Archive for the ‘WWII History’ Category

Apr 25

World War II Today: April 25

1940 Allied forces withdraw from Lillehammer in central Norway.

New evacuation scheme introduced in Britain as a Ministry of Health survey shows that only 8% of eligible children have been registered; 19% of parents refused to do so; 73% did not bother to reply.

1941 Roosevelt announces an indefinite extension of US Atlantic patrols.

German paratroops seize Corinth and cross the Corinth Canal to the Peloponnese.

Hitler issues Directive No.28, ordering the preparation of plans to capture Crete. The basic plan is to involve 22,750 paratroops, 650 combat aircraft and is to be launched on the 18th May 1941, although this is put back to the 20th May 1941.

1942 The Luftwaffe attack Bath as the ‘Baedeker’ raids continue.

On his last patrol aboard U-404, Kapitanleutnant Otto von Bulow fires two FAT and two G7e torpedoes at British aircraft carrier HMS Biter. All detonate prematurely and HMS Biter escapes without damage. Von Bulow is later decorated by Hitler with Oak leaves to his Knights Cross for his Atlantic successes and German newspapers report the recent sinking of the American carrier USS Ranger as well. Later, USS Ranger commander Gordon Rowe, is photographed aboard his carrier smiling at a photograph of von Bulow and the German report of his vessel’s demise.

1944 With Allied control of the skies over Germany now virtually complete, Goebbels strongly objects to Hitler’s plan to fly to Berlin for one of his rare visits to attend Colonel General Hube’s funeral. Hitler insists on going anyway. It will be the last time the increasingly reclusive Fuhrer will show himself at a large public gathering in the Third Reich.

The British right hook South of Kohima begins.

1945 Beginning of the San Francisco Conference convened to discuss the founding of the United Nations.

German U-boats sink 5 allied supply ships in the English Channel.

The U.S. Third Army crosses the Danube, 70 miles Northeast of Munich.

The RAF attacks the ‘Eagle’s Nest’, Hitler’s chalet and the SS barracks at Berchtesgarten.

Troops of the U.S. Ninth Army and the Soviet 1st Ukrainian Front meet on the Elbe at Torgau, 100 miles Southwest of Berlin.

The U.S. Fifth Army enters Mantua, 60 miles Northwest of Bologna and continues its drive up coast, while the British Eighth Army crosses the Po river and captures Parma.

Russian units of the 1st Belorussian and 1st Ukrainian Fronts meet at Kietzen west of Berlin, meaning that eight Russian armies have now surrounded Berlin in a vice like grip. The suburbs Tegel and Reinickendorf fall into Russian hands. A relief attack by the III Panzer Korps from the area of Eberswalde 50 miles northeast of Berlin fails.

U.S. Marines seize islands off coast of Okinawa in Pacific.

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Apr 24

World War II Today: April 24

1940 Commons approves trade agreement with Spain, first since Spanish Civil War.

French reinforcements arrive at Aandalesnes.

British troops forced to withdraw north of Trondheim after sharp fighting.

Norwegian troops attack the Germans south of Narvik, but are beaten back.

Germans appoint Josef Terboven as Reich Commissar of Norway.

1941 German forces in Greece break through British positions at Thermopylae and land paratroops on Greek islands in the north-eastern Aegean. The British expeditionary force begins the evacuation of its troops to Egypt and Crete.

1942 The Luftwaffe raids Exeter in the first of Hitler’s retaliatory raids, which were soon to become known as the ‘Baedeker’ raids after the famous guidebook series of that name. A second raid employing 91 aircraft is made against Rostok.

US Marine Corps raises maximum age for recruits from 33 to 36.

1943 The first Women’s Flying Training Detachment class (precursor of WASPs) graduates from flight training.

1944 All overseas travel is banned in Britain.

The first B-29 arrives in China, over the Hump of the Himalayas.

The British force the road to Kohima open.

U.S. troops secure Hollandia and Aitape in New Guinea inflicting 9,000 Japanese casualties, while only suffering 450 dead themselves. Australians troops enter Madang in New Guinea.

1945 The British Second and Canadian First Armies enter Bremen.

The U.S. First Army liberates Dachau concentration camp.

The US Seventh Army crosses the Danube at Dillingen and captures Ulm.

