Halsey-Doolittle Raid: Bombing of Tokyo

Action Report: USS Hornet (CV-6)
Captain Marc A. Mitscher to Admiral Chester A. Nimitz


1st Endorsement by Adm. Halsey

Serial 0015
S E C R E T April 28, 1942 Care of Postmaster,
San Francisco,
From: Commanding Officer.  
To: Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet  
Via: Commander Carriers, Pacific Fleet.
Subject: Report of Action, April 18, 1942, with notable events prior and subsequent thereto.
Reference: (a) U.S. Navy Regulations, 1920, Article 712.

  1. In compliance with reference (a), the following report of action is submitted:

    1. On 1 April, 1942, while Hornet was moored at the U.S. Naval Air Station, Alameda pier, sixteen Army B-25 bombers were hoisted to the flight deck and there parked. Under the command of Lieut. Colonel James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army, the B-25 Detachment consisted of seventy officers and one hundred thirty enlisted men. Lieutenant H.L. Miller, U.S. Navy, attached to the detachment as carrier take-off instructor also reported aboard for temporary duty, intending to return to Alameda after a demonstration take-off for the benefit of doubting Army pilots. The idea was abandoned when all planes were spotted for take-off and it was found that sixteen bombers could be comfortably accommodated, leaving a take-off run of 467 feet for the first plane. The advantage of having an extra plane for attack outweighed the desirability of demonstrating a proper take-off.

    2. At 1000, April 2, 1942, Task Force Eighteen, consisting of Hornet, Nashville, Vincennes, Cimarron and Desdiv 22, stood out of San Francisco in a fog which reduced visibility to about 1000 yards. Once clear of the swept channel a northwesterly course was set. Air coverage was provided by Commander Western Sea Frontier until late afternoon. Navy blimp L-6 delivered two boxes of navigator's domes for the B-25s. Vessels of the Task Force were notified of the mission by semaphore message late in the afternoon, and the crew of this vessel were informed by loudspeaker. Cheers from every section of the ship greeted the announcement and morale reached a new high, there to remain until after the attack was launched and the ship well clear of combat areas.

    3. On 6 April a strange type of numeral code was heard on 3095 kcs, strong signal (type of code: 69457 R 73296 R 47261 R). Japanese broadcast stations were continually monitored in order to establish program continuity. Any departure from their usual arrangement while Hornet was in the combat zone could have been construed as a warning of danger.

    4. Weather conditions were generally bad throughout the voyage. Heavy seas and high winds, coupled with rain and squalls, reduced the danger of being sighted but prevented cruiser aircraft from conducting flight operations. At times speed of the force was reduced to prevent structural damage to the Cimarron. Destroyers fueled on 8 April.

    5. On April 9 instructions were received to delay rendezvous with Task Force 16 until 13 April. Reversed course and slowed to comply. Attempted to fuel Hornet from Cimarron but had to defer the operation because of heavy seas. Cimarron lost two men overboard in the attempt; one was recovered by life ring and heaving line, the other by Meredith. A man previously lost overboard from Vincennes was also recovered by Meredith in a prompt and efficient manner. On 10 April Cimarron fueled both cruisers. On 11 April set course 255° true for rendezvous with Task Force 16. On 12 April fueled Hornet and topped off cruisers and destroyers. Cimarron efficiently fueled two destroyers simultaneously under adverse weather conditions. At 1630 LCT 12 April, radar transmissions were detected from 230°, distant 130 miles. Contact was made with Task Force 16 at daylight 13 April. From 2 April until junction with Task Force 16 no contacts of any kind were made.

    6. Various minor difficulties were experienced with the B-25s from departure until launching. Generator failures, spark plug changes, leaky gas tanks, brake trouble, and engine trouble culminated in the removal of one engine to the Hornet shops where it was repaired, then reinstalled. Planes could not be spotted for take-off until after final fueling because their wings overhung the ship's side. The high winds encountered caused vibrations in all control surfaces. Constant surveillance and rigid inspections were required to make certain the planes were properly secured to the flight deck.

    7. B-25s were spotted for take-off on 16 April. The last plane hung far out over the stern ramp in a precarious position. The lead plane had 467 feet of clear deck for take-off.

    8. On 18 April at 0800 orders were received to launch aircraft. Army crews, who had expected to take-off late in the afternoon, had to be rounded up and last minute instructions noted. Engines were warmed up, Hornet turned into the wind and at 0825 the first plane, Lieut. Colonel Doolittle, USA, pilot, left the deck.

    9. With only one exception, take -offs were dangerous and improperly executed. Apparently, full back stabilizer was used by the first few pilots. As each plane neared the bow, with more than required speed, the pilot would pull up and climb in a dangerous near-stall, struggle wildly to nose down, then fight the controls for several miles trying to gain real flying speed and more than a hundred feet altitude. Lieutenant Miller, USN, held up a blackboard of final instructions for the pilots, but few obeyed. That the take-off could be made easily when properly executed was shown when a B-25 made a straight run down the deck, lifted gently in an easy climb and gained altitude with no trouble.

