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NORTH AMERICAN B-25 MITCHELL—WAR HERO AND MOVIE STAR PART 1

THE NORTH AMERICAN B-25 medium bomber was named for a pioneer U.S. military aviator and was employed by another famed aviator in a retaliatory strike on Japan just four months and 11 days after Pearl Harbor. Later, the B-25 Mitchell starred in two movies, one honoring the Doolittle Raid, the other, a decidedly anti-war satire. Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are tidbits on the aircraft, on Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, and on Catch-22.

The B-25 Mitchell. This twin-engine bomber introduced in 1941 honored Major General William “Billy” Mitchell, who had incurred the wrath of post-World War I traditionalists by suggesting the importance of air power over battleships.

Image from The Pocket Encyclopedia of Bombers at War, by Kenneth Munson, Blandford, 1968.

Wikipedia notes, “Used by many Allied forces, the B-25 served in every theater of World War II, and after the war ended, many remained in service, operating across four decades. Produced in numerous variants, nearly 10,000 B-25s were built.”

A B-25J Mitchell over the Chino Airshow in 2014. Image by Airwolfhound from Hertfordshire, U.K. 

The Doolittle Raid. Within months of the Pearl Harbor sneak attack, U.S. Army Air Force Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle devised, organized, and executed a retaliation: The USS Hornet aircraft carrier brought B-25 bombers within striking distance of Japan, the first time aircraft of this type ever in a carrier operation. The bombers, being unable to return and set down on the carrier, dropped their ordinance on targets and continue on to regions of China controlled by Nationalist forces.

En route to Japan aboard the USS Hornet. This and other images by U.S. Navy photographers.

Challenges. Still about 750 miles from Japan, the carrier encountered a Japanese picket boat, which radioed Japan. Wikipedia notes,Doolittle and Hornet skipper Captain Marc Mitscher decided to launch the B-25s immediately—10 hours early and 170 nautical miles farther from Japan than planned.”

“After respotting to allow for engine start and runups,” Wikipedia continues, “Doolittle’s aircraft had 467 feet of takeoff distance. Although none of the B-25 pilots, including Doolittle, had ever taken off from a carrier before, all 16 aircraft launched safely between 08:20 and 09:19, though Doolittle’s bomber was witnessed to have almost hit the water before pulling up at the last second.”

Takeoffs.

A Successful Mission. Wikipedia notes, “Damage to Japanese military and industrial targets was slight, but the raid had major psychological effects. In the United States, it raised morale.”

And made for a stirring 1944 war film. Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll address the cinema fame of the B-25 Mitchell. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022  

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