The charge of the light brigade - The Devastator

While the Midway forces was attacking the Japanese fleet the US carriers started to launch their own attack forces. On USS Hornet was Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8) equipped with their Douglas TBD-1 Devastators. It was to this group that the six Avengers that took off from Midway really belonged (see previous article 6. Baptism of fire - The Avenger). Now it was the main groups turn. They were led by Lt. Commander John C. Waldron. In the group was also Ensign George Henry Gay Jr. with his gunner Aviation Radioman Third Class Robert K. Huntington in their Devastator T-14. At 7:05 they got their orders to start launching the attack and Gay was the first in his squadron to take off. It took almost an hour to get all planes in the air and grouped in their squads.

The U.S.S. Hornet's attack force under the lead of Lieutenant Stanhope Ring, who was not the navigation master of his class, headed due west out on a fools errand over an empty sea. But Waldron thought he had a better idea of where the Japanese fleet would be. Telling his men "Just follow me. I’ll take you to ‘em,” they broke the formation and headed southwest at 8:25.

At 9:18 Waldron and his men spotted the Japanese carrier fleet and went down to attack it with their torpedoes. They were immediately swarmed by the 21 Zeroes that was on combat air patrol. Soon Waldron and several others were shot down in their slow Devastators by the Japanese fighters or the ships AA-fire. Huntington tried to catch any fighters with his rear gun but soon he cried out that he was hit and the radio went silent. Undeterred by the chaos around him and the fact that he was already injured himself Gay took aim at the enemy carrier Kaga and let his torpedo go. Having done that he realized that turning away at that point would mean displaying the underbelly to the carriers AA-fire presenting a larger target. Instead he continued straight on and turned around Kagas island then followed the flight deck avoiding AA-fire and enemy fighters.

But when he cleared the deck five Zeroes waited to attack him and finally he pancaked into the water. Surviving the crash he first tried to save his gunner, Huntington, but he was dead and to avoid the strafing fighters he dived into the water. When he surfaced he bumped into the planes uninflated life raft which he tucked between his legs. Then he found the black cushion from the crawl space beneath the pilot's seat floating beside him. That he folded and held over his head to avoid detection. Thus he laid there alone in the middle of the Japanese carrier fleet. He could see how the subsequent Devastator attacks failed (his torpedo had also missed it's mark). But then he also became a witness to the attacks by the Dauntless' which is described in 13. Hero of the day - The SBD-3 Dauntless.

Gay laid there the rest of the day and when it finally became dark he dared to inflate the raft. Several compartments were punctured by bullets but enough of them worked to keep him afloat. At 6:20 in the morning the day after he was spotted by a PBY Catalina out on a reconnaissance mission and his position was reported. On the way back in the afternoon the Catalina looked him up and since no rescue boat had reached him they went down and picked him up. Injured in his left arm and hand and with burns from the crash he was brought back to Midway.

Of the 15 Devastators in VT-8 all were shot down and every one but Gay was killed. He, Earnest and Ferrier in their Avanger was the sole survivor of VT-8's flight crews. They scored no hits. Of the total of 41 Devastators sent against the Japanese fleet from Hornet, Enterprise and Yorktown only six returned and no torpedo found it's target. Still they contributed in their way to the final victory as described in 13. Hero of the day - The SBD-3 Dauntless

The kit in scale 1/48 is from Great Wall Hobby (see here). The kit was a pleasure to build and I've written a review here.

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