Tokyo at Dawn #5: The Doolittle Raid Debriefing

This is the fifth installment of Tokyo at Dawn, an after action review created using GMT’s “Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid”. Where words appears in bold, it references a game mechanic or rule.


Although most of the crew members made it to relative safety in China, not all were so fortunate. Hilger, Hackney, Gray, and Bower were captured by the Japanese military. In outrage, the Japanese government tried them for war crimes, but they were found not guilty. They will have to wait out the end of the war in Japanese captivity.

Of the remaining 11 crew members, many were wounded as a result of the rough landings. But together they managed to trek to Chungking in southeast China where they celebrated their victory and mourned their fallen and mission.

Crewmember captured by Japanese forces


The Army intensely debated the results of the raid. General ‘Hap’ Arnold was not pleased that the mission resulted in the loss of 16 of the Army’s new B-25 bombers, not to mention the loss of experienced crew. However, he was pleased with the reports about the amount of destruction delivered on Japan, particularly Tokyo. Nevertheless, he could not justify further attacks with teh amount of losses suffered and shelved any future plans for additional air raids on Japan.

The Navy thought the mission was risky for the amount gained. Although the task force suffered no losses, it did not destroy any targets of opportunity either; nor did the fleet penetrate Japan’s defenses far enough to gain any further understanding of the empire’s defensive preparations.

The Joint Chiefs were elated about what the mission accomplished and immediately published promotion orders for Doolittle to brigadier general.

Perspectives of the Army, Navy, Joint Chiefs, White House, and Japan


The mood at home was encouraged, with the raid creating a sense of relief for the American people. Newspapers and newsreels highlighted the heroism of the crews and went to great lengths to promote the idea that America was now fighting back.

Back in the White House, the temperament was more sober. The operation did not give a decisive decision about the war, and so a long, arduous journey remained ahead for the country.


In Tokyo, outrage prevailed as the highest members of the Japanese government debated who was to blame for American bombs landing on Tokyo and what to do about it. The Army ordered new offensives in China to root out the American airbases and their local collaborators. Prime Minister Tojo ordered increased air defenses installed around Tokyo and other strategic locations. The high command, to Admiral Yamamoto’s consternation, cancelled Operation MI, the plan to lure American aircraft carriers for a decisive grand battle to force a defeat upon the Americans once and for all.

Doolittle and other crewmembers in China

Dedicated to the memory of James Doolittle, his men, and all those who fought in World War II to make the world safe for democracy.


Tokyo at Dawn #4: The Doolittle Raid: April 19th, 1942

This is the fourth installment of Tokyo at Dawn, an after action review created using GMT’s “Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid”. Where words appears in bold, it references a game mechanic or rule.

SOMEWHERE WEST OF JAPAN – April 19th, 1942

Hearts racing and engines roaring, the remaining 14 aircraft made haste towards China, fearing Japanese interceptors in hot pursuit with a raised alert level. They had left multiple targets in Tokyo and Nagoya burning as dawn approached Japan. So far, the mission has been a success. Now it was time to find their way home.

Several hours of flight time still remained but fuel was going to be a problem. The planned launch point was further out than anticipated and winds had turned sour. The planes battled the crosswinds as the pilots tried to jockey for favorable position.

Making haste for China and low on fuel

Fortunately, the Japanese response never materialized and the planes  arrived over the Chinese mainland by 4:00 a.m. Flight Four, however, ran dangerously low on fuel over the Yellow Sea, forcing Hilger to ditch his aircraft in the ocean. With the landing sites so close, the pilots pushed their planes to the limit, taking a chance with the crosswinds to find a wind to their back. The intense training paid off and most of the crews managed to minimize the amount of fuel guzzled. But nearly every plane was literally flying on fumes.

Approaching China

Only the skills of the crewmen managed to keep the planes in the air for so long. The pilots not only struggled against the wind and fuel, but also against the aircraft’s mechanical problems themselves. A faulty compass made it more difficult to find the landing sites and a fuel leak heightened everyone’s alarm.

The status of the remaining aircraft

However, not every crew managed to make it to the landing sites. Four more planes ran out of fuel, with McElroy and Farrow ditching in Shanghai, and Hackney and Gray doing the same in China.

