August 19th marks the anniversary of the 1940 first flight of the storied B-25 Mitchell bomber. Named for pioneering military aviator General Billy Mitchell, nearly 10,000 of these Warbirds were built. Variations included medium bomber, weather reconnaissance, ground attack, anti-submarine warfare, and VIP transport.
During WWII, Mitchells would see service all over the globe. The skies over Europe, the Middle East, Italy, and the Far East would be darkened by the B-25 thousands and thousands of times. Air Forces that would fly this aircraft would include the U.S Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, British, Canadian, Australian, Dutch, Soviet, Chinese, Brazilian, and Free French.
In the war in Europe, Mitchells supported ground troops from the Battle of El Alamein to D-Day. After the successful landings in Normandy, squadrons of B-25s would be relocated to airfields in France and Belgium to support forces as they fought towards Berlin.
But, this Warbird earned her greatest fame with the daring Doolittle Raid of Tokyo on April 18, 1942. 16 aircraft took off from the pitching and rolling deck of the USS Hornet (CV-8) over 700 miles from the Japanese mainland. They delivered their payloads without loss and then proceeded towards China with hopes of reaching safe territory. Running low on fuel, most of the craft ditched. Some of the crew were killed while others were taken prisoner by the Japanese. All were considered heroes for having taken the war to the Japanese – shattering their invincible self-image. The story of the Doolittle raid was made into the film Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo starring Spencer Tracy, Van Johnson and Robert Mitchum.
Original footage of the 1942 Doolittle Tokyo Air Raid.
Another notable incident in the Mitchell’s history is the 1945 Empire State Building crash. On July 28, 1945, a B-25D on a personnel run from Boston flew into the building in heavy fog. The three crew and 11 others died in the crash. This incident led to the decision to engineer the World Trade Center to withstand the impact of a Boeing 707. Unfortunately, the aircraft that hit the towers on September 11, 2001 had significantly higher masses and were travelling much faster than the 1960’s simulations took into account.
Specifications, history, and details of the Doolittle Raid in this video.
Archive video footage of the Doolittle Raid.