Jimmy Doolittle’s Detroit Connection

December 6, 2013
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His famous bombing raid on Japan was payback for Pearl Harbor

Jimmy Doolittle

Many American’s are aware of Doolittle’s Raiders and their demoralizing bombing of Japan. The raid has been immortalized in the film, “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo.” It was also one of the turning points of the war. With the approach of December 7 and the anniversary of the, “day that will live in infamy,” we should note that Doolittle’s raid was a mere five months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor crippled our naval forces; that same day Japanese bombing destroyed almost half of the U.S. aircraft that were stationed in the Philippines. Japan enjoyed a series of victories as they spread out their front and easily conquered that island nation.

Something had to be done to slow the Japanese juggernaut. That is when the U.S. decided we needed a plan to surprise the enemy and bomb Japan’s home islands, a seemingly impossible task. The man chosen to plan the attack was Lt. Col. James Harold Doolittle, and he devised a daring, some say foolhardy, plan. Sixteen stripped down B-26 bombers would take off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. With favorable weather conditions they should all reach their targets. With any luck they would have enough fuel to reach mainland China, where they might find sympathizers, if they could evade the Japanese. Doolittle volunteered for and was approved to lead the raid.

It was barely a month since MacArthur had been forced to leave the Philippines when the raid was launched. The planes all reached their targets and continued on to Asia, where the crews bailed out when they ran out of fuel. All told they lost seven of the original 80 crew-members. Although the amount of damage they inflicted was negligible, the blow to Japanese moral was significant. There was also a commensurate moral boost for our country. The fact that they were vulnerable to attack forced the Japanese to withdraw a large portion of their offensive force to protect their home islands, which allowed Allied forces a chance to regroup and concentrate on winning back some lost ground.

Few people know that early in 1940 Doolittle was the military emissary sent to Detroit to help coordinate the conversion of auto plants for the production of planes and other military hardware. With all of his other accomplishments it is easy to see why such an unexciting assignment would escape notice. However, Doolittle’s achievements had a major impact on Detroit and the war effort. Detroit became “The Arsenal of Democracy,” with plants from all the auto giants convertedto aid the war effort. This swift transformation of a readily available industrial complex was every bit as important to winning the war as the raid that Doolittle would lead the following year. One interesting tidbit about the Willow Run Bomber plant was that one of the women who worked there was the inspiration for Rosie the Riveter.

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  • Mark Ranzenberger

    Just a note: The Doolittle raid flew North American B-25 Mitchell bombers, not Martin B-26 Marauders.