Firsthand Reflections on a Historic Torpedo Attack

Feb 21, 2020 - 5:07pm

This month marks the anniversary of a significant but sobering milestone in Intrepid’s history: when the ship endured its first attack from Japanese aircraft.

On February 16, 1944, the U.S. 5th Fleet attacked Truk Atoll, a major Japanese naval base. Intrepid’s aircraft helped destroy military installations, ships, and aircraft on the island, successfully neutralizing Truk. However, in the early hours of February 17, a lone Japanese aircraft released an aerial torpedo that struck Intrepid in the stern, killing 11 men and damaging the ship’s hull and rudder.

Here are edited excerpts from oral history interviews with three Intrepid crew members as they recall the terrifying moment when the torpedo struck their ship.

Joseph D. Murphy Sr.: “The ship was torpedoed in a night attack. We had just been released from general quarters. General quarters is when everyone is put on alert and you’re all manning your guns expecting maybe some kind of an attack. All of a sudden the ship just rocked and shook, and you didn’t know what it was that hit it. It was just a fierce shaking, and then you found out that we had taken a torpedo in the aft end of the ship. It knocked out our rudder, and a lot of our crew, unfortunately, were lost in that, that debacle.”

Thomas Dugan: “That night the Japanese pilots came out looking for us, and they dropped four flares in front of us. They knew where we were; they were just trying to spot us so their torpedo planes could get a silhouette. That went on for about an hour, and it was a frightening thing. The flare finally went out and we said, maybe it’s over with for the night, but it wasn’t really. Six minutes after midnight, the ship started lurching in the air. I couldn’t figure out what in the world is going on. We got out of our bunks and headed toward our battle stations. I opened the door to number one elevator, and the phone talker was passed out on the deck—passed out in fright, I guess. I got the phones off of him and put them on and asked what was going on. They said a torpedo hit in the aft part of the ship.”


Ernest Faw: “That night it was so hot. Me and this guy, we got our pillows and went up on the flight deck and laid down where the wind would hit us. It was twelve o’clock, or a little after, and there was a Marine on watch on the flight deck. All at once I heard him holler, ‘He dropped it, he dropped it!’ I raised up, and I could see the exhaust of this plane coming. It had two exhaust pipes, lit up us like headlights. He was coming right at us. He went across the flight deck and was gunning it, getting out. But he had dropped a torpedo. I thought it was going to turn theship over. The bow went down, and the stern went up, then it went down again, and then it shook. It killed several people.”

A man and woman read an exhibit panel on Intrepid's flight deck while their child points at the propeller of an aircraft.

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