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The Doolittle Raid (Paperback)

The First Air Attack Against Japan, April 1942

Aviation > WWII Photographic Books WWII > Battles & Campaigns > Japan & the Pacific Front WWII > Photographic Books

By John Grehan
Imprint: Air World
Series: Images of Aviation
Pages: 184
Illustrations: 140
ISBN: 9781526758224
Published: 30th March 2020


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On 1 April 1942, less than four months after the world had been stunned by the attack upon Pearl Harbor, sixteen US aircraft took to the skies to exact retribution. Their objective was not merely to attack Japan, but to bomb its capital. The people of Tokyo, who had been told that their city was ‘invulnerable’ from the air, would be bombed and strafed – and the shock waves from the raid would extend far beyond the explosions of the bombs.

The raid had first been suggested in January 1942 as the US was still reeling from Japan’s pre-emptive strike against the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. The Americans were determined to fight back, and fight back as quickly as possible. As it was not possible to reach Tokyo from any land base, the sixteen specially-modified North American B-25 bombers would have to fly from an aircraft carrier, but it was impossible for such large aircraft to land on carriers; the men had to volunteer for a one-way ticket.

Led by Lieutenant Colonel ‘Jimmy’ Doolittle, the seventy-one officers and 130 enlisted men embarked on the USS Hornet which was shielded by a large naval task force. However, the ships were spotted by a Japanese ship. The decision was therefore made to take-off before word of the task force’s approach reached Tokyo, even though the carrier was 170 miles further away from Japan than planned and in the knowledge that the B-25s would not have enough fuel to reach their intended landing places in China.

The raid was successful, and the Japanese were savagely jolted out of their complacency. Fifteen of the aircraft crash-landed in, or their crews baled-out over, China; the sixteenth managed to reach the Soviet Union. Only three men were killed on the raid, with a further eight being taken prisoner by the Japanese, three of whom were executed and one died of disease.

The full story of this remarkable operation, of the men and machines involved, is explored through this fascinating collection of images.

"Grehan’s and Nicoll’s book goes a long way to bringing the story back to life by calling attention to the details of the raid."

Air Power History, Winter 2021

The book is therefore a treasure trove of fantastic photos that cannot be missing on the shelves of any War in the Pacific and World War II enthusiast.

Read the full Italian review here

On The Old Barbed Wire

A work of great historical interest and very well documented.

Read the full Spanish review here

Miniaturas JM

... if you are interested in Second World War US Aviation or have the new Airfix B-25B (see this month's reviews) then this latest book from Pen & Sword will certainly be a useful reference for your next modelling project.

Scale Aviation Modeller International, October 2020, Vol 26, Issue 10

The book contains a wealth of photographs – at least half the book is photographs – covering the preparations, journey, and aftermath.


Richard Parkhurst

The very popular Images of War series has provided great experience for this new series, Image of Aviation. The authors have provided supportive text, captions and extended captions to complement the excellent selection of images. The main coverage is of the raid itself, including taking the bombers into range of their targets, but also provides a very good introduction and description of Doolittle’s experiences as an aviation pioneer before the war – Very Highly Recommended

Read the full review here


The 164 black and white photos, one black and white illustration, and two black and white maps take us through the raid from aircraft loading to bombing to crash landing. Each of the 16 crews gets its own chapter with official accounts and occasional post-mission interviews.

Most books cover the raid well enough, including captured Japanese photos, but of note here are photos of the crews in China, including crashed aircraft and workers' aid.

Well done. Enjoyed it.


Article: ‘Extraordinary story of US air attack on Japan’ as featured by

Shoreham Herald, 30th April 2020 - words by Phil Hewitt

The Doolittle Raid was made possible by the incredible ingenuity, planning, and fortitude that typified much of the American war effort. This basic but illuminating book does credit to that without slipping too far into panegyric. The decision to follow the crews and bombers separately works well, and the remarkable photos with their detailed captions complement the narrative. John Grehan and Alexander Nicoll have done us, and the men involved in the raid, a service by making their story accessible in a clear and informative book. 8/10

Read the full review here

Beating Tsundoku

Read the full review Scale Modelling Now

Scale Modelling Now

Packed with detailed photographs and technical information, this volume tells the staggering story of the men who struck that first blow.

