After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Americans devised a plan to strike cities in the Japanese home islands. Though it had never been tried, the plan called for launching Army bombers off Navy aircraft carriers. The North American B-25 Mitchell bomber proved to be the most suitable aircraft because of the distance it could fly as well as the payload in bombs it could deliver on target.
Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle volunteered in January 1942 to lead the strike. He and his crews trained in B-25s for carrier take-offs at Eglin Field, Florida. Pilots would have about 400 feet of deck runway to get airborne. The crews did not train for landing on carriers as the plan called for the bombers to take off while at sea, proceed over targets in Japan, and then land at friendly fields in China. Prior to the mission, technicians removed unnecessary equipment from the bombers and installed more fuel capacity. Volunteer crews trained in short take-offs, evasive maneuvers, and low altitude approaches and bombing.
Cranes loaded sixteen B-25s onto the deck of USS Hornet (CV-8) at Alameda on 1 April 1942. The Hornet then steamed to join USS Enterprise (CV-6) and the rest of Task Force 16 (TF-16), under the command of Vice Admiral William Halsey.
Early in the morning on 18 April 1942, a Japanese fishing trawler serving as an early-warning picket boat spotted TF-16 and sent a radio message warning Tokyo of the American carriers. This caused Doolittle to launch the raid 10 hours earlier and 200 miles farther out than originally planned.
The Doolittle Raiders attacked targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya and Kobe. Most bombers made it to China, a few ditched at sea, and one crew elected to land in the Soviet Union. Of the 80 Raiders, 3 were killed in action while 8 became prisoners of war in Japan.
All 80 Raiders received the Distinguished Flying Cross while Doolittle received the Medal of Honor for his planning and leadership. While the Doolittle Raid inflicted minimal material damage in Japan, it did shatter the Japanese perception of invulnerability while boosting American morale.
The Doolittle Raid exhibit at the museum portrays a B-25 ready for takeoff from the deck of the Hornet. The mural shows the other aircraft warming their engines in preparation for takeoff. USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Vincennes (CA-44) are visible to port and starboard. The aircraft on display is a later model B-25 than those used during the Doolittle Raid. This aircraft is on loan to the museum from the US Air Force and came from Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas.