Hi, everybody, welcome to Dan Snow's history at one of the great stories of American military history. Now we're talking to Michelle Paradice about the Doolittle raid. He is a brilliant historian and he has written the story both at the raid itself and at the remarkable legal aftermath of the raid in 1945 when the perpetrators of war crimes against Doolittle Raiders were brought to justice or attempted to be brought to justice in post-war Japan in 1942, United States had been humiliated by the assault on Pearl Harbor, the surprise attack that has sunk much of the Pacific fleet at the end of 1941.
And President Roosevelt was determined to show the world that America still had offensive capability and was not cowed by its Japanese enemies. A rather charismatic maverick like Faycal, Jimmy Doolittle came to Roosevelt with an idea to fly completely inappropriately large bombers, big aircraft off naval vessels, army aircraft of naval aircraft carriers. On a one way trip, they headed from the Pacific to Japan to Tokyo, bombed the capitals of Japanese Empire, and then flew off to China and landed crash landed in China.
Some of those crews never returned from that raid caught by the Japanese and subjected to brutal imprisonment. It's an absolutely fascinating story, both for the mission itself and the aftermath. If you want to watch documentaries on operations like the Doolittle raid, please head over to history. Hit Dot TV. It's like Netflix. But just for history, it is the world's leading History Channel where you get audio and video all in one place. You can listen to back episodes.
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We're going to enjoy ourselves. We're all going to have vaccines. It's going to be lovely. Please go to history. Dotcom slash Tahawwur coming to a city near you if you live in Britain. And it would be great to see that history at dotcom slash tour. In the meantime, everyone enjoy Michelle Hardy talking about the Doolittle raid.
Michelle, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. Yeah, my pleasure. Thank you for having me. This is one of those remarkable stories from the Second World War. Was the Doolittle raid audacious or was it desperate? I think it can be both. The United States is in a real bad way. In 1942, everywhere in the world, the allies are being pushed back. The Japanese are bombing Australia at that point, and the United States has literally nothing to show for it other than loss and defeat.
The Bataan Death March is in early April. So the idea that you would want to show the public that you could strike back, right. That Japan is not this invincible, unstoppable force is a bit desperate. Right. We were desperate to have some success, but I also think it had a legitimate strategic value. Right. It was actually the kind of thing you want to do if you're running in politics by other means, kind of military operation to show the people of the United States and the allies generally that this is not only a war we must fight and that's worth fighting, but that we can win.
And so I think the deuterated succeeded in doing that actually far beyond anyone's expectations.
Aircraft taking off from an aircraft carrier and striking targets on land. And that's what they're supposed to do. I mean, what's so special about this? Sure.
But not in that distance, right? It's still nineteen forty two planes just don't fly that far. The first Trans-Pacific flight is only a decade before that. And they had to drop the landing gear and all sorts of other kit off of the plane so that it could safely crash land into Oregon with enough fuel. So there's simply no technological way of attacking Japan and Japan have this kind of history of invulnerability. Right. They assumed the seas protected them. That's actually where the term kamikaze comes from, the divine wind that had blown the Mongols away during their invasion then, but just physics said that Japan couldn't be attacked.
There were no planes that could reliably get any serious payload from the United States or any allied territory onto Japan. And so it was this not only utterly improbable, high risk mission, it actually took just bare knuckle engineering to get these big fat army bombers without any serious payload off of an aircraft carrier to begin with. And then on, I think, about 600 miles to Japan and then on to safety. Everyone, I think, had an assumption it might be a suicide mission, but they weren't trying to make it a suicide mission.
They were looking for a way of trying to make sure that these men could survive this mission. And that just took an incredible feat of engineering to do it and was totally extraordinary. It stunned the entire world. No one could figure out how it was done for at least a couple of months who was behind this?
Because the key breakthrough, I guess, is the idea, as you say, a big heavy army, boma, that is designed to take off from a very long airstrip, to be five, to take off from a very small deck of an aircraft carrier whose idea was this was someone told, go away and work out the way I can strike Japan. And they came up with this kind of. Yeah. So as you said, the B twenty five is designed to take off in about one to two thousand feet.
