Battle of Grant’s Hill

**NOTE TO READERS – Here’s a battle off the beaten path which you’ve probably never heard of.**

September 14, 1758. The French and Indian War.

Battle of Grant's Hill

The Battle of Grant’s Hill was very one-sided, as the British showed yet again that they were not proficient in fast moving, close in wilderness fighting. Twenty years later in the American Revolution, they still weren’t. There’s no trace remaining of the battle area. It’s now in the middle of the “Golden Triangle” in downtown Pittsburgh. The site of the heaviest fighting is the location of the Allegheny County Courthouse.

This battle was fought as part of the British effort to capture Fort Duquesne in present-day Pittsburgh, PA during the French and Indian War. It shouldn’t have been fought at all. Major James Grant was leading a reconnaissance-in-force mission from Fort Ligonier, about 50 miles to the east. He had strict orders from his commander, Col. Henri Bouquet, to not get into a decisive engagement. He was to do a thorough recon, take prisoners and gather intelligence.

Grant ran his mission to perfection. He got his force undetected to within 1/4 mile of the fort on a hill overlooking the forks of the three rivers. Then he got stupid. Seeing Fort Duquesne as a ramshackle, under-manned fort, he decided to attack. It was a disaster. He lost 400 of 800 men and himself became a POW.

Survivors made their way back to Fort Ligonier and reported to Col. Bouquet that Fort Duquesne was a mighty bastion defended by thousands. That cast a pall over the entire British plan. In reality, Fort Duquesne was falling apart and the French were preparing to abandon it.

The hill where Grant was defeated is no longer there. It was leveled a century ago to make room for expansion of the downtown business district. However, the area is still called Grant’s Hill and has been since the earliest days of the city.

I’ve got lots more information about the Battle of Grant’s Hill and the Fort Duquesne campaign. Just click on the links.

Titan Missile Museum – Green Valley, AZ

“Anybody who isn’t wearing two million sunblock is going to have a real bad day.”
……Sarah Connor, Terminator 2

Warhead of a Titan II ICBM

This R2D2-looking thing is a re-entry vehicle (RV) for a Titan II ICBM. It carried a single Mark-53 nine megaton nuclear warhead. That’s over 600 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb dropped at the end of World War II. The Titan II would have carried this payload over 6,000 miles in roughly 30 minutes after a launch sequence that lasted 58 seconds. This RV is on display at the Titan Missile Museum in Green Valley, AZ. It is the only museum of its kind, safeguarding and preserving a piece of Cold War history – a complete Titan ICBM launch facility. If you get up to South Dakota, you can check out the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site  near Wall, SD.

I admit it. I’m a Cold War junkie. I grew up in the days when we did “duck and cover” drills in school. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. Most of my 20 years in the Marine Corps were spent as a cold warrior. Now I’m a road warrior, but I’m still fascinated by the whole Commie/nuke/Dr Strangelove thing. Looking back on it now, a lot of the stuff was ludicrous (nuclear land mines, anybody?), but it was deadly serious back in the day.

If you lived in Tucson between the early 1960’s and the late 1980’s, you were surrounded by 18 Titan II ICBM’s and the Soviets knew all about them. That means in the event of war, there were probably several dozen Soviet missiles targeting Tucson’s Titan force.

Fortunately, it never came to that thanks to the deterrent effect of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). When the Titans were taken out of service during the Reagan administration, the missiles were reconfigured as launch vehicles for NASA. The launch facilities were gutted except for this one. Launch Facility 571-7 was kept intact, a deactivated Titan was placed in the silo and a museum was born. The 571-7 designation is shorthand for the 7th launch facility of the 571st Strategic Missile Squadron. It was one of two missile squadrons, along with the 570th, belonging to the 390th Strategic Missile Wing at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson. Got all that?

When we came to Tucson for the winter several years back and discovered the Titan Missile Museum, it was high on the bucket list. I went there not knowing what I might find. Some of these military museums are little more than roadside attractions with a bunch of junk laying out on tables. Happily that is not the case here.

