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Home > July 2015 > This Month in Intrepid’s History
This Month in Intrepid’s History
Seperator
Posted: 7/16/2015 12:00:00 AM

USS Intrepid was commissioned on August 16, 1943, joining the U.S. Navy in the middle of World War II. For the next two years the ship and crew trained, fitted out and fought their way across the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, the contributions the ship and crew made to victory were vital and the price they paid was high. Travel with our Museum tour guides here each month as they follow Intrepid’s journey and its crew’s experience throughout World War II.

June and July 1945: A Beginning at War’s End

The first of June 1945 found Intrepid back in Hunters Point, California. The ship needed repairs following its latest encounter with kamikaze suicide planes. As shipyard staff went to work on the damage, someone posted a sign nearby reminding them that “This Fighting Lady has a date in Tokio, DON’T MAKE HER LATE!” By the end of the month, the workers were finished, the crew was on board, and Intrepid was ready for yet another foray into the Pacific War. Of course, we now know that the war would soon be over, but at the time, the departure from California marked yet another uncertain beginning for the crew.

 
A Date in Tokyo
While shipyard workers repaired Intrepid’s latest battle damage, this sign hung nearby and cheered them on. (USS Intrepid Cruise Book, 1963)
 

While Intrepid was under repair, the Okinawa campaign had finally drawn to a close. With Okinawa secure, Intrepid’s crew knew that a far more dangerous target—Japan itself—would be their next objective. Corsair pilot Roy Erickson later recalled his feelings as Intrepid pulled away from the Golden Gate Bridge: “I was flushed with a wave of emotion as the bridge slowly disappeared over the horizon. It was one of the strongest poignant experiences that I had during my Navy tour. I thought it would be the last time I would ever see this beautiful edifice.” Sid Overall, a fellow squadron member, expressed similar feelings later on. He wrote, “It was indeed a dismal moment, and our morale hit an all-time low as we stood on deck watching the California coastline and all it represented, fade slowly away on the horizon.”

Though the captain and most of the crew sailed with Intrepid on June 29, some men stayed behind. According to Radar Operator Ray Stone, the senior medical officer decided that Intrepid’s original crew had seen enough battle action and that they should be assigned to other duty. For Stone, a plank owner who had helped bring Intrepid into commission two years earlier, the parting was difficult. “That I would even consider leaving my ship, and leaving my buddies, made me feel like a deserter … In less than a month, after the ship arrived back in the States, I was emptying my locker, packing my sea bag. I felt as I did when emptying one of my fallen buddy’s lockers. Empty.”

Intrepid arrived at Pearl Harbor on July 5, offloaded passengers and cargo and began two major training maneuvers that ran through most of July. On July 30, Intrepid left Pearl Harbor, bound for Eniwetok and a reunion with the Third Fleet. Along the way, Intrepid was scheduled for another training maneuver—a day of strikes against Wake Island.

 
Aerial shot
Taken in June 1945, this aerial reconnaissance photo of Wake Island shows the damage already inflicted on the isolated Japanese garrison before Intrepid’s “practice run” in early August. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. Gift of the children of Alfred Lerch. P2012.80.07)
 

Back in December 1941, when the Japanese moved to seize Wake Island, a handful of U.S. marines and construction workers held their ground in one of the war’s most legendary last stands. Though the defenders of Wake were eventually overwhelmed, their valor earned Wake the nickname “Alamo of the Pacific.” Yet for such a symbolically important possession, Wake’s strategic value was limited. When the U.S. Navy went on the offensive across the central Pacific Ocean in late 1943, Wake was raided by U.S. aircraft and then “hopped” over, leaving the island’s small Japanese garrison to rot. In the years that followed, it became something of a rite of passage for any passing carrier to use the island as target practice.

Upon arriving off Wake late on August 5, Air Group 10 commander John Hyland prepared his pilots for training strikes. Hyland wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about the operation. Wake’s Japanese defenders lacked air cover, but their guns still worked. As he later explained, “If there is anything that sounds unreasonable to a pilot, it is the idea that he should practice encountering fire from an anti-aircraft gun.” Throughout the following day, Intrepid launched 193 sorties against targets across Wake, without a single loss to enemy fire. By evening, Intrepid’s only casualties were two Helldivers with equipment failures. Both Helldiver crews made water landings and were picked up by destroyers.

Intrepid continued on to Eniwetok. The crew likely expected the next battle to be far more costly. No one yet realized that Wake was Intrepid’s final battle of the Pacific War. That same day, on the other side of the Pacific, a B-29 bomber dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima.

Michael Murtagh
Senior Tour Guide

 

Read the previous installments of "This Month in Intrepid's History":

October 1943
November 1943
December 1943
January 1944
February 1944
March 1944
April 1944
May 1944
June 1944
July 1944
August 1944
September 1944
October 1944
November 1944
December 1944
January 1945
February 1945
March 1945
April and May 1945

 



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