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The Most Decorated Ship of the Second World War

"Our commitment to peace requires that we retell the story of those brave men so that we never forget how free men rise to defend liberty when challenged."

The following speech was given by the Honorable Bernard D. Rostker, Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Manpower and Reserve Affairs). This speech preceded the awarding of the Task Force 16 Citation to those personnel assembled (over 100) who were members of Task Force 16, the force that transported and escorted the "Doolittle Raiders" to their launching point to bomb Tokyo on April 18, 1942. The ceremony took place in the Pentagon on May 15, 1995. Senators, Representatives, Chief of Naval Operations J. M. Boorda, and other dignitaries were also in attendance.

Senator Smith, Secretary Dalton, Admiral Boorda, honored guests from Task Force 16, their family and friends, ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to welcome the members of Task Force 16 to the Pentagon and to this ceremony honoring their outstanding contribution to winning the World War we fought some 50 years ago. The events of that war are etched into our consciousness, but our commitment to peace requires that we retell the story of those brave men so that we never forget how free men rise to defend liberty when challenged. We do so today by honoring the men of Task Force 16 and the story of one of the greatest truly joint operations of all times.

In the few minutes allotted to me, I want to recount for you the story of Task Force 16. We all know the story of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, but many may not know that on December 21st, two weeks to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Generals Marshall and Arnold, Chief of Naval Operations (Admiral King), and the Secretaries of War and of the Navy met with President Roosevelt at the White House. At that meeting the President emphasized he wanted a bombing raid on the home islands of Japan as soon as possible to bolster the morale of America and its Allies. The next step in this saga occurred on January 10th. Admiral King sent memos to his staff after each of the meetings with the President, noting that their Commander in Chief continually asked whether military was going to do something to retaliate against the Japanese.

The key idea came from Captain Francis Lowe, a submariner on King's staff. Lowe told King that when he flew down to Norfolk to check on the readiness of our newest carrier, the Hornet, he saw the outline of a carrier deck painted on the airfield. He told King that if the Army's long range bombers could take off in the length of a carrier deck, then it seemed possible to him that a few of them could be loaded on a carrier and used to bomb Japan. King asked Lowe to talk to Captain Donald Duncan, his air operations officer.

Duncan made discreet inquiries of the Army concerning its medium bombers, especially the B-25 and B-26, asking for such information as take off speed, dimensions, range and load capabilities. He checked with Navy sources for deck space data, experience with heavily loaded take-offs, and Pacific weather patterns to determine the best time for raids against Japan. By January 16th Duncan had produced a 30 page handwritten analysis that concluded that the North American B-25 was the only plane that could possibly be used. The B-25 could carry 2,000 pounds of bombs and make a 2,000 mile flight if extra gas tanks were installed. Duncan argued that the carrier Hornet, the newest carrier in the Navy, would be the ideal ship to carry the B-25's. He proposed that using the screening force of another carrier, cruisers, and destroyers, the Hornet could be brought within 500 miles of Japan, so that the bombers could be launched. After bombing Japan the bombers could escape to China, and the Navy Task Force would withdraw to safer waters. On January 17th, 1942, Captain Duncan briefed General Hap Arnold, who was by all accounts most enthusiastic about a carrier based raid against Japan. However, there was still one question to be answered. Could the B-25's actually take off from the carrier deck?

Duncan made arrangements with Arnold's office to have three B-25's flown to Hampton Roads. On the afternoon of February 2nd, Duncan reported to Captain Mitscher, the Hornet's skipper. The next day two B-25's were loaded aboard. Sea tests some 100 miles off the Virginia coast proved that the concept would work. B-25's easily lifted into the air with almost 500 feet of deck space to spare. By the middle of March the Hornet was on its way to San Francisco and the Alameda Naval Air Station to meet up with the Army Air Force. Meanwhile, Captain Duncan flew to Hawaii for meetings with Admiral Nimitz and Admiral Halsey.

Admiral Halsey recalls the meeting. "Duncan told us" Halsey says, "that something big was in the air - something Top Secret." Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle with Navy cooperation was training 16 Army crews to take B-25's off a carrier's deck, and the Navy had promised to launch them for Tokyo. "They might not inflict much damage", Duncan said, "but they would certainly give Hirohito plenty to think about." "Chester Nimitz asked me," Halsey recalls, "Do you believe it would work, Bill?" "I said they would need a lot of luck." Nimitz asked, "Are you willing to take them out there?" "Yes I am." "Good," he said, "it is yours."

At the end of the third week in March, Duncan wired Admiral King in Washington from Honolulu. "Tell Jimmy to get on his horse" was the message. That simple coded sentence launched 80 Airmen and 10,000 Naval personnel on an adventure that would change the history of the war in the Pacific. Duncan worked with the CINCPAC planning staff on the details of the 16 ship task force. It was decided that seven ships would accompany the Hornet from Alameda, and meet up with an eight ship force that included Halsey's flag ship, the Enterprise. On March 30th Halsey and Duncan met with Doolittle in San Francisco to lay out the details of a 16 ship task force. Seven ships that would accompany the Hornet were to be known as Task Force 16.2 and would leave San Francisco about April 2nd. They would meet up with Task Force 16.1, Halsey's eight ship force that would leave Hawaii on April 8th. Task Force 16.1 was later renamed Task Force 18.

