21. From World War II Zeroes to Heroes
On April 1st, 1942, Doolittle’s B-25s, each with four 500-pound bombs, three high explosives and one incendiary, along with their five-man crews and maintenance personnel, were loaded aboard the carrier USS Hornet. The Hornet and her escorts, Task Force 18, sailed from San Francisco on April 2nd. North of Hawaii on the 12th, they linked up with the carrier USS Enterprise and Task Force 16, commanded by Vice Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey. At first, the Hornet’s crew had resented their USAAF passengers, assuming that they were just ferrying them and their bombers. But when Halsey finally informed the sailors that they were headed to Tokyo, their cheers shook the deck, and the airmen immediately went from zeroes to heroes.
Trouble cropped up on the morning of April 18th, 1942, when the task force was sighted by an enemy picket boat 750 miles from Japan. It was quickly sunk, but by then it had sent 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. At 08:20, Doolittle flew the first B-25 off the Hornet’s deck, and by 09:19, the other 15 bombers had followed him into the air. Flying low to avoid detection, they winged their way to Japan. They arrived around noon and bombed targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe, Osaka, Nagoya, and Yokosuka.