Factual error: The British squadron Rafe served in had the "RF" radio ID markings. These were assigned to the Polish 303 squadron, so the planes should have additional Polish markings on the engine cowling (apart from standard British ones) plus the squadron logo.
Factual error: Japanese Naval officers say "We have hit battleship row. Now we must hit the smaller airfields." In actuality, the attack was planned to every detail so that all of their targets were hit simultaneously. (01:46:30)
Factual error: The scene of Doolittle speaking to the men who have volunteered for what would become the Tokyo Raid is filmed in a hanger. Historically this took place in the crowded Air Ops office at Eglin.
Factual error: In the scene showing the bomb on its way down to destroy the USS Arizona, the bomb is a conventional aerial bomb purpose-built for anti-ship use. Historical records state that the Japanese had no armor piercing bombs ready for the attack, so they modified conventional battleship shells with wooden fins instead.
Factual error: When Rafe first presents himself at the RAF base, there is a scene with two Spits having the same RF-M squadron designators. Since this was the way individual aircraft were identified, such a thing would never come to pass.
Factual error: In the UK scenes on the RAF base there is an air raid. A hand cranked siren is used to sound the alarm, which is correct, but the siren is cranked continuously giving a constant sound. This is the "all clear" not an "air raid" warning. The air raid warning was a variable sound created by cranking hard for 5 turns then slackening off for 5 turns. If you want to hear the correct sounds, try these links Air Raid Warning: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schoolradio/history/worldwar2audioclipslibrary_clip02.shtml All clear:http://www.bbc.co.uk/schoolradio/history/worldwar2audioclipslibrary_clip20.shtml.
Factual error: In the scene where Rafe and Danny are kids fooling around in their father's cropduster the plane is a PT-17 Stearman or similar model. This plane was not in regular military usage until after 1934 and did not find its way into civilian hands until after WWII.
Factual error: In the scene where Petty Officer Dorie Miller is boxing, a sailor betting on the fight holds a wad of dollar bills where the top one shows the overprinting HAWAII. The HAWAII overprint notes were not introduced until July of 1942, when the U.S. government replaced all currency on the islands with overprinted notes just in case the islands were invaded by Japan. If they had been overrun by Japan, the notes would then have been declared illegal. (00:43:20)
Factual error: All of Jimmy Doolittle's "raiders" had leather flight jackets prepared especially for their mission to bomb Tokyo. On the back of the jackets was a message written in large Chinese characters that explained who they were so the Chinese (if the crew were lucky enough to reach unoccupied China which was the original plan) would not kill them. I also believe there were large U.S. flags and Chinese flags (the old Republic of China style) painted or sewn on the back of these jackets as well. This important costume detail was omitted in the movie.
Factual error: When you see the carrier from above, you can see that the planes take up more than half the deck space. If there were 420 feet of space to take off, that would mean that the carrier was at least 840 feet long. They were at most around 650-700 feet.
Factual error: In the scene where the Japanese aircraft are launching for the attack on Pearl, an officer on one of the carriers holds a white flag in his right hand just as the planes are about to take off. Look carefully; the wind is blowing from the stern of the ship towards the bow (as evidenced by the position of the aircraft in the background). The flag should be moving in the opposite direction, as the carrier would be turned into the wind and moving forward at top speed to launch aircraft.
Factual error: As the Japanese fleet steams toward its launch point, there is a close up of the nose of a B5N1 Kate torpedo bomber with its distinctive two-bladed propeller. Trouble is, the Kates used against Pearl Harbor were B5N2's, with a two row radial and 3-bladed prop.
Factual error: During the Air raid scramble of the RAF squadron, one pilot behind the RAF mechanic can be seen to be boarding a Hawker Hurricane, not a Spitfire. As far as I am aware, Hurricanes and Spitfires were never operated in mixed units. Squadrons had one or the other.
Factual error: In January, 1942, US National insignia deleted the red ball in the center of the star. The Doolittle raiders are depicted with the old insignia, and while this was accurate on the fuselage and wing bottom, official US Navy photographs show that at least some of the B-25's had the newer insignia on the top left wing.
Factual error: When Rafe comes to England he gets a damaged Spitfire to counter the Luftwaffe. If you ignore the fact that he should at least make some flying hours in a Spit before going into combat, no one had to fly a shot-up Spit during the Battle of Britain, since Spitfire production could quite well keep up with the war losses. It was lack of fighter pilots that almost caused Britain's defeat.
Factual error: The scenes of fighter planes chasing each other are fanciful. The planes would never be so low (they look like thay're only ten feet off the ground), much less weaving between hangar buildings and warehouses at 250 mph. That kind of flying is impossible. Other similar shots, showing Japanese fighters flying between the masts of battleships, are equally unrealistic.
Factual error: When Betty is talking to Evelyn about her engagement to Red, she says they are going to wait two years to get married, until she is 19, which means she is currently 17. She must be a very brilliant young woman, because to become a Navy nurse, you must first have a four-year college degree in nursing. (All officers must have a bachelor's degree or higher in an appropriate field.)
Factual error: Early in the film, a close-up of Rafe in his Army Air Corps uniform shows his wings. The wings are not Army Air Corps, but the "shield and stripes" of the US Air Force, which did not exist at that time. Additionally, when a priest is giving last rites to the dying, he says, "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." But before the Second Vatican Council, it was "Holy Ghost."
Factual error: In the shot where they show the pictures the Japanese spies took, you can see the helicopter pads on the ships. Also, during the attack, helicopter pads are visible on some ships. The helicopter was not used until the Korean War, and they didn't have helicopter pads on ships until more recently.