fleet was coming to invade Midway, the tiny atoll
where the U.S. Navy had chosen to make its stand.
Earnest wasn’t scared; he knew his job, and the
TBF was the best plane for the purpose. He was sure
they could hold their own when the battle began.
“We were told that the carriers were busy
protecting the Hawaiian Islands. We shouldn’t
expect any help from them. We were on our own.”
Ferrier and Manning had an idea. They affixed
wide masking tape to the leading edges of the
wings, at about where machine guns would be
on a fighter. Then they inked black holes on the
tape to appear as gunports. They hoped the TBF
might make some Zero pilot think twice about
The Battle Is Joined
The Americans knew what was coming but were
hardly able to stop it. At 0430 on June 4, the
first wave of 108 Japanese fighters and bombers
launched from Nagumo’s four carriers. On the
atoll, Earnest was awakened by the heavy roar
of big radial engines as the 16 B-17s took off.
He headed to his TBF and began preflighting
it. Ferrier and Manning checked their guns and
equipment. To the left and right, the other pilots
and crews did the same. The dawn sky lightened
as the aircrews waited for orders to take off.
Somewhere out there, a huge battle was about to
At 0555, Midway’s SQR-270 radar picked up a
series of contacts at 175 miles, coming southward.
Instantly, the alarms went off, and the island’s
Navy and Marine defenders took their positions.
Into the air went the Wildcats and Buffalos of
Major Floyd “Red” Parks’ VMF-221. Their job was
to shoot down as many of the incoming bombers
as possible. Earnest watched as a jeep drove up
to the TBFs. “A Marine yelled that the Japanese
force was at 320 degrees, 150 miles,” he says. “We
started the engines and took off right after the
[Marine] fighters. But we were on our own. No
fighters at all. They were needed for the defense
of Midway.” In the radio gunner’s compartment,
Ferrier looked out the small window and saw the
island fall away as they banked to the north.
Fieberling was easygoing and unruffled in the
most trying of circumstances, the perfect man
to lead his small detachment into battle for the
first time. His TBFs were to join up with the
Army B-26s and Marine dive-bombers to make a
combined attack on the Japanese fleet. But that
would prove to be impossible. The mixed bag of
Navy, Army, and Marine planes flew at different
altitudes and speeds. The Vindicators were a
hundred knots slower than the new TBFs. Some
of Waldron’s independent nature had worked
its way into Fieberling’s own personality. In the
end, he said they would find the enemy carriers
and attack, alone if necessary. Their planes were
armed with a Mark 13 aerial torpedo weighing
2,200 pounds with a 600-pound Torpex warhead.
STING OF THE WASP
When the damaged TBF
was landing, one gear leg
wouldn’t extend, and during
the rollout, the other folded.
Heavy equipment was used
to get it back on its feet.
(Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)