The Doolittle Raid, 18 April 1942, was the first air raid by the United States to strike a Japanese home island during World War II. It demonstrated that Japan itself was vulnerable to Allied air attack and provided an expedient means for U.S. retaliation for Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. The raid was planned and led by Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle. Doolittle would later recount in his autobiography that the raid was intended to cause the Japanese to doubt their leadership and to raise American morale:
The Japanese had been told they were invulnerable. An attack on the Japanese homeland would cause confusion in the minds of the Japanese people and sow doubt about the reliability of their leaders. There was a second, equally important, psychological reason for this attack…Americans badly needed a morale boost.
Sixteen B-25B Mitchell bombers were launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet deep within enemy waters. The plan called for them to hit military targets in Japan, and land in China. All of the aircraft involved in the bombing were lost and 11 crewmen were either killed or captured. One of these B-25s landed in Soviet territory where its crew remained interned for more than a year. The entire crews of 13 of the 16 aircraft, and all but one of a 14th, returned to the United States or to Allied control. The raid caused little material damage to Japan, but succeeded in its goal of helping American morale. It also caused Japan to withdraw a carrier group from the Indian Ocean to defend their homeland and contributed to Japan’s decision to attack Midway.
Maybe so, but as a direct consequence of the raid, up to 300,000 Chinese were killed by Japanese retaliatory measures. A massive war crime which is rarely recognised in any history.
Following the Doolittle Raid, most of the B-25 crews that came down in China eventually made it to safety with the help of Chinese civilians and soldiers. The Chinese people who helped them, however, paid dearly for sheltering the Americans. The Japanese military began the Zhejiang-Jiangxi Campaign to intimidate the Chinese from helping downed American airmen. The Japanese killed an estimated 300,000 civilians while searching for Doolittle’s men.
The crews of two aircraft (10 men in total) were unaccounted for: Hallmark’s crew (sixth off) and Farrow’s crew (last off). On 15 August 1942, the United States learned from the Swiss Consulate General in Shanghai that eight of the missing crew members were prisoners of the Japanese at Police Headquarters in that city (two crewmen had died in the crash landing of their aircraft). On 19 October 1942, the Japanese announced that they had tried the eight men and sentenced them to death, but that several of them had received commutation of their sentences to life imprisonment. No names or details were included in the broadcast. Japanese propaganda ridiculed the raid, calling it the “Do-nothing Raid”, and boasted that several B-25s had been shot down. In fact, none had been lost to hostile action.
Because the majority of the B-25s from the Doolittle Raid landed along the eastern coast of China, and the American fliers had received crucial aid from the local Chinese villagers to make their escape, the subsequent Japanese response against the Chinese was particularly extreme. All airfields in an area of some twenty thousand square miles in the areas where the Raiders landed were torn up, germ warfare was utilized against the civilian population, and an estimated quarter of a million of the local Chinese villagers were killed. The massive Japanese retaliation against the local Chinese in this area became known as the Zhejiang-Jiangxi Campaign.