The Doolittle Raiders
It was perhaps the most audacious attack of World War II. On April 18, 1942, sixteen specially outfitted Army B-25s, each with a crew of five men, lifted off from the USS Hornet, hundreds of miles away from their targetâ€”Japan. Led by Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, these 80 men, who came to be known as the â€œDoolittle Raiders,â€ guided their bombers through hostile skies to hit military targets in Japan. The men realized this could well be a one-way trip, and in fact, all of them either abandoned their planes or went down in what could have been hostile territory. Three men died abandoning their planes, while eight more were captured by the Japanese after reaching China. Three of those men were executed, with a fourth dying of malnutrition and beriberi. One crew was held for over a year by the Soviets after landing in Vladivostok.
Still, the Doolittle Raid proved a tremendous morale boost in the early dark days of World War II, and would become one of the most legendary feats of the war. At the Ninth Annual Conference, five of the surviving Doolittle Raidersâ€”Col. William Bower, Lt. Col. Richard Cole, Maj. Tom Griffin, M/Sgt. Edwin Horton, and Maj. Gen. David M. Jonesâ€”participated on a panel to share their memories of the raid. The panel was moderated by the Raidersâ€™ official historian, Col. C.V. Glines, and consisted of questions and answers from conference attendees.
For those who bailed out, though you were prepared and warned that you might have to do this, what was it like to actually have to jump out at night over unknown territory?
Well, it was pretty simple. We were scared as hell! As you know, some people attempted to land in the water, as well as the beach, and that did not work very well. But most of us did like I did and went out the hatch, into the black.
Ed Horton, as the engineer gunner, was the only member of his plane back in the tail of the aircraft at the time of the bomb run.
I emptied the fuel tanks as we went across the China Sea. We hit the China coast and bailed out, landing without a lot of trouble.
Bill Bower had his own escape from the aircraft.
I was up front, so I just gathered the other crew members in the little alcove in the back of the cockpit, and we flew for hours until we got over China, or at least we knew we were over something other than ocean because there was land underneath. It was the middle of the night, and so I just said, â€œLetâ€™s get out of here!â€ and pulled the hatch.
One by one they jumped out, and there I was all by myself. The engines quit, so I just followed them out the hatch and landed on top of a hill. There was a tree right next to us, so I wrapped up my parachute, got under the tree, and went to sleep. When dawn came, I was happy to see that I had stayed where I was, because about 20 feet in front of me was a cliff that went down several hundred feet.
I climbed off the mountain, got down to the bottom, not having any idea where I was or what I was going to do. I walked along a path in a kind of dreamâ€¦it was very pretty country. All of a sudden I met a man who had a hat on, and he came up to me, looked at me, and he smiled. Somebody had told me that the Japanese wonâ€™t smile at you, but the Chinese will. So I smiled, and thought I was in good hands, and it turned out that I was. He took me into his house, and it was kind of odiferousâ€¦it sure didnâ€™t smell like our homes. In one corner was a little bucket that they all sat on to take care of their business, and in a similar bucket they had food. They were so kind. They fed us rice and whatever else they had and took care of us (I say us because my crew came in over a period of a few hours), then the Chinese took us to a central point and got us on a train. The Japanese harassed us the whole way. As long as we were on that train the Japanese would come by and strafe it. We would get off the train and watch them strafe it, and get back on. It was kind of a comedy scene, really, as far as the war was concerned.
Me, and my whole crew made it safely into India to New Delhi. From there I came on home; it wasnâ€™t long before I found out that Jimmy Doolittle had been promoted and selected to go to England and start the war down in Africa. So I joined him and spent the rest of the war with the 12th Air Force. It was quite a pleasure to be able to follow him.
Tom Griffin was the navigator on his aircraft and he also had to bail out.
