North American B.25J Mitchell (44-29507)  [@ RAF Duxford]

One of the most important US warplanes of World War II, the North American B.25 was designed as a tactical bomber, but found a valuable second role as a potent anti-shipping aircraft in the Pacific Theatre. The prototype, bearing the company designation NA-40, flew for the first time in January 1939, and the first batch of production B.25s was delivered from February 1941, further deliveries comprising 40 B.25As and 120 B.25Bs, the former with self-sealing tanks and the latter with dorsal and ventral turrets but no tail gun position. On the 16th April 1942, the Mitchell leapt into the headlines when the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, from a position at sea 1075 km (668 miles) from Tokyo, launched 16 B.25Bs of the 17th AAF Air Group, led by Lt Col J.H. Doolittle, for the first attack on the Japanese homeland.

North American B.25J Mitchell (44-29507)  [@ RAF Duxford]

Built in 1944, 44-29507 is one of the few B.25s to remain operational in Europe. The active military period of 44-29507 was from 1944 to 1958 with the USAAF Administrative Units as transport and support aircraft of the Air University Wing. It joined the US civil register in 1959 as N3698G and enjoyed a checkered civil career, with several owners, mainly in cargo transportation. Amongst them were a tropical fisheries company and a skydiving operator. Records indicate that not all operations might have been legal. It was flown to the Netherlands in 1990 to be restored into a immaculate example. The paint scheme shown in the photograph and the registration N320SQ being arranged to honour the former RAF (Dutch) 320th Squadron that operated the Mitchell in WWII.

The B.25B was followed into service by the virtually identical B.25C, 1619 of which were built at North Americanís Inglewood plant, and B.25D, with up-rated engines, an autopilot, external hard-points for one 907 kg (2000 1b) torpedo or eight 113 kg (250 1b) bombs, provision for forward-firing machine guns in packs attached to the sides of the forward fuselage and, in later aircraft, increased fuel capacity. North Americanís Kansas City factory produced 2290 B.25Ds. The two variants were used in most theatres of war, and 533 B.25C/D aircraft were delivered to the RAF as Mitchell II to supplement an earlier delivery of 23 Mitchell I (B.25B) aircraft. Eight squadrons of the RAFís 2 Group, including two Dutch and one Free French, used the Mitchell. The dedicated anti-shipping version of the Mitchell was the B.25G, 405 of which (including five B.25C conversions) were produced.

North American B.25J Mitchell (44-31171)  [@ RAF Duxford]

44-31171 is the ex-cameraship N7614C. Flown to England in 1970 to film a BOAC commercial it was derelict at Shoreham. Rescued by the Imperial War Museum it arrived at Duxford in 1976 and restored for display as a US Marine Corps PBJ-1H.

Developed for use in the Pacific Theatre, the B.25G had a four-man crew and was fitted with a 75 mm (2.95 in) M4 gun in the nose, adding to its already powerful nose armament of four 12.7 mm (0.50 in) guns. The follow-on variant, the B.25H (1000 built) had a lighter 75 mm (2.95 in) gun, eight 12.7 mm (0.50 in) fixed forward-firing machine guns, six 12.7 mm (0.50 in) machine guns (two each in the dorsal and tail positions and one in each of the two new beam positions), and provision for eight 127 mm (5 in) rockets under the wings. The 4318 examples of the next variant, the B.25J featured either a glazed B.25D nose or, in later aircraft, a Ďsolidí nose with eight 12.7 mm (0.50 in) machine guns. The RAF took delivery of 313 B.25Js as the Mitchell III, and 458 B.25Js were transferred to the US Navy from 1943, these aircraft being designated PBJ-1H. They were used primarily by the US Marine Corps, taking part in many air attacks on stubborn Japanese targets such as Rabaul, which held out until the end of the war. The Soviet Union also took delivery of 862 Mitchells under Lend-Lease. Total production of all Mitchell variants was 9816 aircraft. Surplus B.25s were widely exported after WW2 and the type continued to serve for many years.