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Home > March 2015 > This Month in Intrepid’s History
This Month in Intrepid’s History
Seperator
Posted: 3/25/2015 2:31:49 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.

March 1945: Okinawa and Kyushu

“The biggest battle that we were in was Okinawa and Kyushu. Nothing, nothing on this Earth did we find like Okinawa and Kyushu.” - Roy Latall, Intrepid former crew member,August 16, 2013

Leyte Gulf was undoubtedly the largest naval battle of the Pacific War, but if we were to measure scale based on the number of lives lost instead of the tonnage of ships involved, then that unfortunate distinction would belong instead to Okinawa.

By the early spring of 1945, the Allied advance across the Pacific was quickly approaching the Japanese home islands. Allied strategists saw Okinawa, located just 350 miles south of Kyushu, as the logical final stepping stone of the island-hopping campaign, a springboard for the final assault on Japan itself. The strategic importance of Okinawa was not lost on the Japanese, and in March 1945 their military high command declared Okinawa “the focal point of the decisive battle for the defense of the Homeland.”

Though today the engagement that followed is perhaps better remembered for the slow attritional struggle that took place on the ground, at sea Okinawa was the single bloodiest battle in U.S. Navy history. By the time the island was finally secure, the U.S. Navy alone suffered nearly 10,000 casualties off Okinawa, most of them at the hands of kamikaze pilots.

On March 13, 1945, Intrepid arrived at Ulithi fresh from repair to rejoin Admiral Raymond Spruance’s Fifth Fleet. With the invasion of Okinawa just two weeks away, the fleet’s first mission was to launch carrier raids on the home islands, neutralizing kamikaze aircraft and airfields that might interfere with the upcoming operation. Many of Intrepid’s crew members had already faced kamikaze aircraft off the Philippines in the fall of 1944. For those who came aboard later, harbingers of the threat they faced were clear. As Intrepid sailed from Ulithi, Japanese radio propagandist Tokyo Rose provided her own chilling reminder. During a broadcast, she reportedly remarked, “We welcome Intrepid to the Okinawa area…Kamikaze division number 147 will join you on your arrival.” While Intrepid’s next stop was actually Kyushu, her warning turned out to be otherwise accurate.

On March 18, 1945, Intrepid returned to combat for the first time since November 1944, launching a series of strikes against Northern Kyushu that bomber squadron VB-10’s official history later declared “the deepest penetration of Japan yet made by carrier planes.” Strikes continued all day long, and by sunset, Intrepid pilots had damaged or destroyed 70 enemy aircraft.

 

March 18, 1945. Deflected by anti-aircraft fire, a Japanese kamikaze explodes 50 feet from Intrepid, showering the ship with burning debris. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum)

Crew member Ray Stone later wrote that the Japanese “response to our raids was intense and fanatical.” Even before Intrepid’s first strike that morning, enemy aircraft were already threatening the Fifth Fleet. All day long Japanese aircraft, both kamikaze and conventional, maintained a nearly constant assault on Intrepid and its fellow carriers offshore.

Just after eight o’clock in the morning, crew members spotted a large twin engine bomber approaching Intrepid, flying low and close to the water.  As it came within 6,000 yards of the ship and seemingly straight for him, Lieutenant William Lindenberger ordered his battery of 40mm guns to open fire. He later described in his journal what happened next:

Our 5in [guns] let him have it, but he kept coming. My 40mm + 2 two others got the range on him and set him afire at about 3000 yds. He kept coming. At 2000 yds. I saw my tracers going into him consistently, he was burning from wing tip to wingtip but he kept coming. I thought he was going to crash into us at my gun but just before he hit his right wing dipped and he paralleled the ship at 100 to 150 fleet. There was an explosion – water started raining down on us and there a thick smoke appeared.
                 
At the last second, anti-aircraft fire had deflected the bomber, preventing it from crashing into Intrepid directly. However, the explosion spewed burning debris across the starboard side of the ship, damaging aircraft and starting fires on the hangar deck. More damage was caused by a stray 5-inch round from the cruiser Atlanta that hit Intrepid by mistake, killing one man and wounding 44 others. While damage was minor and casualties light, the experience was jarring so soon after returning to combat. Lidenberger wrote that his “gunner was as steady as a watchmaker during the run but afterward he shook like a leaf.”

 

March 18, 1945. Intrepid [center] burns after being hit by debris from a deflected kamikaze. Although damage to the ship was negligible, friendly fire from a nearby cruiser did cause some casualties. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum)

Meanwhile, Intrepid’s fellow carriers were far less fortunate. In the first three days off Kyushu, Enterprise, Wasp and Franklin were all knocked out of action by enemy planes. Damage to Franklin was so severe that the carrier lost more than 800 men. Though it did not sink, Franklin never returned to service. From 20 miles away, Stone remembered watching the disabled carrier burn: “A towering column of fire and smoke marked it, like a Viking funeral pyre.”

 

March 18, 1945. With enemy aircraft en route, Yorktown’s crew clear the flight deck and push munitions into the water while carriers Enterprise and Intrepid operate nearby. In two days, five U.S. carriers—Wasp, Franklin and the three pictured here—were damaged by enemy aircraft. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum)

On March 21, having destroyed 500 enemy planes on, above and around Kyushu, the Fifth Fleet headed south to Okinawa. Arriving on the 23rd, Intrepid spent the next seven days launching pre-invasion strikes against Okinawa’s defenses. Then on April 1, in an operation that “rivaled the Allied invasion of Normandy in size,” the U.S. Navy landed soldiers and marines on Okinawa.

Intrepid’s offensive role now shifted to close air support. Its bombers and fighter-bombers provided air strikes at the request of soldiers and marines on the ground. Simultaneously, off the coast of Okinawa, Intrepid’s fighters and anti-aircraft guns battled a constant stream of kamikaze aircraft. Aviation Machinist’s Mate Roy Latall later remembered spending a full four days straight at general quarters. He helped distribute sandwiches to men who were forced to eat and sleep right at their battle stations.

 

March 26–27, 1945. Aerial photographs track the results of pre-invasion strikes near Okinawa. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum)

On April 6, 1945, the constant stream of kamikaze aircraft turned into one massive wave. The Japanese launched 700 aircraft, half of them kamikazes, in the first of 10 large-scale coordinated assaults. Fortunately for the Fifth Fleet, the increased number of fighter aircraft in each air group, combined with early warnings provided by destroyers on radar picket duty, managed to blunt the worst of the attack. Hellcats and Corsairs tore into the ranks of the approaching enemy aircraft, downing 288. Thirty-nine more fell to the Fifth Fleet’s anti-aircraft guns. Unfortunately, 22 other enemy aircraft made it through, sinking three destroyers and several smaller vessels.

Though Intrepid came through this first mass assault largely unscathed, the battle for Okinawa was far from over. Incessant attacks by kamikaze planes would continue to threaten Intrepid in the weeks that followed. On the immediate horizon, however, was a different type of kamikaze, already approaching Okinawa by sea—a vessel that Intrepid had faced once at Leyte Gulf and would confront again on April 7, 1945, in the final major naval engagement of World War II.

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

 


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