B-25 STRAFER FIELD MODIFICATIONS
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The decision had been reached by Lt. Gen. George Kenney of the 5th Air force that the bombing and strafing in the various island Campaigns in the South West Pacific Area simply had to be intensified. The B-25 medium bomber was chosen to be modified by the addition of four 50-calibers. This would turn the B-25 Mitchell bomber into a lethal strafing machine.
While the strafer modifications were carried out on a very large number of B-25's they were not the first aircraft in the SWPA to use the strafer nose gun package. This was attributed to the 89th Bomb Squadron, of the 3rd Bomb Group with their A-20's at the end of August 1942. The modifications were devised by "Pappy" Gunn. They were first used in a co-ordinated raid with B-26 Maruaders of the 22nd Bomb Group against Lae on 31st August 1942. This was the first use of such Field Modifications in the SWPA (or anywhere else) for low-level strafer attack tactics.
Lt. Gen. George Kenney visited the 3rd Bomb Group at Charters Towers shortly after he took command of the Allied Air Forces in the South West Pacific Area (SWPA). While there, he saw "Pappy" Gunn working on the A-20 Field Modifications. He was very impressed with the innovation shown by "Pappy" and the 3rd Bomb Group. Kenney suggested that they should also modify the bomb racks on the A-20 Havoc so they could carry the small defragmentation bombs that Kenney himself had developed. "Pappy" Gunn advised Kenney that similar Field Modifications should be developed for the B-25's. Kenney was so impressed with the modifications that he told "Big Jim" Davies, the CO of the 3rd Bomb Group, that he was reassigning Gunn to work under him on his staff. "Pappy" Gunn moved to Eagle Farm where his initial task was to go through a pile of 170 wrecked fighter aircraft and get as many flying as possible. Within a short period of time Gunn, assisted by Sergeant Evans and the rest of his team had more than 100 fighters serviceable.
The strafer modification to the B-25's began at Eagle Farm airfield in Brisbane in about Nov/Dec 1942. The entire 90th Bomb Squadron, of the 3rd Bomb Group was in operation with strafer B-25's by the beginning of February 1943.
B-25 strafers of the 90th Bomb Squadron of the 3rd Bomb Group were first put to the test during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea on 3 March 1943, and decisively proved the strafer B-25 concept, sinking or badly damaging several of the 12 ships sunk in that Japanese convoy. Probably around 150 B-25's had been modified to strafers by September 1943, including:-
|3rd Bomb Group||8th Bomb Squadron
13th Bomb Squadron
90th Bomb Squadron
|38th Bomb Group||71st Bomb Squadron
405th Bomb Squadron
|345th Bomb Group||498th Bomb Squadron
499th Bomb Squadron
500th Bomb Squadron
501st Bomb Squadron
The program was moved to Townsville from Brisbane, after the initial modifications were worked out at Eagle Farm and many planes had completed modification there. Planes going south from New Guinea for modification were still going to Brisbane in April 1943. The entire 345th Bomb Group (over 60 B-25's) were converted to strafers by the Air Depot Groups based at Depot #2 at Mount Louisa in Townsville during August 1943.
The first strafer-modified B-25 was B-25C #41-12946, nicknamed "Margaret", which arrived at Charters Towers, Queensland, on 8 December 1942, assigned to the 90th Bomb Squadron, of the 3rd Bomb Group.
B-25C Mitchell, #41-12946, "Margaret" in a hangar at Garbutt airfield, Base Depot Number 4.
B-25C Mitchell, "Margaret" (see above) was converted to a low level "Strafer" in the B-25 Conversion centre in Townsville. Eight forward-firing Browning machine guns were fitted to the aircraft. Four in the nose were positioned through the original bomb aiming panel making air-sealing easier.
The standard B-25 came equipped with flexible 50 and 30 cal. Machine Guns in the plexiglas nose compartment (fired by the bombardier), and some had a single fixed .30 calibre firing forward, in addition to the flexible guns.
A few strafer B-25's modified at Brisbane during April-May 1943, carried, in addition to the 50 calibre four gun nose battery, a single fixed 20 mm cannon in the forward firing position at about the 4 o'clock position as you look at a strafer nose. They were not very effective due to the problem of syncronizing their firing trajectory with the nose guns, and other problems, and were soon removed and the position faired over. In addition to the nose gun installation, all C & D strafers were fitted with two additional 50 calibre machine guns (two on each side, total of four) fitted in separate side package housings on each side of the lower fuselage, below the cockpit. This gave a total forward firing armament barrage of 8 x 50 cal Machine Guns, plus, on a few aircraft, one 20mm cannon.
The top turret (2 x 50 cal) could also be swivelled forward to augment this fire power, but was not controlled from the cockpit as were the other guns.
The low level skip bombing role used by the strafer B-25s was initially developed during shipping attacks by the B-17's of the 63rd Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group late in 1942.
I would like to thank Larry Hickey of World War II Air Wars - International Research and Publishing for providing me most of the above information.
Peter Dunn 2002
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This page first produced 31 July 2000
This page last updated 02 April 2002