Remembering the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo
April 18, 2022, was the 80th anniversary of Doolittle Raid, a daring air raid on Tokyo and other locations four months after Pearl Harbor that helped change the course of World War II. A number of Oregonians took part, including Jake DeShazer, whose life was forever changed in its aftermath.
The days following the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor were among the darkest in American history. The Japanese, Germans and Italians seemed to be racking up one victory after another while the allies posted none. President Franklin Roosevelt was keenly aware that, for a democracy to continue to wage a war, progress had to be demonstrated or its citizens might well demand that the nation come to terms with its enemies, a result that Japan desperately sought.
Accordingly, soon after the United States entered the war, FDR made it known to his military advisers that he strongly advocated a quick, impressive strike against the Japanese homeland. The reasons for such a successful attack would be twofold. First, the positive effect upon the morale of the American people would be immeasurable. Also, the Japanese would learn that their island's security was in doubt. This would cause them to bring more forces back from the front than they otherwise would have in defending Japan itself.
What to do?
Admiral Ernest King, the chief of naval operations, one of FDR's closest military resources, was approached by a subordinate, Captain Francis Low, with an idea. Once while flying over Norfolk, he'd noticed army bombers making practice runs on an image of an aircraft carrier deck that was painted on a runway. It occurred to him that army medium bombers could successfully take off from carriers. This would allow a longer-range air strike with a larger bomb load than would be possible using the naval aircraft normally deployed on a carrier. King immediately connected Capt. Low's observations with President Roosevelt's tactical idea.
"You may have something, there, Low," the normally ill-tempered King said to the captain.
The plan quickly came together. As Japan was too far from American land bases in Australia, China or Hawaii, an air strike would have to be launched from an aircraft carrier, as Captain Low had suggested. The twin-engine North American B-25B Mitchell medium bomber was selected for the task due to its 68 foot wingspan, speed of 300 mph, 2,000 mile range and 2,400 pound bomb load capacity. The only other aircraft that was seriously considered was the Martin B-26 Marauder, but, in the end, it was deemed unsuitable because of its greater wingspan — an aircraft had to clear the control tower off to one side of the carrier — and the B-25s' superior handling characteristics. In the end, 16 B-25s could be carefully arranged on the carrier's deck and still allow ample room ahead for launching.
No catapult on the carrier would be used. The launching of the B-25s would be under their own power. To provide the aircraft adequate lift and to allow it to take off, the ship would point its bow directly into the wind. The combination of the wind velocity, forward movement of the vessel and the take-off speed of the B-25 was hoped to create enough lift to get the bombers up off of the flight deck and into the air.
The scheme was a desperate one, at best. Its chances of success were considered 'iffy' and odds of casualties, high. The B-25s, each with a crew of five airmen, would be transported aboard the USS Hornet (CV-8) to a spot approximately 400 miles off the coast of Japan. Accompanying the Hornet in Task Force 16 would be the USS Enterprise (CV-6) and escorting support ships. While the bombers were aboard, the Hornet would be unable to launch any of its own fighter aircraft to provide covering protection, thus the presence of the Enterprise.
It was planned to be a night raid on targets in several Japanese cities. Tokyo, of course, along with Kobe, Yokohama, Osaka and Nagoya were on the list. The launch was planned for 6 p.m., April 19, local time.
While the B-25s should have been able to lift off the Hornet, there was no way that they could land back on the vessel. The planes were just too big. Thus, the mission was to be one-way only. After launch, the aircraft had to head straight to their targets, bomb them, then navigate over hostile Japan, the East China Sea and finally reach their specified landing fields in (presumably) unoccupied areas of China. The landings were planned to be during daylight hours.
Jake DeShazer's role in the raid
B-25s from four units were selected for the mission. Corporal Jake DeShazer, a native of West Stayton, Oregon, was assigned duties as a bombardier with the 34th Bomb Squadron of the 17th Bombardment Group. He and his B-25B were stationed at the army air base at Pendleton Field at the Pendleton Airport in Eastern Oregon. After the outbreak of the war, the squadron was flying submarine patrols along the Northwest coast.
