Wavetop warfare: Skip-bombing and Big Guns
When the North American NA-62, officially dubbed B-25, first flew in August of 1940, it was less than a roaring success. The UK and France had just chosen the smaller Douglas DB-7 Boston (A-20 Havoc) attack bomber over the North American design. However, in the years leading up to the war, NAA couldn’t know that the airplane they urged the U.S. Army Air Corps to adopt would become a legend among the Allies and a curse to the Axis. Nor could they even begin to imagine the incredibly wide range of roles it would play on history’s aerial stage. In fact, the most memorable image of the B-25 was also the first. Even today, virtually anyone can readily identify the grainy photo of the B-25 in its most unexpected role of carrier-based bomber as Jimmy Doolittle lifts off of the Hornet’s deck en route to Tokyo. Other iconic B-25 images show it skimming across the water, guns hammering Axis ships ahead, leaving a trail of carnage in its wake. Where ever there was need of a highly maneuverable, bomb-laying, gun-toting, versatile multi-engine airplane, the B-25s were there. A plane that handled like a teddy bear and fought like a tiger.
General John K.Cannon’s 12th Tactical Air Force Mitchells played a crucial role in every major campaign in the Mediterranean from March 1942 to August 1944. The bombers flew from Tobruk, Benghazi, and Corsica, the birthplace of Napoleon. The versatile B-25s were the scourge of German forces in Tunisia, Crete, Greece, Yugoslavia, Sicily, Italy and southern France.
Captain Truman Coble, a retired Sears & Roebucks salesman living in Escondido, California, flew 56 missions with the 379th Bomb Squadron, 310th Bomb Group in the Mediterranean Theater. While flying from Tobruk, Libya, and Ghisonaccia, Corsica, Coble and his crew sank three German ships, destroyed dozens of bridges and railroads, and contributed to the eventual Allied victory in Italy and southern France.
“It was always my ambition to fly in the Air Corps,” said the 91-year old former Pennsylvania farm boy, who goes by the name “Bud.” “There was this airfield near our farm near New Cumberland and every day around 3:30, a big plane, I think it was a DC-3, would fly in right over us, maybe 500 feet up. I said, ‘Man, that’s for me.’
I wrangled my way into the Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) program and learned to fly the Piper J-3 Cub. I had about 40 hours in the Cub.”
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Coble joined the Air Corps and was sent to Santa Ana, California, for basic training. In Oxnard he went through Basic Flight Training flying Vultee BT-13 Valiants. Advanced training took place in Laslow, New Mexico, where Coble was in Class 43-D and learned to fly the B-25 and earned his wings in early 1943.
In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Coble was made an instructor, a job he, like most instructors, tolerated with reluctance.
By Mark Carlson