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A Dawn Like Thunder: The True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight Hardcover – December 8, 2008

4.8 out of 5 stars 108 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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Novelist and former U.S. congressman Mrazek has written an admirable history of the Torpedo Squadron Eight, legendary to World War II buffs. Most of the squadron, flying off the U.S.S. Hornet for the Battle of Midway in obsolete Devastators, perished in a famous low-level attack. But six more modern Avengers flew from Midway itself, and the survivors in them formed the nucleus of a squadron that went on to fly Avengers off the carrier Saratoga until it was damaged by a submarine attack, and then from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal in the climactic stages of the campaign for the island. Mrazek has made painstaking use of written sources and the personal memories of surviving members of the squadron to produce a long book, but one that will keep students of the crucial year 1942 reading assiduously. A boon to the literature of the WWII Pacific theater and of naval aviation. --Roland Green


"A Dawn Like Thunder hooked me from the first page and didn't let go. Mrazek has written the definitive account of how the few American pilots of Torpedo Squadron Eight changed history at Midway and Guadalcanal. A stirring, truly heroic book that is destined to become a classic." (Alex Kershaw, author of The Longest Winter)

"A marvelous book. Mrazek's research and obvious affection for his heroes is indeed extraordinary. A Dawn Like Thunder is a spectacular achievement and a vital addition to any Pacific War library." (Hon. Charles Wilson of Charlie Wilson's War)

"Robert Mrazek has, with a raw, unsparing telling given grace and life to so many who died so young, so every-day, so gallantly. Wonderfully uplifting." (Frank Deford, author of The Entitled)

"A Dawn Like Thunder is no ordinary history. It is a soaring epic prose ballad about a group of young Americans whose rendezvous with destiny in 1942 at Midway and then Guadalcanal blazed a trail their whole generation would follow. With an amazing depth of research and a keen eye for detail, Mrazek has brought to vivid life an enduring tale of human tragedy and triumph that will speak down to the latest generation." (Richard B. Frank, author of Downfall)

"Robert Mrazek brings the dare-devil pilots of Torpedo Squadron Eight back to life in a narrative so vivid and heartbreaking that their courage reaches across the decades, leaving us moved by their incredible sacrifice and heroism." (Thurston Clarke, author The Last Campaign)

"A remarkably vivid tale of valor, fate, and young men dying young. Mrazek's epic story, reconstructed with breathtaking research and recounted with a novelist's keen eye for detail, is a worthy monument to Torpedo Squadron Eight." (Rick Atkinson, author of The Day of Battle)

"The most highly decorated Navy Flyboys of World War II flew through hell and suffered the highest combat losses. Strap yourself in as Robert Mrazek takes you on a heroic flight into history." (James Bradley, author of Flyboys)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (December 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316021393
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316021395
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #599,846 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. W. Russell on December 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Author Robert Mrazek's first non-fiction volume is a winner. It's the story of the men of Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) during World War II like you've never seen it before. Mrazek went over the top in tracking down all of the squadron's remaining members and recording their reminisces about Midway and Guadalcanal to the fullest extent one could imagine. We've long read of the gallantry of the USS Hornet's VT-8 aircrews at Midway and how their sacrifice was a vital factor in the "incredible victory," but this book goes well beyond the familiar Midway story. It gives the reader insight not previously seen on the men involved, including the good as well as the bad.

About half of the book focuses on that part of VT-8's history that is seldom remembered: their participation in the Solomons campaign. Although the tragedy of the Hornet's VT-8 aircrews at Midway could hardly have been worse, it was over with in less than an hour, while on Guadalcanal the squadron's detachment there endured months of brutal attrition during the long Japanese campaign to retake the island.

