Interview with Bert Earnest

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This is from World War II Database.

Jim Bresnahan interviewed Bert Earnest on 4 June 1992.


Interviewer: Jim Bresnahan

Interviewee: Albert “Bert” Earnest, Avenger torpedo bomber pilot, US Navy Squadron VT-8; lone surviving pilot of the squadron during the Battle of Midway

Edited Transcript of the Interview

Earnest: I was called in for flight training in February of 1941, and finished in November of 41, and then down to Miami, at a place called Opa-laka, which is just northwest of Miami. I was ordered to talk to Squadron 8 – not my choice, it was just what I was ordered to. At any rate, I went home to Richmond and was there when, on December the 7th, when the war started. So I reported to Norfolk, Virginia to the air station and the squadron was getting ready to go on a shakedown cruise on the Hornet. We stayed just doing training while the ship was going. When the ship came in on the 1st of February of 42, we, the new pilots – there were around seven or eight of us I guess – all went over there and joined the squadron. We found out that the Hornet was leaving in about a month, so in that month they gave us a field carrier landing practice day after day after day, deciding which of us would go with the ship, and which would stay behind. The more inexperienced staff was being left behind to get the TBF-1s, which was the Grumman Avenger, the new torpedo plane. The carrier and the squadron couldn’t wait for it, they had to go, so they left the executive officer back with around 20 or 25 pilots and lots of enlisted men to receive the new airplane and get them ready to come out and join the squadron. Well, what happend was, we got in to Pearl Harbor, the airplanes on an old Seatrain and we were on a transport. We got there the day after the Hornet had already sailed, the Hornet and the Enterprise had already sailed, the Yorktown was in the dry dock. And the next morning when we got up the Yorktown was gone, so we just missed the squadron. They were in the TBDs, the old torpedo planes, we had the new ones, but the ship was gone. They were trying to build up the force on the island of Midway as well as they could, so they decided to get the first six planes we can get ready and fly them out to Midway, and I was one of the ones picked to go in that. We were led by one of the two lieutenants we had in the squadron, who had been left behind with us, he was the materiel officer of the squadron; his name was Fieberling, he was a lieutenant, we were brand new ensigns.

Bresnahan: What were your impressions of the plane itself?

Earnest: I have to say [the TBD Devastator] was a fairly good airplane for its time, but the time has long passed. It was quite slow, especially after you put in armor plate and guns, and then you put a torpedo under it, it was mostly exposed, that slowed it down a great deal. It was quite slow. The TBF was much much faster, it carried the torpedo internally, and was just a far superior airplane.

Bresnahan: inaudible

Earnest: Well, I wouldn’t go so far… You gotta remember, I was a brand new young ensign, and I had Earl Gallaher, I think, who was a really experienced person who’s been in naval aviation for a long time, and I was brand new. Anyway, we got out there and we were told that the carriers were back protecting the Hawaiian Islands, and we shouldn’t expect any help from them, and anything that had to be done had to be done by the airplanes on the island that they had for us. The island was covered by airplanes, the Marines had dive bombers and fighters, I should say OLD dive bombers and OLD fighters. They had very few of the latest airplanes, and the place was covered with B-17s and PBY-5As. The PBY-5As were the amphibian PBYs, flying off the field. There was practically no space for parking out there; they had so many airplanes there.

Bresnahan: inaudible

Earnest: Henderson was a major, I was an ensign, and I didn’t get to meet him. I heard about him of course, because later I flew from Henderson Field in Guadalcanal. But I did run across quite a number of Marines that I’d gone to flight training with; they were brand new too there. The fighter that was being flown by the Marines was mostly the Brewster Buffalo; they made it look like a fighter around the field, but it really wasn’t very good, once it got to about 15,000 feet it didn’t have much left.

