Tag Archives: North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell

18 April 1942

A North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber revs its engines, awaiting teh signal to launch from the flight deck officer. (U.S. Air Force)
A North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber revs its engines, awaiting the signal to launch from the flight deck officer. (U.S. Navy)
With flight deck personnel dropping to the deck to avoid its turning propellers, A north American B-25B Mitchell medium bomber starts its takeoff roll aboard USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy)
With flight deck personnel dropping to the deck to avoid its turning propellers, a North American B-25B Mitchell medium bomber starts its takeoff roll aboard USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy) 
Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, United States Navy
Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, United States Navy

18 April 1942: Task Force 16, under the command of Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., U.S. Navy, approached the Japanese islands on a daring top secret joint Army-Navy attack.

Planning for the attack began in January 1942 under orders from Admiral Earnest J. King, Commander-in-Chief United States Fleet. Captain Donald B. Duncan, U.S. Navy, was responsible for the plan.

The operation was carried out by Task Force 16 under the command of Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., United States Navy. Task Force 16 consisted of two aircraft carriers, USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Hornet (CV-8), four cruisers, eight destroyers and two oilers. There were two air groups, consisting of eight squadrons of 54 fighters, 72 dive bombers, 36 torpedo bombers, and one squadron of of 16 medium bombers. Lieutenant Colonel James Harold (“Jimmy”) Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, commanded the Strike Group of North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell bombers aboard Hornet.

With the land-based Army bombers secured to Hornet‘s flight deck, her own fighters had been struck below. The air group from Enterprise provided Combat Air Patrol for the task force. The plan was to bring the B-25s within 400 miles (645 kilometers) of Japan, have them take off and carry out the attack, then fly on to airfields in Chinese territory.

A U.S. Army Air Corps B-25B Mitchell medium bomber is launched from USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. ("Jimmy") Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, flies a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber off the deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. (“Jimmy”) Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, flies a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber off the deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. His was the first bomber to takeoff. (U.S. Navy)

At 0500 hours, the task force was sighted by a Japanese picket boat while still over 700 miles (1,127 kilometers) away from Tokyo. At 0644 another vessel was spotted by the task force. Fearing that surprise had been lost, Admiral Halsey ordered the bombers launched while still 623 miles (1,003 kilometers) from land.

Admiral William H. Halsey watches a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber take off from USS Hornet (CV-8). The airplanes nose wheel has cleared the flight deck while the ship's bow pitches down in heavy seas. (U.S. Navy)
Vice Admiral William H. Halsey, U.S. Navy, watches a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV-8). The airplane’s nose wheel has lifted clear of the flight deck while the ship’s bow pitches down in heavy seas. (U.S. Navy)
Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, USAAF, aboard USS Hornet, April 1942. (U. S Air Force)
Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, USAAC, aboard USS Hornet, April 1942. (U. S. Air Force)

The sixteen B-25s were successfully launched from Hornet and headed for their assigned targets. The lead airplane, B-25B serial number 40-2344, was flown by Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle.

Single B-25s attacked targets in the cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Kobe.The first bombs were dropped on Tokyo at 1215 local time. This was the first offensive operation carried out by the United States of American against the Empire of Japan during World War II.

The actual destructive effect of the attack was minimal. It had been hoped that there would be psychological effects on the citizenry, however the arrival of the American bombers coincided with an ongoing air raid drill, and many thought it was all part of the drill.

Militarily, however, the attack was a stunning success. Four Japanese fighter groups, needed elsewhere, were pinned down at home, waiting for the next attack.

A B-25 is airborne over the bow of USS Hornet (CV-8). (U.S. Navy)
A B-25 is airborne over the bow of USS Hornet (CV-8). (U.S. Navy)

Not a single B-25 was lost over Japan. One landed in Vladivostok where the crew and airplane were interred by the “neutral” Soviets, but they eventually were able to get home. The rest continued on toward China, though without enough fuel to reach their planned destinations. Four B-25s made crash landings, but the crews of the others bailed out into darkness as their planes ran out of gas.

Routes of ten of the sixteen B-25s. Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle’s airplane, 40-2344, enters the chart at the upper right corner, the exits to upper left. (United States Army)
The wreckage of Jimmy Doolittle’s North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell bomber, 40-2344, China, April 1942. (Smithsonian.com)
Lieutenant Colonel James Harold Doolittle (just right of center) with his crew in China following the 18 April 1942 air raid on Japan. Left to right, Staff Sergeant Fred A. Braemer; Staff Sergeant Paul J. Leonard; Lieutenant Richard E. Cole; Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle; and Lieutenant Henry A. Potter. (United States Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command NH 97502)

Five of the airmen were killed. Eight were captured by the Japanese, two of whom were executed by a military court, and another died in prison.