I was, as he said, the navigator on Plane #9. It just so happened that we got farther inland into China than the others before we ran out of gas. Flying across the China Sea, the storm became much worse, and when we got to where we figured there was land, we pulled up to 10,000 feet so we would not hit the mountains in that part of China, and just proceeded westward until we ran out of gas. We were 300 miles inland. That experience of bailing out at 10,000 feet in the middle of the storm was quite an experience. I bailed out and pulled my rip cord, but the tremendous currents you have in a big storm like that just threw me all over the sky. This happened to all of the fellas who pulled up and bailed out. My chute would collapse sometimes, then it would blow over to the side and fill up with air again. I thought that I might be losing all of my air, and I was for awhile.
The first thing I knew that I was near the ground, a tree branch hit me in the face. Next I know my shoe was touching the ground. I tried to get my chute, but it was caught up in the tree, so I just unbuckled my chute and walked away. I spent the rest of the night huddled down someplace on the mountainside. The next morning, I got together with two men of my crew, and we wandered down through the Chinese countryside for that whole day, and it rained the whole time.
Late in the afternoon we went up to a farmerâ€™s house, and indicated to him that we wanted to dry our clothes, since we were so wet. We went into the house, and were standing around a big potbellied stove, when we looked up and saw there were Chinese soldiers with rifles pointing in through every window, and an officer at the door with a proclamation written in Chinese, I guess it was a warrant for our arrest. I went up to himâ€”weâ€™d been taught that if you had any occasion to talk to the Chinese you would say, â€œI am an Americanâ€ in their language. But there were so many different dialects in those days before television and radio were as prevalent that if you were 50 miles from one point the Chinese couldnâ€™t understand you. So this officer just pushed his pistol a little closer to my face.
They held us prisoner all that night and the next day they marched us down to a village about a half-mile away. Mingled in with the men who came walking out of the gates of this old village were some Caucasians in black robes; it turned out they were American missionaries headquartered in St. Louis. Of course, they identified us, and from that time on the Chinese treated us very well indeed. They helped to get all of our people together that they could over a period of weeks.
Dick Cole, as co-pilot for Lt. Col. Doolittle, recognized an order when he heard one. Colonel Doolittle said, â€œBail out!â€ So he did.
When he said the words, â€œBail out!â€ for me, that was the scariest time. Standing in an airplane that was about to run out of fuel, and looking down into that black hole they were about to throw you into, in the middle of a thunderstorm in a foreign countryâ€”but there was no alternative. My descent into China was uneventful, except for the rain. The fog was pretty thick, and we couldnâ€™t see the ground, so there was a bit of apprehension wondering how and when you were going to hit. Fortunately, my chute drifted over a pine tree and I ended up about twelve feet off of the ground. I decided I would spend the night in the tree, so I made a sort of hammock out of the chute, and spent the night there. I tried to sleep, but was a little nervous.
At daybreak, I climbed down and gathered up the chute, making it into a pack of sorts. I started off walking, and decided I was going to stick to the high country, as I thought that it would give me a lesser chance of being captured. I walked the whole day, and about dusk I came out onto a cliff. Down below there was a flag flying, so I decided to walk down there. I was accosted by a Chinese gentleman, and he smiled. So I thought maybe this was a good place. He took me into a building that had a table and a chair. On the table was a piece of paper that had a sketch of a two-tailed airplane with five chutes coming out of it. I finally got him to understand to take me where they had taken the individual who had drawn the sketch. So he took me to another building, and when I walked in, there was Col. Doolittle. So I said, â€œBoy, am I glad to see you!â€ He greeted me, and said that he was happy that I wasnâ€™t injured. Later on that evening, they brought in the rest of the crew. We were in occupied territory, and guerillas had picked up Paul Leonard, Hank Potter, and Fred Braemer. The next morning, they moved us to a place where they had a telephone. Col. Doolittle was not about to leave until he could account for the condition of every person on the raid.
We were there about eight days. When he was satisfied that he could do no more about the crews, they started to move us. In the move, we traveled by just about every means of transportation imaginableâ€”donkey, boats, and so forthâ€”and finally ended up boarding a 10th Air Force C-47. We were taken to Chunking, at the time the provisional capital of China, and debriefed. When that was over we were taken to India and re-outfitted. In my case, I went back to China.