Bresnahan: inaudible

Earnest: We had gotten up as usual in the morning and warmed the airplanes up and then we would sit in the cockpits until the search planes had gotten to the end of their search. If they didn’t discover anything, then they would secure us and we would cut the airplanes off and get out of the cockpits, and go about our business, but be available to be called if necessary. This morning we did the usual thing and cut the engines and then some jeeps came running up and one fellow jumped up on the wing of the leader, Fieberling, told him something I’m not sure what. Somebody told me that the bearing of the Japanese was 320 degrees, 150 miles, and we started the engines and taxiied right out, we took off right after the fighters, and we just headed right out toward the position of the enemy. We didn’t join up with anybody. The B-26s, four B-26s carrying torpedoes, took off apparently just after us but we didn’t know this. At any rate, we went out just as 2-, 3-plane sections.

Bresnahan: What was the sight like when you finally got the [Japanese] force into view?

Earnest: The first ship I saw, I thought it looked like a transport, and I thought well this will be fairly easy. All of a sudden I saw two carriers and all the ships all around, a battleship, cruisers, and so on. It was a very large screen. We were just approaching it. We headed down to make our run on the carriers, which were quite a long ways away from us, and just at that time the enemy fighters hit us. They were all over us; there must had been… they were getting into each other’s way making runs on us. At will, more or less. It was pretty terrifying, I can tell you, especially when the cannon shells would hit us in the wing and I was hit by a piece of shrapnel. My turret gunner fired for a while, and then he stopped firing, and I guessed he’d just been killed. The tunnel gunner was wounded by a piece of shrapnel or a shell, so he was out of the action.

Bresnahan: Do you have time to even think about what’s going on, I mean, was there much to think about as you bore in? As you mentioned it was kind of a terrifying experience because just for the amount of opposition you faced.

Earnest: We hadn’t changed our position; we were still on the left wing of the leader and we were heading on in, hoping we would get there. But, as I said, these fighters were getting into each other’s way, there were so many of them, making runs on us. Because I was hit, of course, I had blood all over the place. I didn’t know how badly I was hit; it didn’t hurt, but sort of shocking. At that time my elevator controls went out; they shattered the elevator controls, so the airplane started just… we were only two or three hundred feet, it started down, and I realized I was going into the water, so I kicked it with… there was a cruiser off on the port side, so I kicked it to the left… with the rudder and the ailerons, and tried to get a good lead on the cruiser and let it drop. And sort of stood by to hit the water. Just as I was about to hit the water, my instict which was that as I landed I always rolled by elevator tab back, and my hand just went on the elevator tab and did it. The airplane jumped back up in the air and I realized that I can control it with the tab rather than the elevator control, so this is trim tab. I realized that two of the fighters were still after me, so I was turning, jinking, and doing everything I could to get them off my tail, but not with much effect. They were just shooting the hell out of me, the airplane and me and so on. But after what seemed like an hour but I guess was two or three minutes, they left! I never knew why. The airplane engine had missed once, but it was running fine. They had chased me to the north, so that the fleet was between me and Midway. I kind of gathered myself, realized the airplane was still flying, and I was still in one piece. I guess I stopped bleeding, I’m not sure when that happened, but at any rate I realized I had to get back. I didn’t see any of the other pilots. I looked back at the fleet, and there didn’t seem to be any damage that I can see. I decided that since it’s early in the morning and we had come out heading northwest, the thing for me to do, rather than fly back over the Jap fleet, was to head straight south until I figured I was to the west of Midway and then turn due east. The sun was still rather low in the sky so I knew where east was, but I didn’t have a compass. The compass was back in the tail of the airplane, and at that time it was the only one they had, but it was shot up completely so I didn’t have a compass. My hydraulic system was gone, the bomb bay door was still open, I couldn’t close them, but the airplane was flying fine, so I climbed to about 4 or 5 thousand feet I guess and headed on south. I saw some other airplanes over in the distance heading back, but I don’t know whether if they were Japanese or whether they were Marines coming ahead. At any rate, my job at that time was to get back to Midway.

