Saturday, February 21, 2009

Doolittle Raid | Subject of WWII films

The Doolittle Raid, 18 April 1942, was the first air raid by the United States to strike a Japanese home island (Honshū) 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.

16 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 16 aircraft were lost and 11 crewmen were either killed or captured. The crews of 14 aircraft, including one interned in the Soviet Union for more than a year, returned safely to the United States.

The Doolittle Raid was the subject of the 1944 feature film, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo. This was based on a book of the same title by Doolittle Raider pilot Captain Ted W. Lawson, who lost a leg and had other serious injuries as a result of a crash landing off the coast of China. Spencer Tracy played Doolittle and Van Johnson portrayed Lawson. The movie is considered to be a reasonably accurate and unsensationalized depiction of the mission. The movie has the general approval of the Raiders (footage from the film was later used for the opening scenes of Midway).

The raid also inspired two other films. One was the 1943 RKO film Bombardier starring Randolph Scott and Pat O'Brien. The climax of this movie is an attack on Japan by a group of B-17s. The other film, The Purple Heart, made in 1944, starring Dana Andrews, was a fictional depiction based on a Japanese court martial of captured American airmen, from the Doolittle Raid.

A highly fictionalized film in 1943, Destination Tokyo starring Cary Grant, tangentially involved the raid, concentrating on the fictional submarine USS Copperfin. The submarine's mission is to enter Tokyo Bay undetected and place a landing party ashore to obtain weather information vital to the upcoming Doolittle raid. The film suggests the raid did not launch until up-to-the-minute data was received. However, all the after-action reports indicated the raid launched without time for weather briefings because of the encounter with the picket ships.
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