The Doolittle Raid Principles Relevant 75 Years Later

By Commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet Public Affairs

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U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr Jonathan Pohnel talks to U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Cartwright in the hangar bay of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), April 12, 2017, in the Pacific Ocean. Nimitz is currently underway conducting Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) with the Nimitz Carrier Strike in preparation for an upcoming deployment. COMPTUEX tests a carrier strike group’s mission-readiness and ability to perform as an integrated unit through simulated real-world scenarios. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Ian Kinkead)

 

AT SEA OFF SAN DIEGO– This month commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, also known as the Tokyo Raid, an allied mission during World War II with direct relevance to the modern military’s ability to operate together. The Navy and Air Force continue to demonstrate that in their training today.

“The Doolittle Raid, some 75 years ago, pushed Air Force Bombers outside of their normal operating envelope,” said Capt. Kevin Lenox, commanding officer of USS Nimitz (CVN 68), a World War II-namesake ship. “They were designed to fly from an airfield, but USS Hornet provided the perfect mobile launch point to send them into combat from the sea.  The Navy didn’t have planes that could reach Tokyo, and the Air Force didn’t have any runways close enough.  Together, their integrated capabilities were able to win the day, and that lesson has carried forward to today’s highly capable joint force.”

Members of the 970 Airborne Air Control Squadron have been underway with the USS Nimitz and have been working directly with Commander, Carrier Strike Group 15 to help prepare the Nimitz Strike Group for deployment. Nimitz is currently underway conducting Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) with the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group in preparation for an upcoming deployment.

On April 18, 1942, Air Force Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle led a team of 80 U.S. Sailors and Airmen on a top-secret mission to bomb Japan in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. During the mission, 16 B-25 Mitchell Bomber aircraft launched from the deck of USS Hornet (CV 8), a Task Force 16 asset, on a mission to attack mainland Japan.

“Take-off and landing tests conducted with three B-25B’s at and off Norfolk, Virginia, indicated that take off from the carrier would be relatively easy but landing back on again extremely difficult.” said Doolittle in his report to the commanding general of Army Air Forces. “It was then decided that a carrier take-off would be made some place East of Tokyo, and the flight would proceed in a generally westerly direction from there. Fields near the East Coast of China and at Vladivostok were considered as termini.”

Despite the planes having to make emergency landings in China, Russia, and Japan, the mission was a success. The raid caused negligible material damage to Japan, but it offered hope to Allied Forces after a string of defeats. This would lead to the tide turning in later action, starting with the Battle of Coral Sea in May 1942, and then decidedly at the Battle of Midway in June of the same year.

Adm. William “Bull” Halsey, who would become the first commander of U.S. 3rd Fleet, was the Task Force 16 commander during the raid.

Seventy-five years later, the operational environment still depends on joint efforts, such as those of the Air Force and Navy that led to the successful execution of the Doolittle Raid. Cohesion in training and warfighting efforts between military branches, and continued innovative thinking concerning the execution of military objectives, have become the standard, as evidenced by a multitude of modern-era evolutions.

Although today’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and high-performance aircraft are more specialized than ever, the esprit de corps and joint warfighting spirit continues today.

In another throwback to World War II, the Pacific Fleet initiated a command and control initiative named “3rd Fleet Forward.” The latest such group to deploy under this arrangement was the Sterett-Dewey Surface Action Group (SAG), who will operate with regional navies to conduct routine patrols, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation activities to enhance regional security and stability in the Western Pacific. The command staff of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 31 and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Sterett (DDG 104) and USS Dewey (DDG 105), along with embarked helicopter detachments from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 49 and HSM 78, deployed from Naval Base San Diego, March 31.While deployed, the group has remained under the operational control of San Diego-based U.S. 3rd Fleet, including beyond the international dateline, which previously divided operational areas of responsibility for 3rd and 7th fleets. This new operational concept allows both numbered fleets to complement one another and provide the foundation of stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

While 3rd Fleet Forward demonstrates modern innovation, recent examples of coordination between military branches include exercises Valiant Shield and Cope North. Valiant Shield, a biennial field-training exercise, focuses on joint training between Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard units conducting a range of missions on land, sea, in the air, and cyberspace.

Another example is the annual multilateral training exercise Cope North, which brings Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard units together each February, and is built upon the foundation of cooperation embodied by the Doolittle Raid 75 years ago.

Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), held every two years off the coast of Hawaii and Southern California, is another example of the progression of joint operations. The world’s largest multi-national maritime exercise, RIMPAC 2016 saw 26 nations and personnel from all military branches sustaining the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans.

“RIMPAC is truly about bringing 26 nations together for a unique training opportunity,” said Vice Adm. Nora Tyson, commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet and 2016’s RIMPAC Combined Task Force commander. “Participating forces exercise a wide range of capabilities from disaster response and maritime security operations to sea control and complex war fighting. Perhaps even more importantly, participants build and sustain relationships and trust that are critical to ensuring the safety of the sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans.”

While Air Force Lt. Col. James Doolittle led a team of 80 U.S. Sailors and Airmen on a top-secret mission from a U.S. air craft carrier 75 years ago, his efforts were only the beginning of emphasizing the importance of joint operations. Exemplified by RIMPAC,  Cope North, and 3rd Fleet Forward, the significance of innovative thought and joint operations has increased exponentially over the past decades.

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