Text: Richard Plos
Illustration: Adam Tooby
Cat. No. 7012
The sea surface runs just a few feet below the bomb bay of the Mitchell, whose nose's eight half-inch guns shake the entire aircraft in a long burst that nails the freighter's personnel to the deck. The lead-spewing Mitchell approaches the ship at over 250 mph, the bomb bay opens, the pilot lowers the altitude even more and judges the moment. The bomb must be dropped from such a height and at such a speed that when it hits the water surface it bounces in a skipping manner towards the ship. Now! The bomb is released, hits the surface and after the first bounce it flies just above the sea to the target. A second bounce follows, and then the bomb hits the hull. The explosion engulfs the middle of the ship in fire and smoke as a thunderous shadow sweep over it, making a sharp turn towards the shore. Another round of machine gun fire showers the damaged ship, and just seconds later another bomb, sent by the second Mitchell of the attacking pair, hits the hull. The ship's fate is sealed, and the sailors seek salvation in lifeboats. The cargo destined for the Japanese troops sinks inevitably to the bottom of the sea, and the other ships of the supply convoy, which are attacked by other Mitchells, "fare similarly". This scene was recreated by Adam Tooby on a boxart for the B-25J STRAFER kit. His dramatic painting faithfully depicts a situation typical of Mitchells' attacks on supply convoys.
Destroying ships by bombing proved to be a difficult task during the war. Conventional bombing encountered several problems, from heavy anti-aircraft fire to the difficulty of hitting slender maneuvering targets. Torpedo or dive bombers did not have sufficient range to operate from land bases in such a large operational areas, and there were not enough aircraft carriers to guard all the sea lanes through which supplies flowed to Japanese forces. So as early as 1942, 5th Air Force units under the command of General George C. Kenney began experimenting with what was called "Skip Bombing", i.e., bombing from very low altitudes using the bomb's bouncing off the water's surface. However, the standard B-25D had to be modified for this task. First, the aircraft needed to be equipped with as powerful forward-firing armament as possible to silence the anti-aircraft fire of the vessels. Since no bombardier was needed for this type of bombing, his entire “office” in the nose was used to install machine guns. The main work in this regard was done by Paul Irvin "Pappy" Gunn, a legendary figure whose life story we described in a three-part article in issues 10, 11 and 12/2022. A mechanic, designer and pilot in one, he created an improvised design with four machine guns in the bombardier's compartment, the other four machine guns being placed in housings on the lower part of the fuselage sides. With the Mitchells thus modified, often equipped with internal auxiliary tank as well to increase operational range, the pilots then set out for their targets. After the introduction of the B-25J version, a factory modification of the machine gun version was then created, which had up to 14 forward-firing machine guns.
Among the most prominent bomber groups that switched to this type of attacks, was the 345th Bombardment Group called "Air Apaches". The 499th BS, which adopted the nickname "Bats Outa Hell", was part of its lineup. During the 26 months that the 345th BG fought in the Pacific, its crews made 10,609 attacks and flew 58,562 combat hours. In all, they dropped 58,000 bombs weighing a total of 6,340 tons and expended over twelve and a half million rounds. All this resulted in the sinking of 260 enemy vessels, with 275 more damaged. In addition, the “Apaches” destroyed 260 Japanese aircraft on the ground and shot down another 107 in aerial combat. A Mitchell named Betty's Dream was assigned to this unit in June 1945 and completed 22 missions, during which she claimed two sunken vessels. On August 21, 1945, she then escorted a pair of white Japanese Betty bombers aboard which Japanese peace envoys were traveling to le Shima after the previous surrender in Manila. This aircraft was assignated to pilot 1/Lt Charles "Pop" Rice, Jr., the co-pilot was 2/Lt. Victor Tatelman. Today, the restored 45-8835 Mitchell flies in the "Betty's Dream" livery at the Texas Flying Legends Museum.