Lieutenant William Farrow

  • Published
  • By Dr. John V. Garrett
  • 17th Training Wing historian
October 15, 2017, marks the 75th anniversary of the execution of Lt. William Farrow and two others by a Japanese firing squad for their role in the 1942 Doolittle Raid. Farrow was a graduate of Goodfellow’s first fight class.

Had you been standing on the Golden Gate Bridge six months earlier you might have seen him as the aircraft carrier USS Hornet passed beneath. More likely your attention would have been drawn to the highly unusual sight of 16 dark-green Army bombers chained to the Hornet’s deck in place of the normal complement of fighters and torpedo planes. No less extraordinary was the carrier’s destination.

“The target of this task force,” the Hornet’s skipper announced as his ship cleared the Golden Gate Bridge, “is Tokyo!”

Leading the mission was Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, a former test pilot with a PhD in aeronautical science. Doolittle’s first task had been to select a plane, choosing the B-25 Mitchell for its range, capacity, and ability to take off in limited space. Doolittle turned to the 17th Bomb Group for his crews. As the most experienced B-25 unit in the Army Air Corps, the 17th provided Doolittle all the volunteers he required.

By April 18th, the task force had moved within 650 miles of Tokyo when a Japanese picket boat spotted it. Despite the long distance from Japan, the decision was taken to launch.

At the controls of “Bat out of Hell,” the 16th aircraft, was Farrow. Tall and angular, the South Carolina native had arrived in San Angelo in February 1941 as a member of flying cadet class 41-E, Goodfellow’s first flight class. Graduating in April, Farrow went on to advanced training at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas, before taking an assignment as a B-25 pilot with the 17th at Pendleton, Oregon. While there, Farrow volunteered for what Doolittle had described only as a “special aviation project.”

For most of the 16 B-25 on the Doolittle mission, the target was Tokyo. Farrow’s assignment however, was Nagoya, an industrial city south of the capital. After dropping his four incendiary clusters on an oil depot and an aircraft factory from an altitude of 100 feet, Farrow continued west across the East China Sea for Chuchow, China, beyond the line of Japanese occupation. Making landfall at night, the crew was unable to establish radio contact with the ground. As the fuel warning light indicator came on, Farrow bailed out over what, unfortunately, proved to be Japanese-held territory.

The crew survived the jump but could not evade capture. Imprisoned with the crew of another B-25 from the raid – this one piloted by Lt. Dean Hallmark, a native of Robert Lee, Texas – Farrow and seven others were moved first to Tokyo and then to Shanghai. There they were tortured and confined in wretched conditions on a starvation diet, to the extent that Lt. Hallmark, called “Jungle Jim” for his considerable fitness and strength, could no longer walk or even stand. A mock trial in August condemned the eight to death but the Japanese subsequently commuted the sentences of five to life imprisonment. For the other three – Farrow, Hallmark, and Farrow’s engineer-gunner, Sgt. Harold Spatz – they were led to a local cemetery on October 15, tied to small crosses, and shot. “Don’t let this get you down,” 23-year old Farrow had written his mother. “Just remember that God will make everything right, and that I will see you again in the hereafter.”