The Eighth Army captures Ferrara, 30 miles to the Northeast of Bologna and crosses the Po after fierce fighting. The U.S. Fifth Army takes Spezia on the Gulf of Genoa and Modern.

The Japanese Burma Area Army C-in-C leaves Rangoon. The British Fourteenth Army takes Pyinmana in central Burma.

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Apr 23

World War II Today: April 23

1940 Budget Day raises taxes on beer by 1d, whiskey up 1/9d (9p) and postage up 1d. Estimates of the 1940 war expenditure as £2,000 million criticized by MPs for being too low.

1941 King George II of Greece and his government are flown to Crete by the RAF.

The German build up for Operation ‘Barbarossa’ continues with 59 divisions now deployed along the border with the Soviet Union.

1942 In a secret session of the House of Commons, Churchill delivers a speech declaring that the liberation of Europe was ‘the main war plan’ of Britain and the USA.

Churchill tells the House of Commons of disasters in Japanese war.

The RAF raids Rostok with 142 aircraft.

The Russian plan to hit the Germans with a powerful force of 640,000 men, 1,200 tanks, and 900 aircraft in the Kharkov area, while the Germans plan to hit the Russians with 636,000 men, 1,000 tanks, and 1,220 aircraft.

1944 The last Japanese attack on Garrison Hill, Kohima is repulsed as the British ‘left hook’ begins its advance to the North.

US Sixth Army secures Hollandia, New Guinea.

Helicopter used for air evacuation for first time—Sikorsky YR-4B helicopter of the US 1st Air Commando Group rescues 4 downed airmen in Burma.

1945 Dessau is reported as clear of German troops. The British Second Army reaches Harburg across the Elbe from Hamburg. Frankfurt is captured. Goring telegraphs Hitler saying that he will take over command as Hitler’s Deputy. Hitler says he must resign all his posts and orders Goring’s arrest. Reichsfuhrer-SS Himmler begins secret negotiations for a separate peace in the West with Count Bernadotte, head of the Swedish Red Cross.

The U.S. Fifth and British Eighth Armies reach the Po, to the North of Bologna.

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Apr 22

Exercise Tiger: The Slapton Sands Disaster

The failure of the Dieppe Raid in 1942 made it clear for Allied war planners that the Invasion of Normandy had to be prepared as thoroughly as possible. One important part of this preparation was Exercise Tiger, a nine-day secret live fire rehearsal held in April, 1944.

Slapton Sands

The exercise was held along the British coast at Slapton Sands in southwest England. The 3,000 civilian residents of the area, which was chosen for its similarity to the Normandy beaches, were evacuated beforehand without learning of the reason. The exercise was held by 30,000 troops from “Force U,” the American force slated to land on Utah Beach. Due to the need for secrecy about the upcoming invasion, most of the participating soldiers weren’t told the purpose of the exercise. In order to prevent discovery by German E-Boats (fast attack craft), a Royal Navy force of 2 destroyers, 3 motor torpedo boats and 2 motor gun boats patrolled the area, with another force watching the E-Boat base in Cherbourg, Normandy.

Utah Beach

The first four days, starting from April 22, concentrated on marshaling and embarkation drills, followed by a naval exercise and the actual beach assault. LSTs (Landing Ship, Tank) loaded with troops sailed out to sea, took a circuitous route during the night to simulate crossing the Channel, then arrived at Slapton Sands just before dawn. It was this second part of the exercise that turned into tragedy. With the U.S. and U.K. militaries still declining to share some information up to this day, the order of some events is uncertain. What we know if that two unrelated incidents led to the death of hundreds of troops.

During the night, a convoy of eight LSTs were making their way towards the coast, traveling along a straight line in a single column. They were meant to be escorted by two British warships but one was damaged in an earlier collision and left for harbor, leaving the convoy’s defense to the corvette HMS Azalea. The same night, a force of German E-Boats departed from France, slipped the British ships on guard and came upon the exercise. Once the German vessels were spotted, a radio message was sent to warn the convoy. Due to a typographical error in orders, however, the radios onboard the American LSTs were tuned to a different frequency than the one used by the Brits and only the Azalea received the warning. The LSTs, dubbed Long, Slow Targets by their crews, didn’t even know they were under attack until the first torpedoes exploded under them with the E-Boat weaving in and out between the ponderous targets before getting away. Two of the eight transports were sunk, one was damaged by friendly fire and one was set on fire but managed to make it to shore, though only after losing over 120 men.

