Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Target Tokyo' Offers a Gripping Retelling of the Doolittle Raid, Complete with New Detail

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Target Tokyo' Offers a Gripping Retelling of the Doolittle Raid, Complete with New Detail

Article excerpt

Shortly after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor forced America into World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered his military leaders to find a way to bring the war directly to the Japanese homeland. The plan was, ultimately, straightforward: a small naval task force would launch a handful of bombers to attack military and industrial targets in and near Tokyo and land in airbases in China that had not yet fallen into Japanese hands.

But it was an audacious undertaking. The navy would have to get close to Japan while avoiding the far more powerful Japanese fleet and air force. The large land-based bombers would have to take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier (something never before attempted) with an absurdly short runway, avoid enemy fighters and anti-aircraft fire, bomb the targets, and locate small, poorly marked airfields in China. In short, it had all the makings of a suicide mission.

And things got off to a bad start. The Japanese navy discovered the American task force and the planes were launched far earlier than intended, guaranteeing that the pilots would not have enough fuel to reach China. While the bombers successfully executed their attacks and suffered almost no damage in doing so, all but one of the planes crash landed. Amazingly almost all of the airmen survived, and with the help of Chinese farmers and villagers, the vast majority soon escaped to safety.

The mission was led by Lt. Colonel James ("Jimmy") Doolittle." A successful and well known racing and test pilot (he was the first person to fly a plane using instruments alone) and an aeronautical engineer with graduate degrees from MIT, he was also a natural and inspirational leader. Surprisingly, Doolittle himself thought that the raid had been a failure because all the planes were destroyed and he told a crew member that he expected to be court marshaled. The crewman disagreed and told Doolittle that he would be promoted to general and awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The subordinate proved the better prognosticator.

Given all the attention that the Doolittle raid has received in the last 73 years (it was memorialized even before the war ended in "Thirty Seconds over Tokyo," a film starring Spencer Tracey and Van Johnson), it's hard to imagine that there is much we don't know about this story. But in Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid that Avenged Pearl Harbor, James Scott provides an extraordinarily complete account of the mission and its aftermath. The story is still familiar, of course, but he tells it in a gripping, compulsively readable way that will have great appeal to anyone with even a passing interest in the Second World War.

Scott appears to have read everything ever written about the attack and uncovered materials that had not previously been examined. …

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