Map: Doolittle Raid - raid from Shangri-la

I recently watched an old Japanese movie Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku 連合艦隊司令長官山本五十六, a well made movie, portraying Yamamoto Isoroku (山本五十六) as a strategic visionary who knew that instead of allying with German and Italy and fighting the US, Japan should have focused on its 4-year old war in China alone.

In the movie it was mentioned that one of the triggers for the Battle of Midway was the Doolittle Raid in Tokyo on April 18, 1942 (which was depicted (with some mirrow factual errors) in the much lamer movie Pearl Harbor). Yamamoto decided that the US aircraft carriers should be destroyed to protect Japan from air raids.

Dollittle Raid itself was a total failure as a military campaign. All the 16 B-25 bombers crash landed after running out of fuel (except 1, which was confiscated by the "neutral" USSR at the time), although none was damaged in the raid. Japan lost about 50 people and another 250 wounded (mostly minor injury), plus some 90 factories damaged to different extent. The objective was supposed to boost the morale domestically in US, which has been achieved. Arguably additional (undesired) strategic benefit include forcing repatrication of some of Japan's fighters to defend the cities, and most importantly, Midway.

Midway is, arguably the turning point in the Pacific Theater. Though the destiny of the war has already been determined when US entered. Even if Japan had won Midway, it would only have delayed the US coutner-attach by a few months to a year, since US would have produced more carriers in the long run. War is determined by economy and technology. Furthermore, the schedule of the development of the Atomic Bomb was indifferent to the result of Midway.

In the maps above you could see the flight paths of these 16 bombers. The reason it ran out of fuel was because the aircraft carriers were encountered Japanese warships and had to launch the attack 200 miles (300 km) before the planned launch location, i.e., 1120km from Tokyo.

An animate map of the Doolittle Raid can be found here. A detailed account (in Chinese) here.

The original destinations were supposed to be Quzhou (west of Zhejiang province, 浙江衢州, map below) and Nanchang of Jiangxi province (江西南昌), which were not occupied by the Japanese at the time. Unfortunately the crash landing scattering in an area of 500 sq km around Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.

Among the 75 Americans landed in China
  • 62 were rescued by Chinese civilians and guerilla. One was killed by Japanese during transportation, 2 dies in crash landing. 64 were saved and transferred to US.
  • 2 planes (10 people) were unaccoutned for, 2 died in crash landing, 8 captured by Japanese, of which 3 were subsequently executed, another died of abuse -- 3 Japanese officers who were responsible for the abuse would later be sentenced to 5 years, another 1 to 9 years in Shanghai (were they eligible to enter Yasukuni when they died?)
  • 1 plane (5 crew members) landed in Vladivostok, the plane was confiscated and the crew were sent back via Iran after 13 months
In one village where crashed plane was spotted by the Japanese, all 27 villagers were killed on spot for refusing to tell the whereabout of the Americans.

In the 3 months after the crash landing, Japanese army raided Chinese villages and killed 250,000 civilians in the area. The notorious Unit 731 participated in the action, testing its newly developed biological weapon.

Some other tidbits (see wiki and zh.wiki)
  • In addition to US movies, ROC (Taiwan) made a couple movies depicting the rescue
  • The event was seldomly mentioned (and rarely known) in mainland China until around 1990. (Flying Tigers was more well known)
  • Chinese civilian tried every effort to satisfy the need of the American crew, Zeng Jianpei even managed to get a bottle of beer for the American, an impossinle task in occupied rural China. He was rewarded with 50 bottles in return when he was invited to the 1992 Doolittle Reunion in US
  • President Rooselvolt told the press conference that the planes took off from "Shangri-la"
  • A "bench" player Henry, offered $100 to take a seat to the raid right before took-off. His offer was unanswered
  • Doolittle himself gave up opportunity to bomb a carrier he sighted in Tokyo Bay and proceeded to his targets
  • The instruction was not to attack civilian targets (only military related factories were targeted), and the Emporer's Palace were explicitly avoided


Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say thanks for posting that fantastic write-up!! I particularly enjoyed looking at the maps too. I have heard some good things about "rengo kantai shirei chokan" and I am going to try to watch it sometime soon.

Sun Bin said...


thanks for your comment.

yes, i think 'rengo kantai hirei chokan' is a decent movie. although for the purist it has all the elements of the 'apologist'. e.g.
1) it only questioned the strategic mistake of confronting the US, but not the inevitability of the conflict given the agreesivenss of Japan then
2) it also portrayed the tripartite axis as an "axis against comintern", instead of an axis of fascism
3) it empahsized that yamamoto seeked 'peace' after winning a few battles. but that was not entirely true.

anyway, it was a much better made movie (as a movie) compared with more recent revisionist movies such as "Lorelei" or "Yamato".

Anonymous said...

The definitive American movie on the raid is "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" (not the lame "Pearl Harbor") -->

Thanks for the great post!

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