Doolittle's Tokyo Raid, at a glance 70 years later

The Associated Press Published:

THE TIME: Still reeling from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Americans in early spring 1942 were seeing Japanese forces rolling through the Pacific, taking thousands of prisoners in April 1942 for the beginning of the infamous Bataan death march. "Japan and Germany are winning the world war pretty handily," explains historian Hugh Ambrose. "America has suffered a number of defeats in the Pacific Rim in rather startling fashion. There is a great deal of fear on the part of the American public."

THE PLAN: Commanded by Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle, 16 land-based B-25 bombers with crews of five men each launch from an aircraft carrier. Modified to maximize fuel capacity, the planes would drop their payloads on a variety of strategic targets on Japan's mainland, then head to friendly air bases in China. But they were spotted and launched earlier and farther out than planned; all but one crash-landed or was ditched off China's coast.

THE TOLL: Eight Raiders were captured. Three were executed, a fourth died in captivity. Three were killed trying to reach China, and 10 more were killed in later war action.

THE IMPACT: Historians say the raid, while doing relatively little military damage in comparison to the assault on U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor, boosted American morale while stunning the Japanese and stemming their tide. A major U.S. victory two months later at the Battle of Midway signaled the war was beginning to shift.

THE FOOTNOTE: Raiders Maj. Thomas Griffin and Gen. David Jones were shot down in later missions, were reunited in the German prison Stalag Luft III, site of "The Great Escape" depicted in the 1963 movie. A 2002 documentary short narrated by actor James Coburn features Jones, who died in 2008, as a model for the character played by Steve McQueen.

LEARNING MORE: Surviving Raiders recommend "The Doolittle Raid," a 1991 book by Carroll V. Glines, as a definitive recounting of their story, and "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," a 1944 movie based on pilot Ted Lawson's story, with Spencer Tracy playing Doolittle. The movie will be shown during their reunion this week.