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Home > Curator's Corner > February 2010 > Intrepid in Vietnam
Intrepid in Vietnam
Intrepid Teens Blog
Posted: 2/19/2010 4:58:10 PM

One of the most exciting aspects of working at the Intrepid Museum is that there is no shortage of fascinating historical topics to explore. While organizing our research files, we recently uncovered a number of historic press releases highlighting the ship’s role in Vietnam. This edition of the Curator’s Corner offers a very brief introduction to Intrepid’s first tour of duty in Southeast Asia.

In 1961, Intrepid was converted from an attack carrier to an antisubmarine warfare (ASW) carrier, a common modification for the aging ships of the Essex class. Over the next few years, her deployments took her to Canada, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean. At the end of 1965, Intrepid and her crew quietly began training for a new mission. The attack aircraft of Carrier Air Wing 10, including A-1 Skyraiders and A-4 Skyhawks, replaced the ship’s former complement of ASW aircraft, suggesting that the ship would no longer be tracking Soviet submarines.

Halfway around the world, the U.S. was closely monitoring the increasingly turbulent situation in Vietnam. Following two incidents between American and North Vietnamese ships in early August 1964, Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to use force against Communist North Vietnam. In early 1965, the U.S. commenced Operation Rolling Thunder, a sustained bombing campaign carried out in part by Navy aircraft carriers stationed off the Vietnamese coast. By December 1965, no fewer than 10 U.S. aircraft carriers had seen combat. However, Gen. William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. ground forces in Vietnam, sought additional air coverage. He requested an aircraft carrier dedicated to supporting combat operations in South Vietnam.

On February 23, 1966, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara publicly announced that Intrepid would help fulfill Westmoreland’s request:

In order to maintain the attack carrier force off Vietnam, we are, as I noted, deploying one of the Atlantic-based carriers, the Intrepid, to Southeast Asia. Very minor modifications were required on this vessel to permit it to operate light attack aircraft and it can be quickly reassigned to its antisubmarine role.

On April 4, less than six weeks after McNamara’s announcement, Intrepid left Norfolk for her first deployment to Asia since World War II. On May 15, Intrepid launched her first combat missions in more than two decades. For the “Fighting I,” combat in Vietnam bore little resemblance to the Pacific battles fought two decades earlier. During World War II, Intrepid came under heavy fire as Japanese aircraft, ships, and kamikazes relentlessly attacked the ship. During Vietnam, Intrepid herself remained out of harm’s way, stationed miles off the coast. However, her aviators faced constant danger as they flew over hostile targets. In the stifling heat, Intrepid crew members worked at a frantic pace to support near-constant launchings and landings, as well as a steady schedule of underway replenishments and refuelings.

By the conclusion of her first Vietnam deployment, Intrepid aviators had flown 7,353 attack sorties and dropped 9,239 tons of ordnance on targets in North and South Vietnam. Air Wing 10’s victories included 423 barges sunk and 555 others damaged, 70 trucks destroyed and 50 others damaged, and 266 railroad cars destroyed or damaged. Flying a propeller-driven A-1H Skyraider, Intrepid pilot Lt (jg) William T. Patton shot down a North Vietnamese MiG-17. Intrepid lost one pilot in action during her first Vietnam tour. Lt. Charles Knochel’s Skyraider was shot down following an armed reconnaissance mission. Several other crew members were lost in accidents.

On November 23, 1966, Intrepid pulled into port at Norfolk. Her crew celebrated the ship’s return, grateful to be home for the holidays. However, the respite was short lived. On May 11, 1967, Intrepid again headed east for the second of what would become three tours of duty in Vietnam.

Jessica Williams
Curator of History