisingly, they encountered, relatively speaking, small amounts of anti-aircraft fire and even fewer Japanese fighter planes. Apparently even with the warning from the sentinel boat of the sighting of the task force ships, either the Japanese government was still not expecting that bombers could have flown off the carriers and bomb Japan, or there was a breakdown of communication between the navy that provided an early alert of the presence of the American task force ships and the air defense officials for Tokyo and other cities. As a matter of fact, upon seeing the bombers, many Japanese on the ground waved to them thinking that it was another practice mission by the Japanese air force. All but one of the 16 bombers successfully dropped their bombs on 10 military and industrial targets in Tokyo, two in Yokohama and one each in Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka. 
After dropping their bombs, all but one of the 16 bombers turned southwest to China’s Zhejiang Province where several airfields were supposed to be ready to guide them with homing beacons, then refuel them for continuing on to Chongqing.  It was already night time and they encountered bad weather of rain and fog. For some unknown reason, Vice Admiral William Halsey, commander of the USS Enterprise, did not send the planned signal to Washington to relay the signal to China to alert the ground people at these airfields to turn on the homing beacons. Perhaps Admiral Halsey was concerned that any communication might be intercepted by the Japanese and therefore would create additional risks for the bombers and the accompanying naval task force. The bombers did experience the luck of a tail wind after bombing Japan, thus significantly increasing their speed. Otherwise they would have surely run out of fuel before reaching the coast of Zhejiang Province. After flying for about 13 hours, the bombers reached the coast of Zhejiang Province as their fuel tanks registered zero or near zero. Without any homing signals to find the landing fields and guide their landing and encountering bad weather and no fuel to search for the landing fields, the pilots of all 15 planes either crash landed or bailed out on the coast of or within Zhejiang Province or its next-door Jiangxi Province.
Its Impact on the U.S.
After crashing his plane, Doolittle knew that all his team’s other planes would have faced the same fate. Because these planes were destined to go to Chongqing to become part of the U.S./China’s air force in China, he thought that his mission had failed, and that he would be court martialed.
Two crew members from two bombers drowned after the crash landing of their aircrafts, and the other eight were captured by the Japanese occupying army. They were trialed in Shanghai, and three of them (the two pilots and a gunner) were sentenced to a death sentence and were executed on October 14, 1942. The remaining five were imprisoned first in Shanghai and then in Nanking under extremely harsh conditions, and one of them died. Later they received slightly better treatment and were even given a copy of the Bible and several other books to read. They remained as captives until they were freed by American troops in August 1945. One of these captives, Corporal Jacob DeShazer eventually became a missionary and returned to Japan in 1948, where he served in that capacity for over 30 years. His biggest accomplishment was probably in 1950 when he converted Mitsuo Fuchida to Christianity; Fuchida was the leader of the first air wave attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. DeShazer passed away on March 15, 2008. An elderly woman missionary (who had since passed away) of my church was a classmate of DeShazer at the Pacific Bible College in Seattle.
Only one other man from another bomber died, while bailing out. All together, only seven out of 80 died directly from the mission.
Even after the bombing, since the American crewmen were still in danger of being captured or killed by the Japanese occupying army in China, this mission was not immediately made known to the American public. Later with the help of the local Chinese and Chinese military, all the remaining 64 men (7 were killed, 5 were interned in the Soviet Union, and 4 were Japanese prisoners) of the total bombing team of 80 crewmen escaped from the hunt of the Japanese occupying army and were transported safely to Chongqing.
Even though the actual damage on the Japan targets were relatively minor, the Doolittle Raid had a tremendous impact on the morale of the American people. It exhibited the spirit that America can strike back. It signaled to Japan that their own country was not a safe haven. This was part of the reason that shortly after the Doolittle Raid, Japan decided to launch a massive naval battle to try to capture the Midway Island near Hawaii. They thought that if they could deal another major blow to the U.S.’s naval forces and captured the Midway Island, then the U.S. would be less likely to have the capability to launch more attacks on Japan, and Japan could also launch additional attacks on Hawaii and perhaps even the U.S. mainland. As we know, the U.S. won the Battle of Midway in a major way, and that was clearly the turning point from a military naval point of view of the Second World War with Japan.