An aircraft carrier gives you about 500 feet of runway. And so it's literally something that shouldn't be allowed. But a Navy commander got the idea, what if we could take Army bombers off of an aircraft carrier? And this idea was handed off to this lieutenant colonel in the Army Air Forces by the name of Jimmy Doolittle, who had built his reputation to that point, not as a military flying us, but as a stunt pilot. And basically something of a celebrity in the nineteen twenties was the first person to ever cross the United States in a single day in an airplane.
So he had this reputation as being this engineering whiz to the point where he did this other flight demonstration where he actually blacked out the windows of his airplane, took off from an airstrip in Long Island, flew 14 miles overhead in a circle, and then landed from where he had taken off without ever being able to see outside the window. And all the prove that basically you could use science and math to fly an airplane. You didn't have to ride a plane like a horse, which is basically the approach that most aviators of his era had taken.
And so when this idea came up, can we get airplanes off of an aircraft carrier, he's asked, is this possible? And his first answer is no, but let me work on it. And he comes up basically with a number of engineering tricks that essentially turn these planes into flying gas cans. He rips out every piece of equipment that is not necessary for it to land or drop a bomb and replaces that with blathers, gas cans, any number of workaround techniques.
They have to take off all the defenses on the plane, including the pyrotechnics, because if you're flying a gas can, the last thing you want is a flare to go off and to ignite the plane in midair. And just engineers piece by piece around the problem, literally ounce by ounce, pound by pound, and at the same time is drilling his pilots on how to try and get these planes off the ground as quickly as possible. And when they finally drop these planes by crane onto this aircraft carrier, the best his crews had been able to do at that point was still like one hundred to fifty feet too long.
And so they were hoping basically against hope he could do it. And he was the first plane off the deck. But they were basically hoping that the headwind would give them that. A little extra bit of lift so they could actually pull this crazy mission off. Yeah, steaming into a good brisk headwind should give you a little bit of extra. Like you can tell that the two things weren't going so well, because for the services to lay aside the interservice rivalry that invite all the aircraft onto a naval asset, they must know they're going to lose the war.
Yeah, people felt a bit chapped.
There's some great stories of the Navy looking at these aviators kind of ambling on to the USS Hornet, the aircraft carrier dressed in all manner of shirts and shoes and jackets. And they're all there and they're dressed Navy whites being like, oh, my God, we've let the vandals onto the ship. I mean, in the British tradition, the fleet era, while we allow mythical guys on board, that's a hell of a thought. What I do find so fascinating about wartime, whether you talk about the Dambusters raid, whether you're talking about the Doolittle right, is there is something so remarkable about that sense of purpose and the overcoming of challenges.
Now, whether it's the Manhattan Project or getting a B twenty five take off in half the length. And I often wish that kind of spirit could be employed in the current climate crisis. For example, a covid. You've just got to get this job done and you have all the political, financial and engineering wherewithal to make this thing happen. I find it very inspiring.
Yeah, it really is. It's that sense of mission, right, that we're often in our semi comfortable even during covid bourgeois lives. We don't get to enjoy that sense of mission and purpose that they were able to really just exploit to do extraordinary things. Literally, things that were under the laws of engineering and math and physics at the time should have been impossible. No one expected it to even be remotely possible. And yet you have this massive period of innovation, technical, I would also say, as well as like political and moral that happens over this brief four year period in the middle of the 20th century.
That really is just an endless resource for me anyway, a fascination and human drama and what people are really capable of when they have, as you said, that kind of sense of purpose. All the cards are on the table. We need to get this done.
And they do get it done. They take off. Does every single aircraft manage to get off the deck? Which aircraft carrier was it again? Because so many around in that period. That's right.
And the Navy was pretty touchy about risking two of its aircraft carriers, actually, which were part of the task force on what was essentially seen as a stunt. But, yeah, the USS Hornet, they're spotted by a Japanese picking it boat. So they end up having to take off 12 hours and hundreds of nautical miles further away from Japan than they were anticipating. And at 8:00 in the morning, Doolittle gets his plane off, as do the remainder.
All 16 planes make it up into the air. There's some footage from the other aircraft carrier of it, though, and it was skin of your teeth. One of the planes basically goes off the deck, starts just going right down. You feel like it's landing. You're about to just skim the top of the water and then it just pulls up dramatically. And not only all take off, they all make it to Japan. Not a single plane is shot down.
