Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Torpedo Squadron Eight at NAS Norfolk

This is a February 1942 photo of ground crew sailors pushing back plane number 7 of the famed Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8) at NAS Norfolk. Commissioned on September 2, 1941, VT-8 operated with the Norfolk-based USS Hornet (CV-8) before both units sailed for the Pacific in March 1942. Along with Torpedo Squadron 5 (VT-5), VT-8 was one of two torpedo bomber squadron based out of Norfolk at the beginning of the war.

VT-8 is probably the most well-known Naval air squadron in U.S. Naval history for its role in the Battle of Midway. The squadron made its first attack against Japanese aircraft carriers on June 4, 1942, with no fighter escort. Flying older TBD Devastator torpedo bombers, the entire squadron, except for Ensign George Gay, was shot down by faster Japanese fighters. Though none of VT-8's planes did any damage, the attack is considered to be one of the most heroic feats in World War II as the squadron's pilots pressed home the attack, despite being outgunned by Japanese forces.
Plane Number 11 of VT-8 after a rough landing at NAS Norfolk, 1941
When Hornet left Hampton Roads for the Pacific, it only took half of VT-8's planes, pilots, and crews with them. The other half stayed behind in preparation to receive newer TBF Avenger torpedo bombers.

The squadron was a brand new outfit with a young group of pilots. VT-8's commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander John Waldron, had over twenty years of flying, but the rest of the squadron was fresh out of flight school. In the words of George Gay, "Torpedo 8 had a difficult problem; we had old planes and we were new in the organization. We had a dual job of not only training a squadron of boot [inexperienced] Ensigns, of which I was one of course, we also had to fight the war at the same time, and when we finally got up to the Battle of Midway it was the first time I had ever carried a torpedo on an aircraft." An excerpt of Gay's recollections of the attack and his career can be found at our command's website.

In Life magazine's profile of VT-8, the reporter wrote that Waldron trained his men hard with eight hours a day of flight and combat practice. But he stilled treated his pilots as if they were his own sons. "If things went bad, he and his lively brunette wife Adeline would throw a binge. If [his pilots] had to get into Norfolk, they could use the Skipper's Lincoln Zephyr," the reporter observed.

On more than one occasion, Waldron had to meet with Hampton Roads farmers who complained that VT-8 pilots were buzzing their farms too low. Among the farmers' petty complaints: the buzzing was making the dairy cows' milk turn sour.

1 comment:

George J. Walsh, Lieutenant Cmdr. USNR (ret) said...

Here is another blog that may be of some interest.