During World War II, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle (Spencer Tracy) leads the U.S. Air Force in a bombing mission over Japan. Doolittle and his men stage a successful attack on Tokyo, but most pilots run out of fuel while returning from the raid. Many are forced to land on Japanese soil, but Capt. Ted Lawson (Van Johnson), who has a pregnant wife at home, crash-lands in the sea off the coast of China. Stranded, Lawson must heroically endure a series of harrowing challenges to make it back home.