Tokyo at Dawn #3: The Doolittle Raid: April 18th, 1942

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This is the third 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 two articles of the Tokyo at Dawn series can be found here and here. Another of Chris’ fantastic InsideGMT articles, “Walking the Distant Plain” can be found here.


One by one, the 16 planes of Doolittle’s squadron launched from the deck of the USS Hornet. The planned launch meant that they would be over Japan around 10:00 p.m. However, the start of the mission did not proceed without incident. The gale made take off difficult, and unfortunately, the aircraft belonging to Roloson crashed, while the botched take-off of the Third Flight resulted in higher fuel consumption. Additionally, the flights were further from Japan than expected, which meant they had to be extra mindful of their fuel levels. Fortunately, the gale also meant severe tailwinds will carry the planes for several hours and reduce fuel consumption.

Four flights enroute to Japan

The journey to Japan had some moments of rush. A Japanese interceptor appeared at 4:00 p.m. but was quickly dispatched by the expert gunnery of Farrow’s crew. At 6:00 p.m., another interceptor appeared and this one was downed by Hackney. Finally, at 8:00 p.m., all four flights arrived over Japan. The pilots could see the lights were still on in the major cities, large beacons in the darkness to guide the planes in to their targets. One more lone interceptor appeared at this time, and it too was destroyed, this time by Stinzi.

Approaching Japan

At 10:00 p.m., as scheduled, the pilots began their bombing runs. Doolittle, in Flight One, led the raid and attempted to acquire Tokyo first. But either miscalculation or poor visibility meant they arrived over Nagoya instead.

Acquiring targets in Japan; the lights are still on

As he approached Nagoya at low altitude with three more bombers behind him, Doolittle set his eyes on a target in Ise Bay: the large oil storage facility that fueled Japan’s navy. He could see it covered in lights, its round tanks and large stacks piercing the night sky. He allowed himself a brief moment of elation, realizing that all their work the previous three months have culminated in this: a total surprise attack on Japan. In a couple of minutes, after the first bombs detonated, the jig would be up and it would be time to high tail it to China.

Dropping the first munitions on Nagoya

The first detonation shattered the night like lightning and thunder, with secondary detonations setting fire to the facility. Doolittle had made the first successful bomb drop on Japan. Hackney followed close behind him, first aiming for the Mitsubishi Aircraft Factory, but after failing to find it, successfully targeting the oil storage also. Gray followed up with a strike against the steam power plant, with Jones also hitting the oil storage. All four planes managed to hit their targets and escape without an enemy response.

Nagoya battle damage assessment: 14 strikes on 3 targets

Flight Two followed just as quickly. They also attempted to acquire Tokyo first but failed. Instead, they arrived over Nagoya as well. Lawson struck first, hitting the Atsuka Aircraft Factory. Daniel followed in quick succession, devastating the same location. Smith and Watsondid not enjoy the same success. Smith tried for the Barracks and Mitsubishi Aircraft Factory, evading flak along the way. Smith finally acquired the oil storage, but missed. Watson missed the Barracks during his bombing run. As Smith left the target area, flak struck the plane’s superstructure, tearing off a wing and sending the aircraft into an unrecoverable spin. No parachutes were seen before the plane hit the ground.

Flight Three skimming across the rooftops of Tokyo at low altitude

Determined to strike TokyoFlight Three moved quickly across the city’s airspace towards the Imperial Palace, bypassing Tokyo Shipping in Tokyo Bay. McElroy successfully hits the Factory, no doubt raising alarm at the highest levels of the Japanese government. Stinzi‘s bombing run damages Tokyo Shipping and Farrow narrowly misses the same target.

Flight Four entered Tokyo’s airspace just as rapidly as Flight Three departed. HintonKlein, and Bower all miss the Factory but Hilger successfully hits the facility.  As they passed over Tokyo BayHilger could see the Japanese aircraft carrier Ryuho under construction in Tokyo Bay South. A timid flak response over the Japanese capital misses Bower’s aircraft as the American bombers disappear into the night.

Tokyo bomb damage assessment: 10 hits on two targets

Now the Americans needed to find their way to China with Japanese planes in hot pursuit.

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