Blast door

There are four of these blast doors in the blast lock area at the bottom of the access steps. They work in pairs like an air lock. One pair seals off the crew from the outside world. The other pair seals off the silo area from the crew area. Each door weighs 6,000 pounds and is opened/closed manually. They are perfectly mounted and balanced on simple pin hinges. Even after hanging there for over 50 years, they can be moved with one hand. The design and construction of these launch facilities is unbelievable. In addition to the obvious workmanship and attention to detail, everything is redundant and backed up. Nothing was left to chance. When all sealed up, the facility could survive just about anything except a direct hit by a nuke.

Tucked away in the Sonoran desert hills, the museum is a hidden gem. They have static displays inside and out, a documentary film and several kinds of guided tours that go through the whole underground facility. The silo contains a de-activated Titan missile. You’ll get a good look at it from above and below. There’s also a simulated launch conducted in the control room with the tour. Afterwards, you can walk around topside for as long as you want. Photography is allowed throughout. The all volunteer staff is knowledgeable and includes several docents who worked as missile crew or contractors. Everyone is very informal and friendly. The cost is about nine bucks per person and is well worth it. The museum is a private non-profit entity and also a National Historic Landmark. Be sure to grab a hard hat when they offer them. There’s all kinds of head bangers underground.

The entire facility and tours are very informative. Some of the revelations are downright jaw-dropping. For instance, assuming they survived, what did the four person crew do after the launch? They had a 30 day supply of food and water but only two weeks of air in their sealed underground bunker. The hard reality was that there was no plan. They were on their own. It was assumed that the crew commander at some point would begin to probe outside the facility. Now there’s something to look forward to. If the main access route was untenable, there was an emergency escape tunnel that would take them outside. At least, that was the theory.

Titan II ICBM

The star of the show – the museum’s Titan II ICBM. The Titan II was the largest ICBM deployed by the U.S. during the Cold War, measuring 103 feet long and 10 feet in diameter. It also carried the largest warhead. The Mark-53 had a yield of nine megatons, i.e. nine millions tons of TNT. A train carrying nine million tons of TNT would be 1,200 miles long. Weighing around 8,000 pounds, it was a thermonuclear bunker buster.

We’ll never know what targets the Titans would have hit but with nine megatons of firepower, they weren’t going to be used on radar sites and truck parks. It’s a virtual certainty that they would have gone after command centers, key military installations, industrial centers and nuclear storage facilities. Even the launch crew didn’t know the targets. A total of 150 Titan II’s were built. Fifty were used as test and evaluation platforms. Fifty four ended up in silos with nuke warheads. There were 18 each in Tucson AZ, Wichita KS and Little Rock AR. One of the missiles in Little Rock blew up in its silo in 1980.  Built in safety locks kept the RV and warhead intact.

The Titan II missile was a rock steady and reliable system and performed several roles simultaneously. At the height of the Cold War, it was the most dangerous missile on earth. In terms of speed and accuracy, the Soviets had nothing like it until the late 1970’s. Twelve were used to launch the NASA Gemini manned space missions from 1964-66. In 1977, two modified Titans (Titan III) launched the Voyager satellites on their journey out of the solar system. Others were used to launch scientific and commercial payloads from Vandenburg AFB. The last Titan II was launched in October 2003. A platform with a planned service life of 10 years lasted 40. It was finally done in by the economics of its high maintenance.

In a way, the museum’s launch facility is still involved in a Cold War scenario. The START Treaty requires measures to verify the absence of weapons that may be in violation. The RV on display in the exhibit room has a big plexiglass cutout to show at a glance there are no weapons on board. Also, the 760 ton sliding silo hatch is locked in the half open position so Russian satellites can keep an eye on it.

Museum entrance

This is the place. GPS coordinates N31.9020636, W110.9995385. Click on the coordinates for a Google map. Click the following link to find out all about the Titan Missile Museum. BTW, Count Ferdinand von Galen is a real person and a real German Count. He’s also a successful Arizona businessman, aviation enthusiast and chairman of the Board of Directors for the Arizona Aerospace Foundation.

When you finish at the museum, you can fire up the smart phone and start gathering up some of the dozens of geocaches and munzees in the immediate area. Cell phone coverage is excellent along the I-19 corridor. Then it’s time for some Mexican food. El Patio, El Rodeo, Agave and Manuel’s are all excellent and about 10 minutes away. There’s also a Taco Bell nearby.

