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Ordnance Mitchell B-25, the Ultimate Strafer

Running a gantlet of flak and enemy fighters on September 2, 1943, North American B-25Ds of the 405th Bomb Squadron employ tactics devised by Major Paul “Pappy” Gunn in an attack on Japanese transports in New Guinea’s Wewak Harbor. “Tokyo Sleeper” by: Jack Fellows

Pappy Gunn didn’t develop the skip-bombing technique. It was first used in battle by B-17s on October 23, 1942 (tail end of Chapter 4 in Ken’s Men, Vol. I). The B-25 was certainly better suited for the job and Pappy Gunn and Jack Fox were the ones to modify the B-25 to make it work. Major Edward Larner deserves a lot of credit for convincing his squadron’s crews that they could pull off the technique in battle after they watched his crew successfully use it on a ship during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

Searching on the internet, one can locate more stories containing the B-25 Mitchell bomber than most any other.  During the Second World War, the high adaptability of the B-25 Mitchell Bomber–named in honor of the pioneer of U.S. military aviation, Brigadier General William L. Mitchell–paid off as it served extensively in missions including both high and low altitude bombing, tree-top level strafing, anti-shipping, supply, photo reconnaissance, and other support.

B-25 Mitchell schematic.

Production of this twin-engine medium bomber commenced in late 1939 by North American Aviation, following a requirement from the U. S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) for a high-altitude medium bomber. By the end of the war, about 9,816 Mitchells were manufactured, with several variants.

Generally, the Mitchell bomber weighed 19,850 pounds when empty, had a maximum take-off weight of 35,000 pounds, and was built to hold a crew of six comprising the pilot and co-pilot, a navigator who doubled as a bombardier, a turret gunner who also served as an engineer, and a radioman who performed duties as a waist and tail gunner.

North American Aviation factory workers mounting an engine on a B-25 bomber, Inglewood, California, United States, 1942.

It was powered by two Wright R-2600 Cyclone 14 radial engines which dissipated about 3,400 hp, and performed with a top speed of 272 mph at 13,000 feet, although it was most effective at a speed of 230 mph.

Anywhere from 12-18 12.7mm machine guns, a T13E1 cannon, and 3,000 pounds of bombs comprised its armament. It had a 1,984-lb ventral shackle and racks, capable of holding a Mark 13 Torpedo and eight 127mm rockets for ground attacks, respectively.

The B-25 performed in all the theaters of the Second World War and was mainly used by the United States Army Air Force, Royal Air Force, Soviet Air Force, and the United States Marine Corps.

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.

Mitchell bombers participated in campaigns in the Solomon Islands, Aleutian Islands, Papua New Guinea, and New Britain, among others. Owing to the tropical nature of the environment, mid-level bombing was less efficient, and thus the B-25s were adapted to serve as low-altitude attack bombers.

During the Southwest Pacific campaigns, the B-25 enormously contributed to Allied victories as the 5th Air Force devastated the Japanese forces through skip-bombing attacks on ships and Japanese airfields.

In the China-Burma-India theater of the war, B-25s were widely used for interdiction, close air support, and battlefield isolation.

The B-25’s extraordinary capabilities as a bomber were first brought to the limelight following their performance in the Tokyo Raid of 18 April 1942, in which the hitherto impregnable home islands of Japan were attacked.

Armorer cleaning the bore of a 75mm cannon mounted in a B-25G Mitchell bomber of the 820th Bomb Squadron, Tarawa, Gilbert Islands; March-April 1944.

In a military sense, the Doolittle Raid was a failure. The small task force of which he and his crews were the centerpiece was detected while Hornet was still 150 miles short of the intended takeoff point. The B-25s were launched on a contingency plan to save the carrier– to clear the flight deck so its fighters could be positioned for launch to defend against attack.

Doolittle and the Navy had agreed to sacrifice the bombers in the event the task force was detected by the Japanese. With the task force having been spotted, the mission had been compromised and the airplanes were sent out with the crews knowing it was unlikely that they would reach China.  They did reach their targets and east wind helped to bring most of the men home.

The power of the B-25 strafers was demonstrated to the world in early March 1943, when the 3rd Attack Group delivered the knockout blow to a 14-ship Japanese convoy that was sitting just outside Lae Harbor during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. A low-level strafing and skip-bombing attack by 12 modified B-25s and a dozen A-20s left every single transport and most of their escorts either sinking or badly damaged. Naval historian Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison referred to the attack as “the most devastating attack of the war by airplanes against ships.”

From the radio operator’s position in a USMC PBJ Mitchell, Japanese POW 2Lt Minoru Wada looks for landmarks to find the Japanese 100th Infantry Division headquarters complex, 9 August 1945, Mindanao, Philippines.

Beginning with the sale of B-25s to the Dutch, North American produced thousands of Mitchell’s for other nations. Considering that the Fifth Air Force was originally headquartered in Australia, it was only natural that the Royal Australian Air Force would operate B-25s of its own. A little-known fact of World War II in the Pacific is that when the 90th Bombardment Squadron was first equipped with B-25s, there were not enough American pilots and gunners to man them. To fill the gap, several RAAF airmen volunteered to fly with American pilots. Most of the co-pilots and many of the gunners in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea were Australian.

Their sturdiness and ease of maintenance under primitive environmental conditions were characteristics that aided the durability of the B-25s during the war. By the end of the war, they had completed more than 300 missions.

This post was suggested by Dan Antion @ No Facilities.

Resources used: National Interest; Air History on line; Boeing; History.com and pacific War Encyclopedia and the IHRA.

CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.

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Current News –  7 December 2020, Pearl Harbor Day

For Pacific Paratrooper’s past posts for this date: Videos with a different view

Kimmel and Short

Pearl Harbor Remembered

WWII After WWII’s series

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Military Humor –

“I’ll get onto it in a minute. Everything is so darn steady.”
From November 14, 1942

“One thing I can’t understand about this sentry business. Can you imagine anybody answering ‘Foe’?”
From December 6, 1941

WWII humor from the Saturday Evening Post magazine.

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Farewell Salutes – 

Robert Adams – Fairfield, CT; US Army, WWII, ETO

Orville Cox – Des Moines, IA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO

Alfred Dawson (103) – Bailieboro, CAN; RC Air Force, WWII, ETO, radar

Stephen Gudek Sr. – Dracut, MA; US Navy, WWII, Korea & Vietnam, Chief Petty Officer (Ret. 20 y.)

Keith Hobson – Chico, CA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO

John Lappin – Washington D.C.; US Army, WWII /  FBI

Betty Murray – Salisbury, MD; Civilian, WWII, military uniform seamstress

Harold F. Trapp – LaPorte, IN; US Navy, WWII, Fire Controlman 2nd Class, USS Oklahoma, KIA (Pearl Harbor)

William H. Trapp – LaPorte, IN; US Navy, WWII, Electrician’s Mate 3rd Class, USS Oklahoma, KIA (Pearl Harbor)

Carl Zumbano – Venice, FL; US Navy, WWII, SeaBees

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