    10. Plane handling on the flight deck was expeditious and well done. One plane handler lost an arm by backing to a B-25 propeller. A high wind of over forty knots and heavy swells caused Hornet t pitch violently, occasionally taking green seas over the bow and wetting the flight deck. The over-all time for launching sixteen bombers was 59 minutes. Average interval, 3.9 minutes.

    11. From April 13 to April 16, little of note occurred; weather continued to be heavy and squally, with generally poor visibility, which of course contributed to the success of the mission. Enterprise maintained air patrol. Steaming on westerly courses.

    12. On April 17 all heavy ships were topped off and oilers and destroyers were detached. After fueling, cruisers and carriers continued their westerly advance at various high speeds (20-25 knots). 20000 position April 17: Lat:38°-33'N; Long. 157°-54'E. At 0310 April 18 made radar contact on unknown object, distance 3100 yards abeam. At 0313 course was changed by TBS to 350° T. At 0411 the ship was called to General Quarters and course was again changed to west. At 0507 course was changed into wind for launching of Enterprise planes. At 0522 changed course to 270° T. At 0633 changed course to 220° T. At 0738 sighted enemy patrol craft of about 150 tons bearing 220°, distance 20,000 yards. At 0748 changed course to 270° T. At 0755 Nashville opened fire on patrol vessel which was also bombed and strafed by Enterprise planes. The vessel was still afloat when out of sight astern; Nashville remained behind to destroy it. 0800 Position, April 18: Lat. 35°-26' N.; Long. 153°-27; E. At 0800 received orders from Comtaskfor 16 to launch bombers. At 0803 changed course into wind and prepared to launch; steaming at 22 knots, course 310° T. Crews manning planes and numerous lashings being removed from planes consumed several minutes. At 0825 launched first B-25 (Lieut. Colonel Doollttle pilot). Second plane launched 7 minutes later. Launchings have been previously discussed. Last bomber launched at 0920, after which Hornet reversed course to 090° T. and joined disposition. At 1100 word was received that enemy aircraft contact had been made by Japanese at 0830 (-10 time) in our approximate position at that time. At 1107 Nashville rejoined. Hornet aircraft being made ready for launching. At 1115 launched 8 VF. At 1410 small enemy craft sighted 15,000 yards on port beam. Nashville proceeded and destroyed this vessel. At 1425 an Enterprise VSB crashed dead ahead of this ship while flight operations were being conducted. Nashville recovered plane personnel. At 1445 Japanese language and English language broadcast announced the raid on Japan. No enemy aircraft sighted at any time. General Quarters stations were manned through the day.

    13. The remainder of return trip was uneventful except for the loss of one VSB -- both occupants were seen to sink - one with the plane and one unconscious alongside the plane. Entered Pearl Harbor morning April 25.

  2. The Commanding Officer desires to state that the morale of the crew was exceptionally fine. All officers and men performed their duties in a completely satisfactory manner. No individual was outstanding or deserving of special commendation, and there is no reason for censure. Morale was somewhat lowered after danger of enemy air attack had diminished; a majority of the officers and men were quite surprised that no further action against enemy bases was contemplated, and were obviously disappointed. It is believed that attacks should be made as frequently as possible on raiding missions to keep morale and "action exhiliration" in a high state.

  3. Submarines used in conjunction with such an attack would be highly valuable. They could cover the retreat of the attacking force and could possibly eliminate the patrol vessels in the track of the attacking force, permitting the latter to reach a more favorable launching point without being discovered.

/signed/ M.A. MITSCHER.

Serial 0024 Pearl Harbor, T.H.,
29 APR 1942
  1st endorsement on
CO HORNET Serial 015
of April 28, 1942.
From: Commander Task Force SIXTEEN.
To: Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Subject: Report of Action, April 18, 1942, with notable events prior and subsequent thereto.

  1. The Task Force Commander considers that the successful transportation and launching of the Army bombers under the continuous adverse weather conditions which prevailed reflects great credit to the Commanding Officer, Hornet, Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle, and the Army personnel involved.

  2. The radar contact at 0310, April 18, distance 3100 yard abeam, mentioned in paragraph 1(1) of the basic report, is at considerable variance with presumably the same contact as reported by Enterprise radar. At the time the Enterprise was one mile astern of the Hornet, course 265 true. At 0310 the Enterprise radar reported contact on two surface vessels bearing 255 true distance 21,000 yards. The contact was plotted to a minimum range of 16,000 yards, and disappeared from the screen at 27,000 yards, bearing 201 true.

W.F. Halsey

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Transcribed and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation