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Thu, Feb 12, 2009

Aero-TV: Experiencing A Legend -- The B-25 Doolittle Raider (Part 1)

The Mitchell Bomber Turned The Tide Of A World War

Of all the stories that permeate the rich heritage of the aviation world, few are as compelling and as dramatic as that of 16 B-25 bombers who launched off a pitching carrier deck to bomb Japan on April 18th, 1942. They called it the "Doolittle Raid" and it came to be the first, pivotal, air raid to strike the Japanese on their home turf during World War II.

It was a huge symbolic victory for the American war effort, proving that Japan could be vulnerable to Allied air attack. It also provided a fitting response to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. The raid was the brainchild of LTC James "Jimmy" Doolittle, who chose the mighty B-25 to launch off the Carrier Hornet, barely half a year after Pearl.

Two and a half weeks before the attack, 16 B-25s, modified to fit their unique mission requirements, their five-man crews and support personnel were loaded aboard the Hornet to steal away across the Pacific in search of the Japanese coastline. Each machine carried specially designed 500 pound bombs and had been stripped to the bare essentials, even to the point of losing their conventional bombsights since the mission would be flown at low-level and over easily targeted locations.

The bombers carried names like the Whiskey Pete, the Green Hornet, the Ruptured Duck, Bat Out of Hell, and the like. Some 650 miles from Japan, the force launched after its premature sighting by a Japanese picket boat, in small groups, running so low over the waves that some pilots reported spray on the windshields. It took just under an hour to launch all 16 birds off a miniscule carrier deck, but together, they reached Japan, dropped their munitions (except for one that got jumped by Japanese fighters and dropped ordinance early) and headed off for the "safety" of the Chinese coast where they hoped to ditch their aircraft and evade capture by the Japanese.

Some crashed, some bailed out, some barely made it to the coast, one went to Russia (where it was interned until the crew escaped in 1943), some were never seen again, some made it home, others perished in Japanese prison camps... but to a man, they all changed the course of a war -- and a nation that was still hurting after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. All 80 members of the "Doolittle Raiders" received the DFC, and an honored place in history. It was an extraordinary mission... in amazing planes, flown by true American heroes.

Some years after the surviving members came home, the Raiders sought to meet each year -- to remember fallen comrades and to honor the mission their nation entrusted to them. The main emphasis of these meetings was a solemn roll call, in which each flyer who has been lost over the preceding year is toasted and an engraved silver goblet, one for each man on the mission, is overturned in recognition of his loss. There is also a single bottle of 1896 (the year of Doolittle's birth) Hennessy cognac that awaits the last two surviving members of the Raiders. When only two remain, the bottle will be opened and a final toast will be offered to the memory of the other 78. It is an American legend of uncommon courage, sacrifice and daring... and one of the most honored missions in military history. [ANN thanks the Lone Star Flight Museum's Larry Gregory for the narrative and help in the prep of this Aero-TV program].

Aero-TV Honors A Unique Airplane And Its Place In History... The B-25 Mitchell Bomber



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