KCK's B-25 Mitchell Plant

The images and narrative information were provided by the Wyandotte County Historical Museum.
About the B-25 | Meet NEWT | The Doolittle Raid | News Coverage |
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NAA Kansas Plant

About the B-25

Overview of the B-25

The twin-engine and twin-tailed B-25 Mitchell was a highly successful medium-class bomber during World War II. They were first ordered into production in September 1939 by North American Aviation (NAA) out of Inglewood, California. From August 1940 until production ended on the B-25 bomber in August 1945, 9,889 bombers were manufactured, with the local NAA plant in Kansas City, Kansas’s Fairfax district producing 6,608 of the total.

Development of the B-25

In 1939, the US Army Air Corps issued a proposal to find a replacement of the Douglas B-18, a twin engine medium class bomber. Within three months, North American Aviation (NAA) submitted a bid that included 81 different twin-engine medium-class bombardment configurations. NAA was awarded the B-25 type and Martin received the winning bid for the B-26. The release date for engineering drawings to the NAA shop was April 13, 1940 and the initial development of the B-25 required 8,500 design drawings and around 200,000 engineering hours.

The Start and the End in Kansas City

The first B-25 bomber was completed on August 6, 1940. Throughout its 60 months of continuous production, the initial design was modified to perform additional roles. These added duties included an advanced trainer, attack bomber, mapping and photographic reconnaissance, transport, radar, fire control trainer and patrol bomber to hunt submarines. Production of the B-25 ended in Kansas City, Kansas on August 15, 1945 after the Japanese surrendered.

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In a letter addressed to Mr. H. Schwalenberg (factory manager), Mr. A. Blackman of the Production Training Section in the Industrial Relations Department proposed a "Program for employee morale". In this letter he states: "Top management in National Defense plants throughout the country is vitally interested in keeping employee morale at a high pitch in order to meet the increased production demands of total war. This cannot be achieved without a well-organized, carefully planned approach to stimulate employee interest and bring home to him the vital part he is playing in this war."

The program was intended to boost morale as well as express ideas in a fun and playful way. "NEWT will be able to say and do many things that no one from top management could express as effectively". To achieve this concept, NEWT would need to become "one of the boys in the shop". Carved from a block of wood in the plant's wood shop, NEWT was given a lunchbox and an identification card. NEWT's "birthday" was May 8, 1942.

Prior to his arrival, there were teaser posters placed around the plant and office areas every Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. The posters showed Newt working safely, buying war bonds, handling drills and tools properly and others themed to model to the employees. The first was hung on May 29, 1942. He was also a regular in the plant newsletter the "North American Kansan".

Mr. Blackman writes, "By appealing to every employee's sense of patriotism, spirit of competition, and good American sense of humor, much can be accomplished to achieve the height of efficiency in production, which will enable us to say honestly we are do a job." Newt was also given the campaign slogans, “Safer, Faster, Tougher, Bigger” to inspire enthusiasm and produce results. He also represented the NAA values of integrity, pride, patriotism, and teamwork.

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Doolittle Raid & the B-25

April 18, 1942

Doolittle Raid Article

“The Japanese had bombed American territory in a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor. What better response than to bomb the capital of Japan?”

Since January 1942, President Roosevelt had advocated an attack on Japanese land. An attack plan was established using Army Air Force bombers, launched from the deck of a carrier. The Japanese would not expect this type of twin-engine attack. James Doolittle was assigned the mission to bomb Japan, utilizing B25 bombers. Doolittle’s official report read:

“The object of the project was to bomb the industrial centers of Japan. It was hoped that the damage done would be both material and psychological. Material damage was to be the destruction of specific targets with ensuring confusing and retardation of production. The psychological results, it was hoped, would be the recalling of combat equipment from other theaters for home defense, thus effecting relief in those theaters, the development of a fear complex in Japan, improved relationships with our Allies and a favorable reaction on the American people.”

Sixteen B-25s were able to fit on the flight deck of the Hornet and were loaded on April 1, along with 70 officers and 64 enlisted men. By April 17, all bombers were pronounced ready for action and they were headed to the launch point, 400 miles off the Japanese coast.

Fifteen of the aircraft reached China, and the other one landed in the Soviet Union. All but three of the crew survived, but all the aircraft were lost. Eight crewmen were captured by the Japanese Army in China; three of these were executed. The B-25 that landed in the Soviet Union at Vladivostok was confiscated and its crew interned for more than a year. The Doolittle Raid demonstrated that Japan itself was vulnerable to American air attack, served as retaliation for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and provided an important boost to U.S. morale while damaging Japanese morale.

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News Coverage

Find coverage of plant activities below from newspapers and magazines, including front pages of the North Ameri-Kansan, a newspaper specifically for the NAA's Kansas City, Kansas plant workers.

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