DeShazer remembered when the subject of the raid came up. "I was out on the flight line when one of the officers came up to me. He said that the commanding officer wanted to see me right away. I assumed that it was because someone had finally found out that I had been sneaking away from the base. On some days there was not very much to do around there," he said.
"Anyway, I went into a hangar and saw everyone else already there. The C.O. addressed us all by saying, 'Any volunteers for an extremely dangerous mission? Step forward if you do. Chances are most of you won't come back.'
"I was really considering passing on this wonderful opportunity. But I noticed that everyone else step forward, so I did the same."
DeShazer also remembered then-Lt. Col. James (Jimmy) Doolittle — the famous aviator who would lead the mission that later would bear his name — as being a tremendous leader and inspirer of men. On a visit to Pendleton Field, Doolittle approached Jake, who was standing by his aircraft. He asked, "Jake, does your B-25B have two rivets at such-and-such a spot?" Jake knew that the colonel asked this to determine the specific type of his B-25B. He confirmed to Doolittle that it had such rivets. Years later, DeShazer still wondered how Doolittle, who he had never met before, knew his first name. He chalks it up to the colonel's leadership skills through just plain old homework and attention to detail.
For their long mission over water, the B-25s were stripped of all unnecessary weight. The bottom twin .50 cal. gun turret was removed. There was no tail gunner position on this model, but installed in its place were two black-painted broomsticks that protruded from the tail cone. This was intended to suggest to an attacker from the 6 o'clock position that guns were there and to back off. The weight of the discarded gear was replaced by additional fuel cells and ordnance.
As the bombing was to take place at a very low altitude, below 1,500 feet AGL (Above Ground Level), it was felt that the new, highly secret Norden bombsight was not needed. Each B-25 had its sight removed, replaced by a specially made, ultralight, two-piece aluminum device that resembled an open gunsight. It was nicknamed the "Mark Twain."
No practice take-offs were attempted from actual aircraft carriers. Instead, the outline of the Hornet's carrier deck was applied to a runway at Eglin Field, Florida. Mission pilots were trained by Navy pilots how, using maximum RPMs, to get their B-25s up into the air in just 500 feet of runway. Also, the planes practiced 'carrier' take-offs from one of the runways at Pendleton Field that ended abruptly at a steep drop-off.
Additionally, the aircrews flew low-level, cross-country practice "bombing" missions against domestic targets. Of course, none of this was intended to "tip off" the savvy airmen that their real mission would be from an aircraft carrier and over long stretches of water, i.e., somewhere in the Pacific.
The B-25 crews were sent to Alameda Field outside San Francisco. On the flight, low-level "hedge-hopping" was encouraged. This "scared the hell out of" several cowboys and an unknown number of cattle along the way.
Once DeShazer's plane landed and he inspected the craft, he swears that he removed a tumbleweed from an engine cowling.
When the aircraft were hoisted aboard the Hornet from its pier, some flyers collected on bets that their destination was the Pacific. They marveled at the efficiency of the ship's crew in handling and spotting their beloved Mitchells on the flight deck. They were then lashed down in anticipation of heavy winds and seas ahead.
The USS Hornet with her aerial attack force departed San Francisco Bay in broad daylight and proceeded grandly under the Golden Gate Bridge. It was April 1, 1942.
When the vessel was well at sea, the crews were told of their mission: to attack targets in Japan. The men cheered wildly. Finally America was hitting back!
On April 12, the Hornet met up with the USS Enterprise and her escorts, all of which had left San Francisco on April 7. The group, Task Force 16, was under the command of Admiral William "Bull" Halsey.
Early in the morning of April 18, well before the scheduled launch time, a Japanese picket vessel was sighted. The cat was now out of the bag. Before it was sunk by naval gunfire, the vessel had managed to radio a warning to Japan.