And not only do none of them get shot down, all of the crews have an opportunity to get to safety. There was supposed to be a landing strip of China that never materialized. So they all ended crash landing primarily when they run out of fuel. But it takes days before even those who are captured get captured. But even that's a minority, right? Only to cruise end up getting captured by the Japanese. All the rest make it to freedom with only three fatalities.
It's incredible. Sixty nine men all together make it back home to the United States safely and become really the greatest and sort of most celebrated American heroes of the war at that point.
While you mentioned the Hornets, the Hornet was at Midway subsequently wasn't what an extraordinary yet on it would end up having. What about the damage done in Japan? How effective was the raid or was it just purely a political statement like Churchill's famous raid on Berlin towards the end of the Battle of Britain in 1940?
A bit of that is a purely tactical matter. The raid had very little effect. It was surprisingly accurate, though. They actually were able to hit various military installations. The Mitsubishi engine factory got hit, but the psychic effect of it was, I think, far more significant than the material effect, because one of the things I try to recount in the book is the raid from the standpoint of the Japanese, how did they receive this attack on their mainland?
And it's not only the first time Japan is attacked from abroad. There are these stories of people like in downtown Tokyo just looking up at the sky, seeing these fat, green, glass nosed army planes just zipping around entirely unmolested by the Japanese Air Force. And it was this sense not only of, oh, my God, we're vulnerable to attack, but, oh, my God, the army can't protect us. Right. They're doing nothing. These planes are being able to fly freely around Tokyo as if they're just there for an air show.
And that had an incredible impact on Japan's strategic outlook going forward into making a number of disastrous decisions throughout the war, including the battle of midway directly provoked by the essentially psychic successes of the Doolittle raid.
Yeah, because Japanese strategy was all over the place at that stage anyway, right. They couldn't work out where they went to push into the Indian Ocean or Northern Australia. So they literally drags that vision back to the Central Pacific, right?
Absolutely. All of a sudden, there's a premium put on making sure no Doolittle raids happen again and. So not only does that precipitate a far more hasty launching of the attack on Midway, which was at best up for debate at that point, it also leads them to change strategy in China from what we would now probably call something like a counterinsurgency strategy primarily dedicated to just pacifying guerrilla activity, to attacking every airfield within range of Japan in order to prevent China from being used as a landing pad for American attacks of a similar kind.
And that not only is a massive waste of Japan's military resources in China, it hardens, but at that point had been softening opposition to Japanese occupation. It's very easy to forget that the very things that were demoralizing the allies in the first half of nineteen forty two were moralizing, I guess is not a word. We're moralizing. We're encouraging the Japanese around the world. And so in a place as politically fractious as China was in 1942, a lot of warlords were making a strategic calculation that the Japanese were there to stay and there was no real benefit in continuing to resist them.
Yet in response to the duel. Right, not only do the Japanese look a lot more vulnerable, they're just utterly brutal.
Campaign of search and destroy missions around the Chinese interior loses whatever goodwill, credibility, benefit of the doubt the Japanese might have had as an occupying power in China and ends up completely destabilizing what had been to that point, at least a mildly stable occupation of China.
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Don't miss this out people this is special offer get involved. Hello Fresh America's number one meal kit. But from the British point of view, it may have influenced the Japanese decision not to push home the attacks on Siloam that was looking pretty vulnerable last year. Well, I guess that's right. So talk to me about the men captured, how they were treated, and then the postscript to this remarkable story. Sure.
So the postscript, which is really the bulk of the book, the thing that no one had really seen before and was remarkable to me is the eight men who the Japanese capture from two different crews all near and around Shanghai. They're taken into custody by the Japanese Kempeitai, which is their secret police, where they're tortured, brutally subjected to the waterboard. They're subjected to sleep deprivation, isolation. One of the Raiders who I write about and focus on specifically in the story is being questioned and is refusing to talk.
And so his interrogators grab him, pin him to the ground, put a broom handle behind his knees, make him kneel, and then stomp on his thighs to essentially leverage the joints in his knees apart. So it's some really grisly, grisly stuff.
