Several B-25 Mitchells in Flight / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
There are many famous aircraft and bombers from World War II, including the German Messerschmitt Bf 109, the British Spitfire, the Japanese Zero, and the U.S. P51 Mustang. The war introduced tremendous growth for military aviation, with about 2,500 airplanes constructed at the beginning of the war to approximately 300,000 aircraft by the war’s end.
One of the most versatile aircraft was the North American B-25 Mitchell, a twin-engine bomber that proved to be the most heavily armed airplane in the world. It was used for high- and low-level bombing, submarine patrol, photoreconnaissance, strafing, and even as a fighter aircraft in the country’s historic raid over Tokyo, Japan in 1942.
The B-25 Mitchell wasn’t your average aircraft. It took intricate planning, manual labor, and pioneering efforts to construct the bomber that would shift the direction of the war. Without it, World War II might have ended differently. For this reason, it’s regarded as a military aircraft no one should ever forget about.
Constructing the bomber
It wasn’t an easy task developing a bomber capable of performing specific military tasks, including high- and low-level combing, submarine patrol, strafing (attacking with bombs from low-flying aircraft), photoreconnaissance (taking aerial photographs), and operating as a fighter. Only the best engineers at North American Aviation worked on the aircraft.
Engineers first drafted as many as 8,500 drawings of the aircraft. Afterward, a total of 195,000 manual labor hours were used to produce the first B-25 (originally called the NA-40 by North American Aviation).
Modifications and improvements were incorporated due to a number of tests. The first B-25 flew on August 19, 1940. The U.S. Army Air Corps continued its operation, constructing four additional B-25s in February 1941. Nearly 10,000 aircraft were produced until 1945. The twin-tail, mid-wing land monoplane was brilliantly powered by two 1,700-horsepower Wright Cyclone engines. Does that sound intimidating?
How did the B-25 Mitchell get it’s name?
The name B-25 Mitchell originated from airpower pioneer Brigadier General William “Billy” Mitchell. He was regarded as the father of the United States Air Force, so it was fitting for the special aircraft to be named after him.
Mitchell’s military leadership began when he served in France during World War I. By the end of the war, he commanded all American combat units into the country, protecting his troops no matter what would happen to him. After the war, he was appointed deputy director of the Air Service. He advocated for increased investment in air power and bombers.
Mitchell believed the Air Force would be vital to ending future wars, and he wasn’t wrong. He argued in the use of bombers to help sink battleships, and he organized a series of bombing runs against stationary ships.
Not everyone was happy with Mitchell’s work. He gained many enemies, antagonizing several administrative leaders of the Army with his repetitive arguments and criticism. They didn’t like his ideas. In 1925, Mitchell was demoted to a brigadier general and then assigned to his permanent rank of colonel.
Mitchell was regarded as “disobedient and defiant.”
Later that same year, Mitchell was court-martialed for his behavior. He accused Army and Navy leaders of an “almost treasonable administration of the national defense” for their investment in battleships instead of aircraft carriers. When he realized he wasn’t going to win his argument, Mitchell resigned from his service.
Despite the negative attention, Mitchell received many honors following his 1936 death. This includes a commission by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, promoting him as a major general. But most importantly, he was the first person to have an American military aircraft design named after him. Considering how much he loved aircraft, he most likely would have been very proud of his dedication.
After realizing the B-25 Mitchell could be beneficial in World War II, the aircraft was used in every combat area flown by the Dutch, British, Chinese, Russians, Australians, and U.S. forces. The aircraft was used primarily in the Pacific area to bomb Japanese airfields. This also includes campaigns in the Aleutian Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Burma.
The aircraft bomber is best known for its crucial role in the Doolittle Raid on April 18, 1942. This was the first air raid by the United States against Japan. The U.S. aircraft carrier USS Hornet launched 16 B-25B aircraft. This unexpected airstrike made the Japanese realize they were too vulnerable for attacks.
Air Forces preferred the B-25 because the jungle environment of the Pacific reduced the use of medium-level bombing.
The special aircraft could bomb Japanese airfields from treetop levels, so it could reach areas other aircraft and bombers couldn’t. The aircraft was capable of anti-shipping weaponry and it sank many enemy sea vessels.
The Japanese were repeatedly shocked by the B-25, and the aircraft was an expert bomber in other areas of the war. In Burma, the aircraft was used to attack Japanese communication links. China used the aircraft in the country’s China Air Task Force, the Chinese American Composite Wing, the First Air Commando Group, and the 341st Bomb Group. Several of the missions involved in this area used the B-25 for battlefield isolation, interdiction, and close air support.
Later on, the U.S. Air Force managed to acquire bases in other areas of the Pacific. They used the B-25 Mitchell to strike several targets in Indochina, Formosa, and Kyushu. Because of this, the B-25 was needed more than ever before. The 345th Bombardment Group, otherwise known as the Air Apaches, selected the B-25 to assist during the Japanese surrender party.
B-25 after the war
The B-25 was used as an intricate aircraft in World War II, but it wasn’t used much after the war ended in 1945. Most of the aircraft were sent to long-term storage, while others were used for training and support roles. The aircraft assisted during the training for multi-engine aircraft pilots who would work with reciprocating engines, turboprop cargo, aerial refueling, and reconnaissance aircraft usage.
The B-25 Mitchell was assigned to various units of the Air National Guard in many training roles. While the aircraft wasn’t used for campaigns and missions, it helped pave the way for future air force operations.
The aircraft hasn’t been forgotten. Like many other historic aircraft and bombers, the B-25 is now a national artifact with many aircraft put on display in museums and airparks across the U.S.
They have been assigned specific nicknames, including the “Lazy Daisy Mae,” “Yellow Rose,” and “Devil Dog.” You can visit the historic aircraft. If you love military history and airplanes, it seems you have a new destination to add to your bucket list.
A deeper dive – Related reading from the 101:
- Erich Hartmann: Best fighter pilot of all time? – History101
Learn about the German WWII fighter pilot who is regarded as the best fighter pilot of all time.
- This WWII Ghost Bomber Mysteriously Landed Itself – History101
Learn about the B-17 “Ghost Bomber” that somehow managed to land itself without harming anyone.