Read the full review here

Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

The story of the Doolittle raid is reasonably well known to many through the films on these events that were released and that is all good and well. This book not only tells the story of the Doolittle raid, but also puts faces to the names of the men that took part and in some cases died horrific deaths at the hands of the Japanese. The aircraft identification is also covered and so provides valuable information on that aspect. Perhaps the biggest plus to this title is that it brings written and pictorial information together in one place with the pictorial aspect being the most appealing to the modeller.

Read the full review here


Most people will have heard of the Doolittle Raids if they have an interest in WW2 history, as it was the first strike on Japan that the Americans affect by launching 16 B-25 bombers from an aircraft carrier off the coast of Japan. This book, part of the ‘Images of War’ series from Pen & Sword Books is one of the best ones that I have read for a while.

The book opens with the background, and the planning that went into undertaking an operation to make a point to the Japanese, just months after their famous raid on Pearl Harbour in December 1941. The US went with a plan from Lieutenant Colonel ‘Jimmy’ Doolittle. There was no way that bombers in those days could reach the islands of Japan by flying from mainland USA. This details the efforts that went into being able to launch the 16 Mitchells from a carrier. The next and most significant part of the book then goes through the attackers plane by plane. It explains the detail of what happened to each individual aircraft and what happened to the members of each crew. And I must say at this point that this was my favourite part of the book in that it gave a personal side to each crew and what the outcome for each crew was. As you would expect with this series of books, each element is an element of text plus a series of well captioned photos.

The book round things off with section on a War Crimes trial for those Japanese involved with the executions of 3 of the downed aircrew and mistreatment of others, as well as a Post-Raid Assessment. The level of information and detailed photographs in this book are excellent and one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I’m going to give this a positively 5 out of 5 stars.

UK Historian

The book is packed with facts and brilliant photos to tell their stories and it is one that I have already recommended. It is 5 stars from me for this one, I thought it was an excellent book – very highly recommended!!

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Donnas Book Blog

The Doolittle Raid is in the Images of Aviation series and images it certainly has. There are photographs of all the aircraft, all of the crews and many of the ships that took part in that historic adventure. But this book is much more than the images in that it also tells the story of the raid largely through the reports of Colonel Doolittle and others who took part in the action. The photographs are well annotated and given context by the text. In this book we have a factual introduction free from authors conjectures, what ifs and opinions and is best seen as an essential introduction to greater in depth analysis. The references and notes point to further readings should one want it.
This great story, well told and illustrated, will appeal to a wide range of reader and we highly recommend it.

Read the full review here

Clash of Steel

The level of detail about the individual aircraft and crews involved in the raid, coupled to a marvellous collection of archive images, this is the most detailed account I have seen to date.

Read the full review here

Military Model Scene, Robin Buckland

Rightly or wrongly I tend to see the Images of War series as excellent introduction to a subject to foster reading in more depth from other more detailed sources. In this case the Doolittle Raid could not be further from that assumption, being a complete exposition of the raid and all its constituent parts. As ever the images are excellent and most being mission specific rather than generic, add real detail to the narrative. The men involved in the raid are introduced in some depth so that the book is not a simple narrative of events but a complete story. Recommended.

Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide

Michael McCarthy

About John Grehan

JOHN GREHAN has written, edited or contributed to more than 300 books and magazine articles covering a wide span of military history from the Iron Age to the recent conflict in Afghanistan. John has also appeared on local and national radio and television to advise on military history topics. He was employed as the Assistant Editor of Britain at War Magazine from its inception until 2014. John now devotes his time to writing and editing books.

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