What was not discussed with Doolittle, but was understood by all, was the tremendous risk that the Navy was taking. If marauding Japanese submarines discovered the 16 ship force steaming west, it would gain unprecedented opportunity to cripple what was left of the U.S. Navy's strength in the Pacific. Coupled with Japanese attack by long base bombers or heavy aircraft carrier force, it would mean the end of American Naval strength in the Pacific for months to come.

As the Hornet embarked from San Francisco Bay, three messages were sent from Washington. From Arnold, "May good luck and success be with you and each member of your command on the mission you are about to undertake." From Marshall, "As you embark on your expedition please give each member of your command my deepest appreciation for their service and complete confidence in their ability and courage under your leadership to strike a mighty blow. You will be constantly on my mind and may the good Lord watch over you." And from Admiral King, "I hope and expect that the first blow operation of the Hornet will be a success. I am confident that it will be in so far as her officers and crew under your able leadership can make it so. Good luck and good hunting."

When Admiral Halsey returned to Pearl Harbor he related the final details of the task force mission to his staff, and on April 7th Admiral Nimitz approved Operation Plan 20-42. In addition to the 16 ships of Halsey's force, two submarines (Trout and Thresher) were traveling and were to maintain patrol stations. Life aboard the Task Force 16 steaming west was recounted by Army Air Force pilot, Captain Ted Lawson, in his much acclaimed book, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. Captain Lawson recounts,

"Early in April north of Hawaii, our force was joined by other destroyers and cruisers. We were now a sizeable force. We proceeded slowly west. The weather turned very bad just after the rendezvous. The weather was so rough that once in checking our instruments aboard the Ruptured Duck, which was the name of his airplane, I noticed that the rise and dip of the Hornet would affect our altimeter as much as 200 feet. This added keenly to our ever increasing respect for the Navy."

Unfortunately, American Naval Intelligence did not know that ahead lay a line of approximately 50 Japanese radio equipped fishing boats that formed the early warning surveillance network extending seven to eight hundred miles offshore. Now for the after-action report from the U.S.S. Enterprise.

"On April 18th the day it was planned to reach the 500 mile circle from Tokyo at about 1600, at 0310 radar disclosed two enemy surface craft. At 0341 the two enemy vessels were brought to screen. Our presence was apparently unnoticed by the enemy, and the westerly course was resumed at 0415. At 0744 enemy patrol vessel was sighted, distance approximately 10,000 yards. There was no doubt now that our force had been detected and almost certainly had been reported. Nashville was ordered to sink the patrol vessel by gun fire as the carriers turned into the wind. The Hornet ordered B-25's to attack and Enterprise to relieve patrols. The first Army bomber was launched at 0820 approximately 650 miles from Tokyo, and the last one off at 0921. At 0927 the force commenced retirement, speed 25 knots."

A more compelling first hand account is again provided by Captain Ted Lawson.

"There was a muffled vibration roar followed immediately by the husky cry of battle stations. I got out on the flight deck and ran around a B-25 just in time to see the cruiser off our left let go another broadside. One of the Navy boys hurried past said it was a Japanese patrol boat, and that our gunnery had accounted for it within three minutes after engagement. We were forced to assume that the Japanese ship had had time to flash the warning about us. All hope of surprising the Japanese had now fled; surprise our only safety factor.
"The Hornet leaped forward boring a hole in the headwind. I could feel its turbines take up a faster beat, and felt that it was straining forward as fast as it could to get us a minute closer, a gallon nearer. The loud speaker brayed, 'Army pilots man your planes. Army pilots man your planes.' But I already knew the time had come. The flight deck of the Hornet was alive with activity. The Navy was now taking charge and doing it with an efficiency which made our popped eyes pop even more. It was good enough flying weather, but the sea was tremendous. The Hornet bit into the rockhouse waves, dipping and rising until the flight deck was a crazy seashore. Some of the waves actually were breaking over the deck. As soon as the last B-25 left the deck, the entire Task Force reversed course and headed east at full speed. All through the day several radar, air and surface contacts with the enemy, the Nashville sank the picket boat, Nito Maru, taking on several survivors."

According to Halsey's after-action report, Japanese patrol vessels encountered at such distance from Japan was astounding. Halsey kept the Task Force steaming eastward at full speed through the night and at dawn on the 19th sent up air patrols from both carriers. No more enemy ships were sighted. Task Force 16 returned to Pearl Harbor one week almost to the hour after the B-25's ordered dispatched. Halsey sent a well done to each of the ships in the force and declared the mission a success.

The mission over, Halsey touted the score. He said successfully launching 16 Army bombers from the Hornet in the unfavorable wind and sea conditions reflected great credit on the Army pilots and on the commanding officer of the Hornet. Three enemy patrol boats had been sunk or damaged and the Task Force had escaped without a scratch.

The Thresher and Trout on their special mission also had exceptionally good hunting. I think that the last word on this action rightly belongs to the Air Force, and was written in simple words by Captain Ted Lawson, the popular chronicler of the raid. Lawson wrote of the Navy,

"I felt this, too, that our Navy had done all that it could and it had done it in a way that had made a fellow proud of belonging to the same country."

We in the Navy today are proud of you and proud of what you did, just as we are proud of ourselves and the Marines that follow you today in the traditions that you have established for the Naval service.

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