But the book isn't primarily about wartime history; instead it tells of the men who lived VT-8's portion of that history. There are new revelations about their celebrated commander, John Waldron, plus the aircrews that died with him at Midway. But as expected, there is a great deal more about those who went on to Guadalcanal, including the new commanding officer, Lt. Harold "Swede" Larsen. It turns out that Larsen was an insufferable martinet, as miserable a leader of men as anyone who ever disgraced a leader's uniform. At the other extreme, there are ample tales of the honorable service of the pilots and enlisted men who helped make VT-8's legacy despite the excesses of their skipper.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a passionate student of WW2 history and have read many accounts of the war in the Pacific over the past 30 years. This is by far the most compelling account I have encountered of two of the most pivotal battles of the war. More remarkably, it's an amazing account of some true American heroes and, sadly, some who were not so heroic. I know it sounds corny, but I really felt I was in the cockpit with these pilots and couldn't believe what they did to support each other and the troops on the ground. I was humbled by their courage and much more affected by their individual stories than I expected. I don't want to ruin the story for you, so suffice it to say I am sure you won't forget many of the individual stories told in this book.

This book was given to me as a gift and I have already given it to several others who ended up confirming my own reaction. This is a must read if you are interested in any aspect of the War in the Pacific or the reality of what it was like to fly on impossible missions. I wasn't able to put it down...
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Author Robert J. Mrazek has written a compelling and informative read about a heroic squadron of pilots who sacrificed themselves against vastly superior odds. This is the story of Torpedo Squadron Eight and their unselfish contribution to the defeat of Japan in the early stages of the Pacific war.

During the pivotal Battle of Midway in June, 1942, this brave group of men, flying obsolete aircraft, nevertheless fearlessly attacked the Japanese carrier striking force. Forty-five of the forty-eight men in the squadron were killed that day. But, they cleared the way for the Dauntless dive bombers by bringing the Japanese fighters down so low that they couldn't react once the dive bombers started their dives. The end result was the loss of four Japanese carriers, and the turning of the tide inexorably toward Japan for the rest of the war.

After the battle of Midway, torpedo eight was based on the American carrier USS Saratoga. From here, the new pilots participated in many attacks against the Japanese fleet during the Battle of Guadalcanal. After the Saratoga suffered a torpedo hit and was forced to withdraw, the men of torpedo eight became part of the Cactus Air Force based on Guadalcanal. During their time on Guadalcanal, torpedo eight pilots helped sink numerous enemy ships, including 2 battleships, a light carrier, and several cruisers and destroyers. After Guadalcanal, the squadron was disbanded and its pilots were assigned to new squadrons.

This is an excellent book. The author does a fine job of introducing the reader to some of the pilots in the squadron. He also describes in great detail the heroic sacrifice these men made at the Battle of Midway and the sweet revenge they were able to extract at Guadalcanal.
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Format: Hardcover
To all the other rave reviews here, I can only add this. Having read many books on the Battle of Midway, "A Dawn Like Thunder" brought out a new dimension I've not seen before. Probably because Mrazek used so many intimate sources, the book presents the characters on a personal level, which makes it a far more interesting story. What this new information shows is that as remarkable as it was that America won the battle at all, how we came even closer to losing it than I ever knew.

For example, one torpedo squadron located its targets "solely because he (Waldron) disobeyed a direct order" from his incompetent commander (Ring), who then flew off in the wrong direction all alone. Only when Ring returned to the Hornet still alone and still armed did Ring ask to be taught which button was the torpedo release.

Worse even than Ring was Commander Browning who tried to send another squadron off the Enterprise with too many bombs and too little fuel, making it certain that the pilots would have to ditch in the sea. An big argument ensued and again, a lesser ranked officer (McClusky) spoke up such that Admiral Spruance had to intervene, siding with the pilots.

When it was finally moved to Guadalcanal, Torpedo Eight was commanded so severely, that on two occasions two men were moved to shoot their leader (Swede Larson), one of whom actually aimed his loaded .45 to kill. Murder was avoided in both cases but it was a near thing at that.

Anyway, you will enjoy this book especially since it lives up to its sub-title, "The TRUE story of Torpedo Squadron Eight".
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