The Doolittle Raid: A Precious Legacy
Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley
Remarks at the 68th Doolittle Raiders reunion dinner, National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, April 16, 2010
My personal knowledge of the Doolittle Raid or the men who made it successful will likely never match that of tonight's audience. We are blessed to have several of the Raiders with us tonight, and many of their family and friends who have first-hand knowledge of that raid on Tokyo and the men who were involved. Dick Cole, Tom Griffin, Bob Hite and David Thatcher - thanks to you and the families who supported you then and today - for what you did this week 68 years ago, for what you've done with your lives since, and for being here tonight. And, thank you to the people in the audience who have done an incredible job of researching and telling the Raiders' story, like retired Col. Carroll Glines. We appreciate all of your efforts to keep this important legacy alive for our Air Force.
Given the expertise in this room, I already have a feeling that come Monday, my in-box will be full of corrections and clarifications on the history of this amazing raid. So tonight, I'll try to spend less time recreating the tremendous story of a group of men whom I consider giants, and maybe some more time discussing tonight the lessons learned from the raid that continue to serve us today.
To review the history of war is, unfortunately, to review the history of mankind. In these stories, we see our very best, and at the same time the very worst of our species. Most stories are a tribute to heroic effort, where ordinary people faced extraordinary circumstances, and where the outcome is to a nation, victory or defeat; and to a person, life or death. And, although I said I wouldn't recreate the entire raid, we do need to recount its context.
Before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. involvement in World War II was one of economic assistance. At 7:55 a.m. on Sunday the 7th of December, 1941, our role changed when waves of Japanese aircraft crippled our naval forces in Hawaii. The nation, at first in shock, and then angered, listened as President Roosevelt announced to the American people and the world that the U.S. was now at war. And as many of our ships lay burning in the water, he immediately asked his military advisers what could be done to strike back.
Nearly 60 years later we would relearn that the United States is not beyond the reach of those who wish us harm. At 8:46 a.m. on Tuesday the 11th of September, 2001, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were struck by the first of four commercial airliners hijacked by Al-Qaeda terrorists. President George Bush at the time also announced war - a Global War on Terrorism this time - and leaned on his military advisers for immediate options to strike back at the terrorists.
Although differences between the two moments in history are many, the strategic surprise and impact of a strike against Americans on our own soil are the same. Buffered from Asia and Europe by oceans on each side, the United States in both cases had grown comfortable that many of the dangers in other continents would not reach our shores. This, of course, was not the case. However, in both instances the attackers would face a capable and willing society unified in its defense, and seeking retribution against those who dared to threaten our security. Although we've seemingly forgotten some of the lessons learned from this mission, there are many more which we have been embracing solidly, like the value of information operations on the psychology of a population.
When preparing for this mission Jimmy Doolittle wrote a message to Hap Arnold explaining:
"it is anticipated that this [the Tokyo raid] will not only cause confusion and impede production but will undoubtedly facilitate operations against Japan in other theaters due to their probable withdrawal of troops for the purpose of defending the home country. An action of this kind is most desirable now due to the psychological effect on the American public, our allies and our enemies."
With the great foresight that became his trademark, Doolittle was right. And, although the raid on Tokyo did not debilitate the enemy in a tactical sense, the mission would force the enemy to act in ways which would lead to their demise. The surprise attack on the Japan homeland lured them into withholding forces for the defense of Japan and thereby overextending themselves in the Battle of Midway where the Navy would hand them a significant defeat - a loss that would signal the turning point of the war in the Pacific. In addition, the American and allied public were inspired by news of the raid, and redoubled their support for the war. Clearly, Doolittle understood the difference between tactical and strategic success, and he understood the importance of public support for the war. In addition to this strategic thought, Doolittle also knew the importance of Joint cooperation at the tactical level.
The Chief of Naval Operations at the time, Adm. Earnest King, and then-Chief of Staff of U.S. Army Air Forces, Gen. Hap Arnold, forged a Joint operation from concept through execution, and their personal commitment was very important to its success. The U.S. Navy would perform initial calculations, facilitate feasibility tests and training in carrier operations. They would track weather, and of course carry the B-25s to the fight aboard the USS Hornet. The U.S. Army Air Corps would develop the targets, train the aircrews, and fly the missions. From the crews of the aircraft all the way down to the crews of the Hornet, it is estimated that 10,000 people were involved. And from the chiefs of two Services down to the lowest ranking Airmen and Seamen, they worked together to make this audacious mission a reality.
And it's important to note this was also a Coalition effort. The work of the American Volunteer Group - who we recall as the "Flying Tigers" - under the leadership of another great American Airman, Claire Chennault, facilitated a relationship with the Chinese which would prove essential. Just as today, airfield access is the lifeblood of a global Air Force, the landing areas in China were pivotal to the mission --although one crew proved that in aiming for the Eurasian land mass you could also land in Russia!
Although from time-to-time in our military history we have failed to realize the true potential of Joint and Coalition synergies - today all military operations are Joint and Coalition efforts as a matter of doctrine, and no credible person could fail to appreciate the merits of this approach.
