Tokyo at Dawn #2: The Doolittle Raid: April, 1942

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This is the second 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. The first article of the Tokyo at Dawn series can be found here. Another of Chris’ fantastic InsideGMT articles, “Walking the Distant Plain” can be found here.


SAN FRANCISCO, CA – April, 1942

With crew training complete in the previous month, Doolittle now planned to move his team and their modified B-25 bombers from Elgin Air Force Base, Florida, back to the Pacific coast. They would be departing from the Port of Alameda in the San Francisco Bay.

The circle of planners had expanded to include the Navy’s liaison team. Together, Doolittle and the Navy staff set the planned rendezvous point for the naval task forces and the planned launch point to set loose the aircraft on Japan.

Thus far, the mission has had a wave of luck. One plane was damaged in transit, but quickly repaired. Secrecy had been protected with a minimal security risk (13). And even though dismaying news had arrived from China that Japanese forces attacked a potential landing site at Yushan, it did not disrupt the forward deployed ground crews and fuel. The long training regimen did delay the Task Force departure from San Francisco, but Doolittle was confident that he still retained the element of surprise.

As the task force departed San Francisco and made for sea on April 2nd, 1942, Doolittle could feel a mix of elation and anxiety. Would this be the last time his men see America?

Passing under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA

Task Force 18 made quick speed for the rendezvous point just east of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The calm seas facilitated a safe and, for an Army soldier, fairly comfortable trip. As the days passed by, typical military problems arose. Several ships suffered mechanical distress but their quick thinking crews kept the boats operational. The task force finally made the rendezvous point on the planned date of April 10th, 1942. Trouble finally met the Doolittle mission.

TF-18 reaching the rendezvous point with TF-16

Because of the delayed departure of the Task Force, and the use of radio silence to keep the secrecy of the mission, Task Force 16 was nowhere to be seen. A day of patrols were spent seeking to make visual contact, but the rendezvous failed. A heated debate erupted among the leadership about breaking radio silence to coordinate the link-up; finally, a decision was made and radio silence was broken, leading to a successful rendezvous. However, Doolittle was concerned that the Japanese might have been alerted by the unusual radio communications.

TF-18 and TF-16 successfully rendezvous

Doolittle’s concern was quickly escalated into alarm when several days later a Japanese I-Boat attacked the destroyer USS Monssen. Somehow the enemy submarine had detected the task force and fired upon the Monssen. However, the sharp eyes of the watch-standers on board the destroyer alerted the ship in time to make evasive maneuvers, and it successfully fought off the I-Boat. The Japanese ship disappeared. The crew, briefed about their true target, were on edge. Were more attacks to come?

TF-16 reaches the launch point, on April 18th, 1942

As the Task Force entered into the waters controlled by the Japanese Empire, everyone was fully alert. At any moment, the mission could be compromised. A submarine or boat plane or a fishing vessel could appear over the horizon and report the presence of a large American fleet steaming towards Japan. Fortunately, Task Force arrived at the planned launch point without obstruction. The crews readied and steeled themselves. Doolittle tied a Japanese friendship medal to the ordinance to be loaded on his plane.

Doolittle leads the attack and launches from the USS Hornet, 18 April, 1942

On April 18th, 1942, the men boarded their planes. One by one, the engines roared to life. Navy personnel watched from the conning tower. It was now time to take the war to Japan.


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