North American Aviation B-25B interred south of Vladivostok
Captain Edward J. York’s North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell, 40-2242, Aircraft 8, interned about 40 miles (25 miles) west of Vladivostok, Primorsky Krai, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
1st Lieutenant Robert L. Hite, USAAF, co-pilot of Aircraft 16, Bat Out of Hell, was captured by the Japanese after bailing out over China. he was held as a prisoner of war for 3½ years. He is one of just five living members of the Doolittle Raiders, though he was too ill to attend their 2012 Reunion. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Robert L. Hite, USAAC, co-pilot of Aircraft 16, “Bat Out of Hell,” was captured by the Japanese after bailing out over China, and was held as a prisoner of war for 3½ years. (U.S. Air Force)

For his leadership in the air raid, James Harold Doolittle was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, and was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. General Doolittle’s Medal is in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt presents the Medal of Honor to Brigadier General James Harold Doolittle in a ceremony at The White House, 19 May 1942. The President is seated at left. Standing, left to right, are Lieutenant General Henry H. Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces; Mrs. Doolittle; Brigadier General Doolittle; and General George Catlett Marshall, Jr., Chief of Staff, United States Army. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, Photographic Collection, NPx. 65-696)

CITATION:

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Brigadier General [then Lieutenant Colonel] James Harold Doolittle (ASN: 0-271855), United States Army Air Forces, for conspicuous leadership above the call of duty, involving personal valor and intrepidity at an extreme hazard to life while Commanding the First Special Aviation Project in a bombing raid of Tokyo, Japan, on 18 April 1942. With the apparent certainty of being forced to land in enemy territory or to perish at sea, General Doolittle personally led a squadron of Army bombers, manned by volunteer crews, in a highly destructive raid on the Japanese mainland.

War Department, General Orders No. 29 (June 9, 1942), Amended by Department of the Army G.O. No. 22 (1959) & No. 4 (1960)

Teh medal of Honor awarded to Brigadier General James Harold Doolittle, Air Corps, United States Army, in teh collection of teh Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, (NASM A19600049000)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 April 1942

B-25 Mitchell bombers aboard USS Hornet (CV-8), with USS Gwin (DD-433) and USS Nashville (CL-43), somewhere in the Pacific, April 1942. (U.S. Navy)
B-25 Mitchell bombers aboard USS Hornet (CV-8), with USS Gwin (DD-433) and USS Nashville (CL-43), somewhere in the Pacific, April 1942. (U.S. Navy)

2 April 1942: After loading sixteen North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bombers and their crews of the 17th Bombardment Group (Medium) at NAS Alameda, the recently commissioned United States Navy aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) departed San Francisco Bay with her escorts and headed for a secret rendezvous with Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., and Task Force 16.

The new carrier was under command of Captain Marc A. Mitscher. The strike group was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James H. (“Jimmy”) Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps. Until the second day at sea, only six U.S. military officers knew of the mission.

The photograph above shows some of the bombers secured on Hornet‘s flight deck. An escorting destroyer, USS Gwin (DD-433) is closing from astern, with light cruiser USS Nashville (CL-43) in the distance. Two more ships are on the horizon.

USS Hornet (CV-8), 27 October 1942. (U.S. Navy)
USS Hornet (CV-8), Captain Marc A. Mitscher, U.S.N., commanding, 27 October 1942. The aircraft carrier is painted in Measure 12 camouflage, Sea Blue 5-S, Ocean Gray 5-O and Haze Gray 5-H. (U.S. Navy)

USS Hornet was a brand new Yorktown-class aircraft carrier, commissioned 20 October 1941. It had just completed its shakedown cruise in the Atlantic when it was sent west for this mission.

The ship was 824 feet, 9 inches (251.384 meters) long, overall, with a maximum width of 114 feet (34.747 meters). Hornet‘s dimensions at the waterline (full load displacement) were 761 feet (232 meters) long with a beam of 83 feet, 3 inches (25.375 meters). Its draft was 28 feet (8.5 meters).

The flight deck had two hydraulic catapults, and three elevators for bringing aircraft up from the hangar deck. A third catapult was on the hangar deck, launching aircraft laterally.

Powered by four geared steam turbines driving four propeller shafts, Hornet‘s engines produced 120,000 shaft horsepower. The carrier’s maximum speed was 33.84 knots (39.94 miles per hour/62.67 kilometers per hour), and maximum range, 12,500 nautical miles (14,385 kilometers).

North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber tied down on the flight deck of U.S.S. Hornet (CV-8). An escorting destroyer, USS Gwin, (DD- ) closes on the carrier's right rear quarter. (U.S. Navy)
A 17th Bombardment Group North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber tied down on the flight deck of U.S.S. Hornet (CV-8). An escorting destroyer, USS Gwin, (DD-433 ), Commander John S. Higgins, U.S.N., commanding, closes on the carrier’s right rear quarter. The sixteen Army bombers used all the space available on Hornet’s flight deck.(U.S. Navy)

The aircraft carrier’s primary armament was its air wing, consisting of a squadron each of Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters, Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers and Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bombers. For the Halsey-Doolittle Raid, Hornet‘s air wing was stored on the hangar deck and unavailable.

“To make room for the Army bombers, Hornet had struck her own planes below. Wildcats and Devastators, with wings folded, and dismantled SBDs were packed into every available space, even hung from the overhead. So, except for her few guns, the carrier was defenseless until she rendezvoused with Task Force 16. . . .”