A critical choice had to be made. Either turn back immediately and scrub the effort or launch the aircraft hours early. An early takeoff meant that the airmen would find themselves over their targets in Japan during daylight. Worse, by the time they had flown on to their assigned landing fields it would be dark. The decision was made to launch the strike.
Portlander William "Bill" Tunstall was a plane captain aboard the Hornet on that fateful morning. He recalled well the drama and excitement when the 16 Mitchells, with their 80 young men on board, took off. It was not a given that all would go well. Facing a strong headwind that was sweeping down the flight deck, the first B-25, piloted by Doolittle himself, revved up its twin Wright engines. When Navy Deck Officer Lt. Henry Miller sensed they were at full power, he signaled Doolittle to release his brakes and move ahead. He timed this just as the bow of the Hornet had reached its lowest point heading into an oncoming swell and was on its way back up. This gave Doolittle's aircraft a slight slingshot lift as it reached the end of the flight deck. He cleared it and the oncoming waves with room to spare. Once aloft, he circled over the Hornet once more to receive a last compass heading and headed west toward Japan.
In turn, 15 more B-25s repeated the takeoff drill, each enjoying more space ahead as their comrades departed. All cleared the deck without incident and flew off to accomplish what most would have said could not be done — to travel across the entire Pacific and bomb the enemy's homeland in broad daylight.
Once the aircraft were on their way, Task Force 16 promptly turned 180-degees to speed out of harm's way.
All of the bombers proceeded independently to their targets. Complete surprise was achieved, though the damage they inflicted was minimal. But material destruction was not the purpose of the effort.
The experiences of one flyer from Portland, Second Lt. Dean Davenport, are well documented in the definitive book and film "30 Seconds Over Tokyo." As the co-pilot of plane No. 7, the legendary "Ruptured Duck," Davenport participated in bombing military targets in Tokyo itself. They delivered three 500-pound bombs and one incendiary before speeding off. No serious opposition was encountered either in the form of anti-aircraft fire or fighters.
Hours later, as darkness fell, the crew was forced to attempt a landing on a rainy Chinese beach. But as the aircraft touched the sand, its nose wheel caught, flipping it over in the surf. All five men managed to get out, but pilot First Lt. Ted Lawson was severely wounded. Davenport suffered a fractured leg. Upon impact, both had been thrown forward through the windscreen. The crew was aided by friendly Chinese forces as they evaded capture by the furious Japanese. The five eventually made their way to a friendly village where they were picked up by an Army Air Force transport and returned to the United States. But this was not before Lawson lost a leg to gangrene.
After this ordeal, Davenport remained in India. He stayed in the service and acted as the technical adviser for the 1945 film "30 Seconds Over Tokyo." He then went on to fly missions as a fighter pilot in the Korean conflict. He retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1967. He passed away at age 81 on Feb. 14, 2000.
Amazingly, bombardier DeShazer's luck was even worse. Aboard B-25 No. 16, "Bat Out of Hell," the last bomber off the Hornet, the crew headed for their targets in Nagoya. After completing their attack, they headed southwest across the East China Sea and encountered the same foul weather and darkness as the previous crews.
Low on fuel, the five men bailed out of the "Bat" near Nanchang, China. While all managed to alight safely, the very next day they were captured by Japanese troops.
A detailed description of their ordeal as prisoners would serve no purpose here. Suffice it to say, they were held in a Chinese prison while being tortured and starved. Eventually three members of the crew — Lt. Dean Hallmark, Lt. William Farrow and Sgt. Harold Spatz — were singled out by the Japanese for prosecution as "war criminals." They were accused of intentionally targeting Japanese civilians.
DeShazer was forced to witness the execution of his three comrades.
As he described it, the three were forced to bend over a cross to which they were bound. They were then shot from behind. Oddly, DeShazer, the crewman who actually released the bombs, was spared execution. He would never learn why this occurred.
