April 12th, 1942...On the Russian front, both sides gasp for breath after an extremely difficult winter (temperatures dropped to a nippy Minus 30C). The Soviets have overrun their supply lines and exhausted their supply services' store of tanks and guns, and initiative has slipped back to the Germans. However, the Germans, aware that they can no longer take Moscow with the knockout blow, now consider the alternative, a drive southward as part of a "grand pincers" movement to solve their oil problems, disable the Soviet economy, and menace the Middle East - perhaps drive all the way to India. The new German target is the Caucasus mountain range.
At 6 a.m., USS Enterprise is steaming slowly in huge circles at a point in the North Pacific halfway between Midway and the Western Aleutians, latitude 39 north, longitude 180. Minutes later, a lookout spots a carrier to starboard, her decks loaded with large aircraft which the lookout cannot identify. The incoming carrier is USS Hornet under Capt. Marc Mitscher, escorted by the cruisers Vincennes and Nashville, destroyers Gwin, Grayson, Meredith, and Monssen, and tanker Cimarron. The two groups combine and head west, the strongest US task force to head this way since Pearl Harbor. All American eyes study the 16 strange planes jamming Hornet's flight deck, whose inboard wingtips overlap and outboard ones hang over the sea. The aircraft are Army B-25 Billy Mitchells, under the command of Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle. Enterprise's flag bridge ends crew speculation by signalling to the fleet, "This force is bound for Tokyo."
The B-25s are to launch off Hornet's deck 500 miles from Tokyo, fly in by night, bomb military targets, and then continue 1,400 miles across Japanese-held China to the friendly base of Chuchow. The plan is beautifully simple and direct, and extremely hazardous. The B-25 is configured to take off at 90 knots in 3,000 feet, and they must take off the carrier doing 60 knots in less than 800 feet, fly across 500 miles of open sea, practically on the deck, and hit their targets with maximum surprise. If the attack works, it will be a tremendous boost to American morale.
Enterprise's job is to escort Hornet to the launch point. As Hornet's deck is jammed with B-25s, she cannot launch her own fighter and search aircraft. The two carriers head straight west, covering 300 to 400 miles a day.
In the Philippines, things are going from worse to worse, as US PoWs start stumbling up the long road in Bataan to Camp O'Donnell, amid the utmost brutality. Filipino officers and noncoms are tied together with double-strand telephone wire, marched into a ravine, and beheaded.
To add to the tragedy, American coastal guns on Corregidor shell Bataan, hitting American PoWs.
The exodus from Bataan is disorganized and confused. Guards give inconsistent orders. Sometimes they promise to free all the Filipinos, sometimes they threaten to kill them. Some guards allow their charges to rest or relieve themselves, others ride bicycles and make the PoWs dog-trot to keep up with them. An American officer bearing a shaving mirror that is stamped "Made in Japan" is severely beaten. Gradually, the PoWs pour into the east Bataan coast town of Balanga, to be marched further north.
April 13th, 1942...In North Africa, German troops relieve the tension by attacking an Australian strongpoint. Among the defenders is Australian Cpl. Jack Edmondson, 27. Though badly wounded in the stomach and neck, he drives the Germans out. Shortly after he dies of his wounds...and receives Australia's first Victoria Cross of the war.
Great excitement in Corregidor as American B-17s and B-25s appear over the island. The defenders believe this is heralds the long-awaited relief convoy. Actually these planes, deployed to Mindanao, are to attack Japanese planes at Clark Field to cover a convoy to Cebu. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, in Australia, has ordered this airstrike as a means to let the Philippines' defenders know they have not been forgotten. The only problem is that Cebu has already fallen. The airstrike raises American morale briefly.
The Japanese, meanwhile, line up their biggest siege guns, complete with observation planes and balloons, to hammer Corregidor. They line up 116 guns in 18 batteries, including 46 150mm guns, 28 100mm guns, and 32 75mm guns. The main punch is 10 240mm howitzers. These commence firing on the 13th, and create a considerable din. The Americans hit back with their huge Corregidor guns, and the artillery duel goes on for weeks, turning much of Corregidor into rubble.
April 14th, 1942...At Aola in Guadalcanal, Coastwatcher Martin Clemens wonders how long it will be before the Japanese invade. Two of his partners, Don McFarland and Ken Hay, cache 110 cases of food, 93 bags of rice, 200 cases of kerosene, 40 drums of benzine, and the ultimate defense, 50 cases of whiskey, at Koilo, a jungle hideout.
