The North American B-25 Mitchell medium bomber gained fame when it was used to bomb Tokyo, the first U.S. counterblow against a Japanese city after Pearl Harbor, a huge boost to American morale and a taste of things to come for Japan. On 18 April 1942 Lt. Colonel James Doolittle led a flight of sixteen B-25B bombers, stripped of defensive guns and given extra fuel tanks to extend their range. They took off from a carrier at sea, the USS Hornet (CV-8), with only a few hundred feet of deck to gain speed, an unprecedented feat. After dropping bombs on Tokyo, the B-25s continued west. One crew went to Vladivostok, the other 15 proceeded to the coast of China. Eighty crew members flew in the Doolittle Raid, 64 returned to fight again.
Aft view of the flight deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), while the carrier was on route to the Doolittle mission's launching point, April 1942. The sixteen B-25B Mitchell bombers were lined up on deck in take-off order.
North American B-25 Mitchell Medium Bomber in World War II
The North American B-25 was named after Gen. William L. "Billy" Mitchell, the American General who was the leading early advocate for military airpower. Following its role in the spectacular Doolittle Raid on Tokyo at the outset of American involvement in World War II, the B-25 Mitchell was utilized in every combat theater around the globe, flown not only by the U.S. forces, but also by the Dutch, British, Chinese, Russians and Australians. Although developed for medium altitude level bombing, the B-25 Mitchell was used extensively in the Pacific Theater for bombing Japanese airfields from treetop level and for strafing and skip bombing enemy shipping.
North American B-25 Mitchell Production History
The North American B-25 Mitchell was produced in firepower increasing variants B-25, B-25A through B-25J plus other specialized variations of the model. For a complete list and details, consult Early 1940s Bomber Aircraft from the National Museum of the USAF.
More than 9,800 B-25s were built during the Second World War, manufactured by North American Aviation at plants in Kansas City, KS and Inglewood, CA.
The first flight by a production B-25 occurred on 19 August 1940, powered by two Wright R-2600-9 Cyclone engines delivering a total of 3,400 horsepower. The original plane had difficulties during bombing runs, so the dihedral (upward angle) in the outer wing panels was eliminated on the tenth and all the following B-25s. The first 25 B-25s were armed with one .30 caliber Browning machine gun in the nose and one at each waist position. For protection, the tail of the aircraft was equipped with a .50 caliber Browning. A Plexiglass nose and a turret gunner originated with the B-25B.
The B-25G model was primarily intended to fill the ground attack and strafing role, so more armor plating was added to protect the crew and ammunition storage areas. The B-25G also had a retractable belly turret. The B-25H model, used by the 1st Air Commando Group in the China-Burma-India Theater, had some notable differences from earlier types. The Plexiglass nose of the plane was replaced by a shorter solid type, with four .50 caliber machine guns above a 75mm cannon. It also had four "package" guns mounted to the side of the fuselage below the cockpit. The B-25H had the belly turret removed and the top turret moved forward. Two Plexiglass blisters were located on the fuselage side aft of the wings with .50-caliber machine guns. The H-model also reintroduced the turret in the tail, which had been removed from earlier models. This tail turret had twin .50 caliber MGs. The five-man crew of the B-25H consisted of the pilot, navigator-cannoneer-radioman, flight engineer-top turret gunner, waist gunner-camera operator and tail gunner. Three of five crew members had multiple jobs -- there was no co-pilot or bombardier and only one waist gunner.
Almost 4,318 B-25J Mitchells were built, the last B-25 production model, making it the most numerous produced. The B-25J appeared to be a cross between a B-25C and a B-25H. The solid nose was replaced by a "greenhouse" with one fixed and one flexible .50 caliber machine gun. The bombardier was returned to the crew bringing the total to six men aboard.
Since model changes were incorporated into planes already in the production process and also, in come cases, by modifying planes in the field, it is difficult to determine the model number by visual inspection of a photograph or even the actual plane. If the serial number is known, then production records can be used to assign a definite model number designation.
B-25 Mitchell Medium Bomber Characteristics
12 (18 on the solid nose version) .50 cal. machine guns
Normal bomb load
Two Wright R-2600-29 turbo-supercharged radials of 1,700 hp each
272 mph at 13,000 ft.
1,350 miles with 3,000 lbs. of bombs
67 ft. 7 in.
52 ft. 11 in.
16 ft. 4 in.
33,500 lbs. maximum
Specifications based on B-25J model.
A North American B-25 Mitchell Medium Bomber nearing the end of the assembly line, Fairfax bomber plant, Kansas City, KS, June 1942.
B-25 Mitchell in flight during WW II.
Photo of one of the first production B-25 Mitchell bombers.
Rear view of B-25 Mitchell bomber.
B-25 Mitchell in flight during WW II.
North American B-25A-NA serial number 40-2212, 17th Bomb Group, 34th Bomb Squadron, McChord AAF, WA.
North American B-25D with flight and ground crews. A second aircraft in the background is B-25C-NA serial number 41-12870.
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