DeShazer was held in solitary confinement for nearly four years. Part of the way through his ordeal, he was provided an item that would change his life forever. Due to what he surmised was intervention from a higher Japanese authority — perhaps Emperor Hirohito himself — he was provided a Bible that had been seized from a local missionary. Now everything changed for him. He read the Bible over and over, memorizing much of it. DeShazer, once an atheist, now became a devout Christian. He vowed that if he lived, he would return to Asia as a missionary. Once he had miraculously survived Japanese confinement and was released in 1945, he did just that.
DeShazer recalled the dramatic moment when he gained his freedom. While walking around the exercise area of his holding compound, he heard an odd "flapping sound" above him. When he looked up, he was astonished to see American paratroopers descending toward him from the sky. The paratrooper who landed nearest said to him, "Get down, pal. We'll take care of this." This event demonstrates how dedicated Americans are in freeing their POWs who are in the custody of the enemy.
DeShazer went on to obtain his degree from Seattle Pacific University and returned to Japan, where for the next 30 years he performed missionary work, converting Japanese people to Christianity. One of his converts was the very man who led the air strike against Pearl Harbor: Mitsuo Fuchida.
Legacy of the Doolittle Raid
As noted, the actual damage caused by the bombing of Japan was minimal. However, the positive impact it had upon American morale was profound.
Portlander James Covert, who would later become a highly respected professor of history and World War II studies at the University of Portland, recalls when, as a youngster, he learned of the raid's success. His parents threw a spontaneous party to celebrate the event. "I was dressed up as the Statue of Liberty, holding a flashlight overhead and was placed standing on top of our dining room table while the party-goers danced around me in a line."
All of the B-25 aircraft were lost. All but one crashed. One aircrew managed to reach a Soviet airfield where they landed and were immediately interned. Of the 80 flyers, all but seven survived the raid.
When word leaked out, President Roosevelt was hounded for details. Where did the American planes come from? the press inquired. Not wishing to disclose any information that might jeopardize the war effort, he noted the fictitious land in a recent film, "Lost Horizon." "They came from Shangri-La," he replied.
For a time, before the Hornet was lost in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, it was nicknamed "Shangri-La." Later, an Essex-class carrier was christened the "USS Shangri-La" (CV-38).
Suddenly, there was no more thought of "coming to terms" with the Japanese.
In Japan, the event stirred up — as it were — a hornet's nest. Blame for allowing the attack to occur was assigned to everyone, everywhere. In retribution, the Japanese slaughtered more than 250,000 Chinese civilians for allegedly aiding the Doolittle airmen.
It was felt by war planners that Japan had simply not extended far enough east in the Pacific to secure its defensive perimeter. Thus, Admiral Yamamoto's dormant plan to capture Midway Atoll came off the back burner and was placed on the 'to-do' list. Two months later, the Japanese effort to capture Midway met with unmitigated disaster — their carrier force was destroyed by the American Navy. Japan would never quite recover from this loss and was, from that moment, on the defensive.
The worm was turning in the Pacific War.
Other local Doolittle Raiders
Other veterans with local ties who participated in the Doolittle Raid include:
• The pilot of Crew #4 was Lt. (Brig. Gen. retired) Everett "Brick" Holstrom, a 1934 graduate of Pleasant Hill High School. He retired from the USAF in 1969.
• The pilot of Crew #5, Capt. David M. Jones was born (and died) in Oregon. His family later moved to Tucson, Ariz. Jones retired from the USAF as a Brig. Gen. in 1973.
• Crew #7's bombardier was Lt. Robert S. Clever, who was a cadet at Vancouver Barracks, Wash. He survived the raid but was killed in a military airplane crash in Ohio in November 1942.
• The co-pilot of Crew #8 was Lt. Robert G. Emmens graduated from Medford High School in 1931 and attended the University of Oregon until 1934. He retired from the USAF as a colonel in 1965.
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