Saturday, October 12, 2013

Torpedo 8

Standing (L-R): Owens, Ensign Fayle, Waldron, R.A. Moore, J.M. Moore, Evans, Teats, Cambell.
Kneeling (L-R): Ellison, Kenyon, Gray, sole survivor Gay, Woodson, Creamer, Miles.*
From Wikipedia:
VT-8's (USS Hornet) first and best-known combat mission came during the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942. Flying the obsolete Douglas TBD Devastators, Commander John C. Waldron's 15 planes were all shot down during their unescorted torpedo attack on Japanese aircraft carriers. The squadron did not destroy any enemy aircraft with their defensive rear .30-caliber machine guns, nor did they damage any of the Japanese carriers.
Torpedo 8 was the first squadron equipped with Grumman's new TBF-1 Avenger, a bigger, faster, longer-ranged replacement for the TBD. When Hornet sailed to the Pacific, a detachment of the squadron under the command of Lt. Harold "Swede" Larson remained in Norfolk, Virginia to receive the first shipment of the new aircraft. Larson's detachment arrived at Pearl Harbor the day after Hornet sailed for Midway. Six of the squadron's Avengers were flown to Midway under the command of Lt. Langdon K. Fieberling to participate in the battle. These planes were the first Navy aircraft to attack the Japanese fleet that day. They attacked without fighter cover, and five of the Avengers were shot down, with only Ensign Albert K. Earnest and CDR (then Radioman 2/c) Harry Ferrier surviving.
VT-8's "T-16" (BuNo 1506, LCDR John C. Waldron,
Horace F. Dobbs CRMP) taking off from Hornet, 4 June 1942.

Grumman TBF-1 Avenger of VT-8

I remember reading about this squadron as a kid. I'm pretty sure I was around 11 or 12 years old. How do I remember how old I was? Probably because the Avalon Hill game Midway had come out in 1964 and my best friend Paul had scored a copy!

Avalon Hill's Midway

Not only did we get to play through the Battle of Midway, but, as I recall, the history of the battle was included in the game. The story of VT-8 touched me deeply. An entire squadron of 15 U.S. Navy aircraft destroyed.

These are the men who paid the ultimate sacrifice that June day, so many years ago.
  • Lt. Commander John C. Waldron
  • Lt. Raymond A. Moore
  • Lt. James C. Owens, Jr.
  • Lt.(jg) George M. Campbell
  • Lt.(jg) John P. Gray
  • Lt.(jg) Jeff D. Woodson
  • Ens. William W. Abercrombie
  • Ens. William W. Creamer
  • Ens. Harold J. Ellison
  • Ens. William R. Evans
  • Ens. Henry R. Kenyon
  • Ens. Ulvert M. Moore
  • Ens. Grant W. Teats
  • Robert B. Miles, Aviation Pilot 1c
  • Horace F. Dobbs, Chief Radioman
  • Amelio Maffei, Radioman 1
  • Tom H. Pettry, Radioman 1
  • Otway D. Creasy, Jr. Radioman 2
  • Ross H. Bibb, Jr., Radioman 2
  • Darwin L. Clark, Radioman 2
  • Ronald J. Fisher, Radioman 2
  • Hollis Martin, Radioman 2
  • Bernerd P. Phelps Radioman 2
  • Aswell L. Picou, Seaman 2
  • Francis S. Polston, Seaman 2
  • Max A. Calkins, Radioman 3
  • George A. Field, Radioman 3
  • Robert K. Huntington, Radioman 3
  • William F. Sawhill, Radioman 3
Pilots of VT-8's Avenger detachment lost:
  • Lt. Langdon K. Fieberling, Commanding
  • Ensign O.J. Gaynier
  • Ensign V.A. Lewis
  • Ensign C. E. Brannon
  • AMM1c D. D. Woodside
Ensign George Gay
Sole Survivor of VT-8 at Midway

From Wikipedia:
Ensign (later Lieutenant Commander) George Henry Gay Jr. (March 8, 1917–October 21, 1994) was a TBD Devastator pilot in United States Navy Torpedo Squadron 8 operating from the USS Hornet (CV-8) in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. Of the 30 VT-8 aircrew from Hornet that participated in the pivotal Battle of Midway, Ensign Gay was the sole survivor.

