Edward J. York

Pilot of Plane 8 Doolittle Raid
At the bottom of the page are the sequence of events leading up to the Raid

Crew of 8th Aircraft Plane # 40-2242 – Crew from 95th Squadron, 17th Group – (Landed and Interned in Russia)
Captain York’s B25 had suffered engine problems prior to the loading of the aircraft on the Hornet, and the flight to Japan compounded this. Despite heavy fuel consumption by both engines, York continued on course to drop his bombs on their assigned targets. Throughout the run the aircraft was defenseless with a top turret that failed to work. Without enough fuel to reach China, Cpt. York elected to fly the shorter distance to Russia where he landed at a field near Vladivostok in hopes of refueling to reach China. Instead, the still neutral Soviets confiscated the bomber and interred the crew for thirteen months. The crew returned home in May 1943 after escaping into Persia.

Pilot Capt. E.J. York

Co-Pilot Lt. R.G. Emmens

Navigator Lt. N.A. Herndon

Bombardier SSgt. T.H. Laban

Engineer Gunner Sgt. D.W. Pohl

These are images from Vladimir Plotnikov which he located at of York’s plane, the day after the raid, in Russia.


Graduated from Batavia High School in 1928 and enlisted in the U.S. Army (Infantry) in July, 1930. Served at several posts, including Chilkoot Barracks, Alaska, before winning an appointment to the United States Military Academy. Commissioned as Second Lieutenant upon graduation and was assigned to pilot training at Randolph and Kelly Fields where he received his wings in August, 1939. Was interned in Russia after Tokyo Raid for thirteen months. Shortly after returning to the US in 1943 he was reassigned to B-17 unit in Italy. Following World War II, was sent to Warsaw, Poland as Air Attache. Returned to US in 1947 and assigned as Commandant of Air Force Officer Candidate School. Graduated from Air War College and has had service in the Pentagon and in State of Washington. Served as Chief of Staff of USAF Security Service, San Antonio, Texas. Retired in 1968. Decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit, and the Chinese Army, Navy, and Air Corps Medal, Class A, 1st Grade.

Born August 16, 1912, Batavia, New York

Died August 31, 1984

Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery

1520 Harry Wurzbach Road

San Antonio, TX 78209


Section 1 Grave 1220

Interment 9/4/1984



Photos relating to the Raid are at


B-25 data is at



Numerous sites are at


First Joint Action


Additional info

Soon after the death toll at Pearl Harbor had been totaled, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked America’s top military leaders, Army Generals George C. Marshall and Henry H. ‘Hap Arnold and Admiral Ernest J. King, to figure out a way to strike back at Japan’s homeland as quickly as possible. Although there was nothing they wanted to do more, it seemed an impossible request to carry out.

In response to the president’s persistent urging, Captain Francis S. Low, a submariner on Admiral King’s staff, approached Admiral King and asked cautiously if it might be possible for Army medium bombers to take off from a Navy carrier. If so, could they be launched against Japan?

Note – As Captain Low was leaving Norfork, he observed Army Medium Bombers making passes at a Carrier Deck which was painted on the runway as a training aid for Naval Aviators. When he approached Admiral King with the idea, King told him to discuss it with Captain Ducan, but they were not to discuss it with anyone.

The question was passed to Captain Donald B. Wu Duncan, King’s air operations officer. After studying the capabilities of several AAF (Army Air Force) medium bombers, Duncan concluded that the North American B-25 might be capable of taking off from a carrier deck. He recommended takeoff tests be conducted before any definite plans were made.

When this basic idea was passed to General Arnold, he called in Lt. Col. James H. Jimmy Doolittle, noted racing and stunt pilot who had returned to active duty in 1940 and was now assigned to Arnold’s Washington staff. He asked Doolittle to recommend an AAF bomber that could take off in 500 feet from a space not over 75 feet wide with a 2,000-pound bombload and fly 2,000 miles. Arnold did not say why he wanted the information.

