With a frantic effort, transportation was found for 10 mechanics and their baggage on a C-47. The rest of the material and our crew had to fit into that B-25. When the last tool box was squeezed on board, the tail of the aircraft started down as the nose wheel lifted from the parking ramp. The crew was certain the plane could not get off the ground with that load, particularly since because of runway repair the last 1,000 feet was unavailable. We were again reminded everything HAD to go and that "Pappy" often flew with a tail heavy aircraft--just loaded the back end while engines were running which kept the tail from going down. We were also informed EVERYONE used the shortened runway with heavily laden air-craft, and as we had a wind in our favor, no problem!
As I taxied out for take-off, the airplane seemed heavy, the runway extremely short and my position in life most perilous. On the bright side, here was a chance to emulate Jimmy Doolittle's aircraft carrier takeoff. With full throttle, flaps up and cowl flap cracked open a little, I released the brakes for a "Tokyo Raid take-off"--but we didn't fly off the runway as expected--we just rolled along. I called for flaps as we approached the break in the runway and pulled the airplane into the air to avoid the broken spot; however, the plane settled back down on the runway and it took the last 1,000 feet to get airborne again and we slowly gained altitude. At Pappy Gunn's insistence, we pulled a "hot pilot" stunt and had lived through it.
Stories about Gunn were legion. He liked to work on airplanes, often as boss mechanic on a repair or modification job. Having broken his right little finger, he had it set at the hospital with a splint. The splint got in the way as he worked on an engine, so he removed it. The finger healed crooked and bothered Gunn's holding the throttle of an airplane or a wrench or putting his hand in his pocket. He had the finger re-broke and reset, again with a splint--and again it proved so troublesome, he removed it. Back at the hospital he asked that the finger be removed. The staff agreed to fix the finger but would not amputate, whereupon Gunn reportedly cut it off with a pocket knife and had the hospital tidy up. (Legend?--perhaps--but the finger WAS missing.)
Gunn's contributions to the war effort were exceptional. It was he who installed 4 forward firing 50-caliber guns in the nose plus 2 in packets on each side. He also tried 30 water cooled 30's in the bomb bay pointed down to strafe troops in slit trenchs, vibration loosed the skin around the bomb bay dictating abandonment. The first package guns were belt fed from racks inside, barrell ends behind the props. Test fire peeled skin from the fuselage around the guns, the under wing and inner portion of the engine nacell--Gunn corrected that by extending blast tubes beyond the props. First used in the Bismarck Sea , it was a spectacular sucess. Half of the B-25s used as low level bombers, (first called "masthead" later, "skip' bombing) were modified with 8 forward firing .50 caliber guns, but the 38th planes had only one flexable gun in the nose (navigator manned), and a few with a 50 cal pilot- fired. With such a limited armament, the B-25s followed Aussie Beaufighters for strafing pass protection on their bomb runs.
The strafing configuration made the B-25 a most formidable weapon giving it a new lease on life despite it's relative short range. Again Gunn came to the fore-since25s were now low level strafers/bombers, he reasoned they did not need a lower turret. It was removed and a large steel fuel tank was hung from a bomb shackle fixed to the ceiling. The main tanks were refilled from this auxillary source and that tank jettisoned just before reaching the target area. This made possible the Wewak raids in mid-March "44, breaking the back of the Jap air force in New Guinea--they had not anticipated B-25s could reach Wewak and most of their planes were caught on the ground. The system was messy with fumes permeating the fuselage as the tank tore away from the hose fittings, and it was breezy with an open hole in the floor, but it was a spectacular sucess, as witnessed by Gunn installed cameras in B-25 tails, turned on by the pilot after dropping his bombs, resulting in some of the war's most dramatic strike photos.
As a strafer with 500 rounds of ammo per gun in the nose, the center of gravity shifted forward. Gunn reportedly received a wire from Wright Field stating the modification was dangerous and the planes should be grounded. Legend has it Pappy wired back, "Put center of gravity in storage for the duration--we have a war to fight" However some precautions were necessary including keeping the nose wheel on the runway to 120 MPH instead of the usual 80 or 90, and making turns at 170 instead of 120.
Gunn was the first to put the 75 MM in the nose of a B-25. He flew the modified cannon on a raid with the 3rd, his old Group and hit the fire control unit of a Jap destroyer which required it's guns to be controlled individually and ineffectively. The ship was then sunk with a 1000 pound bomb altho Gunn insisted in all official proclamations that he had sunk it with an airborne 75MM. In any case, the incident sold the army on developing the B-25G.
A special purpose weapon, the G was particularly effective against small boats, barge traffic, buildings and fuel depots. Even with an inexperienced navigator as a loader, 3 or 4 rounds could consistantly be put in an 8' circle during a 4000 yard run, altho the manual loading in a rocking airplane was not an enviable task. ( On a test with an army ordinance specialist, Grover got nine shots away on a simulated run emphasizing how crucial was loader ability.)
When Pappy put a 75 in a P-38, his test pilots all disappeared . However he test fired it on the ground and found the P-38 could not take the recoil--even B-25s lost 5 mile per hour momentarily when the gun was fired and an a crew member with his arm on an open side window ledge would have arm hair singed.
The B-25G's capacity as a strafer was more limited than other models since it had to fire at a greater distance from the target . In a strafing run, the regular strafer presented a 3-dimensional target until the nose was pointed at the target when it could out shoot the target with it's huge gun cluster. With a 75Mm, with in range to start firing at a destroyer, the destroyer had more guns than the attacker. As a special purpose weapon, the G could not serve general strafer purposes as could B-25cs and D'.
B-25 strafers destroyed sea traffic, stopped barge traffic and destroyed a large segment of the Japanese Air Force on the ground during the battle for New Guinea--a "loser" that turned into a great success thanks to Pappy Gunn's ingenuity and the diligence of the crews and support echelons.