H-K Models 1/32 B-25J Mitchell

KIT #: 01E1
PRICE: $170.00 SRP
DECALS: One option
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES: Modified to PBJ-1J


             What became the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber originated in a 1938 Army Air Corps proposal for a twin-engine medium bomber.  The February 1938 proposal from North American aviation was accepted and followed by the production of the NA-40 prototype, which barely resembled what became the B-25.

             The B-25 is generally considered the best all-around light-medium bomber of the Second World War.  An efficient yet docile-handling aircraft with good handling characteristics, it was one of the most popular aircraft among the aircrews of the several Allied nations that operated the type.  9,816 B-25s were produced, making the Mitchell the most-produced American twin-engine bomber.  While the USAAF never had more than 2,656 B-25s in service due to the fact the aircraft was operated by the RAF, the Soviet Air Force, and several other Allied air forces, it made its mark on every front of the war world-wide.

             With the loss of the NA-40 prototype during tests in 1939, North American suggested that the meager test reports and the suggestions of the Air Corps as a result indicated a better aircraft could result from a redesign.  The resulting NA-62, appearing in 1940, became the B-25. 

             The first unit to operate the B-25 was the 17th Bombardment Group, which re-equipped with the combat-capable B-25B in 1941.  On December 24, 1941, a B-25 from the 17th BG became the first American twin-engine bomber to sink a Japanese submarine.

            B-25s were operated during 1942 on coastal anti-submarine patrols by the USAAF.  In late 1942, the Air Force and the Navy came to an agreement in which the Navy would assume the responsibility for anti-submarine patrols in return for the Air Force dropping its opposition to the Navy operating B-24 and B-25 land-based bombers, which would be used for such patrols; with this “nose inside the tent,” the Navy went on to operate the B-24 as the PB4Y-1 and the B-25 as the PBJ-1.

             The most widely-produced sub-type was the B-25J, with 4,318 being produced at the North American Kansas City plant.  Appearing in the summer of 1943, the B-25J remained in production for the rest of the war.  Known as the PBJ-1J, it equipped Marine Corps bombing squadrons operating in the Central and South Pacific commencing in late 1944. 

VMB-611 - the Seahorses:

            One of six Marine Bombing Squadrons established after the Navy obtained control of B-25/PBJ aircraft, VMB 611 was commissioned on October 1, 1943 at Cherry Point, North Carolina, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George A. Sarles, an outstanding leader who had seen combat flying the SBD Dauntless at Guadalcanal in 1942.  Originally equipped with the PBJ-1D (Navy version of the B-25D), the squadron trained on the US est coast until August 5, 1944, when they commenced a move to the western Pacific.  This move would become an epic of human survival in the face of bureaucratic incompetence unlike any experienced by any other American unit during the entire war.

            Half the aircrew flew the 14 PBJ-1Ds to San Diego, where they were put aboard the escort carrier USS Manila Bay (CVE-68) for transport to Hawaii.  Once there, they moved to MCAS Ewa.

            The ground echelon and the other half of the aircrews went aboard the SS Zoella Lykes on September 26, 1944, at Port Hueneme, California, bound for Hawaii for further transport to the western Pacific to meet up with their air echelon and take part in the invasion of Yap.  A change of orders that the ship did not receive directed them to head for Emirau Island to meet up with the air echelon to participate in invasion of Leyte.  Instead, the Zoella Lykes continued to Hawaii, where - without orders - the captain attached his ship to a convoy headed for Ulithi, with the ship thus dropping into a bureaucratic black hole.

            The air detachment, who never knew the rest of the squadron was sitting in Pearl Harbor while they operated from MCAS Ewa, departed Hawaii on October 27 for an island-hopping trip to Emirau, where they arrived on Octoer 27, 1944.  With ground and maintenance support from the other two Marine Bombing Squadrons - VMB 413 and 423 - with the aircrews forced to fuel and service their own aircraft while Colonel Sarles kept up the search for his missing aircrew and ground echelon. 

            Zoella Lykes had arrived at Ulithi on November 5, 1944, and rode at anchor in a remote part of the harbot where the squadron personnel were able to watch Task Force 38 come and go while food ran out and they were forced to escape from the ship and steal supplies ashore.  Eventually, Sarles discovered the Zoella Lykes was still at Ulithi.  On December 24, 1944, Sarles led his aircraft on a liberation mission to Falalop island in Ulithi.  Unfortunately, only the air echelon could be taken.  With eleven men crammed into each PBJ, the aircraft began their takeoffs from the 3,200 foot field on Falalap with the tail hanging over the water at one end of the runway; they used every inch to get off before going into the sea at the other end of the runway, retracting their gear with the props throwing up water spray as they flew low over the harbor to make their getaway.

