Book Breathes Life into Doolittle Raid

U. S. Air Force photo - Japanese soldiers lead blindfolded Doolittle Raider Robert Hite in this 1943 photograph. The Japanese arrested Hite after the 1942 raid. He survived 40 months of captivity. He passed away on March 29 at the age of 95.

In 1945 the Army Air Forces produced the Ronald Reagan-narrated film "Target Tokyo." The movie takes the audience on the first bombing raid on Japan’s capital city by the Army Air Forces’ B-29 Superfortress bombers.

Author James M. Scott borrowed the title for his new book. Instead of taking his readers aboard B-29s, however, Scott invites them to fly on the aircraft that paved the way for those Superfortresses — Jimmy Doolittle’s 16 stripped-down B-25s. The planes, no doubt, surprised the Japanese with their April 18, 1942, raid as much as Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor surprised America.

Scott takes his readers every step of the way from the raid’s inception in Washington D. C. to the raiders’ all-too-painful return to American soil from their wrecked planes in China and prison camps in Japan.

As the Doolittle Raiders leave us — only two survive (see "Did You Know?" below left) — the author makes an important contribution to the raid’s history. He reminds us of the impact Doolittle and his 79 fellow pilots and crewmembers had on the war effort. And Scott makes it personal, introducing his readers not only to Doolittle and his men but, to the decision makers involved not only in the 1942 attack on Tokyo, but in Japan’s attack Pearl Harbor four months earlier.

He takes us to the Florida training grounds, aboard the USS Hornet at Alameda and on to Japan. Scott shares the details of life aboard the Hornet as the "flat top" plowed westward along the 40th parallel. The decision to depart early from the Hornet proved costly for the men.

Once the B-25s were airborne, the Hornet turned back and headed west, its mission accomplished. Scott then takes the reader to Tokyo aboard each of the 16 aircraft involved in the game-changing mission. The reader learns of each of the bombers’ targets, and experiences the Japanese surprise at seeing the raiders flying over their capital city. Some unsuspecting Japanese even waved at the raiders as they flew above them.

Readers learn first-hand of the Japanese leaders’ surprise at the raid and their disappointment at their country’s lack of preparation for any kind of raid over Japan. The spin doctors busied themselves in both the United States and Japan, as the cloak of secrecy unraveled and the world learned about the raid.

As he did with the raid, Scott takes the reader through the consequences the raiders faced once they accomplished their mission: from Doolittle’s fear of a court martial to crew members’ facing hunger and imprisonment. The cruelty of the Japanese at the prison camps comes through boldly, as does the surprise at the consequences the raiders’ keepers faced thanks, ironically, in part to a well-respected American general.

Almost all the raiders came home, many celebrated with Doolittle over the years, until one by one we see them go. Scott has brought all of them to life in this book that makes a valuable contribution to World War II history.

The book has special significance for Alameda readers. The raiders flew their bombers into Alameda Naval Air Station and departed from here aboard the Hornet. (Today’s Hornet is not the same "flat top" that carried the raiders to Japan; that aircraft carrier was lost at the Battle of Santa Cruz just six months after she carried Doolittle’s B-25s.)

Alameda is also the birth place of Jimmy Doolittle. He was born in a house that once stood at the intersection of Foley Street and Buena Vista Avenue. Developer George Noble moved the house just up Everett Street. It’s the only house on that small stretch of Foley with a palm tree in the yard.

Reach Dennis Evanosky at editor@alamedasun.com.

Doolittle Raid Details

 Eighty men in five-man crews piloted the 16 B-25s that bombed Japan on April 18, 1942.

 None of the bombers was shot down, but all 16 were lost.

 Crews of 11 bombers bailed out over China, including Jimmy Doolittle.

 One crew made a wheels-up crash landing in a rice paddy.

 Three bombers were ditched in the waters off the China coast.

 One bomber landed in the Soviet Union where it was confiscated and its crew detained until they "escaped."

 Three crewmembers were killed exiting their aircraft after the raid.

 The Japanese captured eight crewmembers. They executed three of them; one died of malnutrition. The others were repatriated after enduring 40 months of captivity.

 Following the mission most of the raiders went on to fly other combat missions: 10 raiders were killed in action in Europe, North Africa and Indo-China; four were shot down and interred as German prisoners of war.

 Only two of the raiders are still living: Richard Cole and David Thatcher. Two passed away this year. Edward Saylor died on Jan. 28, and Robert Hite, pictured above right, left us on March 29.