Then you can walk off the calories and the guilt at the Pima Air and Space Museum. One of the largest non-government air museums in the world, it’s magnificent.

Enjoy your visit …. Boris and Natasha

Britain’s Day of Infamy – December 10, 1941

Hi again,

Almost everybody recognizes the date December 7, 1941. The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on that day is known in the history books as the Day of Infamy, a phrase used by President Roosevelt during his address to Congress asking for a Declaration of War. What most people don’t know is that our staunchest ally, Great Britain, had its own day of infamy three days later.

As the Pearl Harbor raiders were recovering on board their carriers, an equally calamitous event was unfolding in the western pacific. The Japanese Imperial Army was landing in southern Thailand and northern Malaya, while sending bombers to strike the crown jewel of the British empire – Singapore.

The landings and bombings on the 8th kicked off a two month campaign that would end in the surrender of Singapore, the destruction of the city and the largest defeat in British military history. Despite the clear and present danger posed by the Japanese aggression, the people of Singapore didn’t take much notice. Singapore had a worldwide reputation as an island fortress that rivaled the Rock Of Gibraltar. They were convinced that their island city was impregnable and that the Japanese wouldn’t dare attack it. Besides, they had an ace up their sleeve. The Royal Navy was in town, led by the pride of the fleet – the HMS Prince of Wales.

The HMS Prince of Wales

The HMS Prince of Wales was Britain’s newest, fastest and most heavily armed warship. Packing 10 x 14 inch guns, she could also fill the sky with flak from her secondary batteries and put up thousands of rounds of anti-aircraft fire per minute. She entered service in May 1941 and had her baptism of fire one week later when she traded salvos with the Bismark. During that running fight, she absorbed four hits from German 15 inch rounds – including a direct hit on the bridge – and kept fighting. Three months later, she carried Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic to Newfoundland. There, he hosted on board his first council of war with President Franklin Roosevelt. She was a personal favorite of Churchill’s and considered invulnerable. Somebody forgot to tell the Japanese.

The fleet had arrived on December 2, sent by Winston Churchill in response to Japanese provocations in the region. Their timely arrival was a coincidence, but considerably lessened the impact of events on the 8th. British leaders were confident that the task force would deter the Japanese from attacking or make short work of them if they did.

As the Japanese prepared to attack south on the 8th, Task Force Z, under the command of Admiral Tom Phillips, sortied out of Sembawang Naval Base in northeast Singapore.  It consisted of the HMS Prince of Wales, the HMS Repulse and four destroyers. Their mission was to find and destroy the Japanese invasion fleet. Comprising 28 troop carriers and two aging battleships, it was turning circles somewhere off the coast of Malaya.  The mission to blast enemy ships out of the water was a dream come true for a battleship skipper and promised to be easy pickings for the Royal Navy.

The HMS Repulse

The HMS Repulse was a WW1-era heavy cruiser that was completely re-fitted just before the war. A veteran of Atlantic surface actions in both wars, she was still a capable fighter. However, her construction would do her in. Cruisers built in her era were designed for speed and agility. To get that, armor protection and watertight integrity were sacrificed. During the attack, the Repulse dodged 19 torpedoes. The Japanese finally caught her by coming in from both sides at once. She sank six minutes after the first hit.

Singapore was thoroughly infiltrated with Japanese spies and they knew the moment the ships slipped the harbor. Soon, every air and naval unit in the region was hunting for them and the invasion fleet was withdrawn to Indo-China. The British task force was oblivious to these developments, had no hard intelligence and no air cover. Additionally, all their new electronics, such as radars and fire control systems, started failing in the salty humid air of the tropics as soon as they arrived. None of it had been fixed. They were sailing deaf, dumb and blind. Still, Task Force Z kept searching. Finally on December 10, they found the Japanese but not the ones they were looking for.

