Three Myths About The Doolittle Raid
The Doolittle Raid is one of the most famous events of World War II.
It is also, on some levels, the most misunderstood
The basics are correct. Col. Jimmy Doolittle led an elite team of 80 men on one of the most dangerous missions of the Second World War. They took medium-range bombers off of the deck of an aircraft carrier, a feat that had never before been done. In revenge for the sneak attack on Peal Harbor, the Doolittle Raiders flew low over the ocean on their way to bomb Japan. The Japanese people, who had been assured by their Emperor that they were invulnerable to foreign attack, reacted in shock and horror at the terrifying daytime attack. The Doolittle Raiders then attempted to fly to China, unable to return to the ship or to American soil. Some of the Raiders survived, some were killed on impact when their planes crashed, some were captured and killed. Click here to read an exclusive account of one of the Raiders who was killed.
All of that is true.
However, the conventional wisdom of the Doolittle Raid is that it was designed by Doolittle, was merely a psychological victory for the USA that did little material damage to the Japanese, and was simply a heroic and interesting footnote to the huge war in the Pacific.
That is not true!
When we look deeper at the Doolittle Raid, we realize it was far more effective, more heroic and more important than conventional wisdom suggests. Let’s look at three myths about the Doolittle Raid.
Myth # 1: The Initial Plan For The Doolittle Raid Was The Brainstorm Of Jimmy Doolittle
Jimmy Doolittle was one of the most honorable, heroic and brilliant men ever to serve in the USA Army. His life before, during and after World War II is filled with dazzling achievement, personal courage, patriotic service and an inspiring combination of humility and integrity. He was one of the greatest pilots in the world, winning race after race, medal after medal, setting record after record. He was the first American to hold a PhD in aeronautical engineering. Doolittle was a superb teacher and leader. However, the initial plan for what would be the Doolittle Raid did not originate with him. It was the brainchild of Navy Capt Francis Low. He was a brilliant submariner with a history of bold creativity. He took the idea to Admiral Ernest King. Seeing the great possibility, he refined it with Captain Donald B. “Wu” Duncan, his aviation expert. They took the plan to Army Air Force Chief Of Staff “Hap” Arnold.
When they were convinced the plan was feasible, they turned to Doolittle. He was the only man with the experience, skill, and organizational skills necessary to lead the raid. Typical of Doolittle’s humility, he always gave credit to all the men who designed the raid and, of course, to the brave men who carried it out.
Myth #Two: The Raid Was A Psychological Victory That Did Little Material Damage
While the Doolittle Raid did not inflict the massive damage of the huge attacks against Germany, it is wrong to assume it did little material damage. A more accurate assessment would be that the Doolittle Raid did tremendous damage relative to the amount of ordinance the stripped-down places carried. Every one of the sixteen planes reached either their primary or secondary targets and each dropped all of their bombs. Among the targets that were badly damaged:
|1.||Plane||2344 – Armory Area|
|2.||“||2292 – Army Arsenal|
|3.||“||2270 – Steel, Gas, Chemical Works|
|4.||“||2283 – Oil Tank, Large Factory|
|5.||“||2261 – Factories, Residential Area|
|6.||“||2303 – Tokyo Gas & Electric Company|
|7.||“||2250 – Steel Works, Residential Area|
|8.||“||2249 – “Sakura” Refinery & Tanks|
|9.||“||2278 – Ogura Refinery, Factories|
|10.||“||2247 – Dock Yard, Ship, Crane|
By knocking out major oil refineries, cutting power to large sections of Tokyo and badly damaging important factories creating war material, the Doolittle Raid caused interruptions to the Japanese economy. Significantly, the bombs dropped by Lt. McElroy’s crew
hit an almost-completed Japanese ship, knocking it out of action until repairs could be made half a year later. The Japanese Navy dearly needed that ship and every ship they could throw into the fray as the huge battles of the Pacific (especially the Battle Of Midway, loomed on the horizon.
Myth # 3 – The Doolittle Raid Was A Minor Battle
The Japanese people were panicked by the raid. More important, the Japanese military completely misread the nature of the raid.They did not believe the bombers could have taken off from a ship. They committed a huge number of men to searching for a nonexistent USA base in China from which they assumed the raid began. While slaughtering 250,000 Chinese, the Japanese foolishly tore up airfields that they could have used! Most significantly, they presumed Japan was under direct threat of invasion or air attack. They made two key miscalculations as a result. First, they withdrew key ships and troops, relieving pressure on the British Navy in the South Pacific. Japan’s main aircraft carrier task force, led by five large, fast carriers—with its best naval aircraft and aircrews—under command of Admiral Nagumo, was recalled to Japan. Second, believing Midway Island was the source of the raid, Admiral Yamamoto made the key decision to move ahead quickly with an attack on Midway. The disastrous defeat of the Japanese at Midway changed the course of the war. From then on the Japanese were on the defensive and the Allied forces slowly pushed them back into defeat.
The Doolittle Raid, then, can be seen as a turning point in the Second World War!