The War Years 1939-1945

North American Aviation ... The "Doolittle Raid"

North American's B-25 Mitchell bomber was named after General Billy Mitchell, who pioneered the U.S. use of air power. It was the first bomber deployed in all World War II combat theaters and the first American bomber to sink Axis submarines.

At dawn, April 18, 1942, 16 B-25s made the first surprise attack on Japan during World War II. Commanded by Col. Jimmy Doolittle, and subsequently known as the "Doolittle Raid," the amazing effort made a significant impact on enemy strategy in the Pacific Theater. Because they might have been spotted prematurely, the B-25s were launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet from a point several hundred miles further from the target than had been planned.

Without enough fuel to make it back to planned recovery fields in China, the B-25s made their strikes nonetheless. Eleven of the crews bailed out, four crash-landed and the remaining B-25 made it to Vladivostok, Russia, where its crew was interned. Throughout 1942 and into 1943, the Mitchells went on to strike enemy targets from Sicily to New Guinea.

North American's marvelous P-51 Mustang fighter evolved from a British need for more P-40 Warhawk fighters. North American's Lee Atwood convinced the British that his company could build a better fighter. As a result, the NA-73X prototype Mustang was built in 177 days and first flew Oct. 26, 1940. The first of the production aircraft reached England in April 1941. Their primary mission, after being married with the Rolls Royce Merlin engine, was to escort bombers deep into Germany, where their efficient aerodynamics allowed them to outclimb the Focke-Wulfs and the Messerschmitts. The Mustang fighters were the first to be used in ground attack operations over occupied Europe.

In addition to their performance capabilities, the Mustangs' long-range escort capability made them one of the the war's most important fighters. By the end of 1943, P-51 Mustang fighters in service had gone from 57 to 1,165, and by the end of June 1945, 5,595 were in battle. After the war, they were redesignated as F-51s and were delegated to the Air National Guard until the onset of the Korean War in 1950, when they were recalled to active duty. A major derivative of the P-51 was the P-82 Twin Mustang, fashioned by splicing a pair of P-51s together, which offered nearly double the range of the P-51D.

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