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Home > January 2014 > This Month in <em>Intrepid</em>'s History
This Month in Intrepid's History
Seperator
Posted: 1/14/2014 10:02:27 AM

Intrepid at War: January 1944

USS Intrepid was commissioned seventy years ago this past August 16, joining the U.S. Navy in the middle of World War II. For the next two years this ship and crew trained, fitted out and then 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 heavy. Travel with our Museum Tour Guides here each month as they follow Intrepid’s journey and its crew’s experience throughout World War II.

January 1944: Task Force 58
 
Task Force 58

Task Force 58 of the US 5th Fleet lies at anchor in Majuro Atoll. Majuro is part of the Marshall Islands and was one of the objectives of Operation Flintlock. Atolls like Majuro allowed the U.S. Navy to gather strength before attacking the next objective. (National Archives)

On January 6, 1944, with repairs complete, Intrepid left California and set out for the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. When the ship arrived on January 10, tug boats helped maneuver Intrepid into a berth along Ford Island, the same berth once occupied by the battleship Tennessee during the attacks two years prior. Nearby, an upper section of the battleship Arizona still stood visible, serving as a tangible reminder to all sailors of why they were there. Crew member Raymond Stone later wrote, “Those of us looking down on the Arizona from the edge of the flight deck stood wrapped in solemn silence, thinking about the brave men who lost their lives defending their ship...Amidst those thoughts of the 1,177 Arizona crewmen killed that Sunday morning, I felt a surge of anger and resolve to avenge, to get even.

Meanwhile, the armada of warships surrounding Intrepid meant that that time had come. January 1944 was a watershed month for Intrepid, a period of transition that began with repairs in California and ended with Intrepid pilots in combat over the Marshall Islands.

Changes began shortly after arrival at Pearl Harbor. On January 10, Air Group 8 was officially detached from Intrepid,both its planes and pilots. Initially some crew members were unhappy about having “their” air group taken away. Over the past few months they had formed a strong bond with AG 8 and had trained to face combat together. As the ship’s newspaper later recalled, “It was a double hardship to lose them, for not only were they confidence-inspiring, but also they were old friends and, in complete contrast, nothing was known about the group coming aboard.”

Air Group 6 officially arrived on Intrepid shortly after AG 8 departed. In stark contrast to AG 8, AG 6 was a veteran outfit that had already seen a great deal of action in the first two years of the Pacific War. Most recently, in November 1943, they had served aboard the carrier Enterprise during Operation Galvanic, a series of raids in the Gilbert Islands that culminated in the invasion of Tarawa. Also in late November 1943, AG 6 had lost their commander, LCDR Edward “Butch” O’Hare, the first naval aviator to win the Medal of Honor. Despite their initial reservations, Intrepid’s crew quickly began to respect this new Air Group as they watched its planes land on the deck in an efficient, business-like manner. The ship’s newspaper later summed up this first impression, concluding, “This group went through take-off maneuvers and landings with deadly precision and machine-like accuracy that was thrilling to watch. Here were a bunch of men to be proud of, men who knew their business to the last detail.”
 
Air Group 6

Map of Intrepid’s wartime cruise shows the approach to the Marshalls, as well as the next objective at Truk. (National Museum of Naval Aviation Archives)

Coming together at Pearl Harbor that January, the sailors and aviators of Intrepid and AG 6 became part of a new fleet and phase of the Pacific War. Eighteen months earlier, at battles like Coral Sea and Midway, older carriers had fought a defensive campaign and halted the Japanese onslaught at Pearl Harbor. Then for nearly six months in the waters around Guadalcanal, both sides traded ships and time, wearing each other down in an attritional struggle to determine who would next take the initiative and go on the offensive.

Having won that right, in late 1943, the U.S. Navy concentrated its fleet of new, fast carriers for an offensive campaign across the Central Pacific. Initially known as the Central Pacific Force, this formation of ships is better known by its later designation the U.S. 5th Fleet. Under the overall command of Admiral Raymond Spruance, hero of the Battle of Midway, 5th Fleet included invasion and support forces, but its main hitting power came from an ever-growing strike force of fast carriers known as Task Force 58. Operation Galvanic, in November 1943, was just the first step, a dress rehearsal designed in part to test these new ships and the new doctrine and tactics that guided their use. Now their mission would be to raid a succession of Japanese-held islands and engage and destroy their air and naval forces as part of an advance on Japan itself. On January 16, Intrepid, along with carriers Essex and Cabot, left Pearl Harbor to link up with Task Force 58 for the next major objective, the Marshall Islands.
 
Intrepid's wartime cruise

Intrepid underway at sea without its air group. Sea trials at the end of November 1943 were designed to test the ships speed and maneuverability. (From the 1963 Cruise Book)

The Marshalls were a former German colony that, following World War I, was placed under Japanese administration by a League of Nations mandate. Over time, the Japanese had built a defensive network of airfields on several key islands from which their aircraft could control the nearby shipping lanes. By World War II, the Marshalls were an integral part of Japan’s defensive perimeter and a major objective for the U.S. Navy. The plan of attack, code named “Operation Flintlock”, called for the fast carriers of Task Force 58 to launch strikes against the airfields and then provide continuous air cover as an invasion force landed and seized the key islands. As Intrepid approached the Marshall Islands, anticipation for combat began to build. Entries in the diary of crew member Jacob Elefant took on an increasingly ominous tone:

January 24 – “Contacted first enemy sub but couldn’t get exact location: We’re in dangerous waters now.
January 28 – We’re wondering what’s wrong...they haven’t sent a plane out to meet us. Could be they don’t know we’re coming.”
Then on the morning of January 29, 1944, as Intrepid readied to launch planes into combat for the first time, Executive Officer Richard Gaines included a special message in the ship’s “Plan of the Day”: “We have an exciting schedule to meet – one which is timed to the minute with those of Essex and Cabot. This is the chance we’ve been waiting for. LET’S GO INTREPID!” After months of training, testing and preparation, Intrepid and its crew were finally going to be put to the test.
 
Read the previous installments of “This Month in Intrepid’s History”:

October 1943
November 1943
December 1943


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