Doolittle on the B-26 Marauder
James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle is best remembered for leading
the surprise air raid against Japan on April 18, 1942. Sixteen B-25 medium
bombers, each carrying a 1 ton bomb load, were launched from the deck of
the aircraft carrier Hornet, 824 statute miles from Tokyo. All but one
dropped their bomb load on targets in and around Tokyo. None of the sixteen bombers made it to
the planned landing field in China. Most of the crews had to bail out or
ditch when they ran out of fuel. One man died bailing out; two drowned
after ditching; one crew landed in Soviet territory; eight were captured
by the Japanese. Actual damage to the targets was minimal, but the psycological
impact on the Japanese people was great. Their homeland was not invulnerable
By the time of the Tokyo raid Doolittle was 45 years old. He had already
won air races and set records. He was a test pilot. He was the first to
do an "outside loop". He was the first to fly completely "blind",
by instruments, from takeoff to landing.
After the raid, he became :
- Commanding general of the 12th Air Force in North Africa, 1942
- Commanding General of the 15th Air Force in Italy, 1943
- Commanding General of the 8th Air Force in England, 1944
- Commanding General of the 8th Air Force in Okinawa, 1945
The following are from General Doolittle's autobiography,
"I Could Never Be So Lucky Again".
In the first part below, General Doolittle is relating events from early
in the war, before his raid on Tokyo. "Hap" is General Hap Arnold,
then chief of the Air Corps:
As soon as I reported to Hap's office in the Munitions
Building, he gave me my first assignment. The Martin B-26 Marauder, a fast,
highly streamlined medium bomber, had turned out to be an unforgiving airplane.
It was killing pilots in training because it never gave them a chance to
make mistakes. Young pilots went from primary trainers to basic trainers
to advanced trainers before receiving their wings and then, after graduation
from flying school, were sent directly to B-26 transition schools. This
was a difficult jump, especially for pilots who had graduated from single-engine
advanced training and had never flown multiengine aircraft. Those who had
gone to twin-engine advanced training had less trouble; even so, no trainers
in those days had nose wheels, so the B-26 was a step up in difficulty
for all new pilots.
Hap asked me to check into the problem and recommend whether or not
the B-26 should continue to be built. I checked out in it at the Martin
factory near Baltimore and liked it. There wasn't anything about its flying
characteristics that good piloting skill couldn't overcome. I traveled
to several flying training schools and B-26 transition units, gathered
the student pilots together, and asked them what they had heard about the
B-26 airplane. Almost all said they had heard it wouldn't fly on one engine,
you couldn't make a turn into a dead engine, and landing it safely on one
engine was just about impossible.
To prove them wrong, I lined up on the runway, feathered the left engine
during the takeoff roll, and made a steep turn into the dead engine, flew
around the pattern, and landed with the engine still inoperative. I did
it again in the other direction with the right engine feathered. And I
did this without a copilot, which made a further impression. This convinced
the doubters that all of these "impossible" maneuvers were not
only possible, but easy, if you paid close attention to what you were doing.
I had no trouble getting volunteers after each demonstration.
I recommended that the B-26 continue to be built. It was. The transition
training had to be improved and lenghtened. It was. Although the Marauder
remained a dangerous airplane in the hands of the unskilled, it had an
excellent record later when properly trained pilots took it into combat.
Pilots nicknamed the original model the "Martin Prostitute" because
it had relatively short wings and thus had "no visible means of support".
Subsequent models had the wings lenghtened, which increased its safety
Later in the book Doolittle writes:
During those beginning weeks, we were having a
very high rate of training accidents in the B-26 Marauder. The word was
out that it was a "killer," and I suspect that many crew members
were convinced they could never survive the war in that airplane, not because
of the enemy but because they would meet their maker in a noncombat accident.
Having tested the airplane thoroughly before many of the combat crews
had ever seen one, I knew it was my job to show them it was an airplane
to be respected but not feared. Paul Leonard, my faithful crew chief on
the Tokyo raid, was still with me, and I took him along as my copilot to
the various B-26 units to show that it could easily be flown as a one-pilot
airplane, although regulations required two pilots on every flight. When
they saw Paul in his mechanic's coveralls refuel and care for the plane
and found there was no one else aboard, they had their first lesson in
B-26 management--it could be flown as easily with one pilot as with two.
Proper training and confidence in the equipment was the answer, and I stressed
this to the group commanders and the pilots. I then put on a show for them
to prove that single-engine operation was as easy as flying with both engines
On one ocassion, I took Major Paul Tibbets up for a ride. Paul was one
of the pilots who had flown General Eisenhower down to Gibralter and was
partial to the B-17 because he felt the role of the B-26 as a medium bomber
would be limited. He wanted to fly the big ones, but I wanted him to see
what the Marauder could do. Paul tells what we did in his memiors:
I should have suspected that Doolittle knew more about the B-26
than he admitted when he said "It's just another airplane. Let's start
it up and play with it."
That is exactly what we did. We got in the air and circled to 6,000
feet, remaining close enough to the field to reach the runway if we had
trouble. But everything went smoothly. Doolittle then shut down one of
the engines and feathered the propeller. He got the plane trimmed and we
did some flying on one engine, turning in both directions, climbing, making
steep banks. The Marauder was a tame bird with Doolittle at the controls.
Suddenly he put the plane into a dive, built up excess speed, and
put it into a perfect loop -- all with one engine dead. As we came to the
bottom of the loop, he took the dead propeller out of feather and it started
windmilling. When it was turning fast enough, he flipped on the magnetos
and restarted the engine as we made a low pass over the airfield. We came
around in a normal manner, dropped the gear and the flaps, and set the
B-26 down smoothly on the runway.
The pilots and operations people who had been watching us were impressed.
The flight was an important start toward convincing them that the B-26
was just another airplane.
Paul Tibbets was later the pilot of the B-29 Superfortress named
Enola Gay when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, August 6,