WASHINGTON, April 20, 1943 (UP) - The aircraft carrier Hornet was the "Shangri-La" from which 16 American bombers under Maj. Gen. James H. (Jimmy) Doolittle bombed Japan a year ago and all but one of the planes was wrecked on or off the China Coast after carrying out their mission "with complete success," the first official story of the memorable raid revealed Tuesday night.
A detailed War Department account of the raid said the only plane which came through unscathed was one which made a forced landing on Russian territory where its crew was interned.
It also revealed for the first time that eight of the 80 raid participants are prisoners or presumed to be prisoners of the Japs; that two others are missing, and that one - Corp. Leland D. Faktor of Plymouth, La., was killed after he bailed out over mountainous terrain in China.
The remaining 64 made their way to safety with the aid of the Chinese, but nine of these subsequently were killed or are missing in other actions and one is a prisoner of Germany.
It also was revealed officially for the first time that the fliers were forced to take off from the wave-tossed Hornet 10 hours ahead of schedule for fear that an enemy vessel which was encountered 800 miles from Tokyo - but which was sunk immediately - might have radioed an alarm to Japan.
The result was that instead of the planned dusk takeoff at a point only 400 miles from Tokyo, the bombers were compelled to take off at dawn 800 miles from their goal. The added distance the bombers were forced to fly made more perilous the hazards of the already dangerous mission and was listed as a major cause for the crash of the 15 planes in Chinese territory. Another major cause was a severe storm encountered off the China Coast.
Not a single American plane was lost in Japan proper.
It also was disclosed for the first time that the task force which took the bombers to within 800 miles of Japan was in command of Adm. William H. Halsey who subsequently was made supreme Allied commander of the South Pacific and who dealt the Japs their greatest naval defeat in the Nov. 13-15 Battle of the Solomons.
The raid started and ended in rough weather, but during the actual bombing of Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka the Americans were favored with sunshine.
So turbulent was the Pacific on the takeoff that water slapped over the bow of the Hornet - subsequently sunk in the battle of Santa Cruz last Oct. 26. The deck bobbed and slanted so badly that the intrepid fliers were forced to take off on the "upbeat," but they made it without a mishap.
First to take off was Doolittle. The wheels of his bomber left the deck of the Hornet at 8:20 a.m., April 18, 1942. Thirteen hours later - at 9:20 p.m. - Doolittle was the first to bail out over China, the last man to leave his plane and with an enduring chapter in history written.
The premature takeoff was necessary, it was explained, because of complications - the presence of enemy vessels. After having avoided one Jap patroller and while trying to steer clear of another, the task force ran into a third Jap ship which promptly was shot to the bottom.
It was feared the latter ship might have been able to use its radio and warn Tokyo of the impending raid, but it developed the Japs never had a chance to sound a warning.
To escape detection as they approached the Japanese mainland, Doolittle and his men came in almost skipping the waves - only 15 to 20 feet above the sea. This strategy was so successful the planes were not spotted until they had almost reached their targets and the Japanese were taken completely by surprise.
Tokyo and other Jap cities then were bombed with a 20-cent bomb sight. This was used instead of the famed Norden bombsight to preserve the secret of that highly prized sight should any of the attacking planes be forced down in Japan proper.
The War Department said the chief reason for not explaining details of the raid sooner was the need for bringing the American fliers to safety. Another reason was to prevent reprisals against the Chinese who aided the fliers.
The initial secrecy - the identity of the raiding planes was not revealed officially by Washington for some weeks later - was essential to permit the "small" naval task force to return safely from its perilous mission.
"If the secret could always have been kept from the Japanese - which in the end was impossible," the War Department said, "it would naturally have added to the tension with which Japan awaits the attacks that still lie ahead."
The raiding planes were North American two-engined bombers.
The raid was first conceived in January, 1942, the month after Pearl Harbor.
Maj. Gen. Doolittle, who then was a lieutenant colonel, hand-picked the men to accompany him on the hazardous undertaking.
All were volunteers.
"About three months were spent in preparations," the official version continued. "General Doolittle and his men finished their training at Eglin Field, Fla. It was the first time that medium bombers of the Army were to take off in numbers from an aircraft carrier of the Navy. Special experience was required.
"Using white lines on the field to measure, the fliers concentrated on taking off in the shortest possible distance. Patiently, the members of each airplane crew pored over maps, and by pictures and silhouettes learned to recognize instantaneously the features of the course they were to travel over Japan and the particular objectives they were to bomb."
Each plane was assigned a particular target. From the start, it was decided that they would sweep in over Japan at an extremely low altitude to avoid observation and antiaircraft fire. It also facilitated accuracy of bombing.
During the practice flights in this country, the planes time and again flew in low over the United States coast and fanned out as they subsequently were destined to do over Japan.
Finally, when the time came to embark on the mission, the fliers and the planes were loaded on the Hornet at a secret rendezvous.
Whether the port was in the continental United States or elsewhere was not revealed.
Training continued even aboard the Hornet. There were lectures on Japan, talks on navigation, gunnery and meteorology.
Gunners sharpened their marksmanship with shots at kites above the carrier.