The Vichy French keep things busy by re-shuffling government. After the game of musical chairs, Marshal Henri Petain is still head of state and Pierre Laval is still chief of government.
Meanwhile, in London, the Combined Commanders decide that no direct action to help Russia in Europe is possible except small Allied raids.
April 15th, 1942...Capt. C.A.L. Mansergh takes command of HMNZS Achilles in Sydney Harbour. Among the officers who moves on that day is Lt. Richard Washbourn, the ship's gunnery officer, who directed Achilles' fire at the Graf Spee in 1939.
Gens. Stilwell and Alexander confer in Burma, pondering the deteriorating situation. "Did Aleck have the wind up," writes Stilwell. "Disaster and gloom. No fight left in British. Afraid of Japanese who dress as natives and live openly in the village. Magwe lost and nothing there to stop the Japs...situation very bad."
French resistance fighters attack the German headquarters at Arras, while American bombers make one of their first attacks on Europe, hitting Cherbourg in a daylight raid.
42 Americans are killed when heavy Japanese fire collapses a cliff on Corregidor overlooking a tunnel.
Leningraders mark the 248st day of the great siege in style...the streetcars rumble down Nevsky Prospekt for the first time in many months. The same day, Russian troops capture a German soldier, Cpl. Falkenhorst, and he tells his interrogators that he lost his faith in Hitler when he heard the sound of the streetcar bells that morning.
The bad news for Leningraders is that the siege rolls on, and the month of April will see 102,497 deaths, the highest for any month of the siege. However, those burials used to calculate that figure include a few thousand bodies that have lain frozen in the streets through the winter months.
April 16th, 1942...King George VI recognizes Malta's tenacity in the face of two years of siege and bombing by awarding the entire island the George Cross. This new medal is given to civilians who show valor in a war situation, that is not necessarily in battle with the enemy. The medal is later used in the design of Malta's flag.
Gen. William Slim gives the signal, and Royal Engineers detonate the oil storage tanks at Yenangyaung in Burma, sending millions of gallons of crude oil up in a vast sheet of flame, to deny them to the Japanese. The British Burcorps continues to fall back, lacking supplies, jungle training, modern equipment, air cover, and even water. However, Slim and his skilled Indian Army officers keep the force intact as the longest retreat in British history continues. Gen. Joseph Stilwell sends his 38th Chinese Division to help Burcorps out. 38th Division's CO, Gen. Sun, is a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute.
Gen. Wainwright concedes the loss of Cebu and orders the troops there to undertake guerrilla war. On Corregidor, a Japanese shell cuts the halyard of the 100-foot flagpole, and US troops save the flag from touching the ground, and the repair the halyard, all under enemy fire. Among those wounded that day is Enrico Romero Martinez, Corregidor's senior citizen, who joined the Americans as an interpreter in 1901, and since 1905 has been on the Rock as a construction engineer and walking archive.
In India, the Congress Party refuses the terms offered by British emissary Sir Stafford Cripps. The Party believes Japanese claims that their advance to India is to liberate the subcontinent from British rule. Jawaharlal Nehru, however, is concerned by this move, and says, "It distresses me, that any Indian should talk of the Japanese liberating India."
April 17th, 1942...USS Enterprise and USS Hornet and their escorts refuel from their tankers, and leave them and the destroyers behind for the dash to the launch point. The two carriers roll and pound through heavy seas at 23 knots.
The RAF attacks the diesel engine works at Augsburg in a low-level daylight raid, surprising just about everybody. The bombers come in on the deck at 500 feet. The leader of the raid, South African John Dering Nettleton, is awarded the Victoria Cross. He is killed a year later during a night raid on Turin.
That evening, French General Henri Giraud escapes from the maximum security German castle prison at Konigstein in Saxony, by lowering himself down the castle wall, jumping onto a moving train, and reaching the French border. The feat is a boost for French morale in both the unoccupied and Vichy zones, and Giraud is smuggled to North Africa by submarine to evade the Gestapo. The feat puts Hitler in a "black rage."
April 18th, 1942...At 3:15 a.m., USS Enterprise's buzzer and USS Hornet's gong calls Task Force 16 to action stations. Enterprise's radar has two surface contacts 10 miles ahead. The carriers turn north to avoid detection, then swing west after the contacts fade. Vice Adm. William Halsey is determined to bring Jimmy Doolittle's B-25s in range of Japan. But at 7:15 am, an Enterprise SBD scout plane drops a beanbag on the carrier's flight deck. A deckhand retrieves the bag and the message, which says an enemy patrol vessel has been sighted 50 miles ahead, and doubtless it has seen the Americans.