Farrow approaching the coast of China near Shanghai

Another misfortune struck the squadron. Without explanation, the landing site beacons disappeared, probably by removed by locals for one reason or another. This made it difficult to acquire the landing sites. Out of fuel and with no way to find the landing sites in the vastness of the Chinese mainland, the decision was made to ditch all the planes together.

At 6:00 a.m., just as the sun was rising over the horizon, the remainder of the crews ditched their aircraft in China: Doolittle, Jones, Lawson, Daniel, Watson, Hinman, Klein, and Bower.

Crews scattered throughout China

Stepping out of his wrecked B-25, its landing gear destroyed in the rough landing in a Chinese patty, Doolittle felt as sense of relief. He never felt so good being back on the ground. His fellow crew-members approached him, the rising sun shining on their faces; grins appearing all around. They had survived. Now, only two questions remained: how do get back home? Was the risk and loss worth it?

Tokyo at Dawn #3: The Doolittle Raid: April 18th, 1942

This is the third installment of Tokyo at Dawn, an after action review created using GMT’s “Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid”. Where words appears in bold, it references a game mechanic or rule.


One by one, the 16 planes of Doolittle’s squadron launched from the deck of the USS Hornet. The planned launch meant that they would be over Japan around 10:00 p.m. However, the start of the mission did not proceed without incident. The gale made take off difficult, and unfortunately, the aircraft belonging to Roloson crashed, while the botched take-off of the Third Flight resulted in higher fuel consumption. Additionally, the flights were further from Japan than expected, which meant they had to be extra mindful of their fuel levels. Fortunately, the gale also meant severe tailwinds will carry the planes for several hours and reduce fuel consumption.

Four flights enroute to Japan

The journey to Japan had some moments of rush. A Japanese interceptor appeared at 4:00 p.m. but was quickly dispatched by the expert gunnery of Farrow’s crew. At 6:00 p.m., another interceptor appeared and this one was downed by Hackney. Finally, at 8:00 p.m., all four flights arrived over Japan. The pilots could see the lights were still on in the major cities, large beacons in the darkness to guide the planes in to their targets. One more lone interceptor appeared at this time, and it too was destroyed, this time by Stinzi.

Approaching Japan

At 10:00 p.m., as scheduled, the pilots began their bombing runs. Doolittle, in Flight One, led the raid and attempted to acquire Tokyo first. But either miscalculation or poor visibility meant they arrived over Nagoya instead.

Acquiring targets in Japan; the lights are still on

As he approached Nagoya at low altitude with three more bombers behind him, Doolittle set his eyes on a target in Ise Bay: the large oil storage facility that fueled Japan’s navy. He could see it covered in lights, its round tanks and large stacks piercing the night sky. He allowed himself a brief moment of elation, realizing that all their work the previous three months have culminated in this: a total surprise attack on Japan. In a couple of minutes, after the first bombs detonated, the jig would be up and it would be time to high tail it to China.

Dropping the first munitions on Nagoya

The first detonation shattered the night like lightning and thunder, with secondary detonations setting fire to the facility. Doolittle had made the first successful bomb drop on Japan. Hackney followed close behind him, first aiming for the Mitsubishi Aircraft Factory, but after failing to find it, successfully targeting the oil storage also. Gray followed up with a strike against the steam power plant, with Jones also hitting the oil storage. All four planes managed to hit their targets and escape without an enemy response.

Nagoya battle damage assessment: 14 strikes on 3 targets

Flight Two followed just as quickly. They also attempted to acquire Tokyo first but failed. Instead, they arrived over Nagoya as well. Lawson struck first, hitting the Atsuka Aircraft Factory. Daniel followed in quick succession, devastating the same location. Smith and Watson did not enjoy the same success. Smith tried for the Barracks and Mitsubishi Aircraft Factory, evading flak along the way. Smith finally acquired the oil storage, but missed. Watson missed the Barracks during his bombing run. As Smith left the target area, flak struck the plane’s superstructure, tearing off a wing and sending the aircraft into an unrecoverable spin. No parachutes were seen before the plane hit the ground.

Flight Three skimming across the rooftops of Tokyo at low altitude

Determined to strike Tokyo, Flight Three moved quickly across the city’s airspace towards the Imperial Palace, bypassing Tokyo Shipping in Tokyo Bay. McElroy successfully hits the Factory, no doubt raising alarm at the highest levels of the Japanese government. Stinzi‘s bombing run damages Tokyo Shipping and Farrow narrowly misses the same target.

