The North American B-25 Mitchell is a medium bomber that served in World War II. This powerful twin-engine and twin-tailed aircraft was used by all three major branches of the United States armed forces. Through lend-lease, it was also used by Allied nations and served in all theaters of the conflict. It is the only U.S. military aircraft to ever be named after an individual, air power advocate and U.S. Army General Billy Mitchell.
In March of 1939, the United States Army Air Corps put out the call to aircraft companies for a medium bomber that was able to carry a bomb load of 2,400 pounds for 1,200 miles at a speed of 300 mph. North American delivered a prototype that was designated NA-62. The Air Corps was impressed with the aircraft’s performance and immediately ordered the aircraft, now redesignated B-25, into full production with no test articles.
When the U.S. entered the war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, morale at home was exceedingly low. Many Americans simply didn’t believe that our nation was up to fighting a war with Germany and Japan. The first B-25s became combat-ready in early 1942, just in time to be a key element of a daring plan. The idea was to load 16 of the large, land-based bombers onto the deck of the USS Hornet aircraft carrier and sail as close as they could safely get to Japan. Then, when the time was right, the bombers would launch off of the carrier and bomb Tokyo as well as military installations in the area. The mission was led by famous aviator James H. Doolittle, and he picked the B-25 for the raid. On April 18, 1942, the U.S. task force was spotted by the enemy, forcing Doolittle to launch the bombers ahead of schedule. The odds were against them, but the 16 bombers roared down the deck toward history. The airplanes hit their targets and most ditched off of the coast of China after the raid. Back home in the U.S., morale soared. With one daring mission, Doolittle’s Raiders had lifted the spirits of the entire country.
B-25s were produced at North American’s Kansas City plant as well as the Inglewood plant in California. During this time, North American was the only company to produce bombers, fighters, and trainers all at the same time. This meant that North American ultimately produced more aircraft than any other company during the war.
As the war continued, most of the B-25s were used in the Pacific theater, seeing action in nearly all major battles. The aircraft’s capabilities as a ground attack aircraft were used heavily in the Pacific with groups such as the famous 345th Bomb Group, the “Air Apaches.”
North American eventually produced heavily armed, cannon-nosed G and H models, as well as variants for the Navy and Marines known as the PBJ.
When Japanese forces flew to sign the surrender of the war, the B-25 was selected to escort them. By war’s end, nearly 10,000 B-25s were built.
After the war, the Mitchell continued to serve in roles in the peacetime Air Force as personal transports and training aircraft. The last B-25 was retired from service in May 1960.
In civilian hands, the B-25 would see limited use as an executive transport as well as more extensive use as a fire bomber.