Thursday 22 August 2019

Obituary: Richard Cole

Airman who was last survivor of Doolittle Raiders

Raid on Tokyo: Richard Cole
Raid on Tokyo: Richard Cole Newsdesk Newsdesk

Lt Col Richard Cole, who has died aged 103, was the last survivor of the 80 US airmen known as the "Doolittle Raiders" who carried out the first air attack against the Japanese mainland in World War II.

Two weeks after the devastating attack against Pearl Harbour in December 1941, and a series of unbroken reverses in the Pacific, President Franklin D Roosevelt tasked his military chiefs to find a way to strike Japan as soon as possible to boost morale.

An audacious proposal to launch a number of twin-engined B-25 Mitchell bombers from an aircraft carrier was proposed, and after a series of trials the idea was accepted. Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle was detailed to plan and lead the raid and he chose Cole to be his co-pilot.

Sixteen Mitchells, modified to carry extra fuel, were loaded on to the aircraft carrier Hornet in San Francisco before it sailed towards Japan. On the morning of April 18 1942, a Japanese picket boat sighted the naval task force when it was 650 miles off the coast. The plan had been to launch the bombers at a range of 450 miles but Doolittle decided to take off immediately.

None of the crews had taken off from an aircraft carrier before. Doolittle and Cole lined up their aircraft on the Hornet's 500 ft deck and were just airborne by the time they reached the end.

Throughout the mission, the two pilots alternated in flying the bomber. After a six-hour flight at low level they dropped their bombs on Tokyo and on nearby towns, having encountered limited opposition. The bombing caused only light damage before the Mitchells turned away at treetop height and headed for China with the aim of landing at Nationalist Chinese airstrips.

Due to the earlier take-off and the longer flight to the target, the aircraft ran low on fuel and none were able to reach the airstrips. After a 13-hour flight, 15 were lost in Japanese-occupied territory or ditched, while one flew on to the Soviet Union.

Doolittle and his four crewmen baled out after crossing the coast. Cole landed in a tree on a mountain and rested overnight before making contact with Chinese guerrillas, and he was soon reunited with the rest of his crew. After an arduous journey they reached an airstrip, where they were picked up by a US military transport aircraft and flown to Chungking, the headquarters of the Nationalist Chinese.

The raid was a major boost to morale and became a legend when it was dramatised in the 1944 film Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. Doolittle was awarded the Medal of Honour, the highest US decoration for gallantry, while Cole received the first of his DFCs.

Richard Eugene Cole was born on September 7 1915 in Dayton, Ohio. He attended the Marion L Steele High School, then Ohio University.

He enlisted in the US Army Air Force in November 1940 and trained as a pilot. He was commissioned in July 1941 and initially flew anti-submarine patrols off the west coast of the US.

After the Doolittle Raid, Cole flew transport aircraft in Burma, including carrying supplies to China on the dangerous route over the Himalayan Mountains. He served with the Air Commandos and supported Allied forces operating behind Japanese lines.

Richard Cole married Marty, who died in 2003. He is survived by their daughter and son.

Sunday Independent

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