Flight Four entered Tokyo’s airspace just as rapidly as Flight Three departed. Hinton, Klein, and Bower all miss the Factory but Hilger successfully hits the facility.  As they passed over Tokyo Bay, Hilger could see the Japanese aircraft carrier Ryuho under construction in Tokyo Bay South. A timid flak response over the Japanese capital misses Bower’s aircraft as the American bombers disappear into the night.

Tokyo bomb damage assessment: 10 hits on two targets

Now the Americans needed to find their way to China with Japanese planes in hot pursuit.

Tokyo at Dawn #2: The Doolittle Raid: April, 1942

This is the second installment of Tokyo at Dawn, an after action review created using GMT’s “Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid”. Where words appears in bold, it references a game mechanic or rule.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – April, 1942

With crew training complete in the previous month, Doolittle now planned to move his team and their modified B-25 bombers from Elgin Air Force Base, Florida back to the Pacific coast. They would be departing from the Port of Alameda in the San Francisco Bay.

The circle of planners had expanded to include the Navy’s liaison team. Together, Doolittle and the Navy staff set the planned rendezvous point for the naval task forces and the planned launch point to set loose the aircraft on Japan.

Thus far, the mission has had a wave of luck. One plane was damaged in transit, but quickly repaired. Secrecy had been protected with a minimal security risk (13). And even though dismaying news had arrived from China that Japanese forces attacked a potential landing site at Yushan, it did not disrupt the forward deployed ground crews and fuel. The long training regimen did delay the Task Force departure from San Francisco, but Doolittle was confident that he still retained the element of surprise.

As the task force departed San Francisco and made for sea on April 2nd, 1942, Doolittle could feel a mix of elation and anxiety. Would this be the last time his men see America?

Passing under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA

Task Force 18 made quick speed for the rendezvous point just east of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The calm seas facilitated safe and, for an Army soldier, fairly comfortably trip. As the days passed by, typical military problems arose. Several ships suffered mechanical distress but their quick thinking crews kept the boats operational. The task force finally made the rendezvous point on the planned date of April 10th, 1942. Trouble finally met the Doolittle mission.

TF-18 reaching the rendezvous point with TF-16

Because of the delayed departure of the Task Force, and the use of radio silence to keep the secrecy of the mission, Task Force 16 was nowhere to be seen. A day of patrols were spent seeking to make visual contact, but the rendezvous failed. A heated debate erupted among the leadership about breaking radio silence to coordinate the link-up; finally, a decision was made and radio silence was broken, leading to a successful rendezvous. However, Doolittle was concerned if the Japanese were alerted by the unusual radio communications.

TF-18 and TF-16 successfully rendezvous

Doolittle’s concern was quickly escalated into alarm when several days later a Japanese I-Boat attacked the destroyer USS Monssen. Somehow the enemy submarine had detected the task force and fired upon the Monssen. However, the sharp eyes of the watch-standers on board the destroyer alerted the ship in time to make evasive maneuvers, and it successfully fought off the I-Boat. The Japanese ship disappeared. The crew, briefed about their true target, were on edge. Were more attacks to come?

TF-16 reaches the launch point, on April 18th, 1942

As the Task Force entered into the waters controlled by the Japanese Empire, everyone was fully alert. At any moment, the mission could be compromised. A submarine or boat plane, or a fishing vessel could appear over the horizon and report the presence of a large American fleet steaming towards Japan. Fortunately, Task Force arrived at the planned launch point without obstruction. The crews readied and steeled themselves. Doolittle tied a Japanese friendship medal to the ordinance to be loaded on his plane.

Doolittle leads the attack and launches from the USS Hornet, 18 April, 1942

On April 18th, 1942, the men boarded their planes. One by one, the engines roared to life. Navy personnel watched from the conning tower. It was now time to take the war to Japan.

Tokyo at Dawn #1: The Doolittle Raid: January through March, 1942

This is the first installment of Tokyo at Dawn, an after action review created using GMT’s “Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid”. Where words appears in bold, it references a game mechanic or rule.


