Today in History, April 18, 1942:
A US Navy Task Force including aircraft carriers USS Hornet (CV-8) and USS Enterprise (CV-6) carries US Army Air Corps Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, his force of 16 twin engine B-25 Mitchell medium bombers and their crews to within 600 miles of the Japanese coast.
The intent was to get within 400 miles, but Japanese picket boats were encountered and the launch had to be made early lest the two American carriers (half of the carriers in the Pacific at that point) be destroyed by counter-attack.
Hornet carried the bombers, Enterprise provided cover with her planes. Doolittle’s men bombed their targets, made it across Japan’s defenses unscathed, but then had to crash land either in the sea or in China. Some made their way to safety with the assistance of Chinese resistance fighters; some were murdered by their Japanese captors.
When announcing the attack, which had a huge impact on American morale, President Roosevelt said the planes were launched from the new American base at “Shangri-la”, a reference to the 1933 novel Lost Horizon.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, their forces had “swept the board” for months in the Pacific; this attack was needed to show the Japanese, and the world, that they were “touchable”.
The raid was a major influence on the Japanese command to go ahead with Operation MI…the invasion of Midway Island. The purpose for that operation was to draw out and destroy the American fleet.