25. A Sailor’s Brainstorm Kicks Off a Great Feat of Arms
Striking back at Japan seemed beyond reach until US Navy Captain Francis Stuart Low happened to look down as he flew over Chambers Field at Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia. Below was a runway painted with the outline of an aircraft carrier’s deck. That was not unusual in of itself: carrier pilots routinely practiced takeoffs and landings on such simulated decks on the ground. That day, however, there were some twin-engine Army bombers parked nearby. In one of those sudden insights that occasionally strike gifted military men, Low linked the Army bombers to the adjacent painted carrier deck outline. Why, he thought, not meld the assets of two services to launch long-range Army bombers from a Navy carrier’s deck?
On January 10, 1942, Captain Low, Assistant Chief of Staff for antisubmarine warfare, took his idea to Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief of the US Fleet. King thought the idea had potential, so he ran it by Henry “Hap” Arnold, the US Army Air Forces head honcho. Arnold liked the idea, and planning began for a top secret mission to launch long-range Army bombers from an aircraft carrier to hit Japan. To organize the raid, Arnold picked Lieutenant Colonel James Harold “Jimmy” Doolittle, who had been a famous airplane racer, test pilot, and aeronautical engineer who had pulled off many an extraordinary aviation feat before the war.