On April 18, 1942 sixteen B-25B Mitchell medium bombers of the United States Army Air Corps under the command of Lt. Col. James Doolittle took off from the flight deck of USS Hornet and headed west. Their target was Tokyo, the capital of Japan. This raid was ordered by President Franklin Roosevelt only four months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The total bomb load of these planes was less than 50,000 pounds, and the damage these bombs would inflict to the Japanese war industrial production was trivial. However, this air strike was meant to show the Japanese that they were not untouchable and most importantly, this attack was supposed to act as a morale booster to rebuild American confidence.
After the attack, these bombers had only fuel enough to reach the coast of Zhejiang province, China. All sixteen bombers except one that flew north to the Soviet Union crashed-landed at different locations along eastern Chinese coastline and 69 out of 80 crewmen were rescued by Chinese civilians and soldiers.
Frustrated and furious, the Japanese mobilized their elite division to Zhejiang and carried out brutal reprisals against any Chinese or villages suspected for aiding American flyers. It was estimated that 250,000 Chinese were killed in the aftermath of this raid. It was such a grave price to pay for an air raid.
Modern historians have had tons of studies regarding Doolittle’s Tokyo raid. Why wasn’t Chinese government notified about this raid so that the Chinese might do something to eliminate civilian casualties? Was this mission justifiable in terms of military or political significance? Was the sacrifice of 250,000 Chinese lives worth of its propaganda effect?
Along with the report by today’s The China Post, last two of Doolittle’s surviving crew gave their congressional medals to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Ohio on Saturday, the heroism, the atrocity, and the tragic sacrifice were gradually forgotten and becoming only words on pages of history books.