WWII Combat

The Doolittle Raid – Key U.S. Navy Participants

DONALD DUNCAN
(1896-1975) Vice Admiral

RAID CONTRIBUTION: Created Initial Operations Plan and Managed the Navy’s Effort

In January 1942, Duncan was the Air Operations Officer for Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest J. King. King assigned him to be the Navy’s program manager for the special mission known as the “Doolittle Raid.” Duncan performed the original feasibility study, whose 30 handwritten pages outlined all the key concepts for the successful bombing raid. Among other things, Duncan proposed the use of both the B-25 Mitchell bombers and the aircraft carrier Hornet (CV-8) for the raid over Tokyo. He personally oversaw the crucial proof-of-concept test, when two B-25s with Army pilots at the controls were launched from the Hornet in Chesapeake Bay on February 2. He also traveled to Pearl Harbor to confer with CINCPAC Admiral Chester Nimitz and VADM William Halsey to assure adequate protection was provided to Hornet’s task force while in enemy waters. Finally, he made arrangements at the Alameda Naval Air Station for the arrivals of both the Army B-25s from Sacramento and the Hornet from San Diego. He observed as the bombers were loaded aboard and as the Hornet steamed away from the pier.

Early Life and Career

Donald Duncan was born in 1896 in Michigan. In 1917, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. After, he was assigned to the USS Oklahoma (BB-37), which operated with the British Grand Fleet. He received a Master of Science degree in Radio Engineering from Harvard University in 1926 and completed postgraduate study at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Duncan’s early duty at sea was primarily on aircraft carriers. On shore, he served in the Bureau of Aeronautics and was executive officer at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Duncan was the first Commanding Officer of the USS Long Island (AVG-1), which was commissioned in June 1941. The Long Island was the first merchant ship to be converted into a Navy escort aircraft carrier and became the USS Long Island (CVE-1).

Its success resulted in the rapid conversion of several more ships to battle the German U-boat threat. Long Island also became the base of Composite Squadron ONE, which pioneered the concept of having a single squadron with multiple types of aircraft, flying from a carrier.

Subsequent Career and Experiences

Soon thereafter he appointed the first commanding officer of the namesake for a new class of fleet carriers, the USS Essex (CV-9), which was commissioned on December 31, 1942. The ship saw meritorious service in action against the Japanese on both Marcus and Wake Islands and for his action Admiral Duncan received a letter of commendation from the Commander Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. The Ship Received the Presidential Unit Citation.

Admiral Duncan’s subsequent appointments included Carrier Division Commander; Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet; Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air); Commander SECOND Task Fleet and Deputy Chief of Naval Operations.

Admiral Duncan retired in 1957 and served as the Governor of the Naval Home in Philadelphia until 1962.

In 1975, one week after his 79th birthday, Admiral Duncan passed away.

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