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Illusive Target (3)

III. American Bombing Plans and Japanese Worries

Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, among other Japanese leaders, fretted about the possibility of bombing attacks on the Japanese homeland even before Pearl Harbor (Gordon Prange et al, At Dawn We Slept, p. 17). While Yamamoto's concern probably related to a carrier attack, he may have been aware of a possible attack from China as well. As if to confirm that bombing Japan had been on the minds of high officials of the U.S. Government and Military before Pear Harbor, not long after Japan's attack on Hawaii planning for an attack on Tokyo began at the behest of President Roosevelt. Most famous of the bombing projects and the one that actually took place was the Doolittle mission.

In December 1941 President Roosevelt emphatically stated to high military leaders that he wanted a bombing raid on the Japanese home islands as soon as possible in order to raise the morale of the American people and the Allies. Despite many military disasters befalling the United States planning immediately went forward. By mid-January 1942 the basic concept of launching Army medium bombers from a Navy aircraft carrier had taken shape.

The story of the Doolittle raid has been the subject of many books and a well known motion picture. This article will not attempt to duplicate previous efforts by recording the mission in detail.

Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle was a renowned aviator. He left a career in the military, obtained an engineering doctorate, gained fame as a racing pilot, and participated in important technical developments during the 1930's. He had been recalled to active duty in 1940. By the end of January 1942 Doolittle was placed in charge of the secret "B-25 special project".

The B-25s were to take off from an aircraft carrier 400-500 miles from Japan, "bomb and fire" Japanese industrial centers including Tokyo, and, land in China. The bases to be used for landing were Chuchow, Lishui, Yushan, and Chienou. After landing at these forward bases the bombers would assemble at Chungking and eventually go to India for use in operations in the newly created China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater of operations.

Some of the bases to be used had received modern communications equipment to support the original CAF leaflet raid on Japan. Others, specifically Chuchow, had lengthened runways and modern facilities installed to accommodate the B-17s the Chinese thought would be coming to China in 1941.

The East China bases

The "special project" was scheduled to take place before the end of April to avoid the kind of weather problems encountered by the CAF raid in May 1938. The Chinese were not to be informed of the mission until the last moment since it was assumed that any information given to the Chinese would end up in the hands of Japanese intelligence. Finally, it was hoped the Russians might be willing to accept the B-25s as lend-lease supplies at Vladivostok. This latter point (which did not come to pass) was deemed important in an attempt to avoid interference between the Doolittle mission and another plan to bomb Japan from bases in China.

In addition to the Doolittle mission, by February 1942 there were two additional projects in the works to bomb Japan. The two plans are often lumped together under the term HALPRO (Halvorson Project). They were similar in that they involved using heavy bombers to attack Japan from bases in China. The two missions differed in that they involved two separate forces using different types of aircraft under different commanding officers.

The first of the three forces to leave the United States to raid Japan was not Doolittle's carrier-borne B-25 contingent but a force of heavy bombers commanded by Col. Caleb V. Haynes. Originally conceived as the advance echelon of the newly formed Tenth Air Force, Haynes' force was also given the mission of attacking Japan. Twelve B-17Es and a B-24 flown by Haynes departed in the last week of March 1942. The last to depart, B-17E No. 41-9031, left Florida on March 31, 1942. Carrier Hornet with Doolittle's B-25s on board left San Francisco on April 2, 1942.

In Air Corps circles, if not among the general public, Haynes was nearly as renowned as Doolittle. He twice (1938, 1939) won the MacKay Trophy. He flew the XB-15 in record setting flights and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a much publicized flight to Chile transporting relief supplies to earthquake victims.

In addition to raiding Japan, Haynes had been led to understand he would be given command of a bomber group in the CBI. Haynes was to be disappointed on both counts.

The Haynes contingent is sometimes referred to as FORCE AQUILA but it is doubtful this was ever an official designation. It was also apparently referred to as HALPRO but as already pointed out it was separate from the Halvorson detachment.