Just the opposite of Doolittle’s immediate assessment of the Doolittle Raid, President Roosevelt and the American military thought so highly of the Doolittle Raid and Doolittle’s leadership during the planning and execution of the whole mission that one day after his Tokyo raid, he was promoted two grades to Brigadier General, skipping past the grade of full colonel. About a month later, he also received from President Roosevelt the Medal of Honor, the U.S.’s highest military decoration. All 80 members of the Doolittle Raid received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Its Impact on China
All of the 15 bombers that went to China (minus the one that went to Vladivostok, Soviet Union) crashed in either Zhejiang Province or the next-door province of Jiangxi. Some crews landed with the crash and some parachuted before the crash. The noises from the crashes brought the local Chinese to the crash sites. Almost immediately, the local Chinese either found American crewmen or the American crewmen found the local Chinese. After some initial hesitancy and after establishing that these were Americans , the local Chinese risked their own lives to help the Americans from being captured by the Japanese occupying army. For example, a 19-year-old young Chinese woman by the name of Zhao Xiao Bao who was a recent newlywed found four members of one crew, and invited them to her house. She and her husband gave them clothes and food and a warm fire. Doolittle found a local house and knocked on the door while saying the only Chinese phrase he knew “I am an American.” But the Chinese didn’t understand him and turned off all the lights and locked the house even more securely. Only later using some other means did Doolittle gain the confidence of the Chinese to open their doors to him. The mission’s only medical doctor was separated from his medical bag when their plane crash landed. He never found his medical bag, and he regretted that very much, because inside that bag was some medicine that could have stablilized the serious injury to another crew member’s foot that resulted in the foot’s amputation.
The Japanese were actively looking for these Americans as well as the Chinese who were helping the Americans. So the Chinese had to quickly relocate the Americans to safer sanctuaries. When Zhao Xiao Bao was relocating the Americans she saved, she saw that in a nearby town, the Japanese had already burned to death all the Chinese in that town who had provided help to the Americans. However, that didn’t stop Zhao Xiao Bao from continuing her compassionate humanitarian effort.
Because these American crewmen had bombed their country, the Japanese government was especially angry at the Chinese who were helping these Americans from being captured. Japan sent a large number of army units into Zhejiang Province, and launched more than six hundred air raids to cover the advancing army. They unleashed a reign of terror, committing massacre after massacre of entire villages where the villagers (sometimes including American missionaries) had provided or suspected of providing shelter and helped the American crewmen to escape. This was reflected in one of the urgent cables sent by General Chiang Kai-shek to Washington that stated “These Japanese troops slaughtered every man, woman and child in those areas — let me repeat — these Japanese troops slaughtered every man, woman and child in those areas.” Those little gifts that the American crewmen gave to the local Chinese as token gifts for their rescue and hospitality, such as the parachutes, gloves, nickels, and dimes, would a few weeks later became the telltale evidence of their presence and led to the torture and death of their Chinese friends.
The Japanese’ vengeance was applied in a blanket manner, and did not consider whether the people they were killing had actually played any role in helping the American crewmen. For example, the Reverend Charles L. Meeus, a Belgian-born missionary living in China wrote to his Bishop “… They threw hundreds of people to the bottom of their wells to drown there. They destroyed all the American missions in the vicinity (29 out of 31); they desecrated the graves of all these missionaries; they destroyed the ancestor tablets in the various villages they went through. Cannibalism is the only terror they spared the Chinese people of Jiangxi.” In following the trail of revenge by the Japanese, Meeus estimated the number of murdered Chinese to be 25,000 just in the towns he passed through.
In addition, the Japanese military on numerous occasions in many parts of China also unleashed biological weapons of mass destruction. These weapons included anthrax, glanders, bubonic plague, and cholera. Two American medical doctors, Professor Michael Flanzblau and Dr. Martin Furmanski (who is also a medical historian), have studied and interviewed dozens of victims of germ warfare in Zhejiang Province. Based on the results of their study, Dr. Furmanski has published a paper “An Investigation of the Afflicted Area of Anthrax and Glanders Attacks by Japanese Aggressors.”  Here is a paragraph from this paper:
“We reached the villages and began interviewing the survivors of the 1942 Japanese invasion, and time and again we heard the same account. The population of most villages had fled to the countryside or hills when the Japanese approached because of the terrible atrocities they knew would occur if they remained. There were hardships while they hid from the Japanese, but the massive epidemics did not begin until the Japanese left and the Chinese returned to their villages. Then a wide variety of diseases occurred: fevers, diarrheas, rashes, and the first cases of rotten leg. The mortality was terrible: many families lost at least one member, and sometimes entire families were wiped out. Entire villages were depopulated.”