Hundreds of people went under with the LSTs and others jumped into the frigid waters. The men were not instructed on the proper use of their life belts and many wore them on their waist rather than under the arms. Many of these men, therefore, turned upside down and drowned with their heads held underwater by the weight of their equipment, while others froze to death in the four hours it took for rescue to arrive. According to one widespread estimate, 749 soldiers died that night. According to one survivor, “When we got back and then the light broke, you could walk across the dead bodies in the water.”Among the people lost were ten officers who knew vital information about D-Day. Allied planners were afraid that some of them might have fallen into German hands and Operation Overlord was at risk of being canceled until the bodies of all ten officers were found.

The German attack wasn’t the only thing to go horrendously wrong. More people died during a beach assault exercise either the preceding or the following morning. In order to make the operation realistic and acclimatize soldiers to the conditions they were to experience in Normandy, General Eisenhower decided that a live fire exercise should be incorporated to give the troops experience with the sight, sound and smell of actual naval bombardment. The plan called for a shelling of the beach for 50 minutes, ending just as the first wave of landing craft were to arrive at 7:30am, while soldiers inland were to fire live ammunition above the incoming assault force.

Admiral Moon

Several of the landing ships were delayed en route to the beach and U.S. Navy Admiral Don P. Moon, who commanded the exercise, decided to delay both the landing and the preceding bombardment by one hour to give them time to catch up. Some of the other landing craft, however, did not receive the message and stuck to the original schedule, their second wave hitting the beach just as the navy bombardment commenced. The exact number of casualties from the appalling incident are unknown but might have been as high as 450.

The catastrophic results of Exercise Tiger were kept a secret to prevent the loss of morale among the troops slated to participate in the invasion. Survivors, as well as local doctors, tending to the wounded were sworn to secrecy and information about the ill-fated exercise was suppressed for decades. Admiral Moon went on to direct the Utah Beach landing but committed suicide in August 1944. The case was blamed on combat fatigue. Corvette Captain Bernd Klug, the German officer leading the E-boot attack on the convoy, became an Admiral in West Germany during the Cold War. Local rumors of several hundred American soldiers being buried in secret mass graves have never been fully confirmed or disproven.

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Apr 22

World War II Today: April 22

1940 Inter-Allied Supreme War Council meets in Paris; Poland and Norway represented.

1942 Fuhrer Directive 41 rolls off the mimeograph machines in Rastenberg and the Wehrmacht has its marching orders for 1942. Leningrad is to finally be captured, but that’s a secondary objective. The big plan is in the South, which involves 2nd Army and 4th Panzer Army breaking through to Voronezh on the Don. 6th Army will break out South of Kharkov and combine with the 4th Panzer Army to surround the enemy. After that, the 4th Panzer Army and 6th Army will drive East under the command of Army Group B and surround Stalingrad from the North, while Army Group A’s 17th Army and 1st Panzer Army will do so from the South. Once Stalingrad is taken, the 6th Army will hold the flank defense line while Army Group A drive South into the Caucasus to seize the oilfields and become the northern punch of a grand pincer movement (the southern half being Rommel) the seize Suez, the Nile Delta, the Middle-East and its oilfields.

US Tenth Air Force begins regular air supply service over the “Hump” between India and China and begins evacuating 4500 personnel from Burma to India.

1943 The British First and Eighth Army’s, the U.S. 2nd Corps and Free French forces begin the final offensive to destroy the axis bridgehead in Tunisia.

Japan announces captured Allied pilots will be given “one way tickets to hell.”

1944 Bomber Command uses a ‘J’ bomb (30lb liquid incendiary) for first time in a raid on Brunswick.

The Russians say their talks with Finns are over.

Tito’s Partisans storm the Adriatic Island of Korcula, capturing 800 Germans.

An increasingly depressed and dispirited Mussolini arrives at Klessheim Castle near Salzburg for one of his last meetings with Hitler. The Fuhrer warns that the Allied invasion can be expected within “6 to 8 weeks,” at which time he would unleash “new technical weapons” that would turn London in a “heap of ruins.” The Duce leaves unconvinced.

