Aviation History

The day a B-25 Mitchell WWII medium bomber crashed into the Empire State Building

The B-25 Mitchell

The B-25 Mitchell medium bomber was one of America’s most famous airplanes of World War II. It was the type used by Gen. Jimmy Doolittle for the Tokyo Raid on Apr. 18, 1942.

Subsequently, B-25s saw duty in every combat area being flown by the Dutch, British, Chinese, Russians and Australians in addition to US forces. Although the airplane was originally intended for level bombing from medium altitudes, it was used extensively in the Pacific Theater for bombing Japanese airfields and beach emplacements from treetop level, and for strafing and skip bombing enemy shipping.

Built by North American Aviation, the B-25 first flew on Aug. 19, 1940, and the US Army Air Corps accepted the first five B-25s in February 1941. By the end of the war, North American Aviation had built a total of 9,816 B-25s at its California and Kansas plants.

B-25 Bomber

The B-25 that crashed into the Empire State Building

On Jul. 28, 1945 a B-25 Mitchell of the 457th Bomb Group crashed into the Empire State Building.

The 457th Bomb Group had only been in the States a short while (in fact the unit was deployed at Glatton, UK, for WW II operations over Germany until Jun. 21, 1945) when on Saturday, Jul. 28, Lieutenant Colonel William F. Smith lost his way while flying a B-25 Mitchell bomber from Bedford, Massachusetts to Sioux Falls Army Air Base via Newark Airport. Emerging from low cloud at about 900ft, the 457th pilot found himself among the skyscrapers of downtown Manhattan.

The Empire State Building was enveloped in smoke after it was rammed by a U.S. Army B-25 bomber on Jul. 28, 1945.

As explained by Roger A. Freeman in his book Airfields of the Eighth Then and Now, the aircraft crashed headlong into the 79th floor level of the Empire State Building killing Lieutenant Colonel Smith, two servicemen ‘hitch-hikers’ and eleven office workers.

As the photos in this post show, the B-25 exploded on impact spraying burning fuel into West 34th Street below, one of the engines completely passing through the building and out the other side! On Sep. 28, 1977, New York publishers of a new book on crash (The Sky is Falling), Grosset & Dunlop presented a plaque which can now be seen on the 86th floor, ‘in grateful appreciation to those men and women of the Empire State Building who unselfishly gave their assistance in the crash‘.

The wreckage of the B-25 bomber that crashed into the Empire States Building at the 78th floor in 1945

Photo credit: San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives and Acme Newspictures

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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