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Painting by John Leonard Greaves

So I flew south until I thought I was probably west of Midway, and then I turned east. Little before that all of a sudden my tunnel gunner got on the radio, the intercom, and said he had been hit, was knocked out, but he was ok now. So he got up and got into the second seat of the airplane which in the early versions we had a seat right behind the pilot. I asked him if he could see whether the torpedo was gone, and he said he couldn’t. Apparently the blood from the turret gunner was covering the little window that he would use to look into the bomb bay. At any rate, I headed east and I decided I would climb up a bit when I did I saw some black smoke, which I figured must be Midway. I dropped down to see if I can see the base through the smoke and there was the island of Kuri, which Kuri was about 50 miles to the west of Midway, so I knew where I was. I went on in and made my landing, and I couldn’t get but one wheel down; apparently one of the wires that releases the wheel was shot up so only one wheel would come down. I didn’t have any flaps of course because no hydraulics. So they waved me off a couple of times, but I finally came on in and landed on one wheel. It was a very nice landing, just parked it after the right wing dropped, and parked itself off the runway.

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Bresnahan: It is surprising at all to have people 50 years later taking a look at all these different attacks that were made on the carriers, driven in all the way home separately, not just your attack but also those you mentioned, the B-26s, the dive bombers from Midway and the obviously later on those three torpedo attacks from the different carriers?

Earnest: My understanding had been that we were supposed to join up with the dive bombers but we didn’t do it, and I don’t know to this day why we didn’t join up with them. We didn’t, we just straight on out there, I don’t know what our leader Fieberling was told but we went straight on out and made our attack with no help from anybody else as far as we knew. When you look back on it, wasn’t a very smart thing to do.

Bresnahan: It was rather shocking, with the amount of losses and the sacrifice that was made.

Earnest: Of course I didn’t know any of this until much later. After I got back to Midway, one of the Hornet bomber squadrons came in and landed at Midway, so I knew the carriers were hit in the attack. Finally we started getting word that the attacks had been successful. I didn’t know about my squadron for quite a long time. I don’t know when I found out that all of Torpedo 8 was shot down. George Gay came through Midway while I was there, another day afterwards I think he was picked up by PBY, but I didn’t know that, I didn’t find that out until I got back to Pearl Harbor about a week later.

Bresnahan: Did you get a good chance then to get to know some of the people in the squadron like the the Commander John Waldron and now you mentioned George Gay.

Earnest: Yeah, well I knew Waldron, he was my commanding officer, and of course I didn’t know him well, I was only with his squadron for about a month under him. “Swede” Larson was the exec, of course I knew him very much better. Fieberling, who I flew with, I knew very well and liked very much. As I said, I was just with the air group and squadron for a very short time.

Bresnahan: inaudible

Earnest: Yeah, [Waldron] was gung ho, got to get it there. He and “Swede” Larson were both the same way; they get around and pound on tables and say we gotta go in get these guys and so on. Some of the rest of us weren’t exactly that enthusiastic about it I suppose but we knew we had a job to do so we tried to do our best.

Bresnahan: One of the things you mentioned flying the Avenger… Were you cognizant of the fact fact that you had some deficiencies in the plane when compared to the Zero? That you were gonna be facing a lot of problems when you got into the attack itself?

Earnest: We didn’t really know about the Zero very well. We knew that it was a Japanese airplane but I had no idea that it had the maneuverability that it had. I saw one flying over my head, and it seemed to me like I could reach out and touch him, and before I knew it he was back on my tail. They were the most manevuerable airplanes I think I have seen. They’re really fantastic. Well for a very well design airplane. It had one major problem. It didn’t have bullet proof tanks or any armored plating, so if you did any firing at it and… When fighting another fighter, if you could get into position and get any hits on it and you had a good chance to shooting him down.

Bresnahan: When did you finally hear about the overwhelming bomb damage suffered by the carriers? A lot of people mention time and time again that it was the sacrifice of the torpedo squadrons and ultimately led to the success of the dive bombers.

