During World War Two there were thousands of different types of aircraft flown, but not all of these would go down in history as legendary warbirds. One such legendary aircraft however was the North American B-25 Mitchell. The twin engine medium bomber served extensively in a wide variety of missions, including both high and low altitude bombing, tree-top level strafing, anti-shipping, supply, photo reconnaissance, and other support.
It first flew in 1940, and entered service in 1941, named after Major General William “Billy” Mitchell, a man who is considered to be the father of the US Air Force. It spawned from a 1939 specification issued by the Air Corps for a medium bomber. The B-25 was given mass production approval while it was still on the drawing board, and by the wars end, 9,816 aircraft were built.
The Mitchell was famous for its incredible firepower, with some variants carrying up to 18 .50 caliber machine guns, 14 of which were pointing forward for strafing ground targets. Empty, it weighed over 19,000 pounds but had a maximum take off weight of 35,000 pounds.
Depending on the model, there were six crew on board, comprising of 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.
It was powered by two 1,700 hp Wright R-2600 Cyclone 14 radial engines that gave it a top speed of 272 mph at 13,000 feet, a range of 1,350 miles and a service ceiling of 24,200 feet.
The aircraft was noted for its great durability, being able to withstand large amounts of punishment and remain in the air. The B-25 was well like by pilots, who regarded it as very forgiving, even able to fly on one engine, and offered good visibility while taxing thanks to its tricycle landing gear.
As mentioned, the B-25 Mitchell was highly adaptable, being built in a wide range of variants all geared for specific roles. The F-10 model was a photo reconnaissance modification of B-25D, with its guns and armor removed and replaced with cameras. The B-25H carried four .50 caliber machine guns in the nose, along with a single T13E1 75 mm cannon. The T13E1 was lightened version of the gun used in the M4 Sherman, and similar to the one used in the M24 Chaffee.
The B-25 was also fly as a VIP transport aircraft; the VB-25J, an aircraft used as the personal transport for Dwight D. Eisenhower.
As a bomber it could carry up to 3,000 pounds of bombs internally. Externally 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 Mitchell saw combat in all theaters of WWII, flying with the US, the British and the Soviets. They participated in campaigns in the Solomon Islands, Aleutian Islands, Papua New Guinea, and New Britain, among others. The dense tropical environments encountered in the Pacific made mid-level bombing difficult, so B-25s usually to served as low-altitude attack bombers.
In 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-25 Mitchells were widely used for interdiction, close air support, and battlefield isolation. In North Africa they provided air support for Allied forces in the Second Battle of El Alamein, and assisted in the invasion of Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, then following the Allies as they moved up through Italy.
Perhaps the most significant of all B-25 Mitchell achievements was the 1942 Doolittle Raid. 16 modified B-25Bs took off from the deck of the USS Hornet, flew to the Japanese mainland and attacked Tokyo, before making their way to China to land. The raid gave US citizens a significant morale boost, and proved to the Japanese they were in reach of US forces.
After WWII, the US relegated the B-25 to minor roles like training, transport and reconnaissance. Two were used by the Biafran side in the Nigerian Civil War, before being retired in 1979.