74 Years Ago today. Wanna talk courage?
We’ve all seen the events on hollywood sound stages and Disney manufactured bulloney.
It was the climax to Disney’s 2001 Christmas season hit “Pearl Harbor”. An awful lot of propaganda has been wrapped around an historic feat that needs NO EMBELLISHMENT. Even in the middle of the war 2 hollywood, Van Johnson and Spencer Tracy layered on the bunk in only 30 seconds over Tokyo.
I am going to tell the tale as reality not psyop of ages past. One place to start is to lay out the pacific situation in spring 1942. As Col. Tex Hill put it “We were losing our ass, hat and spats around the world”. The Atlantic Ocean war against Germany was out in the open after Pearl Harbor was ravaged by a brand new naval air tactical applied by the Empire of Japan and Emperor Hirohito’s Navy. It was the Imperial Navy that conceived the massed carrier strike methodology that “no one” anticipated except them.
The US nevertheless by policy rendered the Pacific Theater to the back burner. Odd when one considers the pacific was flat being over-run by the Japanese. Java, Indochina for oil and tin that we refused the Japanese the year before to keep from feeding their barbaric Chinese conquest.
In spite of the fact that nearly all of the Pacific area except Australia and Hawaii had fallen to Japanese attack, Europe came first.
Carriers were the currency of the Pacific War. Risking any carrier was questionable. In April 1942 the US Navy had four including the brand new USS Hornet. Lexington and Yorktown were at the time in the south pacific preparing to intercept another Japanese invasion fleet bound for New Guinea in a few weeks time.
It was time to strike back for morale if for no other reason. The new USS Hornet had embarked 16 B-25B Mitchell land bombers of the Army Air Corps. This required escort and air cover to be provided by the USS Enterprise. Thus fifty-percent of the US Carriers were committed to get those B-25s within range to attack Japan.
Today few know of Jimmy Doolittle, at the time a light Colonel. He had a long history of research in Aeronautics, the instrument flights he pioneered, the hi octane gasoline he advocated for the US to adopt for its’ aircraft, he was not just another barnstormer. He raced the GeeBee 1R racers that were deadly fast planes in the 1930s, he won in those planes that proved bumblebees can fly even mechanical ones.
Jimmy Doolittle was not just any USAAC pilot. The people that volunteered to fly this mission with him knew that. He proved a loaded B-25 could takeoff from a carrier deck and more that the volunteers could do it too. That they would do it if the navy could get them in range.
Consider how combustible aircraft carriers were. At Midway the point would be reinforced by deed a few weeks later. Loaded with aviation fuel and the ordnance attending planes once ignited the carriers burned well. USS Lexington burned in early May before the June Midway battle.
Nevertheless brave folks were to do the job of taking those bombers to Japan in the face of risks real not imagined. When the task force was detected by the Japanese picket boats the morning of the 18th of April 1942 a choice and decision was forced early on the commanders. Being detected there were two valid choices. The original plan was to steam another day and launch to put the bombers over Tokyo in darkness and landing in Chinese airfields in daylight of the next morning.
They could turn and run to avoid the interception by superior naval forces unquestionably dispatched on interception/detection.
They could launch immediately to let the Enterprise and Hornet get out of Dodge. “Should I stay or should I go?” was not the question, the question was could the bombers make it to China.
Sure they could and they could land at night in undeveloped airfields in China. They went knowing it was one-way.
In the middle of hostile waters and knowing landing was a crap shoot they went. That kind of Spirit I do respect.