The situation in America was looking very bleak 75 years ago. Germany’s war machine was running at full power in Europe. To the West, Japan’s war machine was looking extremely daunting as well. The devastating blow by the Japanese to the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor meant that any American attack on Japan territory would be even more difficult. It would require years of hard fought battles to even get close enough to be able to launch an attack on the Japanese islands. While bleak, the situation was not hopeless. One Army Air Corps officer named Lt Col Jimmy Doolittle had an idea. He hypothesized that a B-25 bomber could be lightened enough to takeoff on a carrier deck and have enough gas to bomb Japan before safely landing in China. This attack would strike fear into the enemy and boost morale at home. In theory, it sounded great. The problem though was that no bomber in the inventory was even remotely capable of taking off in the short operating distances of a carrier deck, nor could the planes carry enough fuel and bombs to make the attack possible.
LtCol Doolittle wasn’t deterred. No matter how many people thought he was crazy, he worked tirelessly to lighten up the aircraft enough to allow for a takeoff on such a short deck. Over time, he refined the procedures, perfected the payload, practiced the mission and won over support from superiors. On April 18th, 1942, Doolittle commanded the first B-25, launching off the Hornet aircraft carrier and flew towards Japan. The 16 aircraft that launched that day successfully dropped bombs on Japanese territory. 15 of the 16 aircraft landed in Chinese territory while one aircraft crash landed in the Soviet Union. Through his planning and with a little bit of luck, 69 of the 80 aircrew survived without being captured or killed.
While the damage done by the attack was minimal, it demonstrated that Japan was vulnerable and served as a huge morale boost back home. Doolittle’s innovative plan was the catalyst that inspired America in a time of despair. His ingenuity gave a nation hope. His leadership endures as an example of how great leaders should lead in challenging conditions–from the front. Take a moment today to recognize and remember the heroism displayed by the Doolittle raiders.