Flying the South Atlantic ferry route (Florida - Puerto Rico - Trinidad - Brazil - Liberia - Nigeria - Sudan - Aden - India), Haynes arrived at Karachi on 7 April 1942 in his B-24. The B-17Es arrived over the next several days. Haynes flew on to headquarters in New Delhi to get his final orders for the mission.

Events now conspired against completion of the mission. Allied resistance in Burma was collapsing and Japanese task forces were ravaging shipping off India's east coast and attacking British bases in Ceylon. Unexpectedly and most importantly - Chiang Kai-shek objected to bombers using China's eastern bases for attacks on Japan!

The B-17s at Karachi sat idle for nearly two weeks except for a few missions flown over the Arabian Sea in search of a Japanese naval force allegedly operating there. Haynes returned from New Delhi to announce that the bombing mission against Japan was permanently cancelled. Haynes and his deputy, Col. Robert L. Scott, and a few other personnel were assigned to the Assam-Burma-China Ferrying Command. The bombers and most of the crews went to other units of the Tenth Air Force.

The arrival of FORCE AQUILA in India coincided with Chiang Kai-shek belatedly being advised about the forthcoming raids on Japan. On April 11, Washington learned Chiang objected to the use of eastern bases but at first thought this related only to "HALPRO." It soon became apparent Chiang's objection related to the Doolittle mission as well. Chiang's objection was based on the fact that Chuchow with its expensive and modern improvements was not covered by his troops. He feared the loss of the airfield to the Japanese if it was used by American bombers.

Several tense days followed. On April 13, Col. Clayton L. Bissell, the CBI's senior aviation staff officer, was informed that the Doolittle project was too far along to be cancelled. However, the "second mission" to take place at a later date would come under the control of General Stilwell (CBI commander) and would be coordinated in accordance with Chiang's desires (apparently the Haynes mission was immediately sacrificed but hope maintained for HALPRO).

It was not until April 16, two days before the Doolittle raid that Chiang reluctantly agreed to the use of Yushan, Lishui, Kian, Kweilin and Hengyang. The Generalissimo continued to insist that Chuchow not be used.

On April 18, the Doolittle raiders hit their targets and headed for their destination in China - Chuchow! None of the B-25s made it. They were forced to launch from Hornet earlier than planned due to being sighted by Japanese picket boats and then ran into darkness and bad weather over China. All the B-25s crashed. Chuchow was not aware that the B-25s were en route and did not broadcast a directional signal. In fact when aircraft were heard overhead lights on the field were extinguished and an air-raid alarm sounded. Some of the bombers crashed within several miles of Chuchow. Many of the surviving crews passed through Chuchow during the course of their rescue.

Chiang's fears proved far from groundless. In May the Japanese began a campaign to wrest key airfields from Chinese control. On June 6, 1942, Chuchow, with its modern hangers and facilities, fell to the Japanese.

The Doolittle raid inflicted some damage including scoring a direct hit on an aircraft carrier under construction. It apparently had at least a temporary adverse affect on Japanese morale. Most importantly it confirmed the Japanese in their plan to take Midway Island in the central Pacific. That decision led to a major Japanese defeat and was a turning point of the Pacific War.

HALPRO left the United States late in May 1942 with their mission to bomb Japan apparently confirmed despite Chiang's earlier objections. Col. Harry A. Halvorson led 23 new B-24D aircraft along the ferry route from the United States to South America, across the Atlantic, to Africa. Bulk supplies and spare parts for the mission had been sent to Karachi by ship but the bombers also carried supplies and equipment. The Liberators were loaded with a three months supply of food and double issues of most equipment. For example, each navigator had two sextants. A spare nose wheel was carried in each bomber.

In addition to their normal crews the bombers also carried the detachment's two-man intelligence section, one of whom spoke Mandarin Chinese. Also on board the bombers were Gen. P.H. Wang of the CAF, and, none other than Dr. Lauchlin Currie, President Roosevelt's special assistant for China.

continued in part 4