It began with the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. December 7, 1941.

President Roosevelt appeared before a Joint Session of Congress the next day asking that a state of war be declared immediately. His opening words live forever: “December 7, 1941 a date which will live in infamy…..”

Early in 1942, Roosevelt met with his Joint Chiefs of Staff. Told them he wanted to bomb Tokyo. To a man, each said it could not be done for various technical reasons.

Roosevelt became inflamed and in a stern voice admonished them: “Don’t tell me it can’t be done.”

Roosevelt’s order reached fruition on April 18, 1942. Sixteen U.S. bombers took off from the deck of the carrier USS Hornet. Went on to bomb Tokyo.

Roosevelt was aware the raid would not do much damage. It was not intended to do so. Rather, it was a message to the “invincible” Japanese that it could be done. The Japanese people prior thereto had been told it was impossible.

It so happened that the Japanese had two events ongoing on April 18. One major and one minor.

Japan had ordered a full dress air raid drill for the same day Doolittle and his group would be bombing Tokyo. It was Japan’s first air raid drill. Why the drill is difficult to ascertain since they were “invincible” and it was impossible for them to be bombed.

The Japanese also had planes in the air practicing for an upcoming celebration on the Emperor’s birthday.

The Americans were unaware of the air raid drill and practice for the Emperor’s birthday as the Japanese were unaware of the Doolittle raid.

The practice air raid drill had been scheduled earlier in March. A three hour event which was to begin at 9:00 am.

Doolittle’s 16 planes came towards and over Tokyo from all directions. Such was not intended. It was a “bizarre” arrival.

The meanderings were caused by faulty instruments, hard weather, and human error. The meanderings however inadvertently turned into what seemed a stroke of genius.

The Japanese were confused as the American planes came over Tokyo. As a result were deceived about the source of the attack. Remember, the Japanese homeland was ‘invincible” and a “full dress” air raid drill had been ongoing.

It seems everyone thought Doolittle and his group were either Japanese planes in disguise and part of the air raid drill. Some mistaked the planes for Japanese ones.

Doolittle’s plane crossed over a Japanese cruiser that took no notice of his plane.

Doolittle reached the Japanese coast 11:55 am. Time is important from this point forward.

The Americans flew over thousands of Japanese country folk who waved them on their way.

In Tokyo, the three hour air drill was coming to an end. It was noon. The Japanese were taking down the barrage balloons. Vehicle and pedestrian traffic began to flow normally. The  Japanese people continued to gawk at the Japanese fighter plane umbrella overhead as it moved away from Tokyo.

At 12:15 pm, the first American bombs exploded on Tokyo.

No one was quite sure what was going on. The air raid drill planes had left 10-15 minutes earlier.

An ant-aircraft battery heard the bombing. They were confused. Thought it was part of the air raid drill. With uncertainty, fired one round in Doolittle’s direction. Then closed shop and left for the day fearing they might blast one of the Emperor’s warplanes out of the sky.

The few remaining Japanese fighters from the drill saw the American planes. They assumed they were part of the “realistic” air raid drill alert. They flew off to their bases without engaging.

As a side note, Doolittle’s rank and recognition are worthy of comment.

He was a Major. When assigned leadership of the Tokyo raid, he was immediately promoted to Lt. Colonel. Following the raid, he was skipped over Colonel and made a Brigadier General. At the same time, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

All this in less than six months.

Enjoy your day!





  1. I once heard someone ask how they planned to recover those 16 B-25 bombers when they returned to the aircraft carrier. The answer is – they didn’t. It was going to be a one-way trip. After attacking Japan, most of the aircrews flew on to Free China, where, low on fuel, the men either bailed out or crash-landed along the coast and were rescued by local villagers, guerrillas and missionaries.

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