Detailed planning, training, and rehearsals were another great lesson and critical to mission success of the Doolittle raid. In the run-up to the mission, Doolittle was empowered to handpick and train his aircrews. These men practiced launching B-25s simulating operations from a carrier deck at Eglin Field in Florida. Crews also practiced cross-country and night flying without landmarks or radio aids, and engaged in low-level bombing and aerial gunnery proficiency training on the Eglin ranges. Today, the concept of mission rehearsals is alive and well, particularly in our special operations forces, where live rehearsals against a planned objective are normal practice.
As an aside, I just visited Eglin Air Force Base last week, and they have dedicated a hangar to the late retired Master Sgt. Edwin Horton, a gunner on Crew 10, for his lifetime of dedicated service to our great nation in the Tokyo raid and beyond. Master Sergeant Horton would retire from active duty only to serve and retire again as an Air Force civilian as well--both with distinction. He likely found his flight engineer experience to be just as helpful at the Climatic Lab at Eglin AFB at which he worked, as it was in 1942 when the Raiders set out to modify aircraft for the Tokyo Raid at the same location.
Jimmy Doolittle and his crews had a very direct hand in modifying aircraft in record time for this mission. Doolittle, given the authority to select the aircraft for this mission, chose the B-25 medium bomber because it was the only airplane available that met the mission's needs - specifically range, payload capacity, and an ability to take off in short distances. But, the crews would need to modify the aircraft in short order to reduce weight in exchange for fuel and bombs.
The mission demanded they install extra fuel capacity to enable them to fly 2,000 miles at 500 feet above the ocean with over a ton of bombs. To further extend the range of the aircraft, they ingeniously replaced heavy rear guns with lighter wooden replicas and removed other heavy pieces of equipment. Finally, they replaced their famous, vaunted Norden bombsight with one much lighter and more accurate at low altitude. And, by the way, it was modified with a 25-cent part fabricated in a flight line metal shop.
This spirit of innovation and ingenuity is still alive in our Airmen today, although acquisition is something the Air Force is working aggressively to improve, especially through the leadership here at Wright-Patterson AFB. In the spirit of the Raiders, we do have recent successes. We deployed the MC-12 - also known as Project Liberty - from concept to combat in less than nine months. A manned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platform, it too is the product of input from the field on an accelerated timeline--although I have to say the Raiders' timeline and their hands-on work is tough to beat!
While having the right equipment is as important now as it was then, the resource most critical to mission success also remains the same - our people.
One thing we have certainly learned from the Raiders is the value of volunteers, and not just on really dangerous missions, as this one was, but in all missions. Today the quality of personnel in the United States Air Force and the other Services is unmatched, largely because it is an all-volunteer, professional force.
Those involved with this mission demonstrated extraordinary leadership and professionalism - from the President of the United States to each individual crewmember. The fact that success relies heavily on strong leadership is a lesson that we've learned well enough to institutionalize, and today we invest significantly in the study and promotion of leadership at all levels.
Additionally, we've learned the value of education from the man who could be considered certainly a great warrior-scholar. Dr. James Doolittle - Gen. James Doolittle - was extraordinary in so many ways. His talents would be drawn on throughout planning and execution--as a world-renown aviator, as an engineer and as a leader.
Although Jimmy Doolittle set the bar high, our professional development programs seek to cultivate these qualities in our own force. We continue to emphasize advanced degrees, language training, technical training, and professional military education - all of which focus on producing a well-rounded officer, who can both lead and manage. And, while leadership was crucial to this mission, the way the mission was managed may be one of the greatest lessons to be learned from the raid.
Organizational managers might take note from the fact that regular and direct communication existed between Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall, Admiral King, and General Arnold, and it was crucial to the success of this mission. It was of such significance that all three were at one time or another in direct communication with then Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle. This was and remains quite irregular, but is critical to the support the Raiders received.
Besides organizational management, this mission is also a lesson in risk management. Colonel Glines in one of his books referred to Jimmy Doolittle as the "Master of the Calculated Risk." I think he probably got it right, as General Doolittle's actions certainly support the title. He managed risk...and when surprise was essential to success and survival of the mission, incredible operational security was used to mitigate risk. When taking off from a carrier was necessary, he hand-selected crews and aircraft, and then trained them appropriately. His approach always was to not question whether a thing could be done, but to instead ask how can it be done? And how to do it smartly, and how not take unnecessary risks. Although like all of our pilots he loved to fly, he proved that he understood risk in his own career when, after flying a Gee Bee racer and winning the Thompson Trophy, he retired from racing because he did not consider its value commensurate with its risk.
In summary--Raiders, we are indebted to you and your families, for accomplishing what many thought was impossible. We owe you for recognizing the strategic value of striking at the heart of an adversary, for seizing the initiative even in the war's darkest hour, and uplifting the spirits of all Americans. And, we owe you for the supreme example you presented us in the way of courage, professionalism, creativity, leadership, and patriotism. That we continue to draw from this story is my fervent hope--that this story continues to live on, and that your example continues to educate and inspire future generations of Airmen.
Thank you Raiders for this precious legacy. America's Air Force humbly stands on your broad shoulders. Let your deeds and your example be remembered for all time. It is an honor to be here - with you - for this historic reunion.