Doolittle checked the manufacturers’ data on the AAF’s medium bombers- the Douglas B-18 and B-23, North American’s B-25 and the Martin B-26. He concluded that the B-25, if modified with extra fuel tanks, could fulfill the requirements. The B-18 could not carry enough fuel and bombs, the wingspan of the B-23 was too great and the B-26 needed too much takeoff distance.

Arnold then told Doolittle why he had asked for the information, cautioning him that because such an unprecedented mission was possible, it must be kept top-secret by all concerned. Doolittle promptly volunteered to lead the effort, and Arnold promised him his complete, personal backing for whatever support he felt necessary.

The concept could be expressed succinctly: A Navy task force would take 15 B-25s to a point about 450 miles off Japan where they would be launched from a carrier to attack military targets at low altitude in five major Japanese cities, including Tokyo, the capital. The planes would then fly to bases in China where the planes and the crews would be absorbed into the Tenth Air Force, then being organized to fight in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater.

On February 2, 1942, two B-25s were hoisted aboard the USS Hornet, the Navy’s newest carrier, at Norfolk, Va. A few miles off the Virginia coast, the lightly loaded bombers were fired up and took off without difficulty. The Hornet was then ordered to proceed to the West Coast for its first war assignment.

Jimmy Doolittle, a very energetic man, decided that the B-25 crews would consist of five men: pilot, copilot, navigator, bombardier and engineer-gunner. Twenty-four B-25s and crews would be assigned to the mission from the three squadrons of the 17th Bomb Group and its associated 89th Reconnaissance Squadron, located at Pendleton, Ore. To preserve secrecy, Doolittle personally began making all the arrangements for the training and special equipment without revealing why he wanted things done.

The four squadrons were ordered to Columbia, S.C. En route, the designated planes were modified with extra fuel tanks and associated plumbing at Minneapolis, Minn. New incendiary bombs and shackles were ordered, along with electrically operated motion-picture cameras that would be activated when the bombs were released. Intelligence information maps and target folders for the five major Japanese cities were prepared.

When the four squadrons arrived at Columbia, the word was passed that volunteers were needed for a dangerous mission. Almost every man in the four squadrons volunteered; the squadron commanders chose 24 crews, plus extra armament specialists and mechanics to ready the aircraft. The selected men and the planes were sent to Eglin Field, Fla., beginning on the last week of February.

Doolittle arrived at Eglin on March 3 and assembled the entire group of 140 men.

My name’s Doolittle, he said. I’ve been put in charge of the project you men have volunteered for. It’s a tough one, and it will be the most dangerous thing any of you have ever done. Anyone can drop out and nothing will ever be said about it.

Doolittle paused and the room was quiet. Several hands went up, and a lieutenant asked if he could give them any more information. Sorry, I can’t right now. I’m sure you will start getting some ideas about it when we get down to work. Now that brings up the most important point I want to make, and you’re going to hear this over and over again. This entire mission must be kept top-secret. I not only don’t want you to tell your wives or buddies about it, I don’t even want you to discuss it among yourselves.

From the first day of training, it was understood that all the volunteer crews would take the training; however, only 15 planes would eventually go on the mission. This was done to assure that there would be plenty of spare crews on hand to replace anyone who became ill or decided to drop out.

As the takeoff training of the pilots progressed, it proved to be a harrowing experience for most of them. Army Air Force pilots were not taught during their training to take off in extremely short distances at bare minimum airspeed. Taking off in a medium bomber with the tail skid occasionally striking the ground was unnatural and scary to them. But under U.S. Navy Lieutenant Henry L. Miller’s patient instruction, they all soon learned.

In addition to takeoff practice, it was hoped that each crew would receive 50 hours of flying time to be divided into day and night navigation, gunnery, bombing and formation flying. But maintenance problems kept the planes on the ground most of the time.