What did they have when they parachuted? Did they have any weapons? Any food? What kind of equipment did they have when they went out of the aircraft?
When the word came for the pilots to man their aircraft, there was obviously a small panic. Everyone had their clothes at the cleaners. In the shipâ€™s store, people were loading up on cigarettesâ€”15 or 20 cartons of cigarettes. We grabbed every kind of cookie and chocolate bar we could find. Most people carried a pistol. There were no first-aid kits that I know of. We were issued a pint of whiskey, and still have the label from mine. When I jumped out, it was in the pocket of my leather jacket, and I chucked it. I happened to find it the next morning.
Did all of you jump out with your arms? With your .45s?
I had a .45 caliber pistol that my father carried in World War I. When I joined the service I somehow ended up with that. When I jumped out, I had it strapped around my waist. I held on to it all the way downâ€”I knew I had to hold onto it or I would end up having to pay for it! Anyway, I kept it and didnâ€™t need it in China at all, and carried it with me throughout the rest of the war. And I still have that .45 today.
Itâ€™s an honor to meet you fine gentleman and thank you for your service. When you left the aircraft carrier in the morning, what did you think were your odds of returning safely?
My feelings as I approached Japan were, â€œWhat a green, lush country!â€ As I approached Tokyo, my mission was to bomb the naval yard at Yokosuka. We found it, with the help of some maps we got from National Geographic. Anyway, we found the naval yards, dropped the bombs, and went back down on the deck. We kept going along the coast until we broke out into the sea. We saw a few vessels along the way, but they just waved instead of shooting at us. We kept going and climbed up over the weather, until we ran out of fuel. My impression of Japan was, â€œMy heavens! What a wonderful place!â€ It was so well manicured, and didnâ€™t look like a hostile environment. But as soon as we got to China we found out it was the opposite.
It did not appear we were going to make it to the China coast. From the time we took off in Plane #9 until we ran out of gas and bailed out, we were in the air for 15 Â½ hours. In the early hours of that, by the best calculations I could make, we were going to come about 100-150 miles short of China. But we got that tremendous tailwind about five hours up from China, which got all of our planes at least to the China coast. Ted Lawson, who wrote the book 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, was one of those who reached the coast. He put his wheels down, and they cartwheeled in.
I have always wondered, with all of the coordination between the Army Air Corps and the Navy, how successfully was the mission kept secret?
They were cautioned, of course, by Col. Doolittle not to tell anybody about the mission, and they practiced separately from everybody on the base. Davey Jones and Tom went to Washington to get maps. Maybe they had a clue as to where they were going. Were you cautioned Davey?
We went up there in February to the old War Department and they brought materials to us. They wouldnâ€™t let us go to the Library of Congress, in case somebody saw us. We were brought sectional mapsâ€”French maps, English maps, Chinese maps, and Yankee maps. They did not have time to reproduce the maps, so all we had were these black and white copies. So Tom and I took some crayons and colored in the maps, before they shipped them out to California. These are the maps that we used during the raid. So the two of us had a pretty good idea of where we were supposed to go. The rest of them got the message on the 1st day of April, when the captain announced that we were bound for Tokyo. That was the first official word we had as to where we were going. I guess the old man knew quite a bit about what we were doing.
What was it like to train with Col. Doolittle?
You must understand that in the 17th Bomb Group, we were old pros; we had been doing maneuvers for years. We knew the B-25s coming and going. And this speed-flyer named Doolittle showed up. You could have had any kind of a doubt, but in 30 seconds with him, you were sold. He didnâ€™t spend much time with us at Eglin, as he was off running around the country seeing that our airplanes were properly modified, and all of the 1,000 details that had to be taken care of. He then came to Eglin, and off we went. It was great. He was a leader with a capital â€œL.â€