Tag Archives: Grumman TBF-1 Avenger

4 June 1942, 0702: Torpedo Eight

The pilots of Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) aboard USS Hornet (CV-8) shortly before the Battle of Midway. Only Ensign George H. Gay, front row, center, would survive. (U.S. Navy photograph published in LIFE Magazine)

4 June 1942: At the Battle of Midway, beginning at 0702 hours, fifteen Douglas TBD-1 Devastator torpedo bombers were launched from the United States Navy aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) along with squadrons of Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers and Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters.

Lieutenant Commander John Charles Waldron, United States Navy. (U.S. Naval Institute)

Led by Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron, Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) flew at low altitude toward the expected position of the attacking Japanese fleet, while the fighters escorted the dive bombers at high altitude. Waldron sighted the enemy fleet at a distance of 30 miles and ordered his squadron to attack. Without any fighter escort, the slow flying torpedo bombers were attacked by Japanese Navy A6M2 Type 0 fighters and defensive anti-aircraft fire from the warships. All fifteen TBDs were shot down.

A detachment of VT-8, flying Grumman TBF-1 Avengers, had been sent ahead to Midway from Pearl Harbor. These six torpedo bombers, led by Lieutenant Langdon K. Fieberling, also attacked the Japanese fleet. Five were shot down by intercepting Zero fighters. The sixth, flown by Ensign Albert Kyle Earnest, was badly damaged and its gunner killed. The torpedo bomber was able to return to Midway but crash-landed. It was the only aircraft of Torpedo Eight to survive the Battle of Midway.¹

Only one man, Ensign George H. Gay, of the thirty pilots and gunners of Torpedo Eight who had launched from USS Hornet, survived. Ensign Earnest and Radioman Harry Hackett Ferrier, were the only survivors of the 18 men from the Midway detachment of VT-8. The torpedo bombers failed to score any hits on the Japanese ships, and their machine guns did not bring down any of the Zeros.

Ensign George Gay, United States Navy, with his Douglas TBD Devastator, 4 June 1942. (U.S. Navy)
Ensign George H. Gay, Jr., United States Navy, and radio operator/gunner ARM3c George Arthur Field, with their Douglas TBD-1 Devastator, Bu. No. 1518, May 1942. (U.S. Navy)
The crew of Grumman TBF-1 Avenger 8-T-1 (Bu. No. 00380), left to right, Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Basil Rick, Ensign Albert K. Ernest, and Aviation Radioman 3/c Harry H. Ferrier. On 4 June, Rick’s gun turret was operated Seaman 2/c Jay D. Manning, who was killed in action. (U.S. Navy via Things With Wings)

In the enigmatic ways of warfare, the attack by Torpedo Eight caused all of the Japanese fighters defending their aircraft carriers to descend to low altitude in their efforts to shoot down the American torpedo bombers. When the SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS Enterprise and USS Yorktown arrived a few minutes later, there were no Japanese fighters at high altitude to interfere with their attack.

The dive bomber attack was devastating. The aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga and Hiryu were bombed and sunk. Soryu received major damage, and was sunk by its escorting destroyers later in the day.

The Imperial Japanese Navy, up to this time on the offense all over the Pacific and Indian Oceans, never recovered from the loss of the experienced pilots that died when those carriers went down.

One of Torpedo Eight's Douglas TBD-1 Devastator torpedo bombers, 8-T-5, aboard USS Hornet, mid-May 1942. (U.S. Navy)
One of Torpedo Eight’s Douglas TBD-1 Devastator torpedo bombers, Bu. No. 0308, marked 8-T-5, aboard USS Hornet (CV-8), mid-May 1942. (U.S. Navy)

In his After Action Report, Hornet‘s commanding officer, Captain Marc A. Mitscher (later, Admiral) wrote:

Beset on all sides by the deadly Zero fighters, which were doggedly attacking them in force, and faced with a seemingly impenetrable screen of cruisers and destroyers, the squadron drove in valiantly at short range. Plane after plane was shot down by fighters, anti-aircraft bursts were searing faces and tearing out chunks of fuselage, and still the squadron bored in. Those who were left dropped their torpedoes at short range.”

