The True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight
This is an excellent look at a pivotal period from an unusual perspective. I’ve read several unit histories. Often they are a bit dull, except presumably to those with a close connection to the unit. But this book really stands out for several reasons. First is just that the squadron’s period of activity is so key to the history of the Pacific War. Torpedo Eight was operational from late 1941 to late 1942, but more to the point the unit saw action at the Battle of Midway and in the Guadalcanal campaign.
The book further stands out for telling the story at a very human level while weaving anecdotes and reminiscences into the greater historic narrative. So we get a nice balance of exciting, tragic and funny combined with why these things mattered. It is an extremely effective way of writing such a history.
I admit to being a bit cautious about this book at the start, Torpedo Eight’s part in the Battle of Midway is an American tragedy. Out of 21 sorties (15 TBDs from Hornet and 6 TBFs from Midway) only one aircraft and three men survived. So the personal stories at the start all came with a sense of dread, nearly every one of those first characters gave their lives in that battle. But those stories are all well told, even if mostly tragic. And so much of the well known Midway story is filled in with details of interest to a Torpedo Eight centered perspective. Including the three crews left behind on Hornet and the detachment in Hawaii I had known nothing about.
Those who have read more recent accounts of the Battle of Midway are likely aware there is some controversy over the exact route flown by Hornet’s air group and a possible cover-up involving Stanhope Ring and Marc Mitscher. That is explored some here, and in greater detail in the appendix. The author concludes Ring essentially took the blame for Mitscher’s bad decision and really comes down hard on both men.
A final interesting item from this section, that I previously knew nothing about, is that the Hawaii detachment of the squadron flew their TBFs out to Hornet on its way back from Midway. So the plane the squadron had eagerly hoped to have for battle was on board when the ship returned to harbor; creating an unusual situation of a squadron being wiped out in battle, yet being on board at strength, with newer equipment when returning home.
The larger part of the book involves the squadron’s activities in the Guadalcanal campaign. They flew off Saratoga during the initial invasion of the island and participated in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons where they were involved in sinking the Ryūjō. After Saratoga was damaged they transferred to Espiritu Santo and began feeding detachments up to Guadalcanal as a major part of the “Cactus Air Force.” This added a level of physical hardship squadron personnel had previously avoided, and the book captures well the exhausting, grinding aspect of the campaign.
Several strong personalities emerge over the course of this story. The original commander, John Waldron is well known and it was interesting to see his impact even after his death at Midway. His second in command, and squadron commander through the second part of the book was Swede Larson who was a much less loved character. I think I’ve never heard of such an officer who had two separate attempts on his life from squadron members!
The rest of the squadron is brought to life in appealing (and some times not so appealing) detail.
On balance this is an excellent book both as a history and on a more human level. It is maybe not the best introduction for readers who are otherwise unfamiliar with this story. A more general narrative history as introduction might be preferable; but this book does a good job with overview so perhaps it is not actually required.
Note: as mentioned previously, my model shop has been down for a remodel these last few months. I expect I’ll be back working in another month, and my first completed model should follow a couple weeks after. I just want to assure readers I have forgotten neither my hobbies nor this web site! More to come…