Weather Impacts Initial Run on the Doolittle Raid, 75 Years Later (Credit: Meteorologist Jessica Olsen)
DISCUSSION: April 18th, 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of such a critical moment in history, the Doolittle Raid. This raid, conducted by General James Doolittle had been thought of as a tactical blow that might prove to the Japanese Imperial Navy that the United States hadn’t lost its moral after the devastating events that took place in Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.
Not more than 6 months’ prior had the United States experienced a surprise attack in Pearl Harbor, Oahu destroying 164 aircraft, 159 damaged, 12 naval ships destroyed, all but the USS Arizona, Utah and Oklahoma with deaths totaling 2,388 including 48 civilians.
Early 1942, General Jimmy Doolittle (then Lt. Col.) was tasked with training selected pilots for an aerial raid on Japan which would be conducted from bombers launching from an aircraft carrier, in particular B-25B Mitchells which would fly a long-haul flight from carriers to select locations in Japan (History.com).
Little did Doolittle know that weather would play an important factor in his raid plans over Japan on those early morning hours of April 1942. By April 14th, Japanese analysis had intercepted radio traffic indicating an attack may occur, but confusion arose when bombers came from the carrier Hornet shortly before dawn on April 18th, 1942. The raiders launched their aircraft nearly 150 miles farther than expected as a Japanese Trawler had been spotted in the area. Lead by Doolittle, all 16 bombers launched into brutal storms. These storms however were able to provide a nearly 50 mph headwind (CV6), a benefit for added lift to launch a nearly 20,000 pound bomber off a deck spanning 500 feet.
All 16 aircraft had launched on that day, and all 16 aircraft had been destroyed. All of these aircraft had hit their intended targets of factories, storage facilities, and oil refineries with 6 perishing of the 80 raiders. The Doolittle raid provided a much-needed moral boost to the United States as Japan felt dazed with the use of land-based bombers to strike crucial resources in Japan.
For more information on weather and other science concepts impacting historical events visit the Global Weather and Climate Center!
~Meteorologist Jessica Olsen
"USS Enterprise CV-6The Most Decorated Ship of the Second World War." The Doolittle Raid: April 18, 1942. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.
History.com Staff. "James H. Doolittle." History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.
"Doolittle, James Harold "Jimmy"." WW2 Gravestone. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.