The U.S. aircraft carrier “Hornet” was equipped with a special tactical squadron – B25 bombers, which have made outstanding contributions. Historically, the B-25 has also been used as a hefty bomber as the protagonist of the Doolittle raid.
Taking off a guy this big from an aircraft carrier in 1942 was no easy feat, so today, we’re going to tell the story of these B-25 bombers.
In 1939, the U.S. Army Air Force announced the technical specifications for a new type of bomber, requiring the new medium bomber to have a combat radius of 1,900 kilometers, a speed of 480 kilometers per hour, and the ability to carry 1,100 kilograms of bombs.
At that time, North American Airlines developed the NA-40 bomber based on the XB-21 bomber. When the U.S. Army Air Force issued a request for tender, an improved version of the NA-40, the NA-40B, was submitted to the military for evaluation. Finally, based on the military’s feedback, the NA-62 bomber was improved, and this bomber was later the B-25.
In January 942, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, U.S. Navy Captain Francis S. Lott proposed to Admiral Ernest King the idea of releasing Army medium bombers from the carrier’s deck to strike the Japanese mainland.
Admiral King’s staff then described the still-nascent program to Army Air Corps commander Henry Arnold. After listening to the Navy’s ideas, Arnold approved the plan’s implementation and named it the “Special “Air One Plan,” assigning Doolittle to the part of the plan that required the help of the Army Air Force. At the time, the Americans had three bombers, the B-25 and B-26 bombers, and the faster B-23 bomber.
After considering the three bombers’ advantages and disadvantages, the U.S. Navy believed that the B-26 was less maneuverable and the B-23 wingspan Too big to lift on an aircraft carrier’s cramped, so the burden of implementing this top-secret plan fell on the B-25.
On February 1, 1942, the aircraft carrier Hornet, which had just returned to Norfolk Harbor, was received at Berth 7 in Norfolk Harbor by Donald B. Captain Duncan came to speak with Captain Mitchell, the Hornet’s aviation officer, about the airstrikes on the Japanese mainland.
During the meeting, Duncan confirmed to Mitchell that a B-25 was likely to take off from the Hornet’s deck. After getting an affirmative answer, Hornet headed to Virginia the next day with two B-25B bombers.
Flight tests were carried out in the waters near the cape. The two B-25Bs were piloted by Lt. John E. Fitzgerald and Lt. James F. McCarthy of the Army Air Forces. The test flight went very smoothly.
Two B-25Bs took off successfully, one after another. However, to operate confidentially, the Hornet returned to the port immediately after the take-off test, and the two test planes also went to the land airport to land.
On March 3, 1942, the air raid program began in two parallel lines. 140 volunteers from the 17th Bomb Group departed for a three-week training session at Eglin Field in Valparaiso, Florida.
In about just three weeks, these would take off from a 150-meter runway in a fully loaded B-25 while also learning to fly at night, a bomb at low altitudes, and navigate without radio and landmark references—an extremely difficult subject.
The process and results of the Doolittle air raid are familiar to most who love the history of World War II, so finally, let’s talk about some of the lesser-known B-25s in the U.S. Navy.
The Doolittle Raid was not the B-25’s first appearance in the U.S. Navy. When the first B-25 entered the U.S. military in 1941, the U.S. Navy saw the potential of this medium bomber and used it as an anti-submarine patrol aircraft.
In December 1941, a B-25A leaving the Navy sank a Japanese submarine in Puget Sound. According to records, this kill was the “first show” of the U.S. Navy B-25 in World War II.
Furthermore, the Doolittle raid was not the only attempt by the U.S. Navy to take off medium bombers from aircraft carriers during World War II.
As we mentioned earlier, landing a B-25 on an aircraft carrier is a challenging task, especially for the B-25B, which was temporarily modified in the Doolittle Raid that lacked the landing assistance of conventional carrier aircraft.
In November 1944, a B-25H underwent structural modifications, adding gears for the catapult and removing a landing hook from the SBD. This modification allowed the B-25 to be ejected from the deck of an aircraft carrier and landed on a standard within the landing range of the aircraft carrier.
On November 15, 1944, a B-25H conducted a catapult landing test aboard the USS Shangri-La. The test aircraft piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Burtonley was successfully ejected and landed several times during the trial. But considering that in 1944 the U.S. Navy no longer needed to rely on medium-sized bombers such as aircraft carriers to take off and land, this modification also lost its meaning.