Billy Mitchell’s Bomber; Jimmy Doolit­tle’s Nerve

A P-40 Warhawk that served in Alaska per­forms to­day with the Texas Fly­ing Leg­ends.

Air & Space Smithsonian - - Technically Speaking - —RE­BECCA MAKSEL

SERV­ING IN EV­ERY THEATER of World War II, the North Amer­i­can B-25 Mitchell gave an im­por­tant boost to the spirit of Amer­i­cans at home in the dark days of early1942. In April, after a se­ries of sting­ing set­backs in the Pa­cific— the sur­ren­der of Wake Is­land, de­feat in the bat­tle of the Java Sea, with­drawal from the Philip­pines—lieu­tenant Colonel Jimmy Doolit­tle led 16 B-25s off the USS Hor­net on a bomb­ing raid to Tokyo and four other ci­ties. The raid was Amer­i­can im­pro­vi­sa­tion at its finest—the B-25 wasn’t de­signed to fly from an air­craft car­rier—and so pan­icked the en­emy that the Ja­panese mil­i­tary be­came ob­sessed with the car­rier threat. The ob­ses­sion could have led strate­gists to a later mis­take, at Mid­way.

The B-25’s hall­mark was ver­sa­til­ity. It pro­vided close air sup­port, strafed Ja­panese tanks, de­stroyed bridges in Burma, trans­ported troops, and at­tacked ships. In Eu­rope, the Mitchell op­er­ated as a medium bomber, a class that First Lieu­tenant Robert L. Cun­ning­ham ex­plained in the Feb­ru­ary 1944 is­sue of Pop­u­lar Science: “In a heavy bomber, you fly far above the noise of bat­tle, paste your tar­get, and fight your way home. In the medi­ums, you are part of the bat­tle it­self, of­ten roar­ing in ‘on the deck,’ pulling up sharply, and let­ting go with ev­ery­thing you have, within di­rect range of all an­ti­air­craft weapons on the ground.” The Navy and Ma­rine Corps vari­ant—the PBJ-1 pa­trol bomber—had a search radar. Many flew strikes dur­ing the Iwo Jima in­va­sion.

Not as daz­zling a per­former as the Vought F4U Cor­sair or as fast as a Northrop P-61 night fighter, it was still a fa­vorite of Ma­rine avi­a­tors. In the 2014 book Un­told Valor, avi­a­tor Bob Jardes said, “Pi­lots tend to cat­e­go­rize their birds as women, us­ing such ter­mi­nol­ogy as ‘sweet’ [and] ‘sleek.’ I can only char­ac­ter­ize [the PBJ] as a ‘mother-in-law’—dumpy, de­pend­able, and loud.”

On a 1942 mis­sion, B-25 Mitchells cast shad­ows on the North African desert.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.