While none of the B-25 pilots, including Doolittle, had ever taken off from an aircraft carrier before, all 16 planes were launched safely in one hour. They then flew single-file at almost wave top level to avoid enemy detection, navigating by dead reckoning. The planes began arriving over Japan about noon and bombed military and industrial targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe, Osaka and Nagoya. Although some B-25s encountered light antiaircraft fire and a few enemy fighters, none were shot down or severely damaged. Fifteen of the 16 planes then proceeded southwest along the southern coast of Japan and across the East China Sea towards eastern China, where recovery bases supposedly awaited them. One of the B-25s ran extremely low on fuel and headed for Russia, which was closer.
The raiders faced several unforeseen challenges during their flight to China: night was approaching, the planes were running low on fuel, and the weather was rapidly deteriorating.
As a result of these problems, the crews realized they would not be able to reach their intended base in China, leaving them the option of either bailing out over eastern China or crash landing along the Chinese coast. When the action was over, fifteen planes had been destroyed in crashes. The crew who flew to Russia landed near Vladivostok, where their B-25 was confiscated and the crew interned until escaping in May 1943.
Three Raiders were killed during their attempts to land in China. Eight were captured by the Japanese, of which three were subsequently executed and a fourth died of disease in prison. Following the Doolittle Raid, most of the B-25 crews that came down in China eventually made it to safety with the help of Chinese civilians and flew other wartime missions. But the Chinese paid dearly as the Japanese killed an estimated 250,000 civilians while searching for Doolittle’s men.
Compared to the devastating B-29 fire bombing attacks against Japan later in the war, the Doolittle Raid did little material damage. Nevertheless, when the news of the raid was released American morale soared. The raid also had a strategic impact on the war. The Japanese military recalled many units back to the home islands for defense, where they remained while battles raged throughout the Pacific.
Additionally, it provoked Admiral Yamamoto into attempting a hastily organized strike against Midway Island that resulted in the loss of four fleet carriers, many sailors and a number of highly trained aircrew from which the Imperial Japanese Navy never recovered.