Earnest: I talked to a Japanese fighter pilot down at Pensacola a couple of years ago and his comment was “you guys just kept coming and coming and coming!” They were in the area, expecting after a certain amount of time to be relieved and refuel and rearm, but there was always another attack coming in so they had to keep them after it. That’s about the only credit we torpedo pilots could take for that day. We kept coming at them and one after another after another; we didn’t have any coordinated attacks, which became very successful after the war, especially with the dive bombers. I never had many occasions when I had fighters go with me, and even when I had one, and it was wonderful. Fighters came straight down shooting their 50 calibers and dive bombers right after them and we came in and made our torpedo attack. That was the way it was supposed to be done.

Bresnahan: Was Midway your only carrier battle? Were you involved in smaller battles too?

Earnest: I was involved in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons which was, let’s say, that was August the 23rd I think. I was on the Saratoga. We got back to Pearl Harbor and they decided to put us on Saratoga because Saratoga was ready to go, and Guadalcanal was coming up. We didn’t know what was coming up, but we knew we were going somewhere, so we were put on Saratoga with the TBFs and went down there with another air gorup, supported the landings on Guadalcanal and then cruised up and down the Coral Sea. The Japanese carriers came down and I went out on an attack that we sank the Ryujo. We didn’t get the big carriers. The Japanese had a very good habit of putting out the smaller carriers ahead of the others and it was sort of the decoy. We sank it. It was a good little carrier but it wasn’t as big as Shokaku or Zuikaku.

Source: Jim Bresnahan


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Jumping the Gun…

I guess I did jump the gun a little with the TBF Avenger a few weeks ago when I had mixed some paint for my Grumman Wildcat.

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I had decided to get a jump start with my TBF Avenger.

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Then I got this urge to start glueing the fuselage…

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And glueing the wings…

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I could not stop glueing…

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And painting the frame…

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Testing the fit…

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Having a problematic fit with the rear gunner station…

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But I soldiered on…

Yesterday I completed the painting and the weathering.

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The next step is a coat of gloss acrylic before decalling to pay tribute to this crew.

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painting by John Leonard Greaves

Their story is below.

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My Passion for Aviation

My passion dates back to the late 1950s and early 1960s. I could never get enough reading about airplanes especially about World War II airplanes.

Monogram Models was the best model airplane kits back then. All these box arts are still etched in my mind.

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Monogram PA79-98 Spitnm-

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  Monogram 85-0020 SA-16B Mono PA96-98P-40B Mono PA74-98Me-109

When Monogram released the Avenger I had to built it.

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Working features, figurines… the works!

What more could you ask out of life back then. I bought another Avenger in the late 1980s or 1990s, and it sat in his box for more than 25 years.

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The box art was different, but the instructions were the same.

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Next Project – Monogram TBF Avenger

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Collection John Leonard Greaves

The following was taken from the Internet

 


 

Torpedo Eight: The Other Chapter

By Commander Harry H. Ferrier, U.S. Navy (Retired)

The gallant but little-known role of a six-plane all-volunteer TBF detachment, of which the author and his pilot were members, adds further to the record of the sacrifices made during the Battle of Midway. Much has been told of the heroic sacrifice of Torpedo Squadron Eight at the Battle of Midway. The gallantry of its officers and men in the face of overwhelming odds is indelibly inscribed in the history of the U.S. Navy. The fame of Torpedo Eight has rested on the actions of the main body of the squadron based on board the USS Hornet (CV-8). Yet, there is another chapter to this story, which has received little mention and deserves telling before memories have faded beyond recall.

Torpedo Squadron (VT) Eight was commissioned at Norfolk, Virginia, in the late summer of 1941 as an element of Carrier Air Group Eight, better known then as the Hornet Air Group. The ceremony took place in front of an old World War I hangar at Chambers Field on the air station. East Field, which is now the operating portion of Naval Air Station (NAS), Norfolk, had not yet been completed. The squadron’s first commanding officer—who also led their fateful flight—was Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron, a veteran of more than 20 years of naval service.