History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume III, The Rising Sun in the Pacific, by Samuel Eliot Morison, Little, Brown & Company, Boston, 1988, Chapter XX at Page 392.

For defense, the ship was lightly armored, with 2.5–4 inches (6.35–10.2 centimeters) of belt and deck armor. She also carried eight 5-inch, 38-caliber (5″/38) dual-purpose guns in single mounts, thirty 20mm Oerlikon autocannon, twenty water-cooled 1.1-inch, 75-caliber (1.1″/75) guns in four-gun mounts, and twenty-four Browning .50-caliber (12.7 millimeter) machine guns.

Including the ship’s air wing, the complement was 2,919 men.

USS Hornet fought at the Battle of Midway, June 3–7, 1942. She was sunk at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, 26 October 1942, having been hit by two airplanes, 8 bombs, 16 torpedoes and an unknown number of 5-inch shells.¹

USS Hornet (CV-8) at Peral Harbor, Hawaii, following the Halsey-Doolittle Raid, 1942. The ships is painted in Measure 12 (Modified) camouflage, with Sea Blue 5-s, Ocean Gray 5-O and Haze Gray 5-H coloration.
USS Hornet (CV-8) at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, following the Halsey-Doolittle Raid, 1942. The ship is painted in Measure 12 (Modified) camouflage with splotches, with Navy Blue 5-N, Sea Blue 5-S, Ocean Gray 5-O and Haze Gray 5-H coloration.

¹ The research vessel R/V Petrel located the wreck of USS Hornet on the sea floor in January 2019. The ship lies at a depth of 5,330 meters (17,487 feet).

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 March 1942

North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell 40-2291 at Eglin Field, Florida, March 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

27 March 1942: After three weeks of intensive training at Eglin Field, Florida, twenty-two North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell twin-engine medium bombers of the 34th Bombardment Squadron (Medium), 17th Bombardment Group (Medium), U.S. Army Air Force, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Harold Doolittle, completed a two-day, low-level, transcontinental flight, and arrived at the Sacramento Air Depot, McClellan Field, California, for final modifications, repairs and maintenance before an upcoming secret mission: The Halsey-Doolittle Raid.

The B-25 had made its first flight 19 October 1940 with test pilot Vance Breese and engineer Roy Ferren in the cockpit. It was a mid-wing airplane with twin vertical tails and retractable tricycle landing gear. The first 8–10 production airplanes were built with a constant dihedral wing. Testing at Wright Field showed that the airplane had a slight tendency to “Dutch roll” so all B-25s after those were built with a “cranked” wing, using dihedral for the inner wing and anhedral in the wing outboard of the engines. This gave it the bomber’s characteristic “gull wing” appearance. The two vertical stabilizers were also increased in size.

A 34th Bombardment Squadron B-25B Mitchell bomber at Mid-Continent Airlines, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for modifications, January–February 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-25B Mitchell was operated by a crew of five: two pilots, a navigator, bombardier and radio operator/gunner.  It was 53 feet, 0 inch (16.154 meters) long with a wingspan of 67 feet, 7.7 inches (20.617 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 9 inches (4.801 meters). The The B-25B had an empty weight of 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms) and the maximum gross weight was 28,460 pounds (12,909 kilograms).

The B-25B was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 2,603.737-cubic-inch-displacement (42.668 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 14 GR2600B665 (R-2600-9) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.9:1. The engines had a Normal Power rating of 1,500 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 1,700 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 100-octane gasoline. These engines (also commonly called “Twin Cyclone”) drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic variable-pitch propellers through 16:9 gear reduction. The R-2600-9 was 5 feet, 3.1 inches (1.603 meters) long and 4 feet, 6.26 inches (1.378 meters) in diameter. It weighed 1,980 pounds (898 kilograms).

“On a low level training mission early in 1942 B-25 40-2297 would be airplane number 14 for the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo — This image was taken before the modification to the troublesome ventral turret. Pilot Major J.A. Hilger, Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Jack A. Sims, Navigator 2nd Lt. James H. Macie, Jr., Bombardier S/Sgt. Jacob Eierman, Engineer/Gunner S/Sgt. Edwin V. Bain” —HISTORYNET

The medium bomber had a maximum speed of 322 miles per hour (518 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and a service ceiling of 30,000 feet (9,144 meters).

It could carry a 3,000 pound (1,361 kilograms) bomb load 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers). Defensive armament consisted of a single Browning M2 .30-caliber machine gun mounted in the nose, two Browning M2 .50-caliber machine guns in a power dorsal turret, and two more .50s in a retractable ventral turret. (The lower turrets were removed from all of the Doolittle B-25s.)

North American Aviation, Inc., built 9,816 B-25s at Inglewood, California, and Kansas City, Kansas. 120 of these were B-25Bs.

North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bombers being assembled at the Kansas City bomber plant, October 1942. (Alfred T. Palmer, Office of War Information)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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