Charged with with the important, and secret task, of attacking Japan by air in retaliation for the surprise assault on Pearl Harbor, Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle went about his work immediately. He had many planning  considerations: how many aircraft? Who should be briefed on the operation on when? How do we protect the security of the mission?

First and foremost, he determined several things: (1) landing sites need to be prepared in republican China; the aircraft (the brand new B-25) would not be able to land on an aircraft carrier; (2) additional naval resources will be needed to get the launch point as close as possible to the Japanese home islands; and (3) secrecy and surprise were of paramount importance.

Assignment of diplomats

With his priorities established, Doolittle set his headquarters in Elgin Air Force Base, Florida. He would avoid use the telephone to minimize any risk of compromise. Instead, he would travel in person if necessary to brief managers and organize mission planning. He could not  even risk phone operators overhearing sensitive conversations.

He also realized he needed to speak to Admiral Nimitz as soon as possible, and penned a meeting with him for February to talk about the Navy’s assistance. Additionally, instructions will have to be wired to Ambassador Stilwell in China and Ambassador Thompson in the Soviet Union to coordinate for landing sites. The Soviet Union would only be informed of the operation in the event that China did not cooperate.

Lastly, he deliberated about the number of aircraft. He needed to balance the security risk with the size of the attack. After much internal deliberation, he settled on 16 planes. This number would also fit comfortably on the the deck of the USS Hornet with some crew training.


February promised more work. Doolittle had his first meeting with Admiral Nimitz and had to also start planning modifications to the B-25s to suit the purposes of the mission.

Admiral Nimitz met Doolittle with skepticism. Doolittle did not disclose the reason why he, an Army lieutenant colonel, wanted to requisition the use of a carrier task force. Nor did Doolittle press the issue too urgently. Both men left the meeting without an agreement.

Modifications to the B-25

At a large warehouse belonging to Mid-Continent Airlines in Minneapolis, engineers and mechanics furiously worked to make specialized modifications to the fleet of Army planes that just recently arrived. Though not informed of the reasons for the changes, each man felt it his patriotic duty to assist without question. Some people speculated that the planes would be used to bomb Berlin – after all, the planes were transferred from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic.

Doolittle directed numerous modifications, including:

o removing the Norton bombsight and replacing it with the custom “Mark Twain”, to enable low altitude bombing and prevent Japanese capture of the Norton should a plane be lost over Japan;

o removing the liaison radio set to reduce aircraft weight;

o improving the top turret in case enemy fighters appear;

o removing armor plating to reduce aircraft weight further;

o improving the ventral turret; and

o adding extra fuel tanks to extend flight range.

Doolittle felt confident that, with preserving the element of surprise, these modifications would enable the aircraft to strike Japan in force while ensuring all the crews could return home safely.


March came upon Doolittle and his men quickly. They had a short time, only a few weeks, to train for short take offs and to coordinate mission planning with the Navy and China.

Morale ran high with the men, even with the stringent security restrictions. They were placed on quarantine and extra military police were assigned to Elgin. However, the excitement of a secret mission animated them. Doolittle had not told them their target, but it was clear they were planning to launch Army bombers from an aircraft carrier.

The several weeks spent training blew by quickly, with everyday filled with a variety of tasks, from short-take offs to practice bombings, navigation, gunnery, and navigation. Little time remained for rest and relaxation as extensive extra training was ordered to make the men proficient for the monumental task ahead of them.

Training accomplishments at Elgin AFB

Meanwhile, Doolittle worked hard to secure the commitment of China to provide landing sites. Doolittle did not brief Ambassador Stilwell or General Chiang Kai-Shek. Chinese cooperation, however, did not prove difficult to manage: whatever was exchanged between the two governments, the Chinese agreed to assist the United States without reservation. Work was immediately started in preparing landing sites at Kian and Kweilin, with ground crews and fuel staged at both locations.

Site preparation in China

At the same time, Doolittle met again with Admiral Nimitz. This time, the Admiral proved more receptive to supporting the Army in a special mission. Without asking too many questions, the Admiral approved cooperation, and informed Doolittle that Task Force 16 and the USS Enterprise would be made available.

With much of the mission planning complete, Doolittle could take several hours to relax as March turned into April. Doolittle was confident in the steps taken so far but realized the hardest work lay ahead: conducting the raid itself.