The twin-engined, North American B-25 Mitchell bomber first came to fame as the first USAAF aircraft to strike back against the Japanese mainland after the shock attack on US forces based at Pearl Harbour.
Led by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, 16 B-25s lifted off the US carrier Hornet on April 18, 1942, in what was to be a one way mission for all 16 aircraft and their combined 80 crew.
The B-25s had been stripped down to reduce weight including the removal of the aircraft's lower gun turret and heavy liaison radio equipment. In their place, a 160 gallon collapsable auxiliary fuel tank was installed in the B-25s bombay as well additional fuel cells in walkways and the lower turret area.
Even though the Doolittle’s Mitchell’s had extended their fuel capacity from 646 to 1141 gallons there was no doubt that the aircraft and crew would not be returning and tentative plans were drawn up to fly the aircraft onto China or the Russian port of Vladivostok. At the time Russia was still a neutral power so China was made the final destination.
Whilst still 650 nautical short of their intended launch position, a Japanese patrol vessel was spotted by the carrier task force and immediately sunk. Fearing the mission being compromised, Doolittle ordered his crew to launch immediately. The raid was on.
Six hours later, the B-25s started appearing in the skies over Tokyo and began their bombing runs on 10 military and industrial targets. They had caught the Japanese by surprise and although interception fighters were launched and anti aircraft batteries began opening up on the raiders, no B-25 was shot down during the raid.
With fuel rapidly depleting, 15 aircraft proceeded southwest down the coast of Japan and across the East China Sea to China. One B-25 choose instead to head for Vladivostok after realising they fuel was too low to follow the formation.
Either bailing out or crash landing after crossing the Chinese coast, 69 crew members survived out of the original 80 and all eventually made their return to the US including with the crew that had landed in Russia.
Although the material damage inflicted by the Doolittle’s B25s was minimal, the US public moral boost was tremendous and shook the Japanese to the core after being told that no enemy aircraft would ever be seen over the Japanese mainland.
It was a remarkable mission for an aircraft that had initially suffered from severe design flaws resulting in wing failure and significant instability during its early production.
To remedy this, the B-25’s designers introduced a gull wing configuration to replace the original flat wing design. The B-25 was back on track and the aircraft entered full production.
Pilot’s loved the aircraft with its tricycle landing gear giving excellent visibility for takeoff and landing whilst its gull wings providing enough lift to still enable the aircraft to execute 60 degree turns on only one engine. It quickly gained a reputation as a safe and forgiving aircraft.
It was also a sturdy aircraft and could sustain significant mission damage and still return safely to base.
One B-25C of the 321st Bomb Group was nicknamed “Patches" because its crew chief had painted all the aircraft's flak hole patches with the bright yellow zinc chromate primer. By the end of the war, this aircraft had completed over 300 missions, had been belly landed six times and had over 400 patched holes. The airframe of “Patches" was so distorted from battle damage that straight-and-level flight required 8° of left aileron trim and 6° of right rudder, causing the aircraft to "crab" sideways across the sky.
Seeing extensive service against Japanese forces in the South pacific and SE Asia, B-25s squadrons also flew with mixed US and Australian crews from Northern Australian air bases with great success against Japanese shipping and ground forces.
Much of this low level attack success was due to the introduction of the B-25G which saw the removal of the glass nose bombardier/navigator's postion and replaced by a shorter, hatched nose with two fixed .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns and a manually loaded 75mm M4 cannon.
The shorter nose placed the cannon breech below and behind the pilot and was manually loaded by the navigator. The two fixed machine guns were later replaced with four giving the B-25Gs a powerful punch against any opposition.
In Britain, the RAF had received 900 B-25s to replace their ageing Douglas Bostons and Wellington bombers and used them extensively on bombing missions over mainland Europe. After the Normandy invasion, squadrons were then moved to forward bases on the continent flying against forces in southern Europe and the Mediterranean.
Flown by numerous Allied air forces, the B-25 served in every theatre of World War II and even after the war ended, many remained in service, operating across four decades. Produced in numerous variants, nearly 10,000 Mitchells rolled out of the North American Aviation factories.
All B-25 Mitchell bomber instruments listed below, come complete with detailed Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of instrument in aircraft cockpit.
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