SUBJECT: Interview with Major Edward J. York, A.C. (Pilot)
1st Lt. Robert G. Emmens, A.C. (Co-Pilot)
1st Lt. Nolan A. Herndon, A.C. (Navigator and Bombardier)
S/Sgt. David W. Pohl, A.C. (Gunner)
S/Sgt. Theodore H. Laban, A.C. (Engineer)


1. The above-named men constituted one of the crews under Major General Doolittle when attacking Japan Proper. Their story will be told in narrative.


2. They left San Francisco on April 2, 1942, on the Hornet. On their return to the United States, they arrived at Miami, Florida, on May 29, 1943.

3. On April 18, 1942, they left the Hornet 750 miles off shore and crossed Honshu, the main island of the Japanese group, from southeast to northwest, making but one crossing of the island.

4. Each plane in the raid had a definite objective. For this ship, the objective was an airplane factory in Tokyo. However, they were unable to locate it. Instead, they flew over the city of Utsunomiya, which is about fifty miles north of Tokyo. This is a factory city of some 400,000. They bombed factory installations having four tall smoke stacks -- power plants, railroad yards, etc., causing substantial damage.

5. From Utsunomiya, they crossed the island and came out about half-way between Sado Island and Nodo Peninsula, on the western central coast of Honshu. While crossing Honshu, they flew at an average height of fifty feet above the ground, except where they were forced to fly over a target.

6. Observations over Honshu In crossing Honshu, they saw two or three airfields empty. Also, they saw new airfield construction on the central western coast of Honshu. They saw certain Japanese planes in the air. However, the Jap pilots did not see them. They encountered no cross radio interception. They crossed the island from 12:30 to 1:00 P.M. Many people were seen working in the rice paddies. Many of them waved --others ran away because of fright. This was the normal fright that the peasants have for their own planes. So far as they were able to observe, the people over the country-side had no warning of our raid -- like seemed to be functioning normally. At one point, the fliers saw a large group gathered on a beach -- the group waved to them. At no point, however, did they see any troops.

7. When bombing, our fliers rose from fifty feet to 1500 feet, prior to dropping bombs. They could see the fire, steam and smoke rising from the bomb explosions. Their speed at the time of dropping bombs was about 300 miles per hour. The average speed was about 160 miles per hour -- except while they were over the island, when they traveled at 250 miles per hour.

8. The planes left the deck of the Hornet at seven minute intervals. The pilots were ordered not to circle or leave in formation. In order to save gas, each plane went on its mission alone.


9. Before departure from the Hornet, each crew was briefed by General Doolittle, personally. Also briefing was conducted while crossing the Pacific, in classes.


10. The fliers were supplied with the following items: -

Five (5) first-aid kits
Two (2) paper maps
Four (4) cans of C ration
Three (3) containers of meat and vegetable
One (1) container of coffee, sugar, candy and three (3) biscuits
Four (4) containers of water
One (1) pint of whisky
One (1) bottle of iodine, for water as well as injuries
One (1) morphine set, including two (2) needles and five (5) doses
One (1) dozen caffeine capsules
One (1) rubber float capable of supporting five (5)
Five (5) individual life vests
Five (5) parachutes
Five (5) knives
Five (5) pistols
One (1) detachable machine gun, which was used in the nose of the plane, but which could be detached and carried by one man
One (1) large compass.

Each individual was provided with:--
One (1) first-aid kit containing One (1) canteen of water but no food
One (1) pistol
One (1) knife
One (1) pocket compass
One (1) parachute, which did not have the special seat provided in recent models.


11. The mission of this crew was to fly to Tokyo and bomb certain industrial objectives. Then they were instructed to fly to Chuchow, China, in the Province of Chekiang. At that point they were to be picked up and taken to Chung-king-- then to be returned to the United States.


12. Due to a shortage of gas, they crossed the Japan Sea and headed for Vladivostok, where they landed at an airfield on American Bay, about forty miles from Vladivostok, proper.