The allies land unopposed at Hollandia, on the northern coast of New Guinea.

1945 The U.S. First and Ninth Armies clear all German resistance in the Harz Mountains, 40 miles Southwest of Magdeburg. The U.S. Seventh Army captures a bridge across the Danube. The British Second Army is fighting in the outskirts of Bremen. The U.S. Third Army starts its drive down the Danube valley as the French First Army reaches Lake Constance on the Swiss/ German border. Hitler, ignoring the pleas of his entourage, decides to stay in his bunker at Berlin to await the inevitable end.

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Apr 21

World War II Today: April 21

1940 British and German troops engage in heavy fighting at Lillehammer, Norway.

First US military casualty of WWII—Army Air Force observer Capt. Robert Losey killed by German bombing at Dombås, Norway.

1941 The Greek Army surrenders to the 1st SS Leibstandarte Division. Its commander, Sepp Dietrich accepts this, without referring to his superiors. All Greek soldiers were allowed to return home, while officers were allowed to retain their side arms. Mussolini, upon hearing of this is furious and makes the Greeks sign another surrender document with much harsher terms.

1942

The first U-boat tanker or ‘ Milch cow’, U-459, sets sail for the Atlantic. Her role was to prolong the time that U-boats could spend in US waters by refueling and re-arming them at sea.

President Roosevelt orders seizure of all patents held by enemy nations.

Kenedy Alien Detention Center opens in Texas for enemy alien civilians (German, Italian, and Japanese citizens).

1943 Admiral Mineichi Kaga replaces Yamamoto as commander of Japanese Combined Fleet.

1944 German General Hans-Valentin Hube killed in plane crash at Berchtesgaden; General Erhard Raus replaces him in commend of the First Panzer Army.

1945 The U.S. Ninth Army captures Blankenburg, 80 miles to the East of Kassel. The U.S. First Army take Dessau. The French First Army captures Stuttgart along with 28,000 prisoners and crosses the Danube.

Field Marshal Model, commits suicide. German troops keep up their resistance around Elbingerode in the Harz Mountains.

The Soviet 1st Ukrainian Front captures Bautzen and Cottbus 70 miles southeast of Berlin. German troops still hold out in the port of Pillau.

The 2nd Polish Corps which is fighting with the British Eighth Army captures Bologna in co-ordination with the U.S. 34th Division, of the U.S. Fifth Army.

In Italy, future senator Lt. Daniel Inouye, serving with the Japanese-American 442nd RCT, is injured in battle, loses arm, earns Distinguished Service Cross and Bronze Star.

U.S. troops take ‘Bloody Ridge’ on Okinawa.

The French take Stuttgart, Germany.

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Apr 20

World War II Today: April 20

1889 Adolf Hitler, the Nazi dictator of Germany who led his country into World War II and was responsible for persecuting millions of Jews, was born.

1940 Danish Army demobilized.

1941 British forces in Greece retreat from Mt. Olympus. King George II heads new Greek government.

Greek forces in Albania surrender.

Luftwaffe launches raid on Athens and Piraeus, sinking five ships—heavy raids will continue for next three days. Riot between Sikhs and Muslims in Bombay, India leads to 400 casualties.

1942 An assassination attempt on Doriol, head of the French Fascists fails. Pierre Laval, the premier of Vichy France, in a radio broadcast, establishes a policy of “true reconciliation with Germany.”

In a reprisal for Resistance sabotage of German troop trains, the Germans execute thirty French hostages at Rouen. The next day, twenty more hostages are killed at St. Nazaire.

Adolf Hitler plans the German summer offensive, but the first priority is to remove the Barvenkovo salient in the Ukraine, which is gives the Russian a springboard to retake Kharkov, or turn South and retake the Ukraine. General Friedrich Paulus, a tall, ascetic Prussian staff officer, draws up the plans for an panzer offensive to pinch out this salient. Amazingly, the Russian are simultaneously planning their own offensive out of the salient.

The US aircraft-carrier Wasp delivers 46 Spitfires to Malta as reinforcement, although such is the intensity of the axis air onslaught (9,599 sorties in April), that almost all these aircraft had been destroyed on the ground within 3 days.

German Jews are banned from using public transportation.

As a result of the Doolittle raid on Japan, the Japanese decide that Operation ‘Mi’ must take place as soon as possible, while plans to capture Samoa, Fiji and New Caledonia are to be postponed.

