Tag Archives: Bomber

21 May 1956

Major David Crichlow, USAF, Aircraft Commander, Barbara Grace, 21 May 1956. (LIFE photograph via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Major David M. Critchlow, U.S. Air Force, Aircraft Commander, in the cockpit of another aircraft, B-52B-30-BO Stratofortress 53-383. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

21 May 1956: The second test of the OPERATION REDWING series was REDWING CHEROKEE.

A B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 4925th Test Group (Atomic), Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico, took off from Eniwetok Island (“Fred Island”), the main island of Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The aircraft commander was Major David M. Critchlow, United States Air Force. Other members of the bomber’s crew were Major Charles T. Smith, pilot; Major Dwight E. Durner, bombardier; Major Floyd A. Amundson, navigator; Lieutenant William R. Payne, timer; Sergeant Richard N. Bingham, radar technician. Colonel Paul R. Wignaff was an official observer.

Boeing RB-52B Stratofortress 52-013
Boeing RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress 52-013, Barbara Grace. (The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History)

The bomber, named Barbara Grace, was a Boeing RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress, serial number 52-013. In its bomb bay was a TX-15-X1 two-stage radiation implosion thermonuclear bomb, weighing 6,867 pounds (3,114.9 kilograms). The bomb was approximately 136 inches long (3.454 meters), with a diameter of 34.5 inches (0.876 meters). The target was a point on Namu Island, Bikini Atoll, also in the Marshall Islands.

Major Critchlow’s wife was named Barbara, and his mother, Grace. The B-52 was named Barbara Grace in their honor.

This Mark 15 nuclear bomb is similar to the TX-15-X1 used in Redwing Cherokee.
This Mark 15 nuclear bomb is similar to the TX-15-X1 used in REDWING CHEROKEE.

     “CHEROKEE was the first test at Bikini, a test event called for by DOD, and the only shot of the series not expressly for weapons development. The shot was rather a demonstration that the United States could air-deliver multimegaton-yield thermonuclear weapons using B-52 jet bombers. The device, designed and developed by Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (LASL), was airdropped from a B-52 and exploded at a height of 5,000 feet (1.5 km) above Nam on 21 May 1956. Although a demonstration, the shot provided a large-yield burst well above the surface, and it was therefore of considerable interest for airblast effects experiments. However, the explosion was considerably off target, lessening its value.”

OPERATION REDWING 1956, DNA 6037F, by S. Bruce-Henderson, et al., Defense Nuclear Agency, Chapter 4 at Page 177

Flying at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters), the aircrew misidentified an observation facility on a different island for their targeting beacon. The bomb missed Namu Island by 4 miles (6.4 kilometers), detonating at 4,350 feet (1,325 meters) over the open ocean to the northeast at 0551 hours, local time (1751 GMT). The explosive force of the TX-15 was rated at 3.8 megatons, but because of the error in targeting, most of the test data was lost.

Redwing Cherokee target, Namu Island, Bikini Atoll, May 1956.
Redwing Cherokee target, Namu Island, Bikini Atoll, May 1956.

The REDWING CHEROKEE test was the first time that a thermonuclear weapon had been dropped from an airplane.

Redwing Cherokee fireball (Wikipedia)
Redwing Cherokee fireball, 0551 hours, 21 May 1956. (Wikipedia)
Redwing Cherokee
Redwing Cherokee condensation rings.

David Madison Critchlow was born at Durkee, Oregon, 17 February 1920, the fourth of six children of J. Ralph Critchlow, a farmer, and Estella Grace Culbertson Critchlow. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a private, 3 December 1942. He was assigned as an aviation cadet, and commissioned a 2nd lieutenant, Army of the United States, 27 June 1944. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant, 18 March 1946. He served in the Air Force during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

David Critchlow married Miss Lorraine Calhoun, 9 January 1943. He later married Miss Barbara N. Oder, 9 July 1950. They would have five children.

Major Critchlow, assigned to Detachment 1, 24th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, 6th Strategic Wing deployed to Shemya, Alaska, 31 December 1961 with Nancy Rae, a top secret Rivet Ball strategic reconnaissance RC-135S, 59-1491.¹

Colonel Critchlow would later command the 6512 Test Group at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1 October 1969–29 July 1970. He retired form the U.S. Air Force 1 August 1974.

