Key point: Today, the U.S. Air Force operates AC-130 gunships mounting even larger 105-millimeter howitzers intended to fly in slow circles over combat zones, blasting targets below at its leisure.
It's an axiom in military aviation that for all their potential aesthetic appeal, combat aircraft are little more than weapons platforms meant to efficiently deliver deadly payloads on an enemy. However, size and weight constraints have always imposed greater limits on what can be carried by combat aircraft than by ships at sea or vehicles on land.
But for every rule, there is an exception. During World War II, Germany and the United States both experimented with installing 75-millimeter guns usually mounted on tanks on ground-attack aircraft.
The German Hs-129B-3 armored ground attack plane and the speedy Ju-88P-1 bomber both sported long-barreled anti-tank guns for busting Soviet T-34 tanks.
But when the U.S. Army Air Force procured the B-25G Mitchell, it had a very different mission in mind-sinking ships at sea. Japan's sprawling Pacific empire could only be sustained through frequent supply convoys. When the United States set about dismantling Tokyo's network of island bases, it decided it would only seize key islands, and allow the rest to 'rot on the vine' by cutting off their resupply convoys.
While U.S. submarines inflicted the greater share of Japanese shipping losses, airpower could be more rapidly concentrated to hammer large Japanese convoys.
Relatively agile light and medium bombers like the A-20 Havc and B-25 Mitchell played a key role in this often-forgotten campaign. The dapper North American B-25 was particularly well known for its role in delivering a morale-boosting one-way strike on Japan immortalized in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.
But a difficulty with the B-25 was that it remained very difficult to accurately strike ships with unguided gravity bombs or malfunction-prone torpedoes. Some B-25 pilots resorted to skip-bombing-literally tossing bombs across the water into targets as if they were skipping stones.
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