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Memorandum for the Under Secretary
of War [Patterson]
April 22, 1943 [Washington, D.C.]
At your press conference this morning you may be questioned regarding the initial announcements as to Doolittle’s raid on Japan. The facts are approximately as follows:
The planes were to have left the carrier three or four hundred miles off Japan and at such an hour as to permit them to do their bombing at dusk and to arrive over the Chinese airfields at daylight the following morning.
However, because our naval flotilla was sighted some 700 miles off Japan it was decided that a closer approach was not advisable and Doolittle was confronted with this situation—the takeoff at that time and place would not leave him enough gasoline to reach the Chinese airfields; also it would carry him into Japan in the middle of the day and would make the approach to China in the hours of darkness. In this dilemma he made the hard and highly courageous decision, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor, to make the try despite what seemed to be the inevitable loss of both planes and personnel in the China Sea.
There was also added to his problem the fact that the takeoff with these large two-engined bombers, permitting only four feet clearance of the carrier tower or island, would have to be made in a heavy sea.
The raid was a complete surprise, the targets were unmistakable and passed over at such low levels that bomb misses were few if any. No plane was damaged over Japan.
Flying on westward into the China Sea a heavy storm was encountered which provided a tail wind, increasing the ground speed to such an extent that the planes actually reached Chinese shores. However, this occurred in the middle of a pitch-black night during a heavy storm of rain and wind. Even so the crews of only two planes were forced to parachute into Japanese-occupied area. One of these crews escaped into a friendly zone. The crews of all the planes over China were forced to jump as the gasoline became exhausted.
Now as to the character of the release made and why.
We did not wish the Japanese to know how the raid was launched because a further raid was and is a decided possibility; we certainly wished it to be considered so in the minds of the Japanese. Also we did not wish the Japanese to know where the crews had landed because we had no information regarding one crew the members of which had parachuted in Japanese-occupied China and they must be given every opportunity to escape.
It will be remembered that the Japanese claimed that planes were shot down over Japan and also that they actually exhibited a plane in Japan. Our answer was that we lost no planes over Japan.
There was a further factor involved in all of this and that was the necessity of rushing the carrier Hornet to the South Pacific to meet a Japanese invasion concentration in that region. The Hornet actually arrived the night of the first day, I believe, of the Battle of the Coral Sea. The fact that we had a carrier off Japan and that we hurriedly shuttled it to the South Pacific was information we did not desire the enemy to have. The fact that the planes had been abandoned over China because of lack of gasoline we also did not wish the Japanese to ascertain.
In almost all such matters the enemy has a wealth of information regarding our developments and procedure which is denied us as to their forces. The production of planes and in particular shipping, the launching of carriers, etc., are well known to them with complete accuracy. On the other hand what we learn of their similar activities is obtained in the hard way and in the case of Japan in particular, in a very limited manner. The odds in this war are heavily against us in the matter of military information and the present reaction regarding the Doolittle raid is an example of a dangerous approach to this serious problem.1
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed memorandum.
1. At his press conference, Robert P. Patterson discussed the April 1942 Doolittle raid over Japan and responded to questions concerning possible American reprisals for the Japanese execution of several American air crew members. Patterson was reported as stating, “Reprisals for this act directed against Japanese soldiers in our hands would lower us to the level of our enemies without touching the evil individuals who are alone responsible.” Patterson suggested that at the proper time action would be taken against the responsible officials of the Japanese government. (New York Times, April 23, 1943, p. 5.)
Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 657-659.