B-25 Mitchell
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North American B-25 Mitchell

As a medium bomber, the B-25 was a versatile war plane that was used extensively in all major theaters of WW2. It was the plane that boosted American moral 4 months after Pearl Harbor with the daring Doolittle raid that took the fight to the Japanese homeland. TheB-25 was not designed to be naval plane, and taking off from the deck of a carrier was a challenge, but when the ship turned into the wind and throttles up to full speed, relative air speed was increased enough to make it possible. North American Aviation with plants in California and Kansas built almost 10,000 B-25's during the war years going through several variants. The B-25 also served in the Allied air forces of Britain, the Netherlands, Australia, China, and Russia.
Doolittle Raid
B-25’s on the deck of USS Hornet in April, 1942 en route to a position close to Japan. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of the US Air Force. Click on any photo to enlarge.
Jimmy Doolittle
Col. Jimmy Doolittle (second from left) with his crew before the mission
Doolittle Raid
A B-25 takes off from the deck of the USS Hornet April 18, 1942
Jimmy Doolittle Medal of Honor
Jimmy Doolittle receiving a Medal of Honor for his role in the raid.

December 7, 1941

It would be hard to overstate the effect the Japanese attack had on the American People. Our Pacific fleet was all but decimated with five great battleships sunk, 2,403 men killed, and another 1,178 wounded. America wanted to strike back. All over the country young men were lining up at naval recruiting centers. As it happened, no American carriers were docked at Pearl Harbor, the day the Japanese attacked.

The Doolittle Raid - America Strikes Back

President Roosevelt wanted to launch an attack on the Japanese homeland. A successful attack would be an enormous boost to the morale of the American people, which in turn would help the war effort. It would also shake the confidence of the Japanese people. And it would force Japan to allocate military resources to homeland protection. All three of these strategic goals were ultimately achieved, despite the fact that the actual bombing did not cause a great deal of destruction.

There was the question of which planes to use. Other bombers available at the time did not have the range, or had wingspan too great to fit on a carrier deck, or required too long a runway for take off. The B-25 was chosen but had to be modified with less armament and added fuel tanks. Air crews who had volunteered for a dangerous mission received special training at Eglin Field in Florida. There they practiced take offs on a field marked the size of a carrier deck as well as other specialized training in low-level bombing and over-water navigation.

Sixteen B-25's were loaded on to the deck of the USS Hornet, a Yorktown class carrier that had been launched in December 194o and commissioned in October, 1941.

Jimmy Doolittle had been chosen as the team lead. Doolittle had served as a flight instructor during WWI and had gone on to earn degrees in aircraft engineering. He pioneered the concept of instrument flying, with which a pilot could navigate through clouds or fog without having to rely upon what he could see visually.

On the morning of April 18, 1942, four months after Pearl Harbor, Hornet was steaming toward Japan with the intention of getting close enough to launch the aerial attack without being spotted. However, 170 miles short of her target ocean location, and still about 650 nautical miles from the Japanese coast, Hornet was spotted by a Japanese patrol boat. The light cruiser, USS Nashville, accompanying Hornet, sank the Japanese craft, but it had to be assumed the patrol boat had been able to get a radio message home. Doolittle decided to launch the attack, ten hours early.

It was already in the mission plan that it would be a one-way trip for the B-25's with plans to continue on to friendly China after the attack, because there was no way they could return to the deck of the Hornet. Now that mission would be even more challenging. Jimmy Doolittle's heroic patriotism, if there had been any doubt, was now proven by his belief that he would be court marshaled after the attack because he knew the mission would result in the loss of 16 valuable American planes. He was willing to sacrifice his future for the cause. In the end, instead of being court marshaled, Doolittle went to the White House where President Roosevelt, seated in a wheel chair, personally pinned the Medal of Honor on his uniform.

The attack caused some physical damage in Japan. B-25 gunners actually succeeded in shooting down three Japanese planes that had been scrambled to attack, and none of the American planes was shot down. One ran low on fuel and had to ditch in Soviet territory. Even though the Soviet Union was an ally against the Germans, it had signed a non-aggression treaty with Japan, and was obligated to imprison that B-25 crew. The rest of the crews made it to Chinese territory. One crew was captured by Japanese, but most made it safely back to the U.S. or U.S. forces.

The Doolittle Raid was hailed as a major military victory over the Japanese and did a lot to change the course of the war in the Pacific.

B-25 Mitchell
Billy Mitchell
Proof of Air Power
July 18,1921 Captured German Battleship SMS Frankfurt sinking from bomb hits by Army planes in a Mitchell organized demonstration. And still the Navy brass did not want to take him seriously.

Billy Mitchell, Father of the US Air Force

Born to a wealthy Wisconsin family in 1879, Mitchell joined the Army Signal Corps as a very young man after graduating from college. As early as 1906, he predicted that future wars would be won with air power. In 1908 he observed the Wright Brothers flight demonstration at Fort Myer Virginia and went on to take flight lessons.

As a rising star in the Army, he testified on the behalf of keeping aviation in the Signal Corps before a congressional hearing in 1913.

In WW1, he led 1,500 British, French, and Italian aircraft in a successful campaign and was later elevated to the temporary rank of Brigadier General in the American Army and placed in command of all American air combat units in France. He earned several awards for his service.

