U.S. Navy - A Brief History of Aircraft Carriers: Doolittel Raid

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A Brief History of U.S. Navy Aircraft Carriers
The Doolittle Raid

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Sources: United States Naval Aviation, 1910-1970 [NAVAIR 00-80P-1]
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships

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deck of the USS Hornet full of aircraft Apr. 18, 1942 - Army Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, taking off from USS Hornet (CV 8), Capt. Marc A. Mitscher commanding, bombed Tokyo, the first American air strike against the Japanese homeland.

The plan had called for USS Enterprise (CV 6) to provide air combat cover while Hornet was to steam to where Col. Doolittle would lead the B-25s in the strike on Tokyo and other important Japanese cities. Originally, the task force intended to proceed to within 400 miles of the Japanese coast; however, on the morning of 18 April a Japanese patrol boat, No. 23 Nitto Maru, sighted Hornet. The patrol boat informed the Japanese of the presence and location of the American task force before the cruiser USS Nashville (CL 43) sank the craft. Though some 600 miles from the Japanese coast, confirmation of the patrol boat's warning prompted Adm. William F. Halsey at 0800 to order the immediate launching of the "Tokyo Raiders."

As Hornet swung about and prepared to launch the bombers which had been readied for take-off the previous day, a gale of more than 40 knots churned the sea with 30-foot crests; heavy swells, which caused the ship to pitch violently, shipped sea and spray over the bow, wet the flight deck and drenched the deck crews. The lead plane, commanded by Colonel Doolittle, had but 467 feet of flight deck while the last B-25 hung far out over the fantail.

The first of the heavily-laden bombers lumbered down the flight deck, circled Hornet after take-off, and set course for Japan. By 0920 all 16 of the bombers were airborne. Hornet brought her own planes up to the flight deck and steamed at full speed for Pearl Harbor. Intercepted broadcasts, both in Japanese and English, confirmed at 1446 the success of the raids. Exactly one week to the hour after launching the B-25s, Hornet sailed into Pearl Harbor. Hornet's mission was kept an official secret for a year; until then President Roosevelt referred to the origin of the Tokyo raid only as "Shangri-La."

Last Update: 15 June 2009