13. They landed and remained there that night (April 18, 1842). The next morning they flew to Khabarousk, Siberia, where they were interned. Their ship was held at their first point of landing. They flew to Khabarousk in a Russian D.C.3. At Khaborousk they remained two days.

14. Then they were moved to Penza by railroad. At Penza they were held 2-1/2 months.

15. Next, they were moved to Ohansk, at the foot of the Ural Mountains, where they were kept from August 11, 1942 to March 25, 1943. There were very few persons at Ohansk who had ever seen another white person, other than Russians.

16. Their following move was by automobile to Molotov -- about eighty miles distant, where they remained two or three days. They then were flown to Chkalovsk, in Russia (formerly Orenburg).

17. From Chkalovsk, they were taken by train to Ashkhabad, where they arrived on April 8, 1943.

18. At Ashkhabad, they were able to contact a Persian smuggler, who agreed to take them across the line to Persia for $250 (in United States money). They were taken from Ashkhabad in a truck to a point near the Russian-Persian boundary. At this point, a second man picked them up at the side of the road, and took them over hilly country into Meshed, Persia, where they, at once, went to place themselves in the hands of the British Consul.

19. The British Consul at Meshed furnished them with truck transportation southeasterly to Zahidan, Persia. The British Consul at Zahidan then took them to the Baluhistan (under Indian jurisdiction) border, from where they continued to Quetta, Baluchistan. It was through the influence of the British Consul that they encountered no difficulty in crossing into territory under Indian jurisdiction, as they had no cards of identification or food cards.

20. The British authorities at Quetta notified the American Consul at Karachi, on the northwestern coast of India proper. A plane was sent from Karachi to Quetta to return them to Karachi.

21. From Karachi, they were flown in an American air transport service plane to Aden, southwest Arabia; then to Khartoum, Egypt; then across Africa to Accra, on the Gold Coast (Gulf of Guinea -- central western coast of Africa): then across the Atlantic to Natal, Brazil; then to Bellum, Puerto Rico and Miami, Florida.


22. At their first landing in Russia, the local Russian Commander did not know their identity. The fliers did not disclose the fact until the Russians had received a report from Japan concerning the bombing. When they were accused of being one of the crews, they were forced to admit their identity.

23. They explained their need for gas and their desire to leave for a rendezvous next morning. At first the local Russian Commander gave his consent to their departure, as requested, and promised to see that they received gas. However, when morning arrived, the consent was canceled.

24. At Khabarousk, their point of internment, the members of the crew were taken before the staff of the Russian Far Eastern Army. Through an interpreter, they were asked to identify themselves. Very few questions were asked. The Russian officers seemed to be very pleased over the news of their raid on Japan. They were asked if they had been directed to land on Russia. They stated that they had been forced to do so because of gas shortage and had thought they would have no difficulty in getting gas to continue their journey to their rendezvous in China.


The official action of the Russian Army Board was to intern them. They were taken fifteen miles out of town where they remained two days, being guarded constantly with no one permitted to see them.

26. They asked for permission to communicate with the United States Consul, but permission was refused. Similarly, when they first landed near Vladivostok, they had also asked for the United States Consul, with the Russian Commander stating that he would see if it might be possible. Later, he completely ignored the request.

27. When at Khabarousk, the internees were told that they would be taken to Kuibyshev. On their was to Penza, they went through Kuibyshev, remaining there one and one-half days. However, they were not allowed off the train. Their objections were of no avail. En route to Penza, they were on the train for twenty days. Their food consisted of sausage, bread, tea and salmon eggs. This was considered a better standard than the average Russian was receiving. On the train they were in a car by themselves, with one guard who had a tommy-gun and two armed guards outside, on either end of the car. The official explanation given to them for such close guarding was that they were being protected from spies, saboteurs, etc.

28. They arrived at Penza on May 19, 1942. At this point they were taken to a house in the woods, some five miles from Penza, where they were well treated, except that they were closely guarded. They were kept in this house for two and one-half months.


