Capt. Bert Earnest, Midway hero, to speak to Pelican SquadronSun Herald - 06/02/02
...Capt. Bert Earnest, Midway hero, to speak to Pelican Squadron
The god of war smiled on United States forces at Midway.
"In 30 hours, at the Battle of Midway, the fate of World War II was changed in the Pacific," according to commentary from newsreel footage taken at the time.
It was the pivotal Pacific engagement of the Second World War.Statistically, it was a battle the U.S. Navy
had little chance of winning.
...Capt. Bert Earnest (Ret.) of Richmond, Va., 84, winner of two Navy Crosses in a single day during that battle, will be the featured speaker at the Golden Pelican Squadron's 60th anniversary luncheon June 21 in Sarasota to commemorate this battle.
The squadron is comprised of 120 former naval aviators who live on Florida's west coast.
The deck was stacked against the U.S. Navy
at the start of the battle.
...Earnest was a member of Torpedo Bomber Squadron No. 8, Midway.His
primary targets were Japanese aircraft carriers, the heart of the enemy's giant fleet.
By war's end, Earnest
would be a naval hero.He
not only receive two Navy Crosses, this country's second-highest award for valor, for the part he
played at the Battle of Midway, but he
was also awarded a third Navy Cross for attacking Japanese ships in "The Slot" off Guadalcanal, later in the war.
took off from Midway that morning 60 years ago, Earnest
was flying a Grumman TBF-1 Avenger.It was a torpedo bomber with a crew of three.It had one .30-caliber machine gun he
controlled, a .50-caliber machine gun in the upper turret handled by SEA 1/c Jay D. Manning, a .30-caliber machine gun operated by RMN 3/c Harry H. Ferrier, the rear gunner, and a 2,000-pound torpedo carried internally and dropped by the pilot.
"When we arrived at Midway on June 1, they told us a Japanese attack was imminent," Earnest
said."Every morning for the first couple of days we woke up at 4 a.m., warmed up our engines and waited to be called.
"On June 4 they found the Japanese
.Our squadron leader told me, 'The Japanese fleet is at 320 degrees, 150 miles from Midway.' That was an hour's flying time," Earnest
"A few moments after I spotted the enemy fleet, my rear gunner said, 'We're being attacked by Zeros!' That became very apparent.My upper turret gunner was killed almost immediately by machine gun fire," he
Upward of two dozen enemy fighters buzzed around the much slower, less maneuverable Avengers like hornets.
Then the tail gunner was hit by fire and knocked out," Earnest
said."We had no fire power, except forward." He
hit the deck with the enemy Zeros in hot pursuit.At 200 feet above the waves, he
was flying at torpedo altitude.His
speed was 125 knots, the proper speed for releasing his
torpedo.But the enemy carriers were still four or five miles away.They weren't within torpedo range.
"We were getting the hell shot out of us by Zeros.They would shoot their machine guns, to get the range.Then they would fire their 20 mm cannons at us," he
It didn't seem to bother me," Earnest
recalled."About that time my elevator controls went limp.When I moved the stick back and forth nothing happened.My controls were shot out."
With no controls, both his
upper turret and tail gunners killed or wounded and enemy fighters swarming all around his
plane, things were getting dicey.
did everything possible to dodge the two enemy fighters, even though his
stick was inoperable.
"They were peppering my plane with machine gun fire.I couldn't return their fire because my only working machine gun was pointed forward.After four or five minutes, the Zeros left," he
In addition to having few controls and little fire power, his
compass was shot out and his
radio disabled.The most direct route home was to fly over the Japanese fleet.He
didn't want to do that.To evade the enemy fleet, Earnest
headed south.Later he
would fly east toward his
base, a speck of sand in the middle of the wide Pacific.
"I turned east toward the sun after a while.I flew, and flew and flew, but I saw nothing but water," he
said."I decided to go up to 4,000 feet and see if I could see anything more.There, off to the east, was a huge black plume of smoke.
On the third time around I said, 'The hell with it.' I decided to put it down," Earnest
"I landed very nicely on one wheel.My right wing eventually dropped down, hit the ground and spun the plane 270 degrees.It ended up parked beautifully on the side of the runway," he
Earnest's Avenger was the only one of six that flew from Midway to make it back.His
torpedo bomber had 64 7.7 mm machine gun bullets and nine 20 mm cannon holes in it.
"I climbed out of the airplane a little shaken.I started to run around and see if my upper turret gunner was dead.A big Marine stopped me.
"I didn't have a damn thing to do with winning the Battle of Midway," Earnest
said."I just was in it."
Torpedo bomber pilot tells his
tale Capt. Bert Earnest (USN Ret.) is the principal speaker at a luncheon commemorating the Battle of Midway hosted by the Golden Pelican Squadron on June 21 at Michael's on East in Sarasota. He
received two Navy Crosses for heroism in one day at Midway.The Pelican Squadron is comprised of 125 retired Naval aviators from all wars who live in Southwest Florida.
There are a limited number of tickets available for the public.Luncheon tickets are $15 per person.
...Source: "Avengers at Midway" by Capt. Albert K. Earnest