World War II's Allied Raid of Berlin Involved 1,000 Bombers (But Germany Fought On)

Warfare History Network

Key point: World War II's biggest bombing mission.

He was widely regarded as America’s best pilot, he was already a recipient of the Medal of Honor, he was commander of the Eighth Air Force caught up in 1,000-plane bombing missions deep into the Third Reich, and he was mad as hell.

Lieutenant General James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle was also a gentleman who rarely used harsh language, but when they gave him the battle order for a mission to be flown on February 3, 1945—a mission to Berlin—Doolittle reportedly uttered an expletive or two. The order told American bombardiers to use the Frederichstrasse Railway Station in Berlin as the aiming point for the day’s air assault on the Third Reich.

To Doolittle, that sounded a lot like bombing a city. But Americans didn’t bomb cities. The British did that, at night. The Americans conducted high-altitude, daylight precision bombing of military and industrial targets, many of which, to be sure, were in the middle of cities.

Doolittle felt he was being ordered to change U.S. strategy and betray American principle. The Eighth Air Force commander got on the phone with his boss, General Carl “Tooey” Spaatz, commander of Strategic Air Forces in Europe (and an immediate deputy of General Dwight D. Eisenhower). No transcript of the conversation exists, and Doolittle did not mention the conversation in an autobiography published decades later.

But a staff officer remembers that hackles were raised and that Spaatz responded to Doolittle’s concern by telling Doolittle, in a not unkind way, to shut the hell up. Moreover, Spaatz reminded Doolittle that Berlin was not a new destination for American bombers and that legitimate targets lay within Adolf Hitler’s capital—Gestapo headquarters, the Air Ministry, railroad facilities, a panzer army on the move, etc.

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