Friday, May 11, 2007

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo by Capt. Ted W. Lawson

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo - 50th anniversary printing (2002)
Pocket Star Books
Nonfiction (Military memoir)
274 pages

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo is the memoir of a U.S. Army pilot who took part in the "Doolittle Raid," a secret mission to attack the heart of Japan and boost the morale of U.S. residents after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor and a string of Allied defeats in the Pacific. There's an excellent article about the mission at Wikipedia, which I highly recommend, as well as a brief article about the author, Capt. Ted Lawson. In general, the mission involved the bombing of key military targets in five different Japanese cities and the army planes, heavily modified, were launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. Captain Lawson was among those who bombed known targets in Tokyo and describes the months of planning, training, memorizing of maps and photos, work on the planes and time spent on the aircraft carrier.

The mission itself was quite brief, as the title indicates, and a success from a strictly military standpoint. But, the escape of each plane to China was a difficult one, and the plan to launch within a specific distance of Japan was thwarted when the Hornet was spotted nearly 200 miles before the carrier had reached the pilots' intended launch site.

Lawson describes the entire story of the mission, beginning with how and why he ended up flying an army bomber (the Ruptured Duck) and volunteering for a dangerous mission so secret that even the pilots didn't know where they were headed until they reached the aircraft carrier. The story is gripping and harrowing. I flipped through it in the store and read a bit of a spoiler about Lawson's injuries, but if you look at any website with his name in it you'll find the information is readily available and it doesn't spoil the reading in any way.

I think I may have heard reference to the raid, but it's not a story I had any working knowledge about. Lawson's writing is what I would call direct - not written with the flair of Audie Murphy's To Hell and Back, which I reviewed here, certainly more simplistic, but with plenty of impact. I enjoyed it and, as always, found it amazing reading about the horrors experienced during a time of war. I did think that Lawson's story was told with a whiny tone, by comparison with Murphy's, but it's still well worth reading and a very good, definitely gripping account.



  1. This one sounds really interesting. I've been meaning to read some non-fiction. I never read any unless it's for school. Now that I'm not in school, I suppose I should continue educating myself ;) I may just have to pick this one up.

  2. Chris,

    I've been reading a lot more non-fiction, the past two years. TSOT isn't as good as some but it's a quick and easy read, definitely worth the time to read it and learn about a particular event in American history.

  3. I do not read many books like this but always mean to. Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down was sort of my introduction andand the beginning of my attraction to books about military history.

  4. Anonymous4:18 PM

    I am always up for reading some snippet of history you never learn about in a history class.

    Also, to save me opening a new comments box, that's a beautiful cat in the post below.

  5. This one does sound really interesting. I have to read my non-fiction for the challenge. lol

  6. Wendy,

    Reading military memoirs is a recent fascination for me; I can't really say how it developed, although history as told through the eyes of those who experienced it has always been my preference over accounts written by historians or journalists. I need to read Black Hawk Down. My 15-year-old just read it, recently, and he found it engrossing (not a "fun" read because of the subject matter, but a good one, he says).


    Me, too. My history education was spotty, at best, so I have a lot of learning to do.

    Thanks - not a problem commenting on two posts in one place. I do that, now and then. Miss Spooky says thank you for the compliment. :)

  7. Krista,

    You'd probably whip through this one in an hour or two. It's a quick read.

  8. One of the best nonfiction books about war that I have read is Dispatches by Michael Herr. It is Viet Nam (my generation)in harrowing, well written detail. Not for everyone, but this book has stuck with me for years.

  9. Joemmama,

    I haven't read it yet, but there's a copy of Dispatches on one of my mountainous TBR piles. So glad to hear you appreciated it. It's one I read about and sought out. Most of the war memoirs I've read recently could be described as "harrowing", but Vietnam is always shocking to read about, if only because of the environment in which it took place - all those festering wounds, vermin and parasites. Eww.

  10. You know Nancy, reading your wonderful review reminds me that I have never read a war to try to remedy that soon. Now that I am doing the non-fiction challenge I am particularly interested in non-fiction books. A very nice review, I am tempted to pick this book up.

  11. Thanks, Lotus. I really enjoy war memoirs, in particular (as opposed to accounts written after the fact by historians), because they give you a better sense of time and place. You definitely get a feel for the horrible conditions as the author and his crew were trying to make their way out of China with some serious injuries.


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