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Home > May 2015 > This Month in Intrepid’s History
This Month in Intrepid’s History
Seperator
Posted: 5/18/2015 10:06:12 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.

April and May 1945: Okinawa—Sink the Yamato

In the late afternoon of April 6, 1945, the remnants of the Japanese Combined Fleet left the Inland Sea, bound for Okinawa. Led by the super battleship Yamato, this small force of cruisers and destroyers was on a suicide mission code-named Operation Ten-Go. Their orders were to race south to Okinawa, fight their way through the Allied forces arrayed around the island and then beach themselves. The hope was that the beached vessels could serve as coastal artillery batteries. Their guns would punish invading Allied forces until ammunition ran out. Then the ships’ crews could join the garrison defending Okinawa.

However, by late 1945, Japanese naval strategy, including Operation Ten-Go, was far removed from reality. Yamato and its escorts had little chance of getting anywhere near Okinawa.

 

Yamato under attack by U.S. Navy aircraft, April 7, 1945.
(Courtesy of the National Archives)

At 8:23am on April 7, 1945, Intrepid received word that a force of Japanese ships, including one super battleship, had been sighted heading south from Japan. Orders to sink Yamato quickly went out to the three nearest task groups. At 10:38am, Intrepid launched just over half the planes that would make the third and final assault. After flying through bad weather for 280 miles, Intrepid’s pilots finally spotted the Japanese force and at 1:30pm moved in to attack. Twelve Avengers, Intrepid’s torpedo bombers, swung away from the battleship, heading for the smaller escorts. In a radio interview recorded a few weeks after the battle, one of the Avenger pilots, Lt. Grant “Jack” Young, a young farmer from Dixon, Illinois, described what happened next:

  • “Jack: Well, through a freak I got separated from the rest of my group, and I could not attack the same ships that they were attacking, which happened to be a cruiser and a destroyer. It was necessary for me to go in on this battleship all by myself.
  • Announcer: In other words, you made a lone run on the Yamato.
  • Jack: It was a lone run.
  • Announcer: And no other aircraft to divert the firing. Was there a lot of firing going on at you at that time?
  • Jack: Very much so...”
  • “Announcer: But you plowed right on through, huh?
  • Jack: Yeah, I went into a snake dance there, and jinked very much here and there, and got in and out alright…”
  • “Announcer: After it, when it hit, what did the ship look like? Describe that, will you?
  • Jack: Well, it—the ship lifted up out of the water and moved sideways. It just heaved out of the water.”
 

Lt. Jg. Grant “Jack” Young (middle row center) was the only Intrepid pilot credited with dropping a torpedo that hit the Yamato during the April 7, 1945 engagement.
(History of Torpedo Squadron 10)

Jack was officially credited with the last of eight or nine torpedo hits on Yamato that day, earning the Navy Cross for his valor. As Jack headed back to Intrepid, Yamato began to capsize. Fires burning inside reached the munitions stored in the magazine, and the entire battleship exploded. Intrepid pilots still in the vicinity experienced a blinding flash and then watched as a tremendous mushroom cloud rose nearly five miles into the sky. Ensign Salvatore Carlisi, watching from his Corsair, later wrote, “In the shortest time in naval history the Battleship Yamato was seen to roll over with a thunderous explosion and was no more.”

Yamato was something of a white elephant, built as the ultimate weapon of a quickly passing form of naval warfare. It never once fulfilled its primary purpose of engaging American battleships. Yet the sinking of Yamato remains a significant moment in Intrepid’s history because of what the super battleship symbolized. While Intrepid’s triumph over Yamato was a moment of celebration, the battle for Okinawa—and the war itself—were both far from over.

 

After being hit by at least 8 torpedoes and numerous bombs Yamato explodes.
(Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command)

The super battleship Yamato may have been on a suicide mission, but since late October 1944, suicide attacks by air—by kamikaze aircraft—remained Intrepid’s single greatest threat. By this time, Intrepid had survived four kamikaze attacks. On April 16, 1945, a kamikazeairplane damaged Intrepid for the fifth and final time.

In the days before the fifth attack, kamikaze aircraft flew out to challenge the U.S. Fifth Fleet with renewed intensity. On April 16, around 1:30pm, seven Japanese aircraft broke through the destroyer pickets and combat air patrols. They were headed straight for Intrepid. Gunnery officer Lt. Cmdr. William Lindenberger recorded in his diary what happened next: “The planes were in to 4 miles and coming from 3 sides simultaneously... 6 of the Japs were splashed—the seventh splattered on our flight deck.”

 

Fires rage on Intrepid’s flight deck following Intrepid’s 5th Kamikaze hit, April 16, 1945.
(Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum)

From his post, Lindenberger could not see the impact but later wrote, “It felt as if some giant sledge hammer had fallen with all its force.” The aircraft punched through to the hangar deck, and its bomb tore a five-by-five-foot hole in the deck armor. Nine lives were lost, 21 men were wounded, and 40 planes were destroyed.

This attack was not Intrepid’s first brush with disaster, and the experienced crew knew what to do. Within one hour the fires were out, and within three hours planes were landing on the flight deck once again. However, the damage was still severe, and Intrepid had no choice but to begin the long journey back to Hunters Point, California.

Just shy of a month after its fifth kamikaze attack, Intrepid sailed into San Francisco Bay, in need of repairs for the fourth time since its commissioning. For many of the men aboard Intrepid, it was a moment of jubilation: they were returning home. Crew member Jacob J. Elefant described the experience in his diary:

    “At 0800 we could make out the coastline but it wasn't until noon that we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge and a mighty cheer went up by all. It’s hard to realize what the sight of that bridge means to us, coming in.  At a few minutes past one we tied up at Alameda and began unloading planes and passengers.  Liberty commenced at 1600 but my section doesn't rate until tomorrow.  We were gone from the states just 1 day short of 3 months but it seemed like 3 years.”

Intrepid’s role in the fight for Okinawa was over, but the battle would rage through most of June. As they cheered the Golden Gate Bridge, the men of Intrepid fully expected to head back to war at least one last time for what most believed would be the last and greatest battle—the assault on Japan itself. Little did they know what turns the war would take.

 

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

 


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