Colonel David M. Critchlow died 11 December 2002 at the age of 81 years. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Fifty B-52Bs were built by Boeing at Seattle, Washington. Twenty-seven of these were RB-52B reconnaissance bombers. They were designed to accept a pressurized electronic and photo recon capsule with a two-man crew that completely filled the bomb bay. Without the capsule aboard, they were capable of the same bombing missions as their sister B-52Bs. The change could be made within a few hours.

The B-52B/RB-52B was operated by a six-man flight crew for the bombing mission, and eight for reconnaissance. These were the aircraft commander/pilot, co-pilot, navigator, radar navigator/bombardier, electronic warfare officer and gunner, plus two reconnaissance technicians when required.

The airplane was 156 feet, 6.9 inches (47.724 meters) long with a wingspan of 185 feet, 0 inches (56.388 meters) and overall height of 48 feet, 3.6 inches (14.722 meters). The wings were mounted high on the fuselage (“shoulder-mounted”) to provide clearance for the engines which were suspended on pylons. The wings’ leading edges were swept 35°. The bomber’s empty weight was 164,081 pounds (74,226 kilograms), with a combat weight of 272,000 pounds (123,377 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 420,000 pounds (190,509 kilograms).

Early production B-52Bs were powered by eight Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp J57-P-1W engines, while later aircraft were equipped with J57-P-19W and J57-P-29W or WA turbojets. The engines were grouped in two-engine pods on four under-wing pylons. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). These engines were rated at 10,500 pounds of thrust (46.71 kilonewtons), each, or 12,100 pounds (53.82 kilonewtons) with water injection.

The B-52B had a cruise speed of 523 miles per hour (842 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed varied with altitude: 630 miles per hour (1,014 kilometers per hour) at 19,800 feet (6,035 meters), 598 miles per hour (962 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and 571 miles per hour (919 kilometers per hour) at 45,750 feet (13,945 meters). The service ceiling at combat weight was 47,300 feet (14,417 meters).

Maximum ferry range was 7,343 miles (11,817 kilometers). With a 10,000 pound (4,536 kilogram) bomb load, the B-52B had a combat radius of 3,590 miles (5,778 kilometers). With inflight refueling, the range was essentially world-wide.

Defensive armament consisted of four Browning Aircraft Machine Guns, Caliber .50, AN-M3, mounted in a tail turret with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun. These guns had a combined rate of fire in excess of 4,000 rounds per minute. 52-013 was one of eighteen RB-52Bs equipped with two M24A1 20 mm autocannon in the tail turret in place of the standard four .50-caliber M3 machine guns.

The B-52B’s maximum bomb load was 43,000 pounds (19,505 kilograms). It could carry a 15-megaton Mark 17 thermonuclear bomb, or two Mark 15s, each with a maximum yield of 3.8 megatons.

Boeing manufactured 744 B-52 Stratofortress bombers, with the final one rolled out at Wichita, Kansas, 22 June 1962. As of 27 September 2016, 77 B-52H bombers remain in service with the United States Air Force.

RB-52B-10-BO 52-013 was delivered directly to Kirtland Air Force Base, 29 April 1955. In addition Operation Redwing, 52-013 also participated in Operation Dominic in 1962, which involved 24 air drops from B-52 bombers. The airplane carried the name Deterrent I painted on its nose, but flew missions with the call sign “Cow Slip Two.”

This individual airplane has dropped more than a dozen live nuclear bombs during weapons testing. Withdrawn from service in 1963, 52-013 was transferred to the National Atomic Museum (now, the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History) at Kirtland in 1971, where it is soon to be restored.

Boeing RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress 52-013 awaits restoration at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. (KAFB Nucleus)
Boeing RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress 52-013 awaits restoration at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. (KAFB Nucleus)

¹ See: “A Tale of Two Airplanes,” by Lieutenant Colonel Kingdon R. Hawes, USAF (Ret) at http://www.rc135.com/0000/INDEX.HTM

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 May 1942

B-24E-1-FO Liberator 42-6976, the first B-24 heavy bomber to come off the assembly line at Willow Run, 15 May 1942. (The Henry Ford THF25680 Ford Motor Co. Willow Run Bomber Plant)
B-24E-1-FO Liberator 42-6976, the first B-24 heavy bomber to come off the assembly line at Willow Run, 15 May 1942. (The Henry Ford THF25680 Ford Motor Co. Willow Run Bomber Plant)

15 May 1942: The first Ford-built B-24 Liberator long range heavy bomber came off the assembly line at the Willow Run Airplane Plant, just 160 days after the United States entered World War II. 6,971 B-24s more would follow, along with assembly kits for another 1,893, before production came to an end, 28 June 1945.

