Doolittle and His Raiders Pt. 1:
80 Brave Men and Shangri-la
The deck of USS Hornet (CV 8), code named "Shangri-la," pitched and rolled in the swells of the Western Pacific Ocean. Sixteen B-25B Mitchell medium bombers were preparing for a historic takeoff - 467 feet and no room for error.
The planning for the raid was the fruition of a Dec. 21, 1941 meeting, just two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, between then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"The Japanese people had been told they were invulnerable." wrote Doolittle in his autobiography "I Could Never Be So Lucky Again." "An attack on the Japanese homeland would cause confusion in the minds of the Japanese people and sow doubt about the reliability of their leaders."
There was a second, and equally important, psychological reason for this attack. ... Americans badly needed a morale boost." -Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle
Military strategists gathered intel and calculated aircraft fuel consumption - how could their warplanes make the flight to the Japanese homeland? Carriers could only get so close without being spotted and taking off from Japanese controlled Korea was out of the question. It seemed like impossibility.
In January 1942 while in Norfolk, Virginia, Navy Captain Francis Low looked at the painted outline of the deck of an aircraft carrier - used for training pilots to make the 300-foot takeoff and landing - and was struck with a brilliant, yet crazy idea. A medium bomber (named for size of bombloads it carried and distance) could make that!
Low was the assistant chief of staff for anti-submarine warfare Adm. Ernest King, and proposed his idea.
Planes for the Job and the Man to Lead It
When President Roosevelt and his staff were planning this strike on the Japanese homeland and searching for the most qualified pilot to plan and map out the raid. The men in Washington turned to Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle.
Doolittle was already an accomplished pilot and aeronautical engineer long before the war broke out. There was no question he was the man for the job, but the Army Air Corps tried to convince Doolittle he was needed in Washington during the raid. Doolittle would have none of it.
I know more about this mission than anyone else. And I know how to lead it."
-Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle
The aircraft would need to have a range of 2,400 nautical miles (more than 2,700 miles) and be capable of carrying a 2,000-pound bomb load.
Armed with a list of possible aircraft, bomber after bomber was tested and retested again and again. The B-26 Marauder's wingspan was too long and would have collided with the carrier's super structure and the wingspan of the B-23 Dragon was 50% greater than that of the B-25. It came down to two aircraft, the B-25B Mitchell and the B-18 Bolo for Doolittle to choose from. Due to B-18 longer wingspan, the B-25B was chosen to carry out the raid.