            The Zoella Lykes continued its bizarre voyage with the ground echelon still aboard, finally directed to join a convoy headed for the Philippines in mid-January 19145.  The ship arrived at Lingayen Gulf in Northern Luzon on February 7, 1945.  Because of the lack of orders, the VMB 611 ground personnel did not leave the ship until  February 24, when it was discovered the squadron was to be transferred to Mindoro at the other end of the Philippine Archipelago.  Going aboard two LSTs, they made their way to Mindoro, where they arrived on March 7, to discover the squadron was to be based at Zamboanga, Mindanao, where they finally disembarked on March 17, 1945, after a hellish trans-Pacific voyage lasting nearly six months.

            Colonel Sarles led his squadron, by now equipped with new PBJ-1J bombers, to Zamboanga and the unit was reunited on March 30, 1945.     

             VMB-611 flew their first Philippine combat mission on April 5, 1945, with six PBJs taking off to attack the Del Monte airfield.  Lieutenant Robert F. Jardes remembered the mission thus:

             “We dropped on the deck as we approached Del Monte and in the finest traditions of aerial attack we came at the target out of the rising sun. I saw a truck barreling down the road to the airfield.  Each airplane test-fired their nine forward-firing guns against this truck with a few hundred rounds of .50 caliber, and when I flew over it as number six, it was burning fiercely.  Over the field we spotted a white truck parked in the middle of the runway.  Flying low down the runway I spotted the fact it had no tires and was sitting on logs, a set-up for hidden anti-aircraft guns, and warned the others.  We proceeded to shoot up everything else on the field, leaving the white truck untouched.  Finally a bullet entered my open window and exited through the windshield, convincing me the Japs had the range and it was time to depart.  When we returned to Zamboanga, we discovered all six airplanes had been holed multiple times, with one taking a hit in the starboard fin from a 90mm shell. Colonel Sarles questioned us about what we’d accomplished in return for this damage.  After a long moment while we tried to remember what exactly had happened, one gunner spoke up. ‘Well, sir, we got this one truck for sure.’”

             Over a period of two months while Mindanao was secured, VMB-611 put in a stirring performance in supporting operations, striking shipping and other Japanese bases in the region to isolate Japanese forces still fighting on the island.

             All was not fighting.  In May 1945, the famous night club comic Joe E. Brown visited for several days, and went on a flight with Colonel Sarles and his crew.  Brown had been tireless throughout the war in traveling anywhere to entertain flyers, following the death of his son in a flight training accident in 1941.

             Colonel Sarles was killed on May 30, 1945, when his aircraft hit the ground in a low-level strafing attack.  For the men of VMB-611, his replacement, a man remembered by the originals of VMB-611 to this day as “Major A$$hole”, failed to fill the Colonel’s shoes and morale suffered as a result (at the one squadron reunion he attended in the 1970s, his reception was so cold the man beat a retreat after less than 30 minutes). In the two months left of the war, those originals not transferred put their efforts into surviving the poor leadership of men trying to get their “ticket punched” for postwar promotion, at the cost of many dead due to what was seen by the combat crews as incompetence.

 Perhaps the strangest mission was that flown on August 10, 1945, five days before the end. Japanese Lieutenant Minoru Wada of the 100th Division had been captured, and volunteered to lead the squadron to the division headquarters.  Put aboard a PBJ, the Lieutenant, a graduate of the Japanese Army Military Academy, was as good as his word and the jungle headquarters was destroyed.

             When the end of the war was announced, two of the few surviving original pilots still with the squadron - Captain Jardes and his co-pilot Lieutenant LeMasters - went to the officers mess and bought every bottle of whiskey they could, returning later to steal more.  They took their treasure to the enlisted ground crews and made sure the men finally had their only party since leaving Hawaii on the Zoella Lykes.  As Jardes put it, “I had a special affection for the mechanics, who had the hardest, dirtiest and most important job of all.  If the guns don’t work, you pull off and go home; if the bombs don’t drop, you turn around and go home.  But if the fans don’t turn, you don’t go anywhere.”

             VMB-611 returned to San Diego in October 1945 and was disbanded, ending the Marines’ association with the PBJ, which every man who flew them felt were the best airplanes they’d ever flown.