Artist depiction of the attack on the HMS Prince of Wales

An unknown Japanese artist’s depiction of the attack on the HMS Prince of Wales. A Mitsubishi G3M “Nell” bomber is dropping a Type-91 aerial torpedo. Japanese torpedoes were the best in the world and exceptionally lethal. The Type 91 was fast, accurate and packed a 500 pound warhead. The first torpedo hit on the ship was back by the propellers and would have been fatal all by itself. It tore out the port side propeller shaft from its sealed passage into the hull, creating a breach that couldn’t be stopped. The ship lost speed and power and developed an immediate list to aft and port. The Japanese continued to pour it on until it disappeared beneath the waves of the South China Sea. In all, it took four torpedo hits and at least two direct hits from 500 pound bombs.

Scout planes and a submarine found the task force early in the morning on the 10th about 50 miles out from the Malayan port city of Kuantan.  While they tracked the British ships, every Japanese aircraft between Malaya and Saigon scrambled and went after them. The air attacks began around 1100.  Over 90 aircraft took part.  There wasn’t enough time or fuel to coordinate strikes so groups attacked on arrival as soon as they found the targets.  The Repulse and the Prince of Wales both took multiple hits from torpedoes and bombs.  The Repulse sank at 1230. The Prince of Wales went a little after 1300. Admiral Phillips and almost 1,000 crew members went with them.  The destroyers were untouched and rescued hundreds out of the water despite the threat of lurking submarines and more air attacks. The Japanese lost three aircraft and their crews.

Escaping from a sinking HMS Prince of Wales

The destroyer HMS Express rescues survivors from the badly listing HMS Prince of Wales. The attack is still under way. When the battleship rolled over in her death dive, she almost took the Express with her. As she rolled, her bilge keel along the bottom of the ship came up under the Express and gave her a 40,000 ton wallop. Fortunately, the destroyer was able to ride it out. Unlike the Repulse, which sank in minutes, the Prince of Wales took almost two hours of constant pounding before she went under.

This was the first time in military history that major surface combatants were sunk in the open ocean by hostile aircraft alone. It was a harbinger of what lay ahead. The battles of Coral Sea and Midway were just around the corner and they would change naval warfare forever.  From now on, carriers and their aircraft would take the fight to the enemy with the ships 100 miles apart or more.  There would still be surface battles in the years to come, but the heyday of the battleship was over.

The sinking of two of England’s finest warships sent shock waves all the way to London. Churchill later wrote in his memoirs, “…in all the war, I never received a more direct shock.”   The losses left the Allies with no capital warships west of Hawaii.  The western Pacific was now a Japanese lake. It didn’t last long. Four months later, the Japanese navy was smashed at Midway and they spent the rest of the war on the defensive.

The wrecks of the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales were found after the war, in 183 feet and 223 feet of water respectively.  They are about eight miles apart. The Repulse rests semi-upright with a sharp list to port.  The Prince of Wales is completely upside down with much of her superstructure buried in the mud. In 2007, her ship’s bell was removed by British divers to prevent it from being stolen.  It now sits in a maritime museum in Liverpool, England.  Both ships are Crown property however, they are legal to SCUBA dive on and there are dive shops that make the trip regularly.  The Repulse is the better target being much shallower and with a lot more to see.  Both are deep decompression dives and not for beginners.

If you like to explore underwater, Singapore and Malaysia offer some top notch SCUBA diving. There are a lot of wrecks in the surrounding area including the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales. There are many others and dive shops make regular trips, with destinations for divers of all experience and ability levels. The South China Sea has excellent visibility most of the time and is warm as bath water in the shallower depths. If you’re a diver in Singapore, it’s worth checking out.

That’s all for now … Boris and Natasha

The Unbelievable Exploits of Captain Robert Stobo

This entry has a number of hyperlinks to web pages I’ve done on those battles. If you like history, be sure to check them out.

One of the fascinating things about studying history is discovering facts and people that had a material effect on the events of the day but have been lost to time. One of those people from the French and Indian War was Captain Robert Stobo, whose exploits could have been an epic adventure novel if they weren’t true. Pictures of Captain Stobo are nowhere to be found, although several books have been written about him.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1726, he migrated to Virginia to become a merchant like his father. As it turned out, he wasn’t crazy about a merchant’s life. His real call was the military. His family was friends with Governor Dinwiddie and Robert was commissioned a Captain in the Virginia militia. Shortly thereafter, he led an infantry company that reinforced George Washington at Fort Necessity, arriving just before the battle. When Washington surrendered to the French, he was required to provide them with two officers to hold as hostages to ensure the return of French prisoners taken weeks earlier at the skirmish at Jumonville Glen. Robert Stobo volunteered to be one of them.

