Seventy-five years ago, 16 B-25 land-based bombers took off from the US CV-6, the aircraft carrier Hornet and bombed Tokyo and other major Japanese cities. They did little material damage but the repercussions felt from their tiny pinprick against the Japanese homeland would have a far lasting impact later.

Shortly after the debacle at Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt gave the task to the military to bring the war to the Japanese and wanted their homeland bombed. The Japanese in the following months would sweep across the Pacific, taking the Philippines, Burma and were flush with victory.

Roosevelt’s order to bomb Japan was met with skepticism, how could the US launch an air attack when they had no bases close enough to launch. Roosevelt wanted a victory to stimulate the morale of the American people. The Doolittle Raid was born.

The plan was to launch land-based B-25 bombers off an aircraft carrier, something that had never been attempted. The fact that the Japanese would see B-25s over their skies would be confusing. The Chinese had no air force to speak of and the Japanese military would not expect the Americans to risk their few precious carriers to launch short-range carrier aircraft at Japanese targets so far from home.

LTC Jimmy Doolittle was picked to lead the raid. Doolittle had always been a maverick in the military, he was perhaps the only General never to have attained the rank of Captain or Colonel. When he left the active military after World War I, he was a 1LT, but when he was called back to duty, he was brought in as his reserve rank as a Major. After the raid, he was promoted to Brigadier General skipping over the Colonel rank.

Doolittle selected 24 aircrews from the 17th Bombardment Group and immediately sent them to Eglin Field, Florida where they began practicing taking off a heavily laden bomber off a short runway that a carrier would provide.

The B-25 was the best choice for the job, but they had to lighten them up a bit. The tail machine gunner was removed, and black broomsticks were put in their place. Three auxiliary fuel tanks, a collapsible 360-gallon bladder and ten five-gallon gas cans were added. The bomb load was small, just three 500-pound bombs and one incendiary cluster bomb was the payload. The Norden bombsights were removed and a specially designed one for low-level bombing was installed. Called the “Mark Twain”, it was designed by CPT C.R. Greening, USAAF.

The pilots were not told what the targets were, only that it was a dangerous mission. The only hint was that they were being trained by US Navy Lieutenant Henry L. Miller; so, from this clue, the pilots concluded they were heading to the Pacific. Many assumed wrongly at the Philippines, while Doolittle told them to keep their mouths shut, with the secrecy of the mission taking precedence.