The first aircraft assigned to the squadron were SBN-1s. These planes were a mid-wing design of the Brewster Aircraft Company, manufactured by the Naval Aircraft Factory, Philadelphia. They were used to provide pilot training for our newly commissioned squadron as there was a shortage of TBD-1 Douglas Devastators and the TBF-1 Grumman Avenger had not yet reached the production stage. The rest of the air group was little better equipped; the bombing and scouting squadrons were assigned Curtiss SBC-4 Helldivers, a mid-1930s biplane design.

I reported to the squadron on 7 September 1941, a green but enthusiastic radioman striker fresh from the aviation radio school at NAS, Jacksonville, Florida. I was only 16 years old. I enlisted on 28 January 1941, five days after my 16th birthday. My mother’s friend had a typewriter, and she changed my birth year on the forms.

On my first flight, we attempted to locate a mobile direction-finder station which was somewhere in the Dismal Swamp area. At the time, we had only manual direction finders, which required some skill to operate. Because the pilot and I were both new at this challenging exercise, our success was something less than spectacular. It was not long, however, before gunnery, torpedo tactics, bombing, and field carrier landing practice were familiar and meaningful terms to me. Our training progressed satisfactorily, and in October we received a few TBD-1s. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that December and our immediate entry into war caused a rapid acceleration of training, culminated by a month-long shakedown cruise by the Hornet and her embarked air group in January 1942.

Shortly after our return to port, it was decided to form a detachment of approximately 80 officers and men who would remain in Norfolk and take delivery of the first TBF-1s. The Hornet, with the main portion of the squadron, left immediately for the Pacific. That March, members of our detachment were sent to the Grumman factory on Long Island to learn as much as possible about the airplane from the engineers and builders—this was in the days before the Naval Air Technical Training Command mobile trainers and the Fleet Indoctrination Program. It was an interesting experience, but the knowledge we gained was very limited.

In the latter part of March we received and flew our first of 21 shiny new Grumman Avengers. (The Avenger was not so named until after the Battle of Midway to recognize the mission and dedication of all torpedo squadrons—to avenge the heroic sacrifice of their predecessors.) We were all impressed with the new plane’s speed, maneuverability, and ruggedness.

At Quonset Point, Rhode Island, we made our first high-speed launches of a newly designed torpedo, which was capable of surviving drop speeds of 125 knots and 125-150 feet of altitude. This, we knew, would give us an advantage over the TBDs with their 100-knot, 100-foot attack capability. After only a few days of the test program had been completed, we were recalled to Norfolk and told to fly our planes across the country to join the Hornet and our shipmates in the Pacific. After an uneventful crossing from San Diego to Pearl Harbor in the USS Kitty Hawk (AKV-1), a converted railcar transport, we unloaded our TBFs at Ford Island and began preparing them for shipboard duty. The Hornet was then at sea. Within hours after our arrival a call went out for volunteers to fly six planes to Midway Atoll. The mission was not stated, but there was little doubt that some action was in the offing. There was no difficulty in obtaining volunteers, and I counted myself lucky to have been one of those chosen.

Bright and early on the morning of 1 June we took off from Ford Island for the eight-hour, 1,300-mile flight to Midway—a little dot in the ocean, northwest of Hawaii. Lieutenant Langdon K. Fieberling led the detachment. I was assigned to fly with Ensign Albert K. Earnest as his radioman and tunnel gunner; our turret gunner was Aviation Machinist’s Mate Third Class J. D. Manning. We flew off Lieutenant Fieberling’s wing in the first section of three airplanes. The six planes were guided by two navigators from Patrol Squadron 44 on board the two section leaders’ aircraft: Ensign Jack Wilke flew with Lieutenant Fieberling and Ensign Joseph Hissem with Ensign Oswald J. Gaynier. The flight was uneventful to the point of monotony.

