Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Much ado about Doolittle

I think World War II will have enduring interest for many centuries to come -- it was such a vast event full of remarkable stories -- but few of its stories are as remarkable as the Doolittle raid on Tokyo, 70 years ago today.

The Dooltittle raid is a cautionary tale for anyone who has the hubris to imagine that the contours of the next war will be clear. The idea that land-based bombers would be able to mount a raid from the decks of an aircraft carrier would have been inconceivable before the war started. And it is rather amazing the the idea even got  a hearing, really, and wasn't dismissed out of hand as being a crackpot idea.

From an initial proposal by Navy Capt. Francis Low on Jan. 10 to the raid on April 18 was just 108 days. In that brief time brand-new B-25 bombers were modified, crews selected and trained, naval forces marshaled and deployed and the raid executed by 16 bombers.

While all the bombers were lost to either crashes or internment, 11 crew lost as killed in action or POWs and actual damage was minimal, the strategic impact of the raid was immense.

The Japanese navy's main striking force of carriers was recalled from the Indian Ocean where it had been rampaging against the British and plans were set in motion for the naval confrontation at Midway i early June that decisively changed the course of the war in the Pacific.

Lt. Col. James Doolittle, already a famous aviator before the war, was made and general and awarded the medal of honor and went on to other important air force commands during the war.

The raid, itself, isn't the sort of thing that lends itself well to wargames, but there is at least one reference to it in a wargames. In Axis & Allies War at Sea Naval Miniatures the USS Hornet has a special ability that lets it launch a B-25 bomber squadron once per game.

And, of course, the most lasting impact of the raid was on morale. It provide a huge boost to Americans still reeling from the shock of Pearl Harbor while shocking the Japanese -- providing a harbinger of the not-to-distant future when bombers over the cities of Japan would be coming in the hundreds not singles.

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