1943 The limited recruitment of women into the Home Guard is announced in Britain.

The Jewish uprising in Warsaw triggers a massive German response and initiates a month long massacre of the 60,000 Jews in the ghetto.

The Americans announce that their airmen captured in the ‘Doolittle Raid’ on Tokyo were beheaded by Japanese.

1944 Colonel General Hans V. Hube, whose hard-charging aggressiveness on the Eastern Front had made him one of Hitler’s favorites, is killed when his plane crashes on takeoff from Berchtesgaden on the return trip to his command after offering the Fuhrer birthday greetings. Grief-stricken at losing such an outstanding commander, Hitler orders a state funeral for Hube in the Reich Chancellery in Berlin.

1945 The British Home Secretary says that 60,585 British civilians have died and 86,175 have been seriously injured in air attacks since outbreak of war.

The U.S. Seventh Army takes Nuremberg.

The U.S. Fifth Army reaches the Po river Plain in northern Italy as a German retreat to river ordered.

Russian artillery begins to shell Berlin. The Germans desperately counterattack both North and South of Frankfurt an der Oder. A Furious battles takes place at Sternbeck and Protzel.

In Czechoslovakia the Russian pressure increases at Moravska-Ostrava and Brno.

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Apr 19

World War II Today: April 19

1940 ‘State of Siege’ is extended to the whole of Netherlands.

The first clash between British and German troops in Norway, at Verdal north of Trondheim

1941 Luftwaffe sends 712 bombers to London, 449 killed, including 34 firemen, the largest single loss of firefighters in British history.

British women ages 20-30 are conscripted for war work; mothers of children under 14 are exempt.

A Brigade from the British 10th Indian Division land at Basra in southern Iraq.

The Germans attack south through Greece on a wide front. The Greek Government agrees that British forces should be evacuated. General Wilson plans to make a strong stand at Thermopylae, to cover the withdrawal of his troops to ports in the Peloponnese.

1942 Resistance on Cebu Island ends as the US-Filipino garrison surrenders to the Japanese.

1943 During World War II, tens of thousands of Jews living in the Warsaw Ghetto began a valiant but futile battle against Nazi forces.

1945 The British Second Army reaches the Elbe and launches an attack on Bremen. The U.S. First Army captures Leipzig and Halle, 50 miles South of Magdeburg. On the eve of Hitler’s 56th birthday, Dr. Goebbels exhorts the nation and predicts that in spite of all misfortunes Germany will yet prevail, that the “perverse coalition between Bolshevism and Plutocracy” is about to break up, and that it is Adolf Hitler (“Our Hitler!”) who will still turn back the tide and save Europe, as he has thus far, from falling into the clutches of the Kremlin.

The 1st Belorussian Front finally breaks through the German defenses on the Seelow heights, despite heavy losses in men and tanks (over 400 in two days) and races towards Berlin.

U.S. troops encounter very stiff resistance by the Japanese at ‘Bloody Ridge’ on Ie Island.

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Apr 18

COMBAT AMERICA by Clark Gable

COMBAT AMERICA by Clark Gable WW2 Aerial Combat Documentary

Combat America was originally intended to be used as a recruiting film for aerial gunners, however, by the time it began production, the needs for gunners had lessened. The film was completed as an account of aerial combat over occupied Europe and as a testament to the Eighth Air Force aircrew and ground crew in England.

Combat America is a 1945 documentary film produced in World War II, narrated by Clark Gable.

At the time of the film’s production in 1943, Gable was a 1st Lieutenant in the Eighth Air Force, part of the United States Army Air Forces. While he was stationed in England, Gable flew five combat missions from May 4–September 23, 1943, and during one of them, his boot was struck by an anti-aircraft shell, and he was nearly hit by other flak bursts.

 

Learn more about Clark Gable’s WWII Experience here.

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Apr 18

The Doolittle Raid: 16 Planes Against Japan

In the months following the Japanese on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II, the nation direly needed a morale boost. The idea for a retaliatory strike on Tokyo itself arose in January 1942, aimed to both lift spirits at home and shatter the Japanese belief that their Home Islands are safe from attack. This became known as the Doolittle Raid. The U.S. had no airbases from which long-range heavy bombers could have reached Japan. Although not designed for naval use, several medium bombers were considered for a special mission in which they would take off from a carrier. Most of these planes could not take off from the short flight deck or they were too large to be carried in adequate numbers. However, the new, unproven B-25 Mitchell seemed to be just what was needed.

