A Dawn Like Thunder
Tornado Squadron EightA Dawn Like ThunderRobert J. MrazekWorld War II Navy PilotsBattle of Midway



My first awareness of the story of Torpedo Squadron Eight came from the pen of novelist Herman Wouk, author of the The Caine Mutiny. It was Mr. Wouk’s account of the sacrifice of the torpedo squadrons at Midway that first brought their story alive for me. My first thoughts of researching the lives of these men took root after reading the following words, which followed his riveting account of their action that day.

What was not luck, but the soul of the United States of America in action, was this willingness of the torpedo plane squadrons to go in against hopeless odds. This was the extra ounce of martial weight that in a few decisive minutes tipped the balance of history. So long as men choose to decide the turns of history with the slaughter of youths—and even in a better day, when this form of human sacrifice has been abolished like the ancient, superstitious, but no more horrible form—the memory of these three torpedo squadrons should not die.

Who were these brave men, I wondered? How did they arrive at this moment of destiny, in which their personal sacrifice actually changed the course of the Pacific War against Japan?

Thanks to my good friend, the renowned Civil War historian Bob Krick, I learned that Torpedo Eight pilot Bert Earnest, who won two Navy Crosses at Midway, was living in Virginia. He agreed to my coming down for an interview, and I subsequently spent three days with Captain Earnest and his lovely wife Millie.

At the end of each day, I would go back to my room at the Dam Neck Bachelor Officers’ Quarters with a tape full of his stirring and powerful recollections. After reluctantly saying goodbye, the chase was on for the rest of the stories. In the years since, I was able to locate and interview many of the other survivors of the squadron, and to contact or visit many of the lost pilots’ families, friends, and schoolmates, which led to the discovery of hundreds of letters and photographs that helped to illuminate their lives.

This website is dedicated to the memory of Torpedo Eight. It has given me the opportunity to include letters, stories, and photographs that are not in the book. It is my hope that in the future, family members of the lost pilots and crews will contact me to provide more information about these extraordinary men. Hopefully, the website will continue to shed light into this small but important corner of the World War II landscape.

I wish to express my deep appreciation to the survivors of the squadron who I was able to personally meet or interview over the course of my research, including Bert Earnest, Smiley Morgan, Gene Hanson, Frank Balsley, Wiley Bartlett, George Bernstein, Del Delchamps, Harry Ferrier, Ski Kowalewski, Ridgeway Liccioni, Bill Magee, Lee Marona, Jack Stark, Bill Tunstall, and Judge Wendt. It was a privilege to talk to them all.

I am also grateful for the opportunity to have met so many of the family members, loved ones, and friends of those who never came back from the Pacific. They have kept the memories of the fallen aviators alive in their hearts.


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 blazed a trail their whole generation would follow. With an amazing depth of research and a keen eye for detail, Robert Mrazek has brought to vivid life an enduring tale of human tragedy and triumph that will speak down to the latest generation.”
—Richard B. Frank, author of Downfall and Guadalcanal

“A remarkably vivid tale of valor, fate, and young men dying young. Robert 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 and An Army at Dawn

A Dawn Like Thunder hooked me from the first page and didn’t let go. Robert Mrazek has written the definitive account of how the few American pilots of Torpedo Squadron Eight changed history at Midway and Guadalcanal. A stirring, truly heroic book that is destined to become a classic.”
—Alex Kershaw, author of The Longest Winter and The Few

“Bob Mrazek has found fresh material about the two pivotal Pacific battles of 1942 and written a marvelous book. His 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 and The Old Ball Game

“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 and Pearl Harbor Ghosts

“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 and Flags of Our Fathers


Mrazek (Stonewall's Gold) brilliantly captures the bravery of Squadron Eight in World War II's pivotal battle of Midway and the unit's subsequent involvement at Guadalcanal. Presented in logbook format, the author's clipped narrative offers fascinating vignettes of the aviators' prewar lives. At Midway the squadron, in obsolete torpedo bombers without fighter protection, was ordered to attack Japanese carriers—and was nearly decimated. Mrazek indicts the captain and air commander of the formation's carrier, the USS Hornet, for this fiasco and intimates that the squadron may have been used as a decoy to benefit high-altitude dive bombers as they took the greatest toll on the enemy flattops. Following Midway, Squadron Eight was reassigned to the USS Saratoga as part of a task force charged with expelling the Japanese from Guadalcanal. Mrazek's gripping account of the group's bombing activities is rich in detail and tactical analysis. A special treat is Mrazek's winsome epilog, which details the postwar achievements of the surviving squadron officers and men. A well-written and meticulously researched account of one of America's most distinguished World War II aerial groups; recommended for general military and aviation collections and all libraries.—John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs.  Ref. http://www.libraryjournal.com/




Stonewall’s Gold

Published by St. Martin’s Press, this highly-acclaimed novel tells the story of Jamie Lockhart, a young man who embarks on a quest that tests the limit of his courage and endurance in the last winter of the Civil War. Stonewall’s Gold won the Michael Shaara award as the best Civil War novel of 1999, the Civil War Society Seal of Approval, and was a main selection of the Literary Guild. Also honored by the American Library Association as one of its best books of the year, it was published in nine countries around the world.

To buy Stonwall's Gold, click here.

Unholy Fire: A Novel of the Civil War

Also published by St. Martin’s Press, Unholy Fire tells the story of John McKittredge, who is terribly wounded in one of the first battles of the Civil War. Recovering in Washington, DC hospital, he is recruited to join an unorthodox colonel in the Provost Marshal’s Department to investigate corruption in the War Department. In reviewing the book, award-winning author Nelson Demille wrote that, “Mrazek builds a time machine out of words and transports the reader back to the most critical period in American history. Great writing…great history.”

To buy Unholy Fire, click here.

The Deadly Embrace: A Novel of World War II

Published by Viking Press, Deadly Embrace brings alive a war-torn London in 1944. Elizabeth Marantz, a young officer working in the security command of General Eisenhower’s headquarters, investigates the deaths of two young women who turn out to have been the mistresses of two allied commanders. Deadly Embrace won the annual W.Y. Boyd prize as the best piece of military fiction published in 2006.

To buy The Deadly Embrace, click here.

To Kingdom Come:

An Epic Saga of Survival in the Air War Over Germany         

Published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group.  This is the true story of an aerial bombing mission to Stuttgart, Germany, that resulted in a shattering defeat of the U.S. Army Air Forces in the Second World War.  Drawing on declassified documents, confidential diaries, and internal interviews of the top commanders - and focusing on gripping first-person accounts of six of the B-17 airmen, this account vividly re-creates the fierce air battle above Stuttgart and reveals the often astonishing valor of the airmen who survived being shot down - and the tragic fate of those who did not.

"With power and passion, Robert J. Mrazek tells the story of one of the most calamitous American bombing missions of World War II....Mrazek writes about the ill-fated Stuttgart Raid as though he had gone into the heart of the Reich with the audacious American bomber crews...a great book with 'hold on to your seat' suspense."

--Donald L. Miller, Author of Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany

"Mrazek has uncovered the moment of profound exigency for the bomber crews, when the course and consequence of the air war converged and rendered it in vivid clarity."

--Hugh Ambrose, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Pacific

"Through superb historical research and powerful narrative writing, the author brings back to life a pivotal, heartbreaking episode."

--Tami Biddle, Professor, U.S. Army War College, and Author of Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare




entire site copyright Robert J. Mrazek 2008