Taken back to Fort Duquesne, Stobo was free to roam the grounds, since he was not a POW. He drank and played cards with the French and became fluent in the language, all the while gathering detailed information about the fort and its defenders. When the British refused to release the French prisoners, Stobo was sent to the French stronghold at Quebec. Before he left, he convinced a friendly Indian to deliver his intelligence to the British. He did and it ended up with General Braddock, who had it with him the day of his defeat at the Battle of the Monongahela. When the French ransacked what the British had left behind, they opened Braddock’s field trunk and found Stobo’s letters and diagrams of the fort. Stobo had signed them to prove their authenticity but in doing so, signed his own death warrant.

Stobo_Fort_Diagram

Captain Stobo’s diagram of Fort Duquesne. It was smuggled to General Braddock, then found by the French in his field trunk after his defeat. Stobo had also written several long letters about the French defenses and troops. These were found also.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, Stobo was doing his thing again. He had the run of the place and was allowed to mingle in the upper echelons of French-Canadian society. He was in the process of amassing a dossier on the French stronghold – right up to the point where they put him in chains and threw him in the dungeon as a spy. He was tried and convicted of espionage and sentenced to the gallows. The sentence was commuted to “long term confinement” by King Louis XV.

Stobo languished in Quebec’s dungeons for three years. He escaped twice only to be re-captured shortly after. Each time, his conditions became harsher. His third escape attempt was successful. On May 1, 1759, Stobo and seven others escaped from the dungeon and found a canoe on the riverbank. They canoed for days up into the treacherous Gulf of St Lawrence. There, they happened upon an anchored French schooner, which they hijacked at night, putting the crew off in the canoe. Along with a French captain and pilot, they sailed into the harbor at Louisburg, Nova Scotia 36 days and 700 miles after their escape.

StoboEscape3

Robert Stobo’s escape route May 1 to June 5, 1759. 36 days after their escape from the dungeons of the Quebec Citadel, Stobo and his party arrived in Louisburg, Nova Scotia. They sailed into the British port in a French schooner they had commandeered in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The British were preparing to lay seige to Quebec. Stobo provided valuable information to the British commander, General Wolfe, and wanted to get back into the fight. Wolfe said no and sent him back to Williamsburg, Virgina, where he got a hero’s welcome. The final Battle of Quebec came on September 13, 1759, after a three month siege. It lasted only 15 minutes on the Plains of Abraham, but both British General Wolfe and the French commander, General Montcalm, were killed.

By now, it was June 1759 and British General Wolfe was preparing to attack Quebec from his base in Halifax. Stobo gave his detailed intelligence to Wolfe, who used it to modify his plans and successfully take the French bastion. The capture of Quebec in September 1759 broke the back of the French forces in America. Less than a year later, in August 1760, they would lose Montreal and cease hostilities, although a formal peace treaty was still three years away.

Wolfe sent Stobo back to Williamsburg, VA. Arriving there over five years after he had originally left for Fort Necessity, he received a hero’s welcome, all his back pay and a commission in the British army. Stobo returned to the fighting. Commanding a company of British regulars, he saw extensive action in the Caribbean theater. He was seriously wounded while leading an attack on Morro Castle at the entrance to the harbor in Havana, Cuba. Occupation duty in America followed as the British strived to bring order to their new lands. He returned to England in 1768 intent on finishing his army career. However, he quickly became bored with peacetime garrison duty and disillusioned by army politics. A decade of fighting, captivity and depredation had taken their toll. He began to have health problems along with financial difficulties and started drinking heavily.

On June 19, 1770, 44 year old Robert Stobo blew his brains out.

Featured

Welcome to our blog…

**NOTE TO READERS: Here’s a few items to guide you on our blog.**

My most recent posts are on the sidebar. One of the challenges of running a blog is how to quickly show or access older posts. I’ve done it the MENU function. There’s a menu bar on top. The titles are self-explanatory. Each one has a drop down list of related topics, which are also self-explanatory. You can surf the entire blog by mousing over the titles. How cool is that? We have a lot more stuff to add.

