Harry Ferrier, Last Midway Survivor of VT-8 has Passed Away

Harry Ferrier enlisted in the Navy on January 28, 1941, three days after his sixteenth birthday.  After boot camp and aviation radio school, he joined Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8) stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.

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Harry Ferrier in 2012. Photo via Mark Mulligan / The Herald

In 1941, VT-8 was flying the outdated TBD Devastator. But in early 1942, the squadron was selected to receive the first of the new TBF Avengers. Since Hornet was immediately needed in the Pacific, a small detachment of VT-8 was chosen to stay behind and train on the new planes. Harry Ferrier, his pilot Albert “Bert” Earnest and gunner Jay Manning were selected to be part of this detachment.

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Harry Ferrier (right) Bert Earnest (center) and replacement gunner Basil Rich (Left) with VT-8 on Guadalcanal

After about three months of training on the Avenger, Ferrier and the detachment of six Avengers were sent to Pearl Harbor to join the rest of VT-8. Arriving on May 28, 1942, the detachment had missed Hornet which had sailed for Midway the day earlier. The group then volunteered to fly directly to Midway Island to re-enforce the Marine Garrison there.

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Harry Ferrier and Bert Earnest’s TBF-1 after returning to base on June 4, 1942

On June 4, 1942, Harry Ferrier and his crew received word of Japanese aircraft heading towards Midway and sightings of an enemy fleet 150 miles out to sea. All six Avengers took off immediately. Five minutes later, Jay manning reported seeing Japanese planes starting their attack on Midway Island.  About an hour later, Bert Earnest saw Japanese ships on the horizon. As the Avengers prepared to attack, they were jumped by Japanese Zero’s. Harry Ferrier heard Jay Manning fire a few rounds from his turret but then go silent.  He looked up after feelings Manning’s blood drip on him and saw Manning’s lifeless body and the turret full of holes.

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View of the damaged gun turret

Flying at 200 feet, the Avengers pressed home their attacks on the Japanese fleet, but under a swarm of Zero’s they were being shot down one by one.  Canon shells from the Zero’s shot away the elevator, compass and hydraulics on Ferrier’s plane. Pilot Bert Earnest struggled with the controls but managed to release his torpedo at a Japanese cruiser. Soon after, Harry Ferrier was hit by shrapnel and knocked unconscious.

After fending off Zero’s and flying on dead reckoning, Bert Earnest managed to locate Midway Island. Harry Ferrier regained consciousness and Earnest asked him to confirm that the torpedo was successfully launched. Ferrier couldn’t tell because the window to the bomb bay was covered in blood.

Ferrier’s Avenger approached Midway and prepared for landing.  With only one wheel down, it was waived off twice. On the third approach Earnest touched down. The plane ground looped and came to a gentle stop.

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View of the damaged elevator on Ferrier’s plane. The photo was taken on June 7, 1942.

Harry Ferrier and Bert Earnest were alive. They were the only plane of VT-8 to return to base. 5 out of 6 of VT-8’s Midway based Avengers were lost and all 15 of their carrier based Devastators were shot down during the battle. Their Avenger had nearly 70 holes in it.

For his actions that day, Harry Ferrier was awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross. His pilot, Bert Earnest was awarded the Navy Cross and the Purple Heart.

Harry Ferrier continued to fly with VT-8 after the Battle of Midway, participating in the Battle of Guadalcanal.  After WWII, he stayed in the Navy and served in Korea and Vietnam.

Harry Ferrier passed away on April 26, 2016 at the age of 91. Rest in Peace and thank you for your service.

For more on the Battle of Midway See:

The Battle of Midway

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