Halsey maintains westward course for 30 minutes, eating up 11 miles, when the carrier's lookouts spot the enemy patrol ship. Nashville moves in to dispose of the picket, and Halsey orders Doolittle to launch.
As Nashville sinks the enemy ship, and the carriers turn into the wind, Doolittle attaches prewar Japanese medals given to American officers to the bombs in the B-25s' bays. Mechanics chalk a few choice comments on the bombs as well for the benefit of newsreel cameras. Then they rock the planes' gas tanks to eliminate bubbles, so they can add a few more drops of 100 octane.
The Japanese have indeed spotted the American task force, and are taking action. Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo's carriers are nearly home from the Indian Ocean, and they are ordered to find Enterprise and Hornet. Japanese patrol bombers and submarines also head for the Americans.
At 8:20 am, 668 miles from Tokyo's Ginza, Hornet starts launching the B-25s amid violent pitching. Hornet's launch directors time their "go" signals so that the straining bombers take off just as the carrier rises on a wave crest, thus gaining a few more feet of altitude. As the B-25s stagger into the air, their wings touch the ocean, but in an hour, all 16 bombers are airborne and stretched out in ragged single file, bound for Japan.
As soon as the B-25s are gone, Hornet brings her own aircraft out on deck to help cover the task force, and Halsey orders his fleet to turn due east at 25 knots. Enroute back, they sight and attack 16 Japanese picket boats, and sink several.
As the Doolittle raiders streak in towards Japan, that nation's prime minister, Hideki Tojo, boards a plane for an inspection flight. The transport lumbers off northeast. Suddenly all aboard notice "a very curious brown-and-green plane" dash past them, intent on its business. It's a Doolittle raider.
In Tokyo, authorities hold an air raid drill that morning, anticipating an attack by American carriers the next day. At 12:20, Vichy French journalist Robert Guillain is at home when he hears a ragged series of explosions not far away, followed by feeble anti-aircraft bursts, and an air raid siren. Guillain dashes into the street, along with most of Tokyo, and looks up to see a dark airplane racing over the city at rooftop level, pursued by a Japanese fighter.
Aboard Enterprise, Lt. Charlie Fox listens to Radio Tokyo's English language broadcast, and hears the enemy commentator describe in an Oxford voice the peace and serenity of Japan, as opposed to conditions in occupied countries, which he attributes to enemy forces. He is interrupted in mid-sentence by an angry torrent of Japanese and Radio Tokyo goes off the air.
Doolittle's planes sweep in at 1,000 feet, unopposed by fighters or flak. They hit oil storage tanks, factory areas, and military installations at Tokyo, Kobe, Yokohama, and Nagoya, doing minor damage. One bomb hits the drydocked light carrier Ryuho at Yokosuka, punching it out of the war for a few months. Only one B-25 is hit by flak.
The raiders streak off from Japan, but none of them have enough fuel to reach friendly bases in China. They gradually crash-land or bail out amid darkness, rain, and cloud. Only one of the 50 aircrew who parachute over China are killed, the rest are led to Allied lines, including Doolittle. Of the aircraft that crash-land on the Chinese coast, the Chinese save 10 more, but the Japanese capture eight.
Another bomber lands at Vladivostok in the Soviet Union, and Lt. Ski York and his crew are interned. Eventually the Soviets release the crew, but keep the plane.
In Tokyo, the city stays on air-raid alert until 4 p.m., and finally produce a communique that admits the city has been bombed, does not mention the attackers' nationality, and adds "His Majesty the Emperor and the members of the Imperial family are safe and sound and the palace is intact." Neutral reporters in Japan soon find out that many Japanese think Tokyo has been turned to ashes.
Back in the Soviet town of Dorogobuzh, the Germans shoot it out with partisans. Soviet partisan commander Col. Yefremov, wounded in the back, unable to move, and unwiling to be taken prisoner, puts a gun to his temple, and says, "Boys, this is the end for me, but you go on fighting." Then he shoots himself. The partisans fight on, and manage to reach Soviet front lines.
Late in the afternoon, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, at his home in Hiroshima, gets word that the Americans have bombed Tokyo. Relieved that the Emperor is unhurt, he spends the rest of the day listlessly sipping rice broth, devastated.