04
Jun
10

VT-8 Courage and Sacrifice

Scott the Badger reminds us all that today, 4 June, marks the 68th anniversary of Torpedo 8′s famous attack against the Japanese fleet during the Battle of Midway.  Of the core group onboard Hornet, 15 aircraft went into battle that day, and all  were shot down by Japanese fighters or anti-aircraft fire, with the loss of every man except one, Ensign George Gay.

VT-8 was equipped with Douglas TBD Devastators, a relatively slow and out-classed aircraft.  A portion of the squadron was stateside, receiving the new Grumman TBF Avenger. These crews missed the sailing of USS Hornet, and so flew their aircraft in a series of stages to Midway, where they launched in support of operations against the Japanese fleet. Another detachment of VT-8 was left behind at Pearl Harbor, and sailed with USS Saratoga. Upon transferring to Hornet, they learned of the loss of their shipmates, and became the nucleus around which the squadron was reconstituted. Counting both detachments, there were 48 airmen who flew with Torpedo 8 on 4 June, 1942. Only three survived.

I am not going to pass judgment on why their attack failed, or play armchair admiral. That’s for others to do. My point is to call attention to the sacrifice these men made. They knew the odds going in, and they flew their mission anyway. Alone, without fighter cover, the pressed home their attacks. It had to be tough, the rear gunners trying to fend off swarming Japanese fighters, while the pilots stayed on course and altitude, watching their shipmates go in one by one.  They saw them fall, steeled themselves, and tried their damnedest to put their torpedoes on target.  They upheld the highest traditions of the US Navy and of Naval Aviation, and left an example of courage and leadership and dedication for those who followed.

God Bless them and their families.  They’ll not be forgotten.

CDR Waldron taking off from USS Hornet, 4 June, 1942


8 Responses to “VT-8 Courage and Sacrifice”


  1. 1 ewok40k
    June 4, 2010 at 18:25

    If courage is measured by casualties, they are next to 300 Spartans. Not bad for a nation of shopkeepers… (^_-)
    There were many who underestimated the courage of the US servicemen. Most of them went down as the history’s biggest losers.

  2. 2 Scott "Scooter Pie" Cochran, AW1 Retired
    June 4, 2010 at 18:56

    A Tribute to those of VT-8

  3. 3 Scott "Scooter Pie" Cochran, AW1 Retired
    June 4, 2010 at 18:57

    Another tribute to those of VT-8

  4. 4 SCOTT the BADGER
    June 6, 2010 at 01:54

    When I think of George Gay, I think about how it must have felt, after the rescue, when he found out that he WAS Torpedo Eight. Also, how the TDY section of VT-8 must have felt, to have lost 48 brothers in one day.

  5. 5 virgil xenophon
    June 6, 2010 at 21:52

    The story of Misway is also the story of how random chance/luck/fate/Devine Providence–you name it–often plays a vital role in defining the difference between success or failure on the field of battle. IIRC, the dive bomber element leaders acted not on radio calls, but on hand signals from the Sq Co of the first squadron on the scene. They could have all just as easily all picked the same carrier to attack, but for no known reason but luck each element seemed to fixate on a different carrier w. no method of coordination among them. The rest is history. Not for nothing did Douglas MacArthur greet each new General assigned to his command with the question: “Are you a lucky General?” Yes indeed, I’d “rather be lucky than good.”

    There is also the fact–alluded to by someone over at Lex’s that had not the Jap recce bird whose assigned search pattern would most assuredly have revealed the presence of our carriers had trouble with launch gear, and took off late, the outcome again might have been far different. “For want of a nail…”

  6. 6 ewok40k
    June 7, 2010 at 06:02

    Yep the Tone-launched recce bird was 30 minutes or so late…
    Also, Nagumo already knowing about presence of US fleet postponed launching his reserve strike force, about 90 strong until Midway bombing force safely lands… Had he launched them immediately there could have been at least one more carrier lost on the US side.
    Note thet if not for lone japanese destroyer returning to the main fleet after attacking US sub, Mc Clusky could have missed the carrier TF entirely and return due to lack of fuel.
    Loads of lucky coincidences, but huge misfortune for VT-8… I guess they acted as “fate lightning rod”…

  7. June 27, 2010 at 21:05

    You’ll hate me for telling you this, but I have a signed copy of Sole Survivor by George Gay. Picked it up for $6. The guy didn’t even know what he had.

    • June 27, 2010 at 22:09

      Don’t hate you at all…. I seriously ENVY you, however…….

      Sigh. I had the food fortune to shake his hand many years ago at an airshow at Brunswick naval Air Station. Most of the folks around him hadn’t a clue who he was, and Mr Gay was somewhat embarrassed that he was recognized by me.

      Respects, and thanks for sharing!


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