During the Battle of Midway Gay was the first of his squadron to take off from Hornet on June 4, 1942. Gay's unit found the Japanese carrier fleet and launched an attack without any fighter plane support. Although he was wounded and his radioman/gunner was dying, Gay completed his torpedo attack on the Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga, but the Kaga evaded his torpedo. Rather than banking away from the ship and presenting a larger target to its anti-aircraft gunners, Gay continued in toward the carrier at low altitude. He then brought his Devastator into a tight turn as he approached the carrier's island, and flew aft along the flight deck's length, thus evading anti-aircraft fire. He later stated he had a "split second" thought of crashing into the Japanese aircraft he saw being serviced on the flight deck.
His plane still in relatively good condition, he decided to make for the Hornet after clearing the Japanese carrier. However, five A6M Zeros brought his aircraft down in a hail of machine gun and cannon fire, killing his rear gunner. Exiting his aircraft, and floating in the ocean, he hid under his seat cushion to avoid Japanese strafing attacks and witnessed the subsequent dive bombing attacks and sinking of three of the four Japanese aircraft carriers present.

After dark, Gay felt it was safe to inflate his life raft. He was rescued by a Navy PBY after spending over 30 hours in the water. Gay was later flown to the USS Vincennes (arriving June 28, 1942), before being transferred home. Of the squadron's thirty pilots and radiomen, Gay was the only survivor. Gay met with Admiral Nimitz and confirmed the destruction of three Japanese carriers that he had witnessed - the Akagi, Kaga and Soryu. He was featured in the 31 August 1942 issue of Life Magazine.

Following Midway, Gay took part in the Guadalcanal Campaign with another squadron, and he later became a Navy flight instructor. He was awarded the Navy Cross, Purple Heart and Presidential Unit Citation for his actions in combat at Midway. He was also later awarded the Air Medal.
While it may seem that VT-8's sacrifice was in vain, it would be a mistake to think that. The attack by these lumbering torpedo planes drew the Japanese Combat Air Patrol (CAP) down from a higher altitude.

VT-8 was not alone. The torpedo bombers of VT-6 (USS Enterprise) lost 10 of their 14 Devastators, and 10 of VT-3's 12 Devastators (USS Yorktown) were shot down with no damage inflicted on the Japanese carriers, thanks in part to the abysmal performance of their Mark 13 torpedoes.

However, this left three squadron's of dive bombers virtually a clear path to the Japanese fleet. VB-6, VS-6 (USS Enterprise) and VB-3 (USS Yorktown) attacked with fearsome results. Within minutes two Japanese carriers, Soryu and Kaga were ablaze. Soon Akagi and Hiryu would join those two at the bottom of the Pacific for a total loss of four aircraft carriers.

No, their sacrifice was not in vain. Their sacrifice opened the way for the dive bombers to strike the fatal blow for what has been called the turning point of the war in the Pacific. Who knows what might have happened if the Japanese CAP had stayed high and went after the dive bombers? As the Mark 13 torpedo proved defective, it is doubtful if the torpedo squadrons would have done much damage at all.

But they did draw the CAP down. And the dive bombers got through. The dive bombers tore the heart out of the Japanese fleet.

Remember the men of Torpedo 8, for they are men worth remembering.
Torpedo Eight won two Presidential Unit Citations:
one for Midway, and one for Guadalcanal.
Its members also won more than fifty medals
for valor in combat.

*Photo and caption from Wikipedia


  1. Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, world's fastest "Hero to Zero" in history. Raises his hands in Victory, yells "YESSSSSSSSSSSSS", looks up and screams "NOOOOOOOOOOOOO".

    1. Yup. I wonder what the Japanese equivalent of "Ah crap" is?

  2. I figured VT-8 MIGHT be your next post in this series. Seriously, I did.

    1. One of the Facebook Lexicans suggested it.

      (Sometimes you scare me Buck! - Quick, what am I thinking right now?)

    2. You're thinkin' "it's good to be home." Amiright?

  3. The history of torpedo development and deployment prior to World War II, and the early years, was scandalous. Of course, we look back with 20/20 hindsight. Those brave men flying those torpedo planes, and those who went to sea in submarines, with defective weapons, are one of the reasons we still enjoy our freedoms.

    1. What gets me is the attitude of the people who designed these things. Essentially it was "They're using them wrong."

      Eventually they listened to the guys in the field, but not before some good men died.

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks. I hope I can do justice to the memory of these fine men.

  5. Excellent memory piece. This and the ones before have been very interesting reads.

    1. Thanks Cap'n, I try and do my best. For their sake.

  6. Might interest all to know that Gay was one of the founders of Executive Jet..

    1. That is interesting. We sometimes forget that these men go on to live normal, productive lives.

    2. Yes, go on the web-site of The RAVENS and, iirc, they have somewhere there a compendium of the careers of ex-Ravens post active-duty The wild variety of professions/careers and interests will water your eyes..


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