The first Ford-built B-24 Liberator in final assembly at the Willow Run Airplane Plant, 12 May 1942. (Ford)
The first Ford-built B-24 Liberator in final assembly at the Willow Run Airplane Plant, 12 May 1942. (Ford)
B-24E-1-FO Liberator 42-6976, the first B-24 heavy bomber to come off the assembly line at Willow Run, 15 May 1942. (The Henry Ford THF25680 Ford Motor Co. Willow Run Bomber Plant)
B-24E-1-FO Liberator 42-6976, the first B-24 heavy bomber to come off the assembly line at Willow Run, 15 May 1942. (The Henry Ford THF25680 Ford Motor Co. Willow Run Bomber Plant)
Willow Run
The Ford Motor Company Willow Run Airplane Plant

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 May 1938

U.S. Army Air Corps YB-17 Flying Fortresses numbers 80 and 82 fly alongside SS Rex, 620 nautical miles east of Sandy Hook, 12 May 1938. (Photograph by Major George W. Goddard, U.S. Army Air Corps)

12 May 1938: Three Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine bombers of the 49th Bombardment Squadron, 2nd Bombardment Group, departed Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York in heavy rain and headed eastward over the Atlantic Ocean. Their mission, assigned by Major General Frank M. Andrews, commanding General Headquarters, U.S. Army Air Corps, was to locate and photograph the Italian passenger liner, S.S. Rex, then on a transatlantic voyage to New York City. The purpose was to demonstrate the capabilities and effectiveness of long-range bombers.

Boeing YB-17 Flying Fortress 36-151, 42nd Bombardment Squadron, 2nd Bombardment Group, Number 80, in flight over New York City, 28 March 1937. The Art Deco skyscraper behind the bomber is the Chrysler Building, 1,046 feet (319 meters) tall.  (American Air Museum in Britain)

The flight was led by Major Caleb Vance Haynes, commanding officer of the 49th Bombardment Squadron, flying B-17 number 80. The 2nd Bomb Group commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Olds, was aboard Haynes’ B-17, along with an NBC radio crew to broadcast news of the interception live across the country. Reporters from the New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune were aboard the other airplanes.

1st Lieutenant Curtis Emerson LeMay, Air Corps, United States Army.

The planning of the interception and in-flight navigation was performed by First Lieutenant Curtis E. LeMay. Position reports from SS Rex were obtained and forwarded to LeMay as the aircraft were taxiing for takeoff.

The flight departed Mitchel Field at 8:45 a.m. They encountered heavy rain, hail, high winds and poor visibility, but at 12:23 p.m., the Flying Fortresses broke out of a squall line and the passenger liner was seen directly ahead. They flew alongside the ship at 12:25 p.m., 620 nautical miles (1,148.24 kilometers) east of Sandy Hook, New York. They were exactly on the time calculated by Lieutenant LeMay.

The B-17s made several passes for still and motion picture photography while NBC broadcast the event.

Colonel Olds would rise to the rank of Major General and command 2nd Air Force during World War II. He was the father of legendary fighter pilot Brigadier General Robin Olds. Major Hayes served in various combat commands and retired at the rank of Major General in 1953.

Curtis LeMay would be a Major in command of the 305th Bombardment Group, a B-17 unit, at the beginning of World War II. He personally led many combat missions over Europe, and would command the 4th Bombardment Wing and then the 3rd Air Division. By the end of the war, he was in command of the XXI Bomber Command based in the Marianas Islands. From 1948 to 1957, General LeMay commanded the Strategic Air Command, then served as Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force. From 1961 to 1965, LeMay was Chief of Staff.

At the time of the interception of the Rex, there were only 12 B-17s in the Air Corps inventory: the original Y1B-17 development aircraft. By the end of production in 1945, 12,731 B-17 Flying Fortresses had been built by three aircraft manufacturers.

