The Doolittle Raid, also known as the Tokyo Raid, on April 18, 1942, was the first air raid by the United States to strike the Japanese Home Islands during World War II.
By demonstrating that Japan itself was vulnerable to American air attack, it provided a vital morale boost and opportunity for U.S. retaliation after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. The raid was planned and led by Lieutenant Colonel James "Jimmy" Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Forces. Doolittle would later recount in his autobiography that the raid was intended to bolster American morale and to cause the Japanese to begin doubting their leadership, to which it succeeded:
The Japanese people had been told they were invulnerable ... An attack on the Japanese homeland would cause confusion in the minds of the Japanese people and sow doubt about the reliability of their leaders. There was a second, and equally important, psychological reason for this attack ... Americans badly needed a morale boost.
07:38 on the morning of 18 April, while the task force was still about 650 nautical miles from Japan, it was sighted by the Japanese boat Nittō Maru, a 70-ton patrol craft, which radioed an attack warning to Japan. The boat was sunk by gunfire from USS Nashville; Doolittle and Hornet skipper Captain Marc Mitscher decided to launch the B-25s immediately—10 hours early and 170 nautical miles farther from Japan than planned. After respotting to allow for engine start and runups, Doolittle's aircraft had 467 feet of takeoff distance. Despite the fact that none of the B-25 pilots, including Doolittle, had ever taken off from a carrier before, all 16 aircraft launched safely between 08:20 and 09:19. (The 16th B-25 had been included only as a reserve, intended to fly along as an observation and photographic platform, but when surprise was compromised, Doolittle decided to use all 16 aircraft in the attack.) This was the only time that United States Army Air Forces bombers were launched from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier on a combat mission.
All the aircraft involved in the bombing were lost and 11 crewmen were either killed or captured—with three of the captured men executed by the Japanese Army in China. One of the B-25s landed in the Soviet Union at Vladivostok, where it was confiscated and its crew interned for more than a year. Thirteen entire crews, and all but one crewman of a 14th, returned either to the United States or to American forces.
The raid caused negligible material damage to Japan only hitting non-military targets or missing completely, but it succeeded in its goal of helping American morale and casting doubt in Japan on the ability of the Japanese military leaders. It also caused Japan to withdraw its powerful aircraft carrier force from the Indian Ocean to defend their Home Islands, and the raid contributed to Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's decision to attack Midway—an attack that turned into a decisive rout of the Imperial Japanese Navy by the U.S. Navy near Midway Island in the Central Pacific.