As soon as we arrived we could feel a tension in the air. We were all sure that a meeting with the enemy was not far off. Many planes of all types were in evidence—Brewster F2As, Grumman F4Fs, Douglas SBDs, and Chance Vought SB2Us, all flown by Marines; and Boeing B-17s, Consolidated B-24s, and Martin B-26s being flown by the Army Air Forces. The B-26s were equipped as torpedo planes, carrying their “fish” externally below the bomb bay. And, of course, the venerable Consolidated PBYs were present. We quickly prepared our planes for combat, which included loading six of the new type of torpedoes, which we had been testing so recently. They had been transported to Midway under the wings of the PBYs. We all were exhilarated by the prospect of meeting the enemy. I’m not certain now why we did it, but we put patches of masking tape on the leading edges of our wings and painted black circles on them too simulate gun ports. I know we were not particularly impressed with the effectiveness of the single .30-caliber machine gun, which was synchronized to fire through the propeller arc. We had much greater confidence in the .50-caliber turret gun and .30-caliber tunnel gun, which covered our rear.

That evening Lieutenant Fieberling called us together and quickly confirmed our suspicions that something momentous was about to happen. He said the Navy believed that a Japanese thrust in the direction of Hawaii was imminent and that Midway Atoll was most certainly a target of that push. We were also told that the Navy expected the Japanese to attack the Aleutian Islands but that this would be merely a diversionary tactic to draw our ships away from the sea around Midway and Hawaii. For the next two mornings, we were up at 0400, warming our engines and then standing by on alert until 0700. The rest of the time was spent exploring the island and chasing Gooney birds. We camped on Eastern Island, which was then nothing more than a long, low strip of sand, with the runway taking up almost its entirety. Aircraft parking revetments, tents, and a scattered collection of wooden buildings occupied what little space remained.

On the morning of 4 June, we were up and manning our planes at 0400 as usual. About an hour after we shut down, a Marine officer came running to our plane and told us to start our engine. He stated that unidentified aircraft had been sighted about 100 miles away by a patrol plane. We started up and joined the other planes of our group taxiing out to the take-off spot.

Immediately after taking off, we joined with the others in two sections of three planes each, climbed to 2,000 feet, and headed out on a course of 320 degrees True at 160 knots. Very shortly after takeoff, a single pass was made at us by two or three Japanese planes, one of which Ensign Earnest tentatively identified as a Messerschmitt 109, a plane that was reputedly being flown by the Japanese. In all probability, the enemy planes were Zeros or Vals from the force that was heading in to attack Midway. After this brief encounter, we climbed to 4,000 feet and continued on our original course.

We sighted the enemy carrier force at approximately 0700 from about 15 miles away. In his postbattle report, Ensign Earnest reckoned their number at ten ships. In reality there were 21 ships in the formation, including four carriers. Almost simultaneously with our sighting of the enemy we were attacked by their combat air patrol.

It was evident at once that we were outnumbered. Our pilots immediately pushed over into a dive and applied full throttle to the engines. On the second firing pass by the attacking Zeros, our turret gunner, Manning, was hit and his turret put out of action. I remember looking over my shoulder to see why he had stopped firing. The sight of his slumped and lifeless body startled me. Quite suddenly, I was a scared, mature old man at 17. I had never seen death before, and here in one awesome moment my friends and I were face-to-face with it. I lost all sense of time and direction but huddled by my gun hoping for a chance to shoot back.

At one point in the battle I glanced out of the small window on my left and saw an airplane streak by on fire and enter a cloud. The glance was so fleeting that I had no chance to identify it. Unfortunately, it later proved to have been one of ours.