Boeing YB-17 Flying Fortress 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing Y1B-17 Flying Fortress 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

The Boeing B-17 (Model 299B, previously designated Y1B-17, and then YB-17) was a pre-production service test prototype. Thirteen had been ordered by the Air Corps. It was 68 feet, 4 inches (20.828 meters long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9 inches (31.633 meters) and the overall height was 18 feet, 4 inches (5.588 meters).

Boeing YB-17 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

The YB-17 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone G59 (R-1820-51) nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.45:1. The R-1820-51 had a Normal Power rating of 800 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,000 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. for Takeoff, burning 100-octane gasoline. A long carburetor intake on top of the engine nacelles visually distinguishes the YB-17 from the follow-on YB-17A. The engines drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 0.6875:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-51 was 3 feet, 9.06 inches (1.145 meters) long and  4 feet, 6.12 inches (1.375 meters) in diameter. It weighed 1,200.50 pounds (544.54 kilograms).

Boeing YB-17 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

The YB-17 had an empty weight of 24,465 pounds (11,097 kilograms), gross weight of 34,880 pounds (15,821 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 42,600 pounds (19,323 kilograms). The maximum speed was 256 miles per hour (412 kilometers per hour) at 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). Its service ceiling was 30,600 feet (9,327 meters) and the maximum range was 3,320 miles (5,343 kilometers).

The YB-17 could carry 8,000 pounds (3,629 kilograms) of bombs. Defensive armament consisted of five air-cooled Browning .30-caliber machine guns.

Boeing YB-17 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 May 1961

Crew of The Firefly at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 10 May 1961. (Sand Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Crew of The Firefly, 1st Lieutenant David F. Dickerson, Major Elmer E. Murphy, and Major Eugene Moses, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 10 May 1961. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

In 1930, aviation pioneer Louis Charles Joseph Blériot established the Blériot Trophy, to be awarded to an aviator who demonstrated flight at a speed of 2,000 kilometers per hour (1,242.742 miles per hour) for 30 minutes. The technology to accomplish this was three decades in the future.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Huslter 59-2451 taxis out at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catalog number 01 00093630)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 taxis out at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catalog Number 01 00093632)

On 10 May 1961, a U.S. Air Force/Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler, serial number 59-2451, The Firefly, did just that. Flown by a crew consisting of Aircraft Commander, Major Elmer E. Murphy, Navigator, Major Eugene Moses, and Defensive Systems Officer, First Lieutenant David F. Dickerson, the Mach 2+ Strategic Air Command bomber flew 669.4 miles (1,077.3 kilometers) in 30 minutes, 43 seconds. Their average speed was 1,302.07 miles per hour (2,095 kilometers per hour).

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 during Bleriot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 during Blériot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The black and white marble trophy was presented to the B-58 crew by Alice Védères Blériot, widow of Louis Blériot, at Paris, France, 27 May 1961. It is on permanent display at the McDermott Library of the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The Blériot Trophy, photographed 12 June 1961. "Side view of The Blériot Trophy on display. It is the figure of a naked man made of black marble in a flying position emerging from clouds. The clouds are white stone and are the figures of women in various poses on top of a marble dome." (University of North Texas Libraries)
The Blériot Trophy, photographed 12 June 1961. “Side view of The Blériot Trophy on display. It is the figure of a naked man made of black marble in a flying position emerging from clouds. The clouds are white stone and are the figures of women in various poses on top of a marble dome.” (University of North Texas Libraries)

The Convair B-58 Hustler was a high-altitude, Mach 2+ strategic bomber which served with the United States Air Force from 1960 to 1970. It was crewed by a pilot, navigator/bombardier and a defensive systems operator located in individual cockpits. The aircraft has a delta-winged configuration similar to Convair’s F-102A Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart supersonic interceptors.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 taxis back to teh ramp at Edwards Air Force Base, following teh Bleriot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catolog number 01 00093633)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 taxis back to the ramp at Edwards Air Force Base, following the Blériot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The Hustler is 96 feet, 10 inches (29.515 meters) long, with a wing span of 56 feet, 10 inches (17.323 meters) and overall height of 31 feet 5 inches (9.576 meters). The wings’ leading edge is swept back at a 60° angle and the fuselage incorporates the “area rule” which resulted in a “wasp waist” or “Coke bottle” shape for a significant reduction in aerodynamic drag. The airplane’s only control surfaces are two “elevons” and a rudder. There are no flaps.

