Tokyo at Dawn #1: The Doolittle Raid: January Through March, 1942

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This is the first installment of Tokyo at Dawn, an after action report created using GMT’s Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle RaidWhere a word appears in bold, it references a game mechanic or rule. Chris’ last InsideGMT article, “Walking the Distant Plain” can be found here.


ELGIN AIR FORCE BASE, FLORIDA – JANUARY, 1942

Charged with with the important, and secret task, of attacking Japan by air in retaliation for the surprise assault on Pearl Harbor, Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle went about his work immediately. He had many planning  considerations: how many aircraft? Who should be briefed on the operation on when? How do we protect the security of the mission?

First and foremost, he determined several things: (1) landing sites need to be prepared in republican China; the aircraft (the brand new B-25) would not be able to land on an aircraft carrier; (2) additional naval resources will be needed to get the launch point as close as possible to the Japanese home islands; and (3) secrecy and surprise were of paramount importance.

Assignment of diplomats

With his priorities established, Doolittle set his headquarters in Elgin Air Force Base, Florida. He would avoid use the telephone to minimize any risk of compromise. Instead, he would travel in person if necessary to brief managers and organize mission planning. He could not  even risk phone operators overhearing sensitive conversations.

He also realized he needed to speak to Admiral Nimitz as soon as possible, and penned a meeting with him for February to talk about the Navy’s assistance. Additionally, instructions will have to be wired to Ambassador Stilwell in China and Ambassador Thompson in the Soviet Union to coordinate for landing sites. The Soviet Union would only be informed of the operation in the event that China did not cooperate.

Lastly, he deliberated about the number of aircraft. He needed to balance the security risk with the size of the attack. After much internal deliberation, he settled on 16 planes. This number would also fit comfortably on the the deck of the USS Hornet with some crew training.

ELGIN AIR FORCE BASE, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY, 1942

February promised more work. Doolittle had his first meeting with Admiral Nimitz and had to also start planning modifications to the B-25s to suit the purposes of the mission.

Admiral Nimitz met Doolittle with skepticism. Doolittle did not disclose the reason why he, an Army lieutenant colonel, wanted to requisition the use of a carrier task force. Nor did Doolittle press the issue too urgently. Both men left the meeting without an agreement.

Modifications to the B-25

At a large warehouse belonging to Mid-Continent Airlines in Minneapolis, engineers and mechanics furiously worked to make specialized modifications to the fleet of Army planes that just recently arrived. Though not informed of the reasons for the changes, each man felt it his patriotic duty to assist without question. Some people speculated that the planes would be used to bomb Berlin – after all, the planes were transferred from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic.

Doolittle directed numerous modifications, including:

  • removing the Norton bombsight and replacing it with the custom “Mark Twain”, to enable low altitude bombing and prevent Japanese capture of the Norton should a plane be lost over Japan;
  • removing the liaison radio set to reduce aircraft weight;
  • improving the top turret in case enemy fighters appear;
  • removing armor plating to reduce aircraft weight further;
  • improving the ventral turret; and
  • adding extra fuel tanks to extend flight range.

Doolittle felt confident that, with preserving the element of surprise, these modifications would enable the aircraft to strike Japan in force while ensuring all the crews could return home safely.

ELGIN AIR FORCE BASE, FLORIDA – MARCH, 1942

March came upon Doolittle and his men quickly. They had a short time, only a few weeks, to train for short take offs and to coordinate mission planning with the Navy and China.

Morale ran high with the men, even with the stringent security restrictions. They were placed on quarantine and extra military police were assigned to Elgin. However, the excitement of a secret mission animated them. Doolittle had not told them their target, but it was clear they were planning to launch Army bombers from an aircraft carrier.

The several weeks spent training blew by quickly, with everyday filled with a variety of tasks, from short-take offs to practice bombingsnavigation, gunnery, and navigation. Little time remained for rest and relaxation as extensive extra training was ordered to make the men proficient for the monumental task ahead of them.

Training accomplishments at Elgin AFB

Meanwhile, Doolittle worked hard to secure the commitment of China to provide landing sites. Doolittle did not brief Ambassador Stilwell or General Chiang Kai-Shek. Chinese cooperation, however, did not prove difficult to manage: whatever was exchanged between the two governments, the Chinese agreed to assist the United States without reservation. Work was immediately started in preparing landing sites at Kian and Kweilin, with ground crews and fuel staged at both locations.

Site preparation in China

At the same time, Doolittle met again with Admiral Nimitz. This time, the Admiral proved more receptive to supporting the Army in a special mission. Without asking too many questions, the Admiral approved cooperation, and informed Doolittle that Task Force 16 and the USS Enterprise would be made available.

With much of the mission planning complete, Doolittle could take several hours to relax as March turned into April. Doolittle was confident in the steps taken so far but realized the hardest work lay ahead: conducting the raid itself.


Original Article

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