Each B-25B model at that time was equipped with one upper and one lower turret, each with twin .50- caliber machine guns. But the upper and lower turret mechanisms malfunctioned continually; the lower turret was especially difficult to operate. Doolittle ordered the lower turrets removed and additional gas tanks installed in their place.

There was a single, .30-caliber movable machine gun in the nose, which was placed in a gunport by the bombardier when needed. There were no guns in the tail, so Captain C. Ross Greening, the armament officer, suggested that two broomsticks be painted black and installed there to deceive enemy fighters. Since the bombing was to be at 1,500 feet or less, Greening also designed a simple bombsight he called the Mark Twain to replace the top-secret Norden bombsight. It was made from two pieces of aluminum that cost about 20 cents.

One of the volunteer gunners had, other duties. When 1st Lt. T. Robert Doc White, a physician attached to the 89th Reconnaissance Squadron, heard of the call for volunteers, he asked to be included. He was told there was no room for a passenger; the only way he could go would be as a gunner. He said that was all right with him. He took gunnery training, qualified with the second highest score with the twin .50s on the ground targets, and was assigned to a crew. His presence on the mission proved to be fortuitous, as shall be seen later.

Doolittle wanted to fly the mission as a pilot. But I wanted to go only on the basis that I could do as well as or better than the other pilots who took the training, he said. I took Hank Miller’s course and was graded along with the others. I made it, but if I hadn’t I intended to go along as a copilot and let one of the younger, more proficient pilots occupy the left seat.

On one of his training flights, Doolittle flew with Lieutenant Richard E. Cole, copilot; Lieutenant Henry A. Potter, navigator; Sergeant Fred A. Braemer, bombardier; and Sergeant Paul J. Leonard, engineer-gunner. The original pilot had become ill and did not return to flying duty. These men became Doolittle’s crew.

Meanwhile, Captain Wu Duncan had arrived in Honolulu and conferred with Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, and conveyed the plan for a Navy task force to transport the army bombers to the launch point. Nimitz liked the idea and gave the task of carrying it out to Admiral William F. Bull Halsey, who was anxious to tangle with the enemy any way he could.

Duncan worked with the CINCPAC (commander in chief, Pacific) planning staff on the details for a 16-ship task force. It was decided that seven ships would accompany the Hornet from the Alameda Naval Air Station near San Francisco and rendezvous with an eightship force that included Halsey’s flagship, the carrier Enterprise. The joinder would take place near the 180th meridian.

By the middle of March, the Hornet, now destined to be the ship that would deliver the B-25s to the takeoff point, passed through the Panama Canal and proceeded to Alameda. At the end of the third week in March, Captain Duncan wired Washington from Honolulu: Tell Jimmy to get on his horse.

This coded message was all Doolittle needed to get his men and planes moving to the West Coast. Since two of the B-25s had been damaged in training, the 22 remaining planes were flown to McClellan Field, Sacramento, Calif., for final inspections before proceeding to Alameda. All of these crews would go aboard the carrier.

Captain Duncan flew to San Diego to confer with Captain Marc A. Mitscher, skipper of the Hornet. Mitscher had not been told about the mission until then and was delighted to have a part in it. Since he had watched the first two B-25s take off successfully several weeks previously, he was confident it could be done. Duncan then went to San Francisco to await the arrival of Doolittle from Florida, Halsey from Hawaii and the Hornet from San Diego.

The three men, joined by Captain Miles Browning, Halsey’s chief of staff, met informally in downtown San Francisco to discuss the details and determine if anything had been left undone. The plan was for the Hornet, in company with the cruisers Nashville and Vincennes, the oiler Cimarron, and the destroyers Gwin, Meredith, Monssen and Grayson – to be known as Task Force 16.2 – to leave San Francisco April 2. Halsey, on the Enterprise and in charge of Task Force 16.1, would leave Hawaii on April 7, accompanied by the cruisers Northampton and Salt Lake City, the oiler Sabine,, and destroyers Balch, Benham, Ellet and Fanning.

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