They're brought back to Tokyo, held incommunicado, continue to be ruthlessly interrogated by the Kempeitai. And ultimately for a combination of sort of fascinating political reasons, the Japanese government decides to conduct a show trial of the Doolittle Raiders, accuses them of perpetrating war crimes and atrocities against the Japanese and sentence's them all to death, ultimately, the emperor. This is by the fall of 1942. So the tide has turned decidedly in the war and Japan's momentum has been broken.
And so the emperor, as a matter of political grace, decides not to execute five of them three or shot the other five are put into solitary confinement where they suffer severe malnutrition. One ultimately does die a year later of beriberi and the remainder are rescued in August of nineteen forty five in a completely miraculous operation where everyone in the United States, including their families, had been led to believe they were dead. And all of a sudden, here is Lazarus, back from the grave found in a prisoner of war camp in China.
These four of the Doolittle raiders, again, the most celebrated people of the Second World War, and they are rescued. And there's this immediate desire for justice. And there's this premium put on finding the Japanese responsible for the torture, murder and mistreatment of the Doolittle Raiders. And that's sort of the fascinating story that I tried to tell this kind of legal drama set in the immediate aftermath of World War Two.
Well, without taking me through every twist and turn, because we don't have time, sadly, is there a tension between trying to make this legal process and those who wants to mete out rough justice?
That is the tension. And that's in a sense, the essence of the story, is this balance between justice and revenge. Can you actually provide justice, some level of fairness to your enemies? And that was by no means a foregone conclusion. In nineteen forty five, Stalin, quite famously at the Tarong conference, proposes creating a list of the top fifty thousand Nazis and just shooting them on site as a way of dealing with the post-war war criminal issue.
So the idea that you would hold trials and actually try and make them fair trials for your enemies is just this remarkable effort. It is an effort and that's one of the things that I try to convey in the book with a genuine effort.
This is to see if you can balance justice and revenge, even when someone who is not only your enemy, but is accused of committing atrocities against the most celebrated heroes from your countries.
Did they manage to find the particular torturers involved in the case? In many cases, yes.
One of the fascinating things that I got to explore is how they tried to figure out who was responsible for the torture and murder of the Doolittle Raiders. And in one sense, the problem is overdetermined, right? Everyone from the emperor down to some thuggish guard in the Nanking military prison was in one way or another responsible for what happened to the Doolittle Raiders. And so what these US Army lawyers who've been deployed to Shanghai to investigate this case ultimately decide to do is they find the Japanese lawyers and judges and they say that the Japanese lawyers and judges who presided over that show trial back in August of nineteen forty two, they are the ones who are most responsible for the torture and murder of the Doolittle Raiders.
And one of the fascinating things that happens in the course of the trial in nineteen forty six is that you have this very live, very philosophical debate over what is fairness. And it's all happening between Army lawyers in a makeshift war crimes trial being conducted in Shanghai. And it's a remarkable story. And thinking about not only how people reckon with the present and reckoning with accountability, but in their desire for revenge and the desire for justice. It's this remarkable story of people actually growing, of humanity growing in real time, because when Stalin proposed executing the top fifty thousand Nazis, it was a little brutal.
And Roosevelt was reportedly supposed to have said, well, Joe wouldn't force. 9000 be enough, but he wasn't wrong as a matter of history, revenge against your enemies dates back at least to Julius Caesar hanging the king of the Gauls and the idea that we would extend something as basic as the golden rule to our enemies in war. It took doing it took a kind of revolution in human thought that this trial at this incredibly crucial moment ended up playing this pivotal role in identifying individual human rights, human dignity.
The right to a fair trial is something that is shared by all. It's not just something that we enjoy in the United States as part of the American way or in Britain as the subjects of the queen. But it's something that all people all around the world enjoy by simple virtue of being human beings.
It's interesting. I've had some German specialists on the podcast who said actually the German lawyers and judges managed to get off very easy. The judges looked after their postwar judiciary in West Germany, particularly looked after their own very effectively. So it's funny that in the East she came to the opposite conclusion. Rather than going after the thugs, the men and women on the front line, they did actually go for some of the white collar criminals. That's right.
