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Home > February 2015 > This Month in Intrepid’s History
This Month in Intrepid’s History
Seperator
Posted: 2/25/2015 3:45:07 PM

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.
February 1945: Air Group 10

On February 12, 1945, Intrepid was off the coast of California in the midst of a post-repair shakedown cruise when four F4U Corsairs from Intrepid’s new air group touched down on the flight deck for the first time. The first plane was flown by Commander John Hyland, the commanding officer of Air Group 10 (AG-10), while Ensign Roy Erickson took up the rear, a position known as “Tail-End Charlie.”

Though they flew the same type of plane, commander and ensign could not have been more different. Hyland was something of a legend. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1934, Hyland served aboard USS Lexington (CV-2) and later as a pilot aboard USS Enterprise (CV-6). The outbreak of war found him piloting patrol planes in the Philippines. When the archipelago fell to the Japanese a few months later, Hyland’s plane was one of only three planes in a squadron of 46 to make it out. He went on to serve as the personal pilot of the chief of naval operations and was later handpicked to command the newly reorganized AG-10. Aboard Intrepid, Hyland’s reputation preceded him. The ship’s newspaper described him as “one of the most popular and widely experienced ‘CAGs’ in the Pacific.”

 

The officers of torpedo squadron VT-10 gathered on Intrepid’s flight deck. About one-third of them were veterans who had served with AG-10 during its previous deployment aboard Enterprise. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum)

Erickson, on the other hand, was something of an unknown quantity. He was what fellow pilots would call a “nugget,” a rookie aviator who had yet to see action. The 22-year-old was “proud beyond words” to have been chosen as Hyland’s Tail-End Charlie, reckoning his commander “the best damn fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy.” However, during that first landing aboard Intrepid, Erickson was very nervous, fearful that he might mess up and let his hero down. In the end all went well, and a few hours later, after Hyland met with the ship’s senior officers, the four aircraft took off without incident. Erickson later wrote, “We made a fine impression on all the ship’s company; they knew they were getting one hot air group.”

The experience gap between Hyland and Erickson reflected the nature of Intrepid’s new air group as a whole. By that point in the war, AG-10 was already a storied outfit. It had made two full combat deployments aboard Enterprise, and by war’s end, it would be the only air group to have operated each of the Navy’s primary fighter aircraft. (Coincidently, AG-10’s first commanding officer was none other than Commander Richard Gaines, who went on to serve as Intrepid’s very first executive officer.) Within each of the four squadrons that made up AG-10, between one-quarter and one-third of the pilots were battle-tested veterans either returning for another deployment with AG-10 or coming from other experienced units. Among them, for example, Lieutenant Commander Wiler Rawie had most recently served as the superintendent of training at a naval air station in Florida. As a former squadron mate of Hyland’s, he was handpicked to lead one of the squadrons in AG-10, and he brought some of his best instructors and students with him. Lieutenant Commander John Creig “Larry” Lawrence led AG-10’s torpedo squadron. He was a Pearl Harbor survivor who made it off the USS West Virginia (BB-48) before that mighty battleship sank on December 7, 1941. Transferring to naval aviation, he distinguished himself leading anti-submarine warfare operations in the Atlantic Ocean. In 1963, he would return to Intrepid again, but this time as the ship’s captain.

Their experience would serve the air group well.  A majority of the pilots in AG-10 were, like Erickson, nuggets.

 

After commanding torpedo squadron VT-10 aboard Intrepid in 1945, LCDR John Creig “Larry” Lawrence returned to his old ship 18 years later as captain.
(Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum)

For Intrepid, AG-10 was not just a new air group but a new type of air group. Following the introduction of massed kamikaze attacks during the Leyte Gulf campaign in October 1944 and the high casualties among fast carriers, the Navy took decisive action. Beginning in late 1944, the Navy reduced the number of torpedo bombers and dive bombers in air groups, in favor of substantially increasing the number of fighter planes. Aboard Intrepid, AG-10 operated just 15 torpedo bombers and 15 dive bombers, and 72 fighters. Its fighter was the F4U Corsair, a high-performance aircraft that had already distinguished itself in the hands of U.S. Marine Corps pilots. With a few refinements, Corsairs were now serving alongside the F6F Hellcat as the Navy’s primary fighter. Intrepid’s 72 Corsairs were divided into two separate squadrons. While fighter squadron VF-10 fulfilled the traditional role of the fighter aircraft, taking on enemy planes in the sky, fighter-bomber squadron VBF-10 was equipped to carry ordnance for attacks on ground targets and ships. At the time, Intrepid was one of just two carriers equipped with this new, experimental type of squadron.

 

Aboard Intrepid, Air Group 10 included a fighter squadron and a new fighter-bomber squadron. Together they operated a total of 72 F4U Corsairs (pictured). (Courtesy of the National Naval Aviation Museum)

On February 20, Intrepid departed San Francisco with AG-10, bound for Pearl Harbor. For some members of the air group, Intrepid’s recent brushes with disaster were somewhat unsettling. All the men were fully aware of what the ship and its previous air group, AG-18, had experienced during the kamikaze attacks of November 1944, and Erickson later remembered seeing photos taken by AG-18 passed around in his ready room. One air group historian went so far as to call Intrepid “the bulls-eyes[sic] of the Jap air force.” The crew would not have a chance to assess the pilots, however, until after arrival at Pearl Harbor. Intrepid was again transporting passengers and equipment, including another entire air group, which made aerial operations impossible.

Shortly after arriving at Pearl Harbor, Intrepid headed back out to sea for a five-day training cruise with its new air group. A week earlier, Erickson had left Intrepid believing that he and his fellow Corsair pilots had made a good impression on the ship’s company. This time around, however, at least some of Intrepid’s sailors and officers were not impressed by what they saw. After watching the first day of operations, Aviation Machinist’s Mate Jacob Elefant wrote in his diary that it “showed they needed lots of practice.” A few days later, he followed up with the slightly more positive observation that “although the air group has improved a lot they’re still a green bunch.” Lieutenant Commander William F. B. Lindenberger agreed, noting in his own journal that the “pilots were eager but rather inexperienced.”

The training cruise was cut short after just one day. Intrepid was ordered back to Pearl Harbor to begin immediate preparations to depart and join the fleet at Ulithi. Further familiarization and training would have to take place en route as Intrepid made its third foray into the Pacific War.

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

 


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