11 April, 2010

Profile 42 - "02344" as flown by Jimmy Doolittle and Richard Cole

Of all the airplanes I've ever done, the one above is the most...awesome.  Not 'awesome' in the way Sean Penn in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" said it.  Certainly not awesome in that the art is brilliant - it's ok but not awesome.

The B-25B above is awesome because of the act of her crew.

You can do your own search for "Doolittle Raid," but here's the gist - on April 18, 1942, the United States military conducted the first assertive act against the Japanese by bombing that nation's mainland.  16 bombers with 5 crew apiece, took off from the carrier Hornet on a mission that, at its heart, was a public relations stunt to rile Japanese military leaders and give American press something heroic to write about.

On paper, the odds of real strategic success were ridiculous.  16 bombers were laughably puny, especially since the targets were spread out over the country.  Enemy interception by fighters and flak were to be counted upon. Lastly, landing strips in China were primitive and would have to be found in the dark.  And, much of coastal China was occupied by the Japanese.

In reality, the mission was - to use an oft-used word - suicidal

Jimmy Doolittle, the mission's leader, was a famous pilot who'd honed his expertise in the 30's flying racers.   If you know anything about pre-WW2 aviation, you'll understand why he would be called today, "an adrenalin junkie." Plus he was a scientific genius.  Jimmy seemed to enjoy risk like most people enjoy breakfast.

But later, Doolittle published his biography, "I Could Never Be So Lucky Again," a title largely driven by his survival of his -as the movie stated - 30 seconds over Tokyo.

All of the B-25s crashed en-route to their landing zones, save for one that managed to land in Russia.  Miraculously, "only" 5 crewmen died.  Three were executed by the Japanese, one died bailing out and one died in a prison camp.  A remaining three managed to make it to war-end and were liberated in August of 1945.  The rest of the Raiders trickled back to Allied lines, aided at great risk by Chinese peasants, militia and soldiers.

With loss of all of the aircraft (Russia didn't give the B-25 back), ten percent casualties and pin-prick damage to the Japanese, Doolittle believed he lead a failure - with is rather surprising consider any 30's air racer knew the value of Hype because in that regard, the Doolittle Raid was HUGE.

The Japanese military leaders were incensed beyond fury and demonstrated their character through an enraged search for the crewmen, killing possibly more than two hundred thousand* Chinese in the process. On the homefront, the pay-back for Pearl Harbor was invigoratingly sweet, helping to fuel a national unity that expressed itself in a herculean materiel machine.

See why this drab bomber is so Awesome?

And I get to meet her Co-pilot, Richard Cole, in a few weeks.

I will be in awe, no doubt.

UPDATE:  a history-geek's moment of awesomeness—A "selfie" as I drive  Doolittle Raider Dick Cole and 352nd FG ace Alden Rigby around town.  The wonderful woman in between is Dick's daughter, Cindy.  In case you're wondering why I'm sitting cross-wise, it's because I was listening in as the three talked politics.

*Anyone resting in the sophistication and civility of the 21st Century is urged to read up on the Japanese occupation of China during WW2.  Two things should become clear.  One, Japan has made light-year strides as a nation in its effort to distance herself from the insanity of its WW2 leadership.  Two, it's going to take continual effort to ensure that kind of evil won't happen again, anywhere.