The Incredible True Story Behind “Midway”: An Audacious American WWII Raid and the Price China Paid

How brave Chinese villagers helped save the crew behind a daring US raid against Japan.

A still from Midway, which tells the story of US pilots in China during WWII

Jimmy Doolittle was in the shit. The American pilot had just led an audacious raid over Tokyo and, with no place to land, parachuted along with his crew out of their crashing B-25 bomber. Now, Doolittle was up to his waist in human waste, having landed in a paddy full of fresh night soil in Lin’an County, in China’s eastern province of Zhejiang.

The plan, part of a US military effort to reclaim some momentum following the attack on Pearl Harbor, had been to launch bombers from the deck of US carrier and strike select targets near Tokyo and Osaka. The challenge was how to hit the targets without surrendering the element of surprise. Carrier-based bombers had limited range and would require the US carriers to travel too close for safety to the Japanese coast. The solution was to use land-based bombers launched from the deck of a carrier who would remain outside of the Japanese main defensive perimeter. With skilled pilots, the B-25s could take off from the deck of a ship, but there was no way for them to land back on the carrier safely. The only option: keep going and attempt to land in China.

In Midway, Taiwanese-American actor Kenny Leu plays Zhu Xuesan, a Zhejiang schoolteacher who helped Jimmy Doolittle and Paul Leonard, Doolittle’s flight engineer and gunner, when they landed in China after the Tokyo Raid.

Unfortunately, nobody told the Chinese about the plan. And it was heroic people on the ground in China, at considerable risk to themselves and their families, who would make it possible for Doolittle and most of the other raiders to make it home safely.

A Daring Raid

On April 18, 1942, Doolittle and 80 other specially-trained crewmen took off in sixteen bombers from the deck of the USS Hornet. The raid began earlier than expected after a Japanese patrol had spotted and reported the USS Hornet and its escorting vessels. Still a few hundred miles from their optimal take-off point, the bombers took to the skies and headed west toward Japan. Continue to read the full story on RADII.


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