Tag Archives: Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8)

The *Other* Sole Survivors of Torpedo EIGHT

80 Years Ago Today: Here we see the heavy cruiser USS Pensacola (CA-24) as she disembarks Marine reinforcements at the Sand Island pier, Midway, on 25 June 1942. Note M1903 Springfield rifles and other gear along the pier edge. The Sand Island seaplane hangar, badly damaged by the Japanese air attack on 4 June 1942, is in the left distance, with a water tower beside it. Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) TBF-1 Avenger (Bureau # 00380) can be seen on the beach, in line with the water tower.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-12146

Another view of P-cola, same day and place, and the aircraft in the foreground, with a damaged tail, is TBF-1 Avenger (Bureau # 00380) The ship in the right distance is probably USS Ballard (AVD-10):

Catalog #: 80-G-12147

A closer look at Avenger 380, photographed at Midway, 24-25 June 1942, prior to shipment back to the United States for post-battle evaluation:

Catalog #: 80-G-11637

Rear cockpit and .50 caliber machinegun turret of Avenger 380. Damage to the turret can be seen in this view. The ship in the left background is probably USS Ballard (AVD-10):

Catalog #: 80-G-11635

Another look, 80-G-17063

While most know the well-publicized tale of Ensign George “Tex” Gay, the “Sole Survivor” of the 4 June 1942 VT-8 TBD torpedo plane attack on the Japanese carrier force during the Battle of Midway, there is a little more to the story.

Ensign George H. Gay at Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital, with a nurse and a copy of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin newspaper featuring accounts of the battle. Gay’s book “Sole Survivor” indicates that the date of this photograph is probably 7 June 1942, following an operation to repair his injured left hand and a meeting with Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. 80-G-17678

You see, on 4 June, VT-8 was in two different elements.

Gay was part of 15 criminally obsolete Douglas TBD Devastators torpedo bombers of the squadron that had launched from USS Hornet (CV-8), led by the squadron skipper, LCDR John C. Waldron. Riding their Devastators right to Valhalla in a vain attempt to sink the Japanese carrier Soryu, all 15 were shot down and Gay, his gunner already dead, was left floating in the Pacific to be recovered after the battle.

Six other aircraft of VT-8, new TBF Avengers (keep in mind the type had only had its first flight on 7 August 1941!) were based at Midway and likewise flew against the Japanese on 4 June. These planes were the first Navy aircraft to attack the Japanese fleet that day. They attacked without fighter cover led by LT Langdon Kellogg Fieberling and of those six aircraft, five were shot down.

Avenger 308, mauled by Japanese fighters during the attack, was able to limp back home. Seaman 1st Class Jay D. Manning, who was operating the .50 caliber machinegun turret, was killed in action with Japanese fighters during the attack.

The plane’s pilot was Ensign Albert K. “Bert” Earnest (VMI 1938) and the other crewman was Radioman 3rd Class Harry H. Ferrier. Both survived the action.

Albert K. “Bert” Earnest ’938 is one of VMI’s most decorated graduates. He was awarded three Navy Crosses during World War II. Photos courtesy VMI Archives.

Earnest would earn two Navy Crosses that day, “for dropping his bomb on the Japanese fleet and a second Navy Cross for bringing his aircraft and crew back to Midway. Inspections later found 73 large-caliber bullet holes in his aircraft.”

Courtesy of Captain A.K. Earnest, USN (Ret) and Robert L. Lawson, 1990. NH 102559

As noted by the VMI Alumni Assoc: 

Of the squadron’s planes, Earnest’s was the only one to return to Midway. One pilot, Ensign George Gay, was plucked from the ocean. He is depicted in the 2019 movie “Midway.” Gay enjoyed the attention and wrote a book, “Sole Survivor,” about his Midway experiences. Earnest often joked that he and Ferrier were the “other sole survivors.”

While serving off Guadalcanal during the battle of the Eastern Solomons, Earnest earned a third Navy Cross and was rotated back to the U.S. for the duration of the war.

He continued in the Navy, retiring with 31 years of service in 1972. He had an eventful career, testing enemy aircraft, becoming a “Hurricane Hunter” and qualifying to fly jets.

Earnest died in 2009 and is buried with his wife, Millie, at Arlington National Cemetery.