Vanishing act The enduring mystery behind the legendary Doolittle raid over Tokyo

Dan Hampton

Book - 2024

"From New York Times bestselling author Dan Hampton comes the gripping, untold story of a vital secret mission set during the darkest days of the Second World War. In the dark days after the devastating Pearl Harbor attacks during the spring of 1942, the United States was determined to show the world that the Axis was not invincible. Their bold plan? Bomb Tokyo. On April 18, 1942, sixteen B-25s, known as the Doolittle Raiders, hit targets across Japan before escaping to China. The eighth plane, however, did not follow the other raiders. Instead, Plane 8's pilots, Captain Edward "Ski" York and Lieutenant Bob Emmens, never attacked Tokyo, but headed across Japan to the Soviet Union, supposedly due to low fuel. Yet, this bo...mber was the only plane on the mission with maps of the Soviet Union aboard. And why did Plane 8's route, recently discovered in the Japanese Imperial Archives, show them nowhere near their target? Uncovered facts reveal that bombing Tokyo was merely a cover for Plane 8's real mission, but what was their secret objective? No one, aside from the two pilots and whomever sent them on this mission, truly knew why they were there, nor has the reason ever been revealed. Until now. In Vanishing Act, for the first time, New York Times bestselling author and former fighter pilot Dan Hampton definitively solves the final mystery of the Doolittle Raid with never-before-published documents and photographs in exclusive collaboration with Japanese researchers and the Raiders' descendants"--

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New York : St. Martin's Press 2024.
Main Author
Dan Hampton (author)
First edition
Physical Description
xii, 302 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 297-302).
  • Author's Note
  • Map
  • Prologue
  • 1. Climb Mount Niitaka
  • 2. The Dragons Mouth
  • 3. Jimmy and Billy
  • 4. Payback
  • 5. The Darkening
  • 6. Garden Hoses
  • 7. Consequences
  • 8. Questions and Answers
  • 9. Loose Ends
  • Epilogue
  • Appendix 1. Debriefing Excerpts
  • Appendix 2. James H. Doolittle-Flight/Mission Report
  • Acknowledgments
  • Sources
Review by Booklist Review

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the U.S. was effectively stymied, its Pacific fleet largely unable to challenge Japan's aggressions. But the U.S. had to do something to show Japan and the rest of the world that it was still a force to be reckoned with and to give it some time to rebuild the fleet. So, a plan was hatched to bomb Tokyo by a means generally believed unfeasible. However, the mission didn't go as planned. The bombers missed Tokyo, and one of the bombers disappeared, ending up in the Soviet Union. How and why that happened was one of the great mysteries of WWII. Hampton (Valor, 2022) attempts to solve this mystery by combing through the historical records of the time and of the mission. Hampton's attention to military detail is probably too in depth for casual students of WWII; however, for those who are eager to do a deep dive into how the war in the Pacific was prosecuted in its first months, the effort will be worth it.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

A lingering question about one of WWII's most famous bombing missions gets answered in this suspenseful account from historian Hampton (Valor). Four months after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, a squadron of B-25 bombers took flight from a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Pacific and headed for Tokyo. One plane, however, veered north toward the Soviet Union. Hampton debunks the official explanation--that, low on fuel, the plane needed to make an emergency landing. Citing conversations with copilot Bob Emmens's grandson and with Japanese researchers, Hampton contends Plane 8 had a secret objective: to assess the feasibility of a Soviet airfield for use by American armed forces. He notes that pilot Ed York had a map of the area and describes how York had overseen a clandestine switch to a less fuel-efficient carburetor. The idea, Hampton contends, was that when they landed in the Soviet Union, the low fuel level in their tank would back up their cover story. Recreating the flight with dialogue and loads of technical details, Hampton captures the tension in the cockpit, depicting York as a suave mastermind who through no fault of his own lands himself and his crew in Soviet internment--a 13-month ordeal. Though Hampton sometimes pads the story with superfluous reflections ("With hindsight, Russia's road to communism seems inevitable based on its recent three hundred years of history"), he still spins a good yarn. This WWII caper captivates. (May)Correction: An earlier version of this review mistakenly referred to the dialogue between aircrew members as "imagined."

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A veteran author of military history seeks to "set the record straight" about the Doolittle Raid. In April 1942, four months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 16 American B-25s dropped a few dozen bombs on and near Tokyo, producing little damage but enraging Japanese leaders and boosting morale in America. Hampton, a highly decorated retired Air Force pilot and author of Lords of the Sky and The Hunter Killers, among other books, does a fine job telling a mostly feel-good story that's been told many times before while devoting more than half the book to a detail mentioned in passing by earlier historians. After 16 bombers took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet and dropped their bombs, 15, as ordered, continued on to China, while one, presumably low on fuel, landed in the Soviet Union. Many historians accept the low-fuel explanation, but Hampton turns up evidence that the detour was deliberate. Japanese archives reveal that the plane never flew within 50 miles of Tokyo. Its pilots carried a map of the Soviet Union, and the plane itself possessed the only carburetor not modified for low-altitude, long-distance flying. Hampton makes a reasonable case that the detour's aim was to examine the landing area for airfields and infrastructure as part of an effort to persuade Stalin to open a "second front" by allowing aircraft, probably American, to bomb Japan from bases only a few hundred miles away. It was a forlorn hope. Although an ally against Germany, the Soviet Union had stripped its Far East defenses in a life-and-death struggle against the Wehrmacht and did not want to offend Japan. Following international law, it interned the five-member crew, treated them well, and quietly arranged their "escape" a year later. Not quite "the last enduring mystery," but an intriguing footnote to the legendary raid. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.