            The main difference between this production kit and the test shot reviewed earlier is that the parts are numbered on the sprues, and a very useful and logical set of instructions are included, which make the project much easier than my first guessing game with these excellent kits.

            Decals for one airplane are included, which are not up to the quality of the rest of the kit.  I have been told the company plans some later releases of this kit with better decals from sources all will applaud when they see them.  There are also photoetch seat belts provided; these are not that good, but once on the seat and inside the canopy, they are more than adequate for the purpose.


             As stated above, having a good set of instructions and numbered parts made this entire project not that much more difficult than building a Monogram B-25.  All parts fit very precisely; if one takes care in assembly, there will be very little seam-filler needed, and that which you will use will be minimal.  The instructions are clear and my only advice in building the kit is to study them and then follow them.  If you do this, all will be fine at the end.

            The B-25 is a notorious tail-sitter as a model.  Terry Dean has scaled up his cast metal weights from the 1/48 kit.  I found using two of these under the cockpit was more than enough to guarantee nose-sitting.  There is plenty of room under the cockpit floor for this, and they will not be seen through the crew access tunnel if you paint the forward end of the weight black.

            I built the kit in four sub-assemblies: fuselage, tail empennage, left and right wings.  For those who worry about where to keep one of these very substantial models once completed, I can suggest that if you leave the model in these four sub-assemblies, with the main gear glued in place in the engine nacelles, you can store the model this way and assemble it for display as necessary.  The wings and tail fit tightly enough to the fuselage that glue is not necessary.  The separate gun barrels can be kept in a small plastic bag and inserted in position as needed.  If you trim the brace for the nose gear so it can go into the opening, you can leave off the nose gear and only attach it when displaying it.  The top turret can be kept separate and installed when displayed without problem.  The props can be attached without problem when setting the model up for display and can be removed for safe storage.  In fact, this review model is displayed in the photos here assembled in this manner.  Once it goes to Planes of Fame for display in a few months, it will be glued together for permanence (and the gun barrels won’t be at strange angles).

            One thing I found necessary to be able to do this is to narrow the tabs above and below the wing attachment tabs on the fuselage, so the wing can slide back into position for display without having to use so much force one would risk injury to the model doing this more than once.  

            I used rockets from a Trumpeter P-47 kit, with the launch racks done with Evergreen strip.  The wingtip radome was done using a 75-gallon drop tank from the same Trumpeter spares.  This is not quite right in outline, but it is “close enough” for display at Planes of Fame.  I am sure some enterprising after-market company will come up with a properly-shaped radome in the future for those who want to do the seagoing Mitchell.

            The engines are the proverbial “models in themselves” and if one wanted to add just a bit of additional small detail, and leave the cowlings open, this would look very good.  The bomb bay is also highly detailed and I am sure most modelers will build this kit and display it with the bomb doors open.  I closed things up for display out at Chino, to avoid future breakage.


             I preshaded the model first.  The model was then painted in the Navy tri-color scheme using Tamiya “Flat White,” “Medium Blue” and “Sea Blue,” with the Sea Blue “faded” using Tamiya “Field Blue” and then white, while the Medium Blue was lightened with white to simulate tropical sun fading.

             I used the kit decals for the national insignia, and found the letters for “MB-17" in the decal dungeon.

             I attached the main gear, and attached the nose wheel to the nosewheel leg. The model will be weathered with exhaust stains and “dings” before it goes on display.


             Having now had the opportunity to do two of these excellent kits, I can say that in my opinion, this is the best B-25 Mitchell model available in any scale.  For those who want a different look for their kit, aftermarket decals are now available from at least two decal designers and more are likely on the way. While this kit is a complex model, it is not complicated, and is well within the skill level of any moderately-experienced modeler who wants to take the time to assemble it.  For those who worry about cost, consider that it would be very easy to spend several months detailing what is provided here, with the ultimate result of creating a show-stopper.  Considering the fun of such a project, the price spread over that time becomes quite reasonable.  For those who complain that there is no “internet discount,” consider that the price structure from Pacific Coast Models and the other distributors in other countries allows your Local Hobby Shop to order the kit and stock it; your “discount” of this kit should you choose to “support your local hobby shop” is the not-inconsiderable shipping price you won’t be paying had you ordered  online.  For what is in the box, $170 is cheap and demanding a lower price is to ask for something to be sold for less than the cost of production, which isn’t going to happen.  The kit is highly recommended to those who love the B-25 Mitchell.


Tom Cleaver

March 2012

Review kit courtesy of H-K Models.  Order yours in North America from Pacific Coast Models: http://www.pacmodel.com

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