On the eve of the Battle of Midway, Torpedo Squadron Eight’s skipper, Lieutenant Commander John Waldron, steeled his men for battle with these prophetic words: “If there is only one plane left to make the final run-in, I want that man to go in and get a hit.” The next day, June 4, 1942, he led the squadron’s 15 Douglas TBD Devastators in a desperate attack against the Japanese fleet. All were shot down; only one man survived.
Soon after the battle, the torpedo bombers were withdrawn from frontline service and, of the 129 Devastators built, none survive today except for a few wrecks at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
But, in 2019, San Diego’s USS Midway Museum acquired the next best thing: the Devastator replica used in filming last year’s Midway. Made of metal tubing, wood, and foam, the faux Devastator looks like the real deal, complete with corrugated skin. Indeed, it’s so well fabricated that a greasy oil pan placed on the floor beneath the engine could fool even the most discerning airplane buff.
While the Midway aircraft carrier museum doesn’t ordinarily display replicas, “we had no qualms about displaying this one,” says Walt Loftus, the museum’s airwing director. He adds, “The replica arrived in pieces [from Lionsgate’s Montreal movie studio] and took over 2,000 hours to assemble, paint, and get the cosmetics right.” Asked about its relevance in a museum setting, Loftus points out: “There is nothing like it in the world unless you go underwater to get one.”
The loss of Torpedo Eight wasn’t in vain; their heroic charge kept the enemy off balance, disrupting Japanese plans to launch a quick counterstrike against the American carriers. Recognizing that sacrifice, Midway’s Devastator, a re-creation of the one flown by Torpedo Eight’s sole survivor, Ensign George Gay, will be displayed alongside a Dauntless dive bomber and Wildcat fighter, honoring the men and airplanes who fought the pivotal battle.