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A Dawn Like Thunder: The True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight Hardcover – December 8, 2008
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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
"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
"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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Obviously a labor of love and the well-honed product of years of painstaking research, this factual novel by Robert J. Mrazek is told in a series of intimate bios about the pilots of this doomed squadron of over 70 years ago, complete with pilot photographs, follow-ups on the survivors, and an extensive and informative appendix listing the author's historical research sources.
A history of one of WWII's lesser known stories most poignantly told, highlighting bad guys and good guys on both sides, "A Dawn Like Thunder" is one of the most affecting books I have ever experienced. Author Mrazek is to be thanked and congratulated. This book is one of the great ones!
Tom P. Bullock
PS—Available in both hard bound & paperback, it was given to me by my niece, who also loved it. Pointedly, this is not just a "men-only" story.
What is in the book -
1) I had read that Avenger Torpedo planes flying from Midway were involved with the Midway Battle, but I did not realize that they were from the same squadron as the older Devastator Torpedo planes that flew from the aircraft carrier Hornet. This book explains why the squadron was divided up and why some of its members flew Avengers from Midway and others Devastators from Hornet. The newer Avengers did not fare any better than the older and obsolete Devastators, illustrating that it was the lack of fighter protection that led to the defeat of both parts of the squadron, and that the complete destruction of the Devastators was not solely due their being obsolete.
2) Many books mention that the leader of the ill-fated Devastator attack, Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron, deviated from the course led by his superior Stanhope C. Ring, the commander of the Hornet Air Group 8. While Waldron and all but one man under his command were killed while inflicting no damage on the Japanese fleet, their heroic actions have been cited as contributing greatly to the overall US victory at Midway. This book explains why Waldron did not follow Ring and that if Ring had followed Waldron's path, or responded to Waldron's call when he had located the Japanese fleet, the Midway Battle might have been an even greater US victory, possibly preventing the sinking of the US aircraft carrier Yorktown. Many at the time and since have faulted Ring for this, even to the extent of accusing him of incompetence or even cowardice. This book paints a somewhat more nuanced picture, laying much of the blame on Marc Mitscher the captain of the Hornet. According to a lengthy appendix provided in the book, Mitscher assumed that the Japanese had divided their fleet and accordingly directed Ring to fly in the wrong direction. Ring then stubbornly adhered to this course in spite of not finding the Japanese fleet and Waldron's signal that he had found them by following a different path. The book cites evidence that Mitscher then covered up his error by altering the Hornet's log, and then rewarded Ring for accepting the blame for the failure of all of the Hornet's air crews, except for those led by Waldron, to find the Japanese.
3) This is not a complete history of the Battle of Midway. It focuses almost entirely on Torpedo 8, with brief discussions of other aspects of the battle.
4) The Battle of Midway only forms half of the book. The latter half of the book is devoted to the exploits of Torpedo 8 in the battle for Guadalcanal. While the exploits of John Waldron and those who followed him are well known the subsequent actions of Torpedo 8 on Guadalcanal are not. This book provides a much-needed picture of them and the air war for Guadalcanal. In addition to telling the story of Torpedo 8 on Guadalcanal, this part of the book discusses the relationship of the leader of Torpedo 8, Harold "Swede" Larsen, and those he commanded. He is pictured as being very brave, but driven, bigoted, imperious and disliked (even hated to the extent that on two occasions men pulled guns on him and had they not been wrestled to the ground might have killed him). As it is an interesting picture of a very brave man who drove his men, perhaps too maniacally, but was willing to place himself in as much even more danger than they, but sometimes for little more than an overarching thrust for vengeance, recognition.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of WWII and to anyone interested in a well-written book that describes how men arose to meet great challenges.
The first part of the book primarily concerns the men who flew the TBDs off Hornet the morning of June 4, 1942, and the VT-8 detachment of TBFs from Midway that same day. There is interesting background not only on the best known members such as the CO John Waldron or the only survivor of the TBD attack, Tex Gay, but on many of the other doomed flyers as well. I was particularly interested in one of them, Bill Evans, who seems to have been a rare combination of both a man of action, and a man of the mind. He undoubtedly possessed some literary talent, and had he lived might have made significant contributions to the literature or historiography of the Pacific War.
The second part depicts the post-Midway history of VT-8, led now not by the fatherly John Waldron, but by the obsessive martinet, "Swede" Larsen. Larsen is the most vivid character in this latter portion of the book, reminiscent somewhat of Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. VT-8 serves for a time aboard Saratoga, then as the Guadalcanal campaign heats up, and Saratoga is sidelined by a Japanese torpedo, VT-8 finds itself flying from the island itself, and subject to the conditions of privation there. Attrition of pilots and planes takes a toll on VT-8, and U.S. forces on Guadalcanal find themselves for a while in such straitened circumstances that VT-8 personnel are made to man foxholes alongside Marine infantrymen.
It is the vivid portrayal of individual men, and the insight the reader is given into their personal lives, that set A Dawn Like Thunder apart from other books that cover similar subject matter. I found it a refreshing break from reading "just the facts" style military history.