Four General Electric J79-GE-5 afterburning turbojet engines, rated at 15,600 pounds of thrust at Sea Level, each, are enclosed in nacelles which are suspended under the wings from pylons.

The bomber had a cruise speed of 610 miles per hour (981.7 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 1,325 miles per hour (2,132.4 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 64,800 feet (19,751 meters). Unrefueled range is 4,400 miles (7,081 kilometers). Maximum weight is 168,000 pounds (76,203.5 kilograms).

The B-58 weapons load was a combination of W-39,  B43 or B61 nuclear bombs. The large weapons could be carried in a jettisonable centerline pod, which also carried fuel, and the smaller bombs could be carried on hardpoints. There was a defensive 20 mm M61 rotary cannon mounted in the tail with 1,200 rounds of ammunition. The gun was controlled remotely by the Defensive Systems Officer.

The Firefly's ground crew for the Blériot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catalog number 01 00093629)
The Firefly’s ground crew for the Blériot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

On 26 May 1961, The Firefly, flown by a different aircrew, set a speed record by flying New York to Paris, while enroute to the Paris Air Show, a distance of 3,626.46 miles in 3 hours, 19 minutes, 58 seconds, for an average of 1,089.36 mph.

Convair built 116 B-58s between 1956 and 1961. They were retired by 1970.

On 3 June 1961, the Blériot Trophy-winning crew of Murphy, Moses and Dickerson departed Le Bourget Airport aboard 59-2451 for the return trip to America. The B-58 crashed five miles from the airport. All three men were killed and the aircraft totally destroyed.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, The Firefly.
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, The Firefly.

General Dynamics contributed an extensive collection of photographs of the speed run to the San Diego Air and Space Museum, which holds them in its Archives.

A 1961 Air Force film covering the event and the presentation of the Blériot Trophy can be seen on You Tube at https://youtu.be/0D_n8YRodII

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 April 1942

A North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber revs its engines, awaiting teh signal to launch from the flight deck officer. (U.S. Air Force)
A North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber revs its engines, awaiting the signal to launch from the flight deck officer. (U.S. Navy)
With flight deck personnel dropping to the deck to avoid its turning propellers, A north American B-25B Mitchell medium bomber starts its takeoff roll aboard USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy)
With flight deck personnel dropping to the deck to avoid its turning propellers, a North American B-25B Mitchell medium bomber starts its takeoff roll aboard USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy) 
Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, United States Navy
Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, United States Navy

18 April 1942: Task Force 16, under the command of Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., U.S. Navy, approached the Japanese islands on a daring top secret joint Army-Navy attack.

Planning for the attack began in January 1942 under orders from Admiral Earnest J. King, Commander-in-Chief United States Fleet. Captain Donald B. Duncan, U.S. Navy, was responsible for the plan.

The operation was carried out by Task Force 16 under the command of Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., United States Navy. Task Force 16 consisted of two aircraft carriers, USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Hornet (CV-8), four cruisers, eight destroyers and two oilers. There were two air groups, consisting of eight squadrons of 54 fighters, 72 dive bombers, 36 torpedo bombers, and one squadron of of 16 medium bombers. Lieutenant Colonel James Harold (“Jimmy”) Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, commanded the Strike Group of North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell bombers aboard Hornet.

With the land-based Army bombers secured to Hornet‘s flight deck, her own fighters had been struck below. The air group from Enterprise provided Combat Air Patrol for the task force. The plan was to bring the B-25s within 400 miles (645 kilometers) of Japan, have them take off and carry out the attack, then fly on to airfields in Chinese territory.

A U.S. Army Air Corps B-25B Mitchell medium bomber is launched from USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. ("Jimmy") Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, flies a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber off the deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. (“Jimmy”) Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, flies a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber off the deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. His was the first bomber to takeoff. (U.S. Navy)

At 0500 hours, the task force was sighted by a Japanese picket boat while still over 700 miles (1,127 kilometers) away from Tokyo. At 0644 another vessel was spotted by the task force. Fearing that surprise had been lost, Admiral Halsey ordered the bombers launched while still 623 miles (1,003 kilometers) from land.