29. At Penza, they finally were permitted to see the United States Military Attaché, who arrived from Kuibyshev (Lt. Colonel Joseph A. Michela, G.S.C., now Brigadier General). General Michela stated that he knew they were in Kuibyshev, but had not come to the train to see them because of Japanese spies, etc. In their opinion, he did not wish to arouse the Russians.

30. The internees wrote numerous letters to our Consuls while at each place of detention. Also, they addressed communications to General Michela. However, they did not see or hear from him, after his call upon them at Penza.

31. The fliers requested General Michela to use his influence to get them transferred to some point of internment near the Persian boundary. He replied that he would see what could be done.

32. While the internees were at Penza, they were under the jurisdiction of a Russian General. Each time he came to see them, they would ask him to get in touch with their superiors and advised him that they wished either -- to be released -- to go to the front -- to be sent home or to train pilots. These requests were uniformly denied. They were not permitted to work and could not get exercise.

33. They were moved from Penza on August 11, 1942 and sent to Ohansk, a village of 1,000 population, where they were held in a special house by themselves under guard. At this place the food was worse. There was no railroad to bring food into the town -- all of it arrived by river boat. Again they tried to communicate with the United States Embassy at Kuibyshev -- without answer. Finally, they wired the United States Embassy at Kuibyshev. About September 15, 1842, General Bradley from the United States Embassy came to see them. This was the second contact they had with a representative of the United States. He remained about one and one-half hours, but seemed unable to get anything settled. He asked them if they were making plans to escape. They replied in the affirmative and he advised them that it was their duty not to violate their internment.

34. The fliers asked General Bradley to send one of the United States doctors from Kuibyshev -- as all had various ailments, including scurvy. They were advised that the doctor would be there in two days -- he arrived two months later, on November 17, 1942. When the doctor arrived, he had no medicine with him, but promised it. Also, he promised typhus and typhoid shots, quinine, etc. which never came.

35. Meanwhile, the internees increased the pressure through letters and telegrams, looking toward their release. They never heard from the United States Embassy, subsequent to General Bradley's visit. General Michela was frequently requested for various items of help, which were never received. When he interviewed them, he inquired if they needed money, and was told that they had sufficient for their purposes.


37. From the beginning of their internment, the fliers commenced the study of Russian. By the time they arrived at Ashkhabad, between them, they had developed considerable ability to read and converse in Russian with the natives. They feel that their ability to speak Russian was chiefly responsible for their final escape, due to their ability to contact natives who proved to be of help.

38. a. At Ashkhabad, they attempted to have the Russian guard carry a letter to General Michela, because of his acquaintance with the General. However, he gave them no reply.

38. b. A local civilian whom they contacted advised them that he could put them in touch with a Persian dope smuggler, who would take them across the border to Persia for the sum of $250 (United States). They accepted.

38. c. They started in the smuggler's Chevrolet truck at 1:00 A.M., traveling about thirty-five miles until 2:30 A.M. At this point, the road winds through a mountain pass from 6,000 to 8,000 feet high, with the peaks 10,000 to 11,000 feet in height. It is the only road out of Ashkhabad to the south. At a certain point, they stopped alongside the road where one of the smuggler's men was hiding in the bushes. They were told that he would take them across the border, which he did.

38. d. They walked and climbed for one and one-half hours, there being no road or trail. The border seemed to be well guarded by Russian troops. In crossing the border, they left the road completely in Russia and returned to the same highway in Persia.

38. e. At a certain point on the Persian side, they were met by the same truck that had taken them to the line on the Russian side. They continued in said truck for another thirty miles to a point about three miles north of Meshed, Persia.

39. There was a Russian post outside the city of Meshed, on the same highway. This required them to get out of the truck and walk into Meshed. They were not stopped and went straight to the British Consul, where they remained three days and nights.

40. The British Consul then arranged for their transfer by truck to Quetta, Baluchistan. The British Consul went with them himself, until they got out of the Russian sphere of influence in Persia. He then sent his assistant with them to the next city, Birjand, where there was a British Vice-Consul. They remained with the Vice-Consul and were then taken by him to Zahidan. The British Consul at Azhidan went with them in a truck as far as the Baluchistan border and made arrangements for them to cross said border under British jurisdiction.

