Seventy years ago, on April 18, 1942, the U.S. launched its first-ever air raid against Japan, led by Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle from the aircraft carrier Hornet. In a top-secret operation, 16 B-25Bs, representing the latest bomber technology, were loaded onto the Hornet in Alameda, Calif., on April 2, and headed across the Pacific. After encountering a Japanese patrol boat, the airplanes launched earlier than planned -- 650 nm from the Japanese mainland. None of the airplanes made it back, but of the 80 crewmen, all but four eventually returned home. This week, the five surviving Doolittle Raiders were honored at the Gathering of B-25s at Grimes Field in Urbana, Ohio. The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio, is hosting commemorative events through Friday.
The scheduled museum events include a flyover of the bombers on Wednesday and several banquets, educational programs, films, and autograph sessions. The raid has been called a turning point in the war. According to the Naval History & Heritage Command: "Though conceived as a diversion that would also boost American and allied morale, the raid generated strategic benefits that far outweighed its limited goals." Most of the B-25s attacked the Tokyo area. "Damage to the intended military targets was modest," says the Navy, "however, the Japanese high command was deeply embarrassed." Japanese military leaders resolved to eliminate the risk of any more such raids by the early destruction of U.S. aircraft carriers, "a decision that led them to disaster at the Battle of Midway a month and a half later," says the Navy.