The Doolittle Raid of April 18, 1942 was the first US attack on the Japanese mainland during WW II.
The raid is named after its planner and lead pilot, then Lieutenant Colonel James Harold Doolittle. The need was to create some kind of propaganda victory and grew out of the technical observation by Captain Francis Low that twin-engined bombers could be launched from an aircraft carrier. Subsequent tests appeared to prove that a B-25 Mitchell could be launched with a reasonable bomb load, hit targets in Japan and then fly on to land in China.
Sixteen North American Aviation B-25Bs were loaded onto the USS Hornet, with 500 lb of bombs and extra fuel tanks but with reduced guns, they were arranged on the flight deck in the order of launch and secured. The Hornet which left port on April 2, meeting up with the USS Enterprise mid-ocean and both proceeding together with the fourteen vessel escort towards the launch point.
The 16 B-25s were launched while the task force was 800 miles from Japan rather than the desired 450 to 650 miles when an enemy patrol boat was sighted. Although the patrol boat was sunk by U.S. gunfire, it was decided to launch the planes at once in case the patrol boat had been able to radio a warning to Japan. All of the B-25s reached the Japanese islands, dropped their bombs on oil stores, factory areas, and military installations in Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya, and then headed out across the East China Sea.
However, night was approaching, the planes began running low on fuel, and the weather was rapidly becoming worse. The crews realized they could not reach the Chinese airfields and had the choice of either bailing out, ditching at sea, or crash-landing, although one plane was able to divert to Vladivostok where its crew was interned by the Russians.
When the news of the raid was released, American morale zoomed from the depths to which it had plunged following Japan's successes. It also caused the Japanese to transfer back to the home islands fighter units which could have been used against the Allies. In comparison to the B-29 attacks against Japan two years later, the Tokyo Raid was a token effort.
Following the Tokyo Raid, the crews of two planes were missing. On Aug. 15, 1942. it was learned from the Swiss Consulate General in Shanghai that eight American flyers were prisoners of the Japanese at Police Headquarters in that city. On Oct. 19, 1942, the Japanese broadcast that they had tried two crews of the Tokyo Raid and had sentenced them to death, but that a larger number of them had received commutation of their sentences to life imprisonment and a lesser number had been executed. No names or facts were given.
After the war, the facts were uncovered in a War Crimes Trial held at Shanghai which opened in Feb. 1946 to try four Japanese officers for mistreatment of the eight POWs of the Tokyo Raid. Two of the original ten men, Dieter and Fitzmaurice, had died when their B-25 ditched off the coast of China. The other eight, Hallmark, Meder, Nielsen, Farrow, Hite, Barr, Spatz, and DeShazer were captured. In addition to being tortured, they contracted dysentery and beri-beri as a result of the deplorable conditions under which they were confined. On Aug. 28, 1942, Hallmark, Farrow, and Spatz were given a "trial" by Japanese officers, although they were never told the charges against them. On Oct. 14, 1942, Hallmark, Farrow, and Spatz were advised they were to be executed the next day. At 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 15, 1942 the three Americans were brought by truck to Public Cemetery No. 1 outside Shanghai. In accordance with proper ceremonial procedures of the Japanese military, they were then shot.
The other five men remained in military confinement on a starvation diet, their health rapidly deteriorating. In April 1943, they were moved to Nanking and on Dec. 1, 1943, Meder died. The other four men began to receive a slight improvement in their treatment and by sheer determination and the comfort they received from a lone copy of the Bible, they survived to August 1945 when they were freed. The four Japanese officers tried for their war crimes against the eight Tokyo Raiders were found guilty. Three were sentenced to hard labor for five years and the fourth to a nine year sentence.
In Nov 1942 Japan began launching as many as 9,000 balloon bombs in partial retaliation for the Doolittle Raid.