Lt. Col. James Doolittle, a noted aviator, planned the attack. A pioneer of blind flying, in 1929 Doolittle became the first pilot to take off, fly and land using only instruments.

Even the B-25 could not land on a carrier once airborne, so the raid had to take off from a ship, attack Japan, and then land at an airbase. The Soviet Union was approached but refused to cooperate. The Red Army put all its strength into stopping Hitler’s invasion in the western part of the country, leaving the Soviet Far East unguarded. Helping the Americans could have provoked a Japanese invasion, a risk the country could not take. Nationalist China, already fighting Japan, stepped up to the plate and offered to receive the bombers after their flight.

The B-25s had to be modified to carry additional fuel for the long mission. Unnecessary equipment and armaments were removed and auxiliary fuel tanks were installed. The famous Norden bombsight did not work well at the low altitudes from which the raid was supposed to attack from, so a makeshift replacement was invented. Named “Mark Twain,” the device could be built out of 20 cents’ worth of material.

The planes did not have tail machine guns. Doolittle had dummy gun barrels fashioned from broomsticks and installed on the planes to deter Japanese fighters from attacking from behind.

Admiral “Bull” Halsey led the naval force for the raid. The force comprised the USS Hornet carrying the B-25s, the USS Enterprise providing air cover and a few attendant ships. Having no chance against the Japanese in a straight fight, the small fleet had to rely on stealth.

On the morning of April 18, 1942, the fleet was 650 nautical miles (750 mi) from Japan when a Japanese picket ship spotted it. The vessel was quickly sunk, but not before it could alert Tokyo on the radio. The task force was supposed to travel another 170 nautical miles before launching the bombers, but a decision was made to bring the timetable forward.

The 16 bombers, of the Doolittle Raid, took off immediately and reached Japan six hours later. The Japanese did not expect ship-based planes to be launched from so far away, and the anti-air defense was light. The raid successfully dropped its bombs and strafed targets over Tokyo and several other cities, but at four bombs per plane, the damage was light.

Since the raid launched from farther away than initially planned, the planes were now low on fuel. One plane headed for Soviet territory and landed there. The crew was interned but treated well. In 1943, they “escaped” with help from the Russian NKVD secret police and made it back home. The other 15 planes flew on to China. Several landing fields along the coast were equipped with radio transponders and held fuel for the planes. The U.S. Navy, however, did not signal the Chinese in time, so the transponders were left off, and the Doolittle Raiders could not find the fields. Running on fumes and with night approaching, the crews either bailed out or crash-landed one by one.

Three men died bailing out. The Japanese captured eight, executing three of them, and one died in captivity. Everyone else, however, made it out safely. The Chinese received them warmly and helped them return to U.S. forces.

The Japanese knew that the bombers that hit the Home Islands must have landed in China and exacted a terrible revenge. A military campaign was launched to destroy airfields and the Chinese forces that might assist similar raids in the future. Any Chinese civilians found in possession of American items (the crews left behind many souvenirs) were killed. The operation included germ warfare and resulted in the death of 70,000 Chinese soldiers and 250,000 civilians.

Though the Doolittle Raid caused little material damage, it was a tremendous morale boost to America and a psychological blow to Japan. Having lost all his bombers, Doolittle considered the mission a failure and expected a court martial on his return home. Instead, he received a hero’s welcome, the Medal of Honor and a two-rank promotion, going from lieutenant colonel to brigadier general in one step.

A medal attached to one of the bombs dropped in the raid. Several “medals of friendship,” awarded to American military personnel by the Japanese government before the war, were returned in this way during Doolittle’s flight.

The Doolittle Raid had far-reaching consequences that went unrecognized at the time. Japan expanded the empire’s perimeter in the Pacific after the small fleet, which got so close yet unnoticed, had shattered their feelings of security. This expansion included invading the American base at Midway Atoll. This attempt, culminated in the Battle of Midway, which was the turning point of the Pacific war. The shift of initiative that resulted from the battle led to the eventual Allied victory.

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