On April 18, 1942, the 80 Doolittle Tokyo Raiders launched their secret bombing mission to strike back against Japan less than five months after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
In rare interviews, held 70 years to day later, four of the five remaining Raiders discussed their mission with the Military Aviation Examiner. The interviews were one of a series of events conducted as part of the 70th Doolittle Raiders Reunion held from April 17 – 20, 2012 at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
To watch the interviews click on video sidebar. The four Raiders in the video are:
Richard E. Cole – Co-Pilot – Plane 1
Cole was co-pilot of the lead plane under the command of Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, the pilot and mission leader. The plane was the first to cross over Japan and the first to drop its bomb load. The crew eventually bailed out in a mountainous area of China before evading Japanese troops and returning to U.S. controlled areas. In the interview Cole discusses Jimmy Doolittle, taking off from the carrier deck, and what was “the most difficult part” of the mission.
David J. Thatcher – Engineer – Gunner – Plane 7
The crew of plane 7, “The Ruptured Duck,” included pilot Ted Lawson, who later wrote the book “30 Seconds Over Tokyo.” The plane ditched in the water off the China coast and four of the five crew members were seriously injured in the crash. Lawson eventually had his leg amputated. Thatcher, then a Sergeant, was the only unwounded member of his crew. He was later awarded the Silver Star for the medical care he provided his crewmates. Thatcher has said he was generally pleased with the portrayal of the raid in the 1944 movie “30 Seconds Over Tokyo.” In the interview he also gives his opinion on how the mission was portrayed in the more recent movie, “Pearl Harbor.”
Thomas C. Griffin – Navigator – Plane 9
In the interview Griffin discusses his involvement in the planning of the raid. His plane, “Whirling Dervish,” bombed the Tokyo Gas & Electric Company on the shore of Tokyo Bay. The crew later bailed out in heavy rain and darkness in China. The pilot, Harold Watson, was the only crew member injured in the bail out.
Edward J. Saylor – Engineer – Plane 15
The crew of plane 15, “TNT”, bombed an aircraft factory south of Tokyo. The plane later ditched in the water. In the interview Saylor discusses the ditching and the swim to shore in a damaged life raft. Local Chinese families hid four of the crew members from the Japanese army until they were able to escape through the cordon.
The fifth surviving Raider, Robert L. Hite, Co-pilot of plane 16, was unable to attend the reunion due to health issues.
Hite’s aircraft, “Bat Out of Hell,” was the last to launch from the carrier. The crew bombed oil storage tanks and an aircraft territory. After the crew bailed out they were all captured by the Japanese. Hite was held prisoner until the end of the war.
The raid was unique in that it was the only time land based Air Force bombers were launched from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. The pilots were specially trained to fly the 16 twin-engineed B-25 Mitchell bombers from the short carrier deck of the USS Hornet. Because the bombers could not land back on the deck the mission was one-way only.
The B-25’s carried extra fuel tanks and this, combined with the fact that they did not plan to return to the carrier, extended the bomber’s range well beyond that of conventional carrier based aircraft.
Unfortunately, the early detection of the U.S. carrier task force by Japanese patrol boats required the bombers to launch hours and hundreds of miles earlier then planned. This resulted in the loss of all aircraft, as they were not able to reach friendly bases in China as originally planned. The majority of the Raiders survived the bailouts and crash landings to eventually return to U.S. control.
The raid raised U.S. morale by showing that American forces could successfully strike back after a string of setbacks in the Pacific campaign. The raid on Tokyo and three other Japanese cities shocked the Japanese by showing their home islands were vulnerable to attack.
Make sure to read my other articles on the 70th Doolittle Raiders Reunion:
20 B-25 Mitchell bombers to attend 70th Doolittle Raiders Reunion in Ohio
Doolittle Raiders remembered in Dayton as B-25 bombers fly overhead