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Old 19th October 2022, 19:25
Larry deZeng Larry deZeng is offline
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Re: B-17 Photo Recon over Japan before Doolittle raid

Originally Posted by edwest2 View Post

"The flight was so classified that the Air Corps captain was not cleared for any operational facts; he did not know the names or numbers of the crews, the take-off dates nor the final results. Regular military channels were deliberately uninformed and intentionally not cleared. Nor was President Roosevelt informed until after the triumph of the Doolittle Raid."

Pretty convenient, I think. What is not explained by this statement is WHY it was still being withheld from declassification 80-81 years later. The secrecy level was to keep the B-17(s) from being shot down and the entire project exposed. After the Doolittle Raid, there was no long any need for that level of secrecy.

L. deZ.
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Old 23rd October 2022, 20:11
kaki3152 kaki3152 is offline
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Re: B-17 Photo Recon over Japan before Doolittle raid

Since I'm the instigator of this thread and have some comments to make, here goes. To refresh my memory, I re-read Gen. Doolittle's autobiography, "I Could Never Be So Lucky Again", to see what pre-mission information he had before the mission. There are two specific mentions. On Pg241, he "[A]sks ...General Spaatz [to] prepare target folders to include the best industrial targets located in Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe, Nagoya, and six other cities from Steel magnesium, and aluminum plants, petroleum refineries, and shipbuilding facilities Besides each target suggestion was listed the reason for its selection." While on the USS Hornet, the crews were briefed by Lt Cmdr. USN, Stephen Jurika, who had been assigned to Japan in 1939 as an assistant naval attache for air at the American Embassy. One of his duties was to locate and pinpoint industrial targets for possible future use.
In short, Doolittle appears to have had sufficient information without needing any aerial photographs. Because of the multiple cities, one single photo recon flight would have been unable to photograph al the possible targets.
This now falls into that category of semi mythical stories of aerial warfare in WWII. Other examples are the Corregidor P-40 that made it to China and the German-American saboteur who planted bombs on 15th AF B-24.
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Old 23rd October 2022, 21:41
MW Giles MW Giles is offline
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Re: B-17 Photo Recon over Japan before Doolittle raid