Originally, it was planned to bring the carrier to a point within 400 miles of Tokyo. The takeoff was to be just before dusk, to make the attack on Japan at night and to arrive at the Chinese airfields in the early morning.
But when the carrier was still 800 miles from the Japanese capital, it ran into complications.
"Having avoided one enemy patrol vessel and while trying to steer clear of another it ran into a third Japanese ship," the official account continued. "This ship was sunk but it was feared at the time that the Japanese aboard it might have been able to use their radio and to warn Tokyo.
"(It later appeared that this was not the case). Therefore, instead of waiting until evening and drawing much closer to Japan in the meantime, the planes took off on the morning of April 18. That was 10 hours ahead of the planned departure time.
Despite the added hazards of the mission as a result of this change in plans, there was not the slightest hesitation.
"General Doolittle and his men were eager to take off," the department said.
Under the changed conditions, it was agreed that if the planes failed to reach the Chinese coast, the crews would try landing them on the water, a difficult task.
Then they were to take to their rubber boats and trust to luck.
The account reports that the weather was rough as Doolittle said his goodby to Admiral Halsey and took off.
Once off the carrier, the planes circled and then headed toward Japan. There was fairly good flying weather, and the sun was bright as the fliers discerned the coastline. This was about noon.
Three flights of planes flew over Tokyo itself.
One, led by Lieut. Travis Hoover, skimmed over the northern part of the city; Capt. David M. Jones commanded the flight over the central part, while Capt. Edward J. York led his flight over the southern part and part of Tokyo bay.
C. Ross Greening, the designer of the 20-cent bombsight, led a fourth flight over Kenegawa, Yokohama City, and the Yokasuka navy yard. Another flight skipped Tokyo from the south and split up to lay their explosives on military installations at Nagoya, Osaka and Kobe.
At this point, the official story repeated what General Doolittle already has said about the surprised reactions of the Japanese.
Some Japanese pursuit planes futilely attempted to intervene.
Greening told of encountering a new type of Jap ship near Tokyo. He hugged the ground and even flew under some power lines in the hope that his pursuers would crash into them. But they didn't and so his crew had to deal differently with them.
They shot down two.
Greening's objective was a gasoline refinery and storage works. And he didn't miss. His crew could see the flames and smoke nearly 50 miles after the plane had dropped its bombs. The explosion was so violent that Greening and his co-pilot banged their heads against the top of the cockpit.
Inaccurate antiaircraft fire greeted Lieut. Col. John A. Hilger as he came in over Nagoya. He hit an aircraft works, an oil storage warehouse, an arsenal, and barracks.
"One by one each objective of each plane was checked off," the story continued. "Now it was a tank factory, now a shiopyard with a cruiser in it, now an airplane plant."
Under strict orders from General Doolittle, the fliers made no attack on the Emperor Hirohito's palace although it was within sight.
"It was not a military objective," the War Department emphasized.
Planes which arrived over Tokyo after the first attack had been made encountered heavy aircraft fire, but no damage of any significance was suffered by any of the American craft.
And, although Kobe was not hit until an hour after the first American plane streaked over Tokyo, it apparently was a complete surprise to the people of that port city.
To emphasize the panic of the Japanese, the story relates that Japanese antiaircraft shot down one of their own barrage balloons and that although 30 Japanese pursuit planes were observed during the mission, they proved ineffective.
Then began the unhappy ending to the story of the brilliantly executed mission.
Upon leaving Japan, the scattered planes ran smack into a storm. This depleted their gasoline reserves much sooner than anticipated.
And darkness was approaching.
There were no light beacons or landing flares over the unfamiliar territory.
"Unable to go farther, there in the darkness 6000 to 10,000 feet above a strange land, the great majority of the men bailed out."
Most of them landed in Free China and managed to reach Chungking.
Several who landed in Japanese occupied territory hid away for an extended period until they could escape to unoccupied China.
But eight were captured.
Captain York's plane had so little gas left after leaving Tokyo he headed for Siberia. The plane landed safely 40 miles north of Vladivostok. The crew was interned.
A plane piloted by Lieut. Ted W. Lawson landed in the China Sea. The shock seriously injured him and eight other members of the crew. Although badly cut on the head, Corp. David Thatcher swam back to the crushed plane to secure the medical kit.
The War Department's account does not reveal how he did it, but he managed to make shore only three miles from a concentration of Japs. He induced Chinese fishermen to carry his injured mates to a temporary hiding place. Then Chinese villagers carried them over mountainous terrain to safety and medical aid.
Another plane, piloted by Lieut. Donald G. Smith, also landed in water. Lieut. J.R. White, flight surgeon who flew in this ship, remained inside the sinking craft despite rising water to salvage surgical instruments and a medical kit. The plane sank in 100 feet of water just after he had completed his salvage efforts and escaped.
"The preoccupation in bringing American fliers to safety was a principal reason why no detailed statement was issued after the raid," the War Department said. "To have named the fliers and disclosed they were still missing would have intensified the efforts of the Japanese to capture them. Also, consideration had to be given to the possibility of reprisals on friendly Chinese who helped the Americans in Japanese-occupied China."