April Fools Day: 1942, America plays tricks on Japan


April Fools Day is generally celebrated on April 1, when youngsters play harmless tricks on everybody.

In 1942, April Fools Day was Saturday, April 18, and the trick was played on Japan.

Sixteen B25 medium bombers, led by Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, were launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. The bomb loads from these planes were dropped on military targets on the island of Honshu. At that time the aircraft did not have the range to return to the carrier and the carriers were not capable of landing bombers. But, given time and American engineering and resourcefulness, those things could be accomplished. This mission however, was a one-way trip with hope of landing safely in China.

The success of this raid was a great morale booster for Americans. While the raid did not cripple the Japanese war machine; it was a harbinger of things to come for Japan. They now knew that they were vulnerable to air attacks from the sea. What more would the Americans bring? American resolve and exceptionalism were on full display.

Many historians consider the Doolittle raid the turning point in the war. It may well be. Subsequently, the Japanese fleet was decimated at the Battle of Midway.

Beginning with Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, Admiral Nimitz and General MacArthur began an island hopping campaign toward the Japanese homeland. Strategic islands were selected for bomber and support aircraft fields. The arrival of the B-29 super fortress with its long ranged capability virtually sealed Japan’s doom.


The “Can DO” spirit exhibited by the 60 men in those B-25 bombers has not been lost on the rest of this nation. Throughout our history in time of need someone rises up to fill the breech and rekindles the American Spirit.


Richard A. Pender is the senior vice commander of American Legion Post 459 in North Brunswick. He writes the occasional historical column for Newspaper Media Group. He can be reached at rapender@netzero.net.