OK, so I have read the book so that nobody else has to. That is four hours of my life that I will never see again. Deeply unconvincing, to put it mildly. The following major problems noted:
Most of the story is done in a way that does not give specifics that can be checked
The squadron the crew in the story belonged to is never given, although it is mentioned that 13 B-17s were sent to Hawaii by the unit at the time of Pearl Harbour, which implies we are looking at the 19th BG. The story (p66) describes listening to the R/T from the planes landing on Hawaii while under attack, listening from a base in California.
The recon flight to Tokyo is to be made by 3 B-17Ds (serials for fictitious B-17s are given 4375, 4376 and 4377). This is even though B-17Es were in service by this point
The book says turrets are removed from the Ds for the flight. Not sure they had any anyway. But over Tokyo it is mentioned that gunners are manning guns, therefore armament clearly not removed to save weight.
The flight in the book is Wright Field – Recife (Brazil) – Lagos (Nigeria) – Agra (India) and then the recon flight is Agra – Osaka – Nagoya- Yokahama – Tokyo – Dutch Harbour, all without additional stops.
The latter recon flight is confirmed as 6500 miles. No indication how the extra fuel is crammed into the B-17, apart form the use of 65 x 5 gal drums that are transferred in fight into the main fuel system in some unspecified way. No indication how they provided oxygen or engine oil for that length of flight either. Transfer from 5 gal drums, in flight, is asking for an explosion. Tins punctured and thrown overboard into sea (hope they were empty otherwise the crew get covered in the last quarter pint of fuel at the bottom of the drum)
Take off weight at Agra is given as 73,000 lbs, this is considerably in excess of a B-17G at max weight.
The Tokyo tanks of the later B-17F of 1943 are supposedly the means of providing the required extra fuel, however IRL they only provided an additional 1100 or so gals, not the extra 2500 needed for the flight (see previous post). The normal capacity of a D was only 1700 gals, with an addition of 792 gals in the bomb bay, making 2492 gals. We need to add the same again for this flight
During the flight at high altitude, up to 37000ft, there is a fuel leak and the crew find it as a puddle in the bomb bay by using their sense of smell. No mention of them all passing out from lack of oxygen when taking their masks off to check.
Fuel consumption is given as 118 to 122 gals/hr, when a real B-17 burns nearer 360 lbs per hour.
Apparently they could not take any liquid to drink on their 30 hour flight as liquid freezes at altitude, thermos or vacuum flasks are apparently unknown in the States.
For some reason, unspecified, they have to come down to around 11,000ft for photo run from Osaka to Tokyo before climbing back to 30,000 ft for flight to Dutch Harbour. Why they needed to expose themselves to flak and fighters in this way is unclear. They started descending before reaching area, therefore this was planned and not due to weather.
None of the navigation difficulties are covered or discussed. The landing procedures are all using VHF in very modern ways, which is surprising for Recife, Lagos and Agra in 1942. The author does not appear to have heard of W/T and does not know what a wireless operator is for.
A submarine and destroyer are contacted as they pass using VHF. The submarine appears to be submerged at the time!
They are homed onto Dutch Harbour by radar and VHF from range of 167 miles. Apparently IFF would have extended that range to 280 miles. Hmmm. No mention of MF radio beacons or DF bearings.
The tower makes direct reference to radar over the R/T– definite security breach.
A C-54 is waiting on the ground to take the photos to Washington. Actually the first C-54 flew in Feb 42 but the plane did not go into production until 1943! Another C-54 turns up the next morning with Colonel Doolittle aboard to congratulate everyone. Aleutians to Washington DC and back in a day in a prototype a/c shortly after its first flight. The Colonel's plane apparently made a radar controlled approach to a fog bound airfield in 1942!
The book says they take off on the recon mission from Agra on the night of Friday the 26th March. The 26th March 1942 was actually a Thursday. The author could have meant the early hours of the Friday, but that is not what he said.
They are over Tokyo on the afternoon of the 27th (2 to 4 pm) and land after a total of 30 hours in the air. This is given as the 28th. Except they crossed the international date line going East, which means they lost a day, and they should have landed on the 27th, assuming it took over ten hours to go 2750 miles.
Officer on Hawaii is talking about Japanese codes and says it is OK for him to get the info as he is cleared for Ultra. Careless
P/O John McGee (of High Flight fame) is mentioned as stationed at Digby on the south coast of England and later as at Digby in Sussex – I hope it is still in Lincolnshire, in the Midlands. Apparently McGee was in the Battle of Britain, even though he really joined 412 Sqn in mid/late 1941. The fiancé of the fictional John McGee apparently made a transatlantic phone call to Digby and was told of his death (p92). International calls were suspended at the start of the war for the general public.
Someone is described as having shot down 4 Fw190s by Feb 1942 (p240). That is some going considering they only joined II/JG26 in August in 1941.
On p422 the author talks about where he got the story from. Norman Nelson worked at Wright Field and converted B-17s for recon purposes. A number of other people at Wright Field are listed as possibly knowing about the Tokyo recon flight and the author spoke to two of them. None of the pilots, crew or others others actually involved in the supposed flights are listed or described as being interviewed.
Conclusion – were B-17s converted to a longer range recon configuration in 1942 – possibly. Did the recon mission over Tokyo take place as described – highly unlikely in my view.

Last edited by MW Giles; 24th October 2022 at 13:28.
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Old 24th October 2022, 00:35
Larry deZeng Larry deZeng is offline
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Re: B-17 Photo Recon over Japan before Doolittle raid

Excellent critique, MWG.

One further comment: if all of this had actually happened, it's hard to believe that the large, expansive Japanese aircraft spotting and reporting network that employed thousands of spotter posts, giant acoustic equipment for picking up engine sounds at considerable distances as well radio intercept and primitive electronic equipment didn't locate the B-17 and immediately report it up the air defense chain of command. If so, there can be no question that it would appear in numerous Japanese documents of the time and covered in Japanese histories of the war. I've researched my way through thousands of Japanese wartime and postwar documents that were translated into English as well as the MAGIC documentation, and there's nary a peep.

L. deZ,
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Old 24th October 2022, 19:37
RSwank RSwank is offline
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Re: B-17 Photo Recon over Japan before Doolittle raid

This is the obit of Norman Nelson, cited as the person who originally told the story. Nothing about the Tokyo flight in the obit, but he did have an interesting career.
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Old 25th October 2022, 17:47
James A Pratt III James A Pratt III is offline
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Re: B-17 Photo Recon over Japan before Doolittle raid

To supplement reply #12. I believe the US in the early 1930s had a visitor to Japan go to the top floor of one of the taller buildings in Tokyo and secretly take pictures of the city. I also believe US and other military and Naval attaches did gave intel info pre -WW II
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