In World War II, range, adaptability, and potent firepower were chief attributes of North American Aviation’s B-25 Mitchell medium bomber, which the U.S. Air Force calls “perhaps the most versatile aircraft of the war.” With a top speed in excess of 300 mph, it was faster and had a greater range (2,500 miles with drop tanks) than such “heavies” as the B-17 and B-24. The B-25 could perform as a level bomber, delivering a 3,000-pound payload from high altitude. But it also had the agility to skim treetops and whitecaps to devastate enemy bases, harbors, and ships with a deadly arsenal of bombs, rockets, a 75mm nose-mounted cannon, and as many as 14 forward-firing machine guns.
The B-25 was named for Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell, whose outspoken advocacy for air power earned him a court-martial in 1925. Although his conduct was condemned, his views proved prophetic – including a dead-on prediction of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He died in 1936, but he was exonerated by Congress in 1942 and is revered as the father of the U.S. Air Force. To this day, the B-25 is the only American military aircraft officially named for a person.
Nearly 10,000 Mitchell bombers were produced by the end of the war, serving not only as bombers and strafers but also for photo reconnaissance, submarine patrols, and military transports. Perhaps the most famous of all B-25s were the 16 launched from the USS Hornet in April 1942 in America’s first attack on the Japanese mainland after Pearl Harbor. Previously thought impossible, the carrier-borne bombing raid boosted American morale and stunned the Japanese high command. Japan’s subsequent decision to extend its defensive perimeter to Midway proved disastrous as the Imperial Japanese Navy lost four aircraft carriers and a heavy cruiser in a crushing defeat.
MODELING THE B-25
• 1/32: Aurora, WingScale*
• 1/48: Accurate Miniatures, Italeri, Revell, Monogram
• 1/64: Revell
• 1/70: Monogram
• 1/72: Airfix, Eastern Express, Frog, Hasegawa, Heller, Italeri, Matchbox, MPC, Testors
• 1/144: Academy, Minicraft, Revell
* Coming soon
U.S. Air Force photos except where otherwise noted.
Staff at the North American Aviation plant in Inglewood, Calif., observe wind tunnel tests on a scale model of the B-25 bomber in 1942. Photo from the Office of War Information, Library of Congress.
October 7, 1925: Then-Col. William “Billy” Mitchell at the investigation of the Shenandoah airship crash. Mitchell’s blunt remarks following the tragedy contributed to his own court-martial, but his prophetic views on air power earned him recognition as the father of the U.S. Air Force. In October 1924, Mitchell had predicted the Japanese attack would come on a Sunday morning at 7:30; from a distance of slightly more than 17 years, he was only 25 minutes off.
North American B-25A Mitchell medium bomber. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the “meatball” disappeared from the national insignia to prevent any confusion with the Japanese hinomaru.
Charged with the mission of attacking mainland Japan by air in 1942, Col. Jimmy Doolittle chose the B-25B. The B-25B on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force was retrofitted from a -D to a -B configuration as flown by Lt. Col. James Doolittle, leader of the 1942 bombing raid on Japan.
Rain sweeps the deck of the USS Hornet on April 18, 1942, as the Doolittle raiders prepare for a perilous launch. The 16 Army Air Force B-25Bs had to be loaded in the order of their takeoffs; there wasn’t room to rearrange them on deck.
A B-25B laden with extra fuel and a few bombs lumbers into the air from Hornet, bound for Japan on April 18, 1942.
B-25C, the first large-scale production run of the Mitchell. Among changes from the B were exhaust-flame suppressors, better carburetors, cabin heating, and underwing bomb racks.
North American’s plant in Kansas City, Kan., October 1942. As the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor approached, American industry was growing and flexing its muscles. Photo from the Office of War Information, Library of Congress.
October 1942: Employees on the “Sunshine” assembly line at North American’s Inglewood plant put the finishing touches on another B-25. P-51s were also produced at Inglewood. Photo from the Office of War Information, Library of Congress.
It took more than a five-man flight crew to keep a Mitchell bomber flying. This head-on shot shows the B-25 wing’s distinctive dihedral.
April, 1944: This B-25G carries extra external armor plating underneath the pilot on the port side. A 75mm cannon in the faired-over nose was used to deadly effect in low-altitude strafing.
Blondie’s Vengeance, a B-25G of the 820th Bomb Squadron, somewhere in the Central Pacific. Laundry hanging from the aircraft’s tail shows the crew was in the fight for the long haul.
In later B-25s the turret was moved forward, as on this B-25H top turret.
The H model introduced .50-caliber machine guns in fixed positions on the fuselage. Some carried a dozen other machine guns as well as the 75mm cannon.
The glass nose reappeared on the B-25J, which began arriving in the field in mid-1944. More than 4,300 were built, the longest run of any of the variants. With as many as 18 machine guns, the Js were deadly strafers. In the field, some crews covered the nose back up in favor of more guns.
Solid-nose North American B-25Js of the 345th Bomb Group, somewhere in the Pacific.
The “buzz number” (BD-028) was first added to aircraft in November 1945 and continued into the 1960s when unit codes were placed on vertical stabilizers.
A gleaming B-25J: This plane (43-3892) was the 23rd J built.
The 477th Medium Bombardment Group at Tuskegee trained to fly B-25s, but the war ended before it saw action.
After the war, most B-25s were scrapped. A few were redesignated “TB” and assigned to special missions or used in National Guard units. This TB-25J from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on Jan. 1, 1954.
This TB-25M (originally a B-25J) served in the Wisconsin Air National Guard. In peacetime configuration, the observation dome behind the cockpit replaces the gun turret; curtains are hung inside the window where the waist gun used to be. The photo was taken at Mitchell Field in Milwaukee, Wis., in August 1960.
Now the same plane has a permanent spot at the entrance to the airport that has borne Mitchell’s name since March 17, 1941, a few months before Congress made him a general again (posthumously). Bruce Leibowitz photo; for more of Bruce’s photos, visit www.airliners.net
A restored B-25J, Heavenly Body, takes off from USS Ranger in April 1992 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Doolittle raid – and enjoys considerably more elbow room and a much more comfortable takeoff roll than the 16 heavily loaded bombers that wobbled off Hornet in 1942. U.S. Navy photo.
Span: 67' 6"
Height: 16' 9"
Engines: Two 1,700hp Wright R-2600 Cyclone supercharged 14-cylinder radials; Hamilton Standard three-blade props
Maximum speed: 328 mph
Cruising speed: 233 mph
Range: 2,500 miles (with auxiliary tanks)
Source: U.S. Air Force Fact Sheet