Also on the bar, you’ll see a link called “The Teacher Files”. It also has a drop down menu with links to topics related to my teaching career. I taught for 15 years after 20 years in the Marines. Teaching was one of my true passions in life. I started out with a separate blog, but when I found out how to create menus, I brought it all over here. It’s good stuff – too good to leave laying around in boxes. I’ll add things as fast as I can get them in HTML/CSS format.

Cheers … Boris and Natasha

Hi and welcome to our newly updated blog. Designed as a companion to our website – Exploring Off the Beaten Path. We use it for shorter pages than we typically put on the site plus any other material we find interesting.

We affectionately refer to each other as Boris and Natasha (usually with “dahlink” at the end) – retirees, snowbirds, explorers, geocachers, munzee and benchmark hunters, history lovers, sometime photographers, freelance writers and lifelong learners who can show up almost anywhere.

KidsRN in action

Natasha is relentless in her quest for geocaches. Here, she gives it her all in the Black Hills. Mt. Rushmore is in the upper left hand corner.

Our vision for More Exploring Off The Beaten Path is a family friendly blog that promotes interest in outdoor activities, curiosity about the world around us and lifelong learning. One of our main vehicles for that is geocaching and related activities, plus all that goes with them.

You would be hard-pressed to find another activity which is more fun, positive, educational and family friendly than geocaching and its siblings. My 88 year old mother has been out with us. Our grandkids (now 8 and 6) went out with us in their strollers. They really love hunting munzees and can both handle a smart phone like you wouldn’t believe. Some of the best times I ever had as a Dad were with my youngest son hunting down geocaches in the wilds of Montana and Wyoming. When I was teaching school, I used it in my math classes to teach all kinds of things.

One thing you can be sure of – the pages of this blog and our website will show you things and take you places you would have never known about otherwise.  Our adventures have taken us to ghost towns, caves, mountain tops, waterfalls and more out of the way places than we can recall. We’ve operated in all kinds of terrain and weather and dodged a few critters along the way. It’s been a hoot.  We’ve geocached in 38 states and have a plan in place to finish all 50 by the end of 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 (or thereabouts).

You never know what you might find here. We love forts, battlefields, ghost towns,old cemeteries, abandoned mines, one of a kind diners, cheeseburgers, skin-on French fries, anything to do with National Parks and anything else that’s off the beaten path. The tougher, longer, higher, creepier or more calorie-laden it is, the better we like it. We’ll mix things up to keep it interesting.

 

KidsRN at Mt. Rushmore cache site.

Mission accomplished safe and sound. No humans were injured in the production of this blog.

This is an open blog for families, adventurers, explorers, educators, vagabonds and anybody else who might share our passions.  There’s no arm chair traveling here and we don’t cut and paste Wikipedia.  We’ve been to all the places and/or done all the things we blog about. The writing is mine. So are most of the pictures.

We hope you find something interesting here. Feedback – good or bad – is always welcome. All comments are moderated and public, so please keep it civil.

See you in the blogosphere. …Boris and Natasha

The Doolittle Raid – April 18, 1942

Today is the 71st anniversary of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. IMHO, it is the single ballsiest operation in American military history.

Doolittle Raiders patch

The patch of the Doolittle Raiders. “Tonjours en danger” is French for “Ever into danger”.

In April, 1942, America was reeling. The Pacific Fleet was still at the bottom of Pearl Harbor. The Japanese racked up victory after victory and seemed unstoppable. The Pacific was becoming a Japanese lake. President Franklin Roosevelt was having none of it. In the midst of all this doom and gloom, he wanted to hit the Japanese homeland.

A submarine officer at the Pentagon, Navy Captain Francis Low, came up with a plan to do it. Load Army B-25 Mitchell medium bombers on to aircraft carriers, teach Army pilots to get a bomber airborne in 467 feet, get them within 400 miles of Japan undetected and launch from the flattops. It would be a one way mission, since recovering on the carriers would be impossible. That meant landing in China, which was swarming with Japanese troops, and hope to make contact with friendly guerrilla forces. What could possibly go wrong?

