12. The Pressure of Decision-Making in Adverse Conditions
On the morning of April 18, 1942, 750 miles from Japan, the task force was sighted by a Japanese picket boat. It was quickly sunk, but not before sending a radio message. Fearing loss of the element of the surprise, it was decided to launch the bombers immediately, 10 hours earlier and 170 miles further from Japan than initially planned. Sixteen B-25s, carrying 500lb bombs and incendiaries, lumbered off the Hornet and, flying low to avoid detection, winged their way to Tokyo. They arrived around noon and bombed military and industrial targets.
15 bombers made it to China, where they crash-landed. Another made its way to Vladivostok, where it and its crew were interred by the Soviets. Of eighty B-25 crewmen, three were killed, and eight were captured by the Japanese. Three prisoners were executed, and one died in captivity. The raid inflicted little physical damage, but the psychological impact was huge on both sides of the Pacific. It boosted morale in America, and embarrassed the Japanese high command. Tokyo bigwigs sought to regain face by attempting to seize Midway Island a few weeks later, only for it to end in a catastrophic Japanese defeat.