41. From the border, they continued by truck to Quetta, in company with the British Army officers. At Quetta, the British authorities placed them in touch with the American authorities at Karachi, northwestern India, from where a plane was sent to transport them to Karachi.


41. The following schedule represents the dates of the fliers from the time they left Russia until their arrival at Karachi. Before escaping into Persia, they destroyed extensive diaries of their Russian sojourn.


The fliers came through their experiences in Russia with an exceedingly poor opinion of Russians -- generally and in particular. They stated that the official Russian attitude was basically suspicious of everyone. Likewise, the unofficial Russian attitude was not only suspicious, but contemptuous for any person stupid enough to believe in the capitalistic system. It was the opinion of the fliers that the Russian system is working, but unevenly. They only met one man, a Senior Lieutenant in the Army (a University man), who expressed dissatisfaction with the Russian system. The general belief of the masses in the system reflects itself in the official attitude.


The populace of Russia have absolute, blind faith in Stalin. It was the unanimous opinion of the internees that the masses of Russia would change overnight on any question, if they were advised by Stalin to do so. They have only the Government radios and a very limited news service, controlled by the Government for current information. They have no contacts with the outside world. Hence, they blindly believe what they are told. As an illustration of their ability to change overnight, the fliers referred to the hostile attitude of the masses toward officers' epaulets, which were prohibited at that time. When Stalin ordered the restoration of epaulets, the masses were just as strong for them as they had been against them.


The mass of the Russians do not hate the people of Great Britain or of the United States. They do hate the Germans. The masses are not intelligent -- they worship Stalin and the Red Army.


46. a. With reference to Russian family life, the internees stated that it does not exist, as we know it in this country. They have practically no family life. Members of families are mutually suspicious of one another.

46. b. They seem to have no religious life. In their trip across Russia, they observed two churches -- one had been destroyed and the other was being used as a "house of culture".

46. c. In one of the small towns where they stopped with a 2,000 population, there were three or four children's' homes. These children did not know their parents. Most of the people in Siberia were refugees from the larger cities in Russia proper.


47. a. The fine report that Willkie made on Russia resulted from the fact that he was only shown certain places that had been specially fixed up for him.

47. b. The filth of the streets and public places in all villages and cities was appalling. Human manure covers the streets and sidewalks in practically all the towns and villages through which they passed. It is common to see men and women evacuate publicly.

47. c. In buildings, halls and lavatories conditions were equally filthy. Fresh food was uniformly unattainable, unless some special official was to be entertained -- then it was lavishly displayed.


48. In the opinion of the fliers, the Russians are strong militarily -- they are not afraid to die. They do not object to Army life, for the reason that they live better in the Army. The country is geared to the Army.


49. In spite of propaganda emphasizing their mechanical efficiency, from what the fliers observed, the Russians are highly inefficient. About 77% of the workers are women. It is common practice to abandon whole train loads of goods for trivial reasons. One long train loaded with cotton was abandoned with just a small portion of the cotton burned.


51. Russian morale is still strong. The fliers believe that the Russians will fight to the bitter end and will win. They do not complain of their sacrifices. They fight because Stalin tells them to.


52. In the opinion of the internees, regardless of what one may think of the Russians otherwise, we must admire their fighting ability. However, none of the internees has the desire to return to Russia. In spite of their experience, they are not bitter, and applied for overseas duty again. Their spirit is to be admired greatly. It is evident, because of their experience together for more than a year, they have formed themselves into a very loyal and devoted group. As to the future of Russia, after the war, they shook their heads. They seemed to feel that Russia will establish and maintain a policy which will be for the best interests of Russia. In the event of the death of Stalin, they believe that a group of unknown leaders will form to carry on his policies.

Major, Inf.

SOURCE: an 11 page typed document found in the files of David William POHL. There is no indication that it is a photocopy of any official military correspondence; it MAY be, however, a typed copy of such an official document.

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Marge Reid--[email protected]

This page was created 26 February 1999.

copyright © 1999 - Margaret V Reid