A Douglas TBD-1 Devastator, Bu. No. 0308, of VT-6 (Torpedo Six) drops a Mark XIII aerial torpedo during practice, 20 October 1941. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman TBF-1 Avenger Bu. No. 00380 (8-T-1), the only aircraft of Torpedo Eight to survive the Battle of Midway. (U.S. Navy via Things With Wings)

¹ In a 2008 U.S. Naval Institute article, survivor Commander Harry H. Ferrier (then Aviation Radioman 3/c) wrote that following the Battle of Midway, TBF-1 Bu. No. 00380 was returned to Pearl Harbor for inspection. It had been hit by at least nine 20 mm cannon shells and sixty-four 7.7 mm machine gun bullets.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 November 1943

LCDR William H. ("Butch") O'Hare, United States Navy
LCDR Edward H. (“Butch”) O’Hare, United States Navy, ca. April 1942. (U.S. Navy)

26 November 1943: At sunset, Lieutenant Commander Edward Henry O’Hare, United States Navy, Commander Air Group 6, took of from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) as part of an experimental three-plane night fighter team. The U.S. Navy task force was operating in the waters northeast of Tarawa, supporting Operation Galvanic.

USS Enterprise (CV-6) during Operation Galvanic, 22 November 1943. (U.S. Navy)
USS Enterprise (CV-6) during Operation Galvanic, 22 November 1943. (U.S. Navy)

Two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters of Fighting Squadron TWO (VF-2), piloted by O’Hare and Ensign Warren Andrew Skon, flew formation with a radar-equipped Grumman TBF-1 Avenger torpedo bomber, call sign “Tare 97,” flown by Lieutenant Commander John C. (“Phil”) Phillips, commander, Torpedo Squadron 6 (VT-6).

Butch O’Hare was flying his personal airplane, Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat, Bu. No. 66168. The Hellcat was marked with “00” in white on both sides of its fuselage, the traditional identification of an air group commander’s (“CAG”) airplane.

The Avenger’s radar operator would guide the two fighters to intercept the groups of Japanese Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” torpedo bombers that had been making nightly attacks against the ships of Task Force 50.2.

A U.S. Navy Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighter, circa 1943. (LIFE Magazine)

The night fighter team engaged several enemy bombers, with the TBF’s pilot, Phillips, credited with shooting down two G4Ms with his Avenger’s two forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns. O’Hare and Skon both fired on other enemy bombers with their Hellcats’ six machine guns.

At about 7:30 p.m., the TBF was flying at about 1,200 feet (365 meters), staying below the cloud bases, while the two F6Fs rejoined the formation. The TBF’s gunner, Al Kernan, saw both Hellcats approaching to join on the the Avenger’s right wing. When O’Hare was about 400 feet (120 meters) away, the gunner saw a third airplane appear above and behind the two fighters.

A Japanese Mitsubishi G4M twin-engine bomber opened fire on O’Hare’s fighter with it’s 7.7 mm (.303-caliber) nose-mounted machine gun. Kernan returned fire with the TBF’s turret-mounted .50-caliber machine gun. The G4M quickly disappeared into the darkness.

Grumman TBF torpedo bomber. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber. (U.S. Navy)

Butch O’Hare’s F6F was seen to turn out of the formation, passing to the left underneath Skon’s fighter. Skon called O’Hare by radio but there was no response. The CAG’s Hellcat went into a dive then disappeared in the darkness. Skon tried to follow O’Hare, but had to pull out at about 300 feet (90 meters) to avoid crashing into the ocean.

Neither O’Hare or his airplane were ever seen again. He is believed to have gone into the water at 7:34 p.m., 26 miles (42 kilometers) north-northwest of the carrier Enterprise.

Mitsubishi G4M Type I bomber, called "Betty" by Allied forces.
Mitsubishi G4M Type I bomber, called “Betty” by Allied forces.

Lieutenant Commander Edward H. O’Hare was listed as Missing in Action. One year after his disappearance, the status was officially changed to Killed in Action.