In 1919, Mitchell met with Franklin Roosevelt, who at that time was Assistant Secretary of the Navy and

tried without success to convince Roosevelt that in the near future planes would be sinking ships, and the strength of a navy would depend upon its air power.

In 1921, Mitchell orchestrated a demonstration that was intended to prove his theories of naval air power, and despite the Navy’s efforts to sabotage his results, Army aircraft successfully sank a captured German battleship.

Mitchell was so outspoken in his beliefs, going so far as to accuse the top Navy brass of being treasonous in their resistance to air power in favor of building more battleships. As a result he was court marshaled and suspended from active duty.

He spent the rest of his life as a civilian advocating for aircraft technology and an emphasis on air power. He died on February 19, 1936, just over five years before aircraft from Japanese carriers sank five mighty American battleships at Pearl Harbor. If the American command did not get his message, they certainly got it on December 7, 1941.

The design for a new medium bomber, the B-25 was named after Billy Mitchell, and that plane went on to play a significant roll in World War 2. American aircraft carriers with Grumman Avengers and Hellcats decimated the Japanese Navy and Air Force. Billy Mitchell had been absolutely correct in his admonitions, recommendations, and predictions.
B-25 Mitchell
Bombardier's point of view from inside the nose canopy of a B-25. It must have been both exciting and, at times, terrifying. From a panoramic photo at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, OH.

North American B-25 Mitchell

There were many variants of the B-25 design with different gun configurations. Above: a later variant, the B-25J shown above, featured a solid nose with eight .50 cal machine guns. The J was well suited for low level ground attack with a total of 14 forward-firing machine guns that could devastate both ground positions and shipping.
Welder at North American Aviation
One of thousands of newly trained workers at the Inglewood, CA plant welds a sub-assembly for the B-25. Click on image to enlarge.
Grumman Aircraft
Experiment staff at the North American Aviation plant in Inglewood, CA observe a scale model in the company's wind tunnel. Click on image to enlarge.
Alfred T. Palmer photo
Alfred T. Palmer photo of the North American B-25 plant in Kansas City, KS. where over 6,600 of the two-engine bombers were built during the war. Click on image to enlarge.
B-25 Basics

Length: 52 ft. 11 in.
Wingspan: 67 ft. 7 in.
Weight: 35,000 lbs loaded
First Flight: August 19, 1940
Number Built: 9,816
Top Speed: 272 mph
Range: 1,350 miles loaded
Cruising Speed: 230 mph
Ceiling: 24,000 ft.
Crew: 6
Power: (2) Wright R-2600 14-cylinder 1,700 hp radial engines
Armament: Twelve to eighteen .50 cal. machine guns, one 75mm cannon, 3,000 lb. bomb capacity
After a couple of years of working on the design, North American was ready to fly the new plane in August, 1940. The Army took delivery of its first five B-25's in February, 1941. By the end of the War, North American had produced nearly 10,000 in its California and Kansas plants. The company was also busy turning out as many P-51 Mustangs as possible after that plane's introduction in 1942.
B-25 Mitchell

B-25’s in Museums West to East

National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
The B-25 display at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, OH. Click on image to enlarge.
On Display — Not Flying

Pacific Aviation Museum, Honolulu, HI

March Field Air Museum, Riverside, CA

Castle Air Museum, Atwater, CA

Pendelton Air Museum, Pendelton, OR

Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson, AZ

Hill Aerospace Museum, Hill AFB, UT

South Dakota Air And Space Museum, Ellsworth AFB, SD

Malmstrom AFB, Great Falls, MT

Grand Forks AFB, San Angelo, TX

Freedom Museum, Pampa, TX

Lackland AFB, San Antonio, TX

National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg, TX

National World War II Museum, New Orleans, LA

General Mitchell International Airport, Milwaukee, WI

Strategic Air and Space Museum, Ashland, NE

Mid-America Air Museum, Liberal, KS

Grissom Air Museum, Grissom AFB, IN

EAA AirVenture Museum, Oshkosh, WI

Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum, Rantoul, IL

Maxwell AFB, AL

Battleship Memorial Park, Mobile, AL

Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum, Kalamazoo, MI

National Museum of the US Air Force, Dayton, OH

National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, FL

Air Force Armament Museum, Eglin AFB, Fort Walton Beach, FL

Hurlburt Field, FL

Museum of Aviation Robins AFB, Warner Robins, GA

Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, Mt. Pleasant, SC

New England Air Museum, Windsor Locks, CT

Lyon Air Museum, Santa Ana, CA

Planes of Fame, Chino, CA

Palm Springs Air Museum, Palm Springs, CA

Yanks Air Museum, Chino, CA

Lauridsen Aviation, Buckeye, AZ

Lone Star Flight Museum, Galveston, TX

Texas Flying Legends Museum, Houston, TX

Oklahoma Museum of Flying, Oklahoma City, OK

Fagen Fighters WWII Museum, Granite Falls, MN

Tri-State Warbird Museum, Batavia, OH

Liberty Aviation Museum, Port Clinton, OH

Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, Reading, PA

Military Aviation Museum, Virginia Beach, VA

Delaware Aviation Museum, Georgetown, DE


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