The white collar war criminals. So she's been a great name for the book. And I thought of it until now. But, yeah, there was this real sense that you can't just pin it all on the grunts on the ground. They're operating as part of a much broader system. And who's responsible for that system? It's not that abstract that no one's responsible. And more often than not, it's the people who are supposed to be providing moral and ethical leadership in the society, like lawyers, like judges who actually bear the most responsibility because they normalise and at a minimum, turn a blind eye to and facilitate the crimes of the people who are much more on the ground and willing to get their fingers dirty.
What did James do to till he went on to have a glittering career after the Doolittle raid? Hugely important in the 8th Air Force over a year. What was his involvement exactly? Matches the kind of guy he didn't like, leaving men behind on the mountain? It's a great question.
So right after he lands in China and actually makes it to safety inside of Quantong, China, he goes on a search for these eight lost Doolittle Raiders, the eight captured Doolittle Raiders, and is essentially offering bags of cash to anyone who is willing to help them escape from Japanese custody, but ultimately fails. And so comes back to the United States and puts a lot of pressure on the government inside, but also does some very, very private and probably illegal outreach to the families to let them know what's happened so that they're not worrying about where their family members are.
And so he takes it very personally and to the point that even after the war, one of the four men who I just mentioned who get liberated in August of 1946, one of them is so sick he's actually not allowed to leave. China is basically on the verge of death. They think he's actually dead when they first find his body. He gets put into these hospitals in China, these army hospitals. And when he starts waking up a month later, he starts telling people he's one of the dual raiders and everyone thinks he's completely insane.
Right. Because he's not the first shell shocked airmen to claim that he had been tortured by the Japanese and was originally this great American hero before being put in the hospital. And he basically gets lost in the army bureaucracy for months and months. And then he gets taken to a mental hospital in San Francisco where, again, he's put as an uncategorized mental case. Is the name on his file, the attempt suicide. And as a consequence of that, he's taken to a maximum security mental hospital in Iowa.
While all of this is happening, no one knows where he is. No one can figure it out. And so Jimmy Doolittle actually personally starts working the machinery of the Army to find out where George Bar, where he's at and ultimately finds him in this hospital and goes right before our Thanksgiving holiday in nineteen forty five. And the way George Parr tells it, he just bounds into the visitor room, all bubbling over with energy. Right. With this great celebrity.
Everyone in the room knows who this guy is and just says, Hey George, how you do it and just shake his hand. And you know, George Bush has tears in his eyes because it's the first time in three months at that point that anyone believes he is who he knows he is. And it's also, in George Bush's case, the first time he is actually confident he's out of Japanese custody because the treatment he is receiving by all these people who refuse to believe he is one of the Doolittle raiders convinces him that he's actually part of some elaborate Japanese ruse and that the middle of Iowa is actually the middle of China and they've created this essentially Potemkin hospital in order to torture him further.
He's having a real mental crisis. And this moment when he just sees Jimmy Doolittle, he for the first time feels that he's home. And it's this just utterly beautiful moment. And you can do a really just care like a lot of commanders, not all by any means, but like some of the great commanders of World War Two really understood his responsibility to these young men, barely men, as having a role of being almost a surrogate father to look out for their best interests, to make sure that he leaves no men behind and not just literally, but also in the spiritual sense.
Amazing. Just briefly, what happened during the trial? What happened to the Japanese lawyers and judges that were put on trial?
The book basically tell this courtroom drama of who is responsible for the torture and murder of Doolittle Raiders and without getting too many spoilers out. So hopefully your readers will actually enjoy the story. They're all convicted, but not necessarily in the way people might expect. And this in turn leads to a massive controversy, a political controversy in the United States, where you actually have members of Congress demanding that the trial be redone, violating the double jeopardy principle. And the Army is essentially forced to evaluate whether or not punishing these men for putting on an unfair trial essentially requires us to put on an unfair trial.
And it's an amazing opportunity where people have to really reckon with do we actually care about these values? Are these values we're actually willing to stand up for when it's hard? And that's really, again, one of the broader themes of the book is people under a lot of political physical stress testing themselves to see if they're willing to do what's right when it's hard.
Well, important universal themes that. Thank you so much, Michel, for coming on the podcast. What's the book called Last Mission to Tokyo in bookstores now. Going to get everybody. Thank you very much.
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