On April 18, 1942, 16 B-25 bombers took off from the deck of the USS Hornet. That sounds somewhat mundane until we consider that the B-25 required thousands of feet of runway. The Hornets flight deck offered a mere 500 feet. It was an absurd idea led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle. The planes were so stripped of extra weight that the tail guns were replaced by broomsticks. Even crazier, they were going to bomb Tokyo, flying right over the Emperor's palace a mere 132 days after the American Pacific fleet had been decimated at Pearl Harbor.
For all they knew, the planes would immediately crash into the ocean in their failed attempt to take off. Making matters worse, the Hornet's task force was spotted by the Japanese, causing them to take off 200 miles early in a terrible storm without enough fuel to reach friendly Chinese landing fields. It was now a suicide mission, but not one man accepted Doolittle's offer to withdraw from the mission.
All 16 B-25 bombers miraculously got off the flight deck, dropped some bombs on Tokyo, doing minimal damage. 15 of the 16 ran out of fuel, forcing the crew to bail out before crashing. The 16th landed in Russia. 3 airmen were killed in action, 8 were captured by the Japanese with 3 executed and another dying in captivity. The others were sheltered and fed by Chinese nationalists until reunited with American forces.
The raid boosted American morale and so flummoxed the Japanese, they immediately altered their war strategy in the Pacific, focusing on Midway Island, a decisive battle the Americans miraculously won, turning the tide of the war in the Pacific.
Lt. Dick Cole, the last living Doolittle Raider and an exemplar of what is undoubtedly our Greatest Generation, died recently at the age of 103.