Lieutenant Edward H. O'Hare, United States Navy, 1942. (LIFE Magazine via Navy Pilot Overseas)
Lieutenant Edward H. O’Hare, United States Navy, 1942. (LIFE Magazine via Navy Pilot Overseas)

Edward Henry O’Hare was born at St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America, 13 March 1914. He was one of three children of Edward Joseph O’Hare and Selma Anna Lauth O’Hare. He attended the Western Military Academy, Alton, Illinois, along with his friend, Paul Warfield Tibbetts (who would later command the Army Air Forces’ 509th Composite Group, and fly the B-29 Superfortress, Enola Gay). O’Hare graduated in 1932.

Butch O’Hare was appointed a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, and entered 24 July 1933. He graduated 3 June 1937 and was commissioned as an ensign, United States Navy. He was then assigned to sea duty aboard the class-leading battleship USS New Mexico (BB-40).

Ensign Edward Henry O’Hare, United States Navy, 30 June 1939. (U.S. Navy)

In 1939, Ensign O’Hare was ordered to NAS Pensacola, Florida, for primary flight training. On 3 June 1940, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (Junior Grade). He completed flight training 2 May 1940.

Lieutenant (j.g.) O’Hare was next assigned to Fighting Squadron THREE (VF-3), a fighter squadron based at San Diego, California, and assigned as part of the air group of the Lexington-class aircraft carrier, USS Saratoga (CV-3).

USS Saratoga was damaged by a torpedo southwest of the Hawaiian Islands, 11 January 1942. While the carrier was under repair, VF-3 was transferred to USS Lexington.

During the early months of World War II, a task force centered around the United States aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) was intruding into Japanese-held waters north of New Ireland in the Bismarck Archipelago. In the afternoon of 20 February 1942, she came under attack by several flights of enemy Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers.

This Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat is marked F-15, as was the fighter flown by Butch O’Hare on 20 February 1942. (Cropped detail from a United States Navy photograph.)

Her fighters, Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats, were launched in defense and an air battle ensued. Another flight of nine Bettys approached from the undefended side, and Lieutenant (junior grade) Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare, U.S.N. and his wingman were the only fighter pilots available to intercept.

At 1700 hours, O’Hare arrived over the nine incoming bombers and attacked. His wingman’s guns failed, so O’Hare fought on alone. In the air battle, he is credited with having shot down five of the Japanese bombers and damaging a sixth.

A Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” medium bomber photographed from the flight deck of USS Lexington, 20 February 1942. (U.S. Navy)

For his bravery, Butch O’Hare was promoted to lieutenant commander and awarded the Medal of Honor.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Edward H. O’Hare married Miss Rita Grace Wooster, a nurse at DePaul Hospital, St. Louis, Missouri, 6 September 1941. The marriage was performed by Rev. Patrick Joseph Murphy at the Church of the Immaculate Conception (St. Mary’s Church) in Phoenix, Arizona. They would have a daughter, Kathleen.

In a ceremony at the White House, Washington, D.C., at 10:45 a.m., 21 April 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt presented the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Commander O’Hare. Lieutenant (j.g.) O’Hare was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander (temporary) with date of rank 8 April 1942.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt congratulates Lieutenant (j.g.) Edward H. O’Hare, United States Navy, on being presented the Medal of Honor at the White House, Washington, D.C., 21 April 1942. Also present are Secretary of the Navy William Franklin Knox, Admiral Ernest J. King, U.S. Navy, Chief of Naval Operations, and Mrs. O’Hare. (U.S. Navy)

One of the best known fighter pilots in the United States Navy, Butch O’Hare was a hero to the people of America. He had been awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in combat during the early months of the war, nominated for a second Medal of Honor, and awarded the Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart.

Lieutenant “Butch” O’Hare in the cockpit of his Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighter. The “Felix the Cat” insignia represents Fighter Squadron 3 (VF-3). The five flags, the ensign of the Imperial Japanese Navy, signify the enemy airplanes destroyed in the action of 20 February 1942. (LIFE Magazine)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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