Admiral William H. Halsey watches a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber take off from USS Hornet (CV-8). The airplanes nose wheel has cleared the flight deck while the ship's bow pitches down in heavy seas. (U.S. Navy)
Vice Admiral William H. Halsey, U.S. Navy, watches a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV-8). The airplane’s nose wheel has lifted clear of the flight deck while the ship’s bow pitches down in heavy seas. (U.S. Navy)
Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, USAAF, aboard USS Hornet, April 1942. (U. S Air Force)
Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, USAAC, aboard USS Hornet, April 1942. (U. S. Air Force)

The sixteen B-25s were successfully launched from Hornet and headed for their assigned targets. The lead airplane, B-25B serial number 40-2344, was flown by Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle.

Single B-25s attacked targets in the cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Kobe.The first bombs were dropped on Tokyo at 1215 local time. This was the first offensive operation carried out by the United States of American against the Empire of Japan during World War II.

The actual destructive effect of the attack was minimal. It had been hoped that there would be psychological effects on the citizenry, however the arrival of the American bombers coincided with an ongoing air raid drill, and many thought it was all part of the drill.

Militarily, however, the attack was a stunning success. Four Japanese fighter groups, needed elsewhere, were pinned down at home, waiting for the next attack.

A B-25 is airborne over the bow of USS Hornet (CV-8). (U.S. Navy)
A B-25 is airborne over the bow of USS Hornet (CV-8). (U.S. Navy)

Not a single B-25 was lost over Japan. One landed in Vladivostok where the crew and airplane were interred by the “neutral” Soviets, but they eventually were able to get home. The rest continued on toward China, though without enough fuel to reach their planned destinations. Four B-25s made crash landings, but the crews of the others bailed out into darkness as their planes ran out of gas.

The wreckage of Jimmy Doolittle’s North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell bomber, 40-2344, China, April 1942. (Smithsonian.com)
Lieutenant Colonel James Harold Doolittle (just right of center) with his crew in China following the 18 April 1942 air raid on Japan. Left to right, Staff Sergeant Fred A. Braemer; Staff Sergeant Paul J. Leonard; Lieutenant Richard E. Cole; Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle; and Lieutenant Henry A. Potter. (United States Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command NH 97502)

Five of the airmen were killed. Eight were captured by the Japanese, two of whom were executed by a military court, and another died in prison.

North American Aviation B-25B interred south of Vladivostok
Captain Edward J. York’s North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell, 40-2242, Aircraft 8, interned about 40 miles (25 miles) west of Vladivostok, Primorsky Krai, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
1st Lieutenant Robert L. Hite, USAAF, co-pilot of Aircraft 16, Bat Out of Hell, was captured by the Japanese after bailing out over China. he was held as a prisoner of war for 3½ years. He is one of just five living members of the Doolittle Raiders, though he was too ill to attend their 2012 Reunion. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Robert L. Hite, USAAC, co-pilot of Aircraft 16, “Bat Out of Hell,” was captured by the Japanese after bailing out over China, and was held as a prisoner of war for 3½ years. Colonel Hite died Sunday, 29 March 2015 at the age of 95 years. Only one of the Doolittle raiders, Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, is still living. He is 102 years old. (U.S. Air Force)

For his leadership in the air raid, James Harold Doolittle was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, and was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. General Doolittle’s Medal is in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt presents the Medal of Honor to Brigadier General James Harold Doolittle in a ceremony at The White House, 19 May 1942. The President is seated at left. Standing, left to right, are Lieutenant General Henry H. Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces; Mrs. Doolittle; Brigadier General Doolittle; and General George Catlett Marshall, Jr., Chief of Staff, United States Army. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, Photographic Collection, NPx. 65-696)

CITATION:

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Brigadier General [then Lieutenant Colonel] James Harold Doolittle (ASN: 0-271855), United States Army Air Forces, for conspicuous leadership above the call of duty, involving personal valor and intrepidity at an extreme hazard to life while Commanding the First Special Aviation Project in a bombing raid of Tokyo, Japan, on 18 April 1942. With the apparent certainty of being forced to land in enemy territory or to perish at sea, General Doolittle personally led a squadron of Army bombers, manned by volunteer crews, in a highly destructive raid on the Japanese mainland.

War Department, General Orders No. 29 (June 9, 1942), Amended by Department of the Army G.O. No. 22 (1959) & No. 4 (1960)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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