The attacking fighters outnumbered us by at least three to one and it soon became evident that they did not intend for any of us to survive. Another pass and I was out of the fight—our hydraulic system had been hit and the tail wheel was now blocking my gun’s field of fire. I felt a searing pain in my left arm as a bullet grazed my wrist. It was shortly after this that I was struck a stunning blow on the head and lost consciousness. I shall always remember coming to and viewing through bleary eyes a stream of blood that was rapidly coloring my gun an ugly red. Gingerly I fingered my scalp. After some moments I decided that maybe I was not going to die after all, but I was still unable to contribute anything to the battle.

I was never aware of just how precarious our position was until after the battle. Some few miles short of the enemy carriers, our elevator control cables were severed, and the plane began rapidly plunging toward the water. With foresight, Ensign Earnest had opened the bomb bay doors at the first attack. Thinking that we were now out of control, he released our torpedo in the direction of a light cruiser and hoped for the best.

Just before we hit the water, he regained altitude control by using the trim tab. Our salvation was by no means assured, as two Zeros continued to press home their attacks. About ten minutes later, apparently having run out of ammunition, our two tormenters finally turned away and returned to their carrier. As he glanced back toward the force, Ensign Earnest was unable to see any damage to the Japanese ships, as indeed there was none. Ours was the first of many futile attacks by a total of 51 torpedo planes. Only seven of these planes survived the suicidal assaults.

There still remained the problem of returning to Midway, which had not been made any easier by the loss of our compass system as well as the previously recounted control difficulties. No provision had been made for a standby compass. Ensign Earnest’s only means of navigation was the sun and the knowledge that we departed from Midway on a generally westerly course.

Some time later as we were heading back toward Midway, I crawled up over the bomb bay compartment and sat in the seat immediately behind the pilot. Much later I saw a huge column of black oil smoke seemingly rising from the sea. This proved to be Midway’s Sand Island fuel dump ablaze. It was a most welcome sight.

Compared to the battle, our landing was fairly smooth even though it was made on only one main wheel, without flaps, the bomb-bay doors open, and limited elevator control available. At least we were able to walk away from it.

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A TBF had survived its baptism of fire and proved itself a rugged, worthy replacement for the TBDs, which had been almost completely eliminated from the Navy inventory on the day of the battle. I made a deliberate effort to remember the bureau number of the plane in which I saw so much of this battle. It was TBF-l BuNo 00380, the first plane delivered to the squadron; it bore the side number 8-T-1. I have often wondered since then if our attackers made any greater effort to get us because of our side number, or if they were aware of it and its significance. The plane was later returned to Pearl Harbor and examined.

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Engineers identified 64 machine-gun bullet and nine 20-mm cannon hits on the airplane. More bullets may have hit, but they were masked by the wider damage of the cannon hits.

Of the six TBFs from the Midway detachment and 15 TBDs from the Hornet that Torpedo Eight launched against the Japanese, ours was the only plane to survive the battle. But our ordeal had not yet ended since we still had to accept the irrefutable loss of our companions. It was my sad task, along with Aviation Machinist’s Mate First Class William L. Coffey Jr. (who had not flown on the mission), to take inventory and pack their few personal possessions—a treasured book of poems, letters, and pictures of sweethearts and families—all of them mirroring somehow their owners.

We did not know until much later just how terrible, yet triumphant, the sacrifices had been that day. The futile attacks of Torpedo Squadrons Three, Six, and Eight, and the work of the four Army B-26s had unalterably sealed the fate of the Japanese carriers. Our fellow fliers in the bombing and scouting squadrons were thereby able to attack the Japanese when they were most vulnerable-while rearming and refueling their aircraft.

Commander Ferrier served briefly in VT-3 and VB (Bombing Squadron)-5 on board the USS Yorktown (CV-5) after his assignment to VT-8. He was commissioned in January 1945, and later served in three heavy-attack squadrons, the USS Princeton (LPH-5), and Patrol Squadron 2. He now resides in Oak Harbor, Washington.

Next, Commander Ferrier’s retelling of events at the Battle of Midway.

 

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