Sixteen B-25's, stripped down to bare necessities and each crewed by only five men, finally learned what their dangerous, secret mission involved. They launched their planes from the USS Hornet and headed for Japan, 600 miles across the waters. Unexpected, undetected by the Japanese, they met only token resistance and all successfully bombed their targets.
Then, without sufficient fuel to reach any friendly base, they continued west, hoping to land in part of China free of Japanese occupation. One plane crash-landed in waters off the China coast; two men drowned; one man was killed bailing out. The rest were captured and held in Japan. One plane landed in Russia. Fourteen Liberators crash-landed in China; many airmen were helped by villagers who paid a terrible price. It is estimated the Japanese killed 250,00 civilians during their search for the Doolittle Raiders.
Eight Raiders were held in Japan; all were sentenced to death, but several sentences were commuted. Three were executed; one died in prison. Survivors in China were returned to the U.S., later flying missions in Burma, North Africa and Europe. Twelve eventually died in battle.
The Doolittle raid did little material damage to Japan, but raised American morale and forced the Japanese to shift resources to defend their homeland, weakening the navy that would face Americans two months later in the decisive Battle of Midway.