Doolittle Raiders

The Doolittle Raiders. With Lt. Col. Doolittle is Navy Captain Marc Mitscher, the skipper of the Hornet.

Enter Lt. Col. James Doolittle. Born in 1896, he was already an “old man” at 46 years of age. Since 1917, he had been a test pilot, combat aviator, record setting racer and pioneer innovator. He was confident, fearless and a natural leader – the perfect man to lead the impossible mission which would soon bear his name.

The Navy assigned its newest carrier – the USS Hornet – to the mission. At Alameda, CA, it loaded 16 B-25’s on to its flight deck. Each B-25 would carry 4 x 500 pound bombs – three high explosives and one incendiary. They would be pickled one at a time over designated targets.

Each plane had a five man crew – pilot, copilot, navigator, bombardier and flight engineer/gunner – for a total of 80 raiders. All were volunteers and nobody knew the mission until briefed by Doolittle after they were underway on the Hornet. They took the mission on blind faith. Only the top turret would be operational. The other eight 50 caliber machine guns were pulled out to save weight and minimize crew. Besides, their attack profile was to fly at no more than 500 feet high until reaching the target, so there would nothing for them to shoot at. During their training, they flew at treetop level, scaring the dickens out of people along the way.

Doolittle takes off.

Recorded by a cameraman on another ship, Doolittle takes off. A detailed photographic record of the mission was developed for release to the American public, assuming it was successful. This effort included 16mm movie cameras mounted on the planes and set to run when the bombs dropped. Additionally, each crew had a handheld camera in the plane. Despite the loss of all planes, some of the combat footage was salvaged and has been used in movies and documentaries since the war.

At 0820 on April 18, 1942, Doolittle launched off the pitching deck of the Hornet. They were supposed to launch 20 hours later and 200 miles closer but had been discovered. It was now or never. Doolittle launched his planes and flew the lead aircraft. The rest were airborne in less than an hour.

Bombs started falling on 10 different targets around noon. The raid caught the Japanese completely flat footed. Surprise was total. Fifteen of 16 aircraft dropped their ordnance. One of them jettisoned early because of mechanical failure and made their way to the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia. It wasn’t much, but it had the desired effect. Morale in the U.S. soared while the stunned Japanese replaced many top military leaders. Six weeks later, the Japanese were annihilated at the Battle of Midway and never launched another offensive operation. They spent the rest of the war on defense.

Yokohama naval base

A photo of the Yokohama Naval Base on Tokyo Bay taken from one of the raiders.

Besides the destruction of all 16 planes, the Doolittle Raiders lost three men killed and eight captured by the Japanese. Of those eight, three were executed and one died in captivity. Several others who completed the mission were injured so severely they never flew again. Among those was Lt. Ted Lawson, pilot of Aircraft #7 – the “Ruptured Duck”. His badly injured leg developed gangrene while on the run in China and had to be amputated. Lawson later wrote the book 30 Seconds Over Tokyo.

Doolittle was promoted two ranks to Brigadier General and awarded the Medal of Honor for the mission. Many of the survivors, including Doolittle, returned to combat flying in all theaters of the war. Within a year, another 12 had been killed and the USS Hornet had been sunk off Guadalcanal. Doolittle survived it all without a scratch, dying peacefully in 1993. Just before his death, he wrote of his life and career in I Could Never Be So Lucky Again.

The Chinese paid a frightful price for sheltering the Raiders. The Japanese killed an estimated 250,000 of them in reprisal.

In 1946, the surviving Doolittle Raiders began holding annual reunions. The 2013 reunion, which is being held this week in Fort Walton Beach, FL., will be their last. There are only four survivors left and the youngest is 92. All are in failing health. At this reunion, in a private ceremony, they will open a bottle of cognac purchased years ago to be opened by the last two surviving members – modified to include the last four. The cognac dates from 1896 – the year Doolittle was born. With that, they will end the mission of the Doolittle Raiders. So if you get a chance this week, raise a glass of whatever you’re drinking and toast these warriors. We already have.

B-25 re-enactment

At the 1992 reunion, two B-25’s reenacted the Doolittle Raid by taking off from the deck of the decommissioned USS Ranger

Tonjours en danger … Boris and Natasha