What the Japanese did before they left these villages, as documented from Japanese confessions, was to intentionally contaminate the drinking water wells and washing ponds and rice fields, and left contaminated foodstuffs for the hungry returning villagers. 
To get a larger photo, click on the above photo.
Besides biological weapons, there are still many abandoned chemical weapons in China (as many as hundreds of thousands of poison gas weapons) that were buried underground or dumped into rivers. Many have started to leak and led to civilian deaths and injuries. The United Nations’ Chemical Weapons Convention requires Japan to retrieve and dispose of these weapons, but the task is still far from being completed.
In spite of the massive and tragic inhumane atrocities of how Japan carried out its biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, including carrying out research and experimenting its use on living human captives, it is sad to point out that the top Japanese military leaders, scientists, and doctors of their biological/chemical warfare laboratories/factories, such as Unit 731 in Harbin, China, were never trialed. In his paper , Dr. Furmanski wrote “The Japanese biological attacks were quickly forgotten after the Japanese surrender. In a disgraceful agreement with the Japanese biological weapons war criminals, the U.S. offered immunity from war crimes prosecution in exchange for the scientific data the Japanese had collected from murdering Chinese citizens, as well as citizens of other countries, both in their laboratories and in field applications. The official U.S. and Japanese policy became one of denying the existence of the Japanese biological weapons program.”
The local Chinese knew about the deadly vengeance that the Japanese occupying army could and would inflict on them. Yet, to their credit they were willing to risk their lives to lend a helping hand to the American crewmen who had risked their lives to bomb Japan and crash-landed in their region. For helping the Americans who had bombed Japan to escape from being captured by the Japanese occupying army, the Chinese people suffered greatly, to the tune of 250,000 killed in this geographical region from the vengeance that the Japanese inflicted on them. These American crewmen never forgot the bravery and sacrifices of the Chinese people. Several of these Chinese helpers, including Zhao Xiao Bao, were invited to the 50th Anniversary of the Doolittle Reunion in 1992 in South Carolina as a token of appreciation for saving their lives. It is especially important to recall this historic great friendship between the American people and the Chinese people in light of the current antagonistic stand toward China of many American politicians and the mass media.
 For example, success against the Americans in Wake Island and the Philippines, against the British in Penang, Malaysia, and against the Dutch in Borneo and New Guinea, Indonesia.
 Remember that in late 1941 and early 1942, most of the coastal provinces of China were at least partially occupied and controlled by Japan, and the Soviet Union had signed a neutrality pact with Japan which would have forbidden the Soviet Union to allow such use by American bombers.
 As a matter of fact, after the take-off of the bombers, the carriers and their naval escorts had to move away from Japan to avoid being attacked and destroyed by the Japanese air and naval powers.
 The task force consisted of the carrier USS Hornet which housed the 16 B-25 bombers and their crews of five persons each (pilot, co-pilot, bombardier-navigator, radio operator, and gunner-mechanic), the carrier USS Enterprise with its fighter planes, and 14 other escort ships to provide fighter plane and artillery protection for the USS Hornet and the B-25 bombers.
 One bomber jettisoned its bombs before reaching its target when it came under attack by fighter planes after its gun turret malfunctioned.
 Zhejiang Province is located on the south-central part of the east coast of China. Airfields farther north and closer to Japan were already under Japanese occupation. One of the bombers was extremely low on fuel and landed near Vladivostok where the plane was confiscated and the crew interned.
 For example, a crew member would draw a picture of the flag of the Republic of China.
 This article by Dr. Martin Furmanski is in a collection of many articles in the book “Blood-Weeping Accusations: Records of Anthrax Victims,” by Li Xiaofang, 2005.
 For more description of Japan’s biological weapons, see the article “Japan’s Biological and Chemical Warfare in China during WWII“.
To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, Brookdale Community College (BCC)’s Center for WWII Studies & Conflict Resolution is sponsoring a program “America Strikes Back – The Doolittle Raid, April 1942.” The program is on April 17, 2012, starting at 7:00 PM, at BCC’s Student Life Center. This event is co-sponsored by the “New Jersey Alliance for Learning & Preserving the History of WWII in Asia” (NJ-ALPHA), which will have a photo exhibit of WWII in Asia. BCC charges admission of $12 for adults and $5 for students, with free admission to BCC students/staff and NJ-ALPHA members.