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Home > Curator's Corner > June 2010 > Torpedo Damage Report
Torpedo Damage Report
Intrepid Teens Blog
Posted: 6/21/2010 5:20:13 PM

As we inventory our collection, we continue to unearth new treasures.  One of our more recent finds is a copy of the War Damage Report from the crippling Japanese torpedo attack on February 17, 1944.  Intrepid had been in combat for less than one month before the torpedo hit sent her home for major repairs.  The damage report, prepared by the Hunter’s Point Naval Drydock in San Francisco, provides detailed information about the attack, resulting damage, and subsequent repairs.  Uncovering this report offers an opportunity to revisit this significant event, which gave the “Fighting I” her first battle scars.

On the evening of February 16, 1944, Intrepid was steaming at 20 knots about 80–100 miles east of Truk, an important anchorage and air base for the Japanese fleet.  Aircraft carriers were ordered to withhold fire to avoid detection in the moonless night.  Around 2123 hours, the task group detected Japanese aircraft in the area.  Just after midnight, one of these airplanes found a prime target: Intrepid, an Essex-class carrier new to the Pacific theater.

At approximately 0011 hours on February 17, a Japanese air-launched torpedo estimated at 400 pounds ripped through the aft end of the ship.  The low-flying plane probably spotted Intrepid’s silhouette and wake, despite the extreme darkness.  As the damage report described, “The noise was something of the nature of a muffled roar.  The explosion was ‘felt’ rather than ‘heard,’ giving the impression of a collision and a ‘shaking’ effect something like that experienced in a heavy sea.”

The torpedo pierced the steel hull near the point where the rudder post entered the ship.  The impact bent and jammed the rudder 10–15 degrees to port.  Immediately, the ship lost all steering control and began steaming in a circle, as illustrated in the report (below).  The ship’s crew regained a steady course by varying the relative speeds of the propellers, setting the port side screws to full power and the starboard side to a slower speed.  A jury-rigged canvas sail stretched across the fo’c’s’le and airplanes positioned on the flight deck helped stabilize the ship on the windy seas, allowing Intrepid to stay on course.

The damage extended well beyond the rudder.  The explosion opened a 10 by 15-foot hole in the side of the ship, flooding numerous compartments.  The ship’s internal armor box—designed to protect critical spaces—largely withstood the impact, but the shock of the blast left some spaces in a “shattered and deranged condition.”  The impact mangled equipment in the steering control room and the motor control room.  A powerful surge of water tore gun tub no. 15 off the side of the ship.  Located at the aft end of the flight deck, the gun tub was blown into the ocean, along with its guns and crew.  All told, eleven men were killed in the attack, and seventeen were wounded. 

Intrepid limped to Pearl Harbor for repairs.  The gaping hole in her hull was patched, as seen in the photo below, and a jury (temporary) rudder was installed.  She continued to Hunter’s Point for a full overhaul.  Shipyard workers installed a new rudder, repaired the hull, and replaced damaged equipment.  Intrepid’s propellers and two shafts were sent to nearby Mare Island Naval Shipyard for inspection, but no damage was found.  The lost gun tub had been attached to the ship by bolts.  In dry dock, workers rebuilt the gun tub and replaced all remaining gun tub bolts with welds.  On June 9, nearly four months after the torpedo hit, Intrepid left the West Coast for Pearl Harbor, ready to rejoin the fleet in the Pacific.

The war damage report acknowledged that Intrepid was lucky: “Damage to the steering outfit of a warship in battle is, of course, a grave matter.  The loss of steering control on the German battleship BISMARCK spelled the doom of this great vessel.  The escape of the INTREPID under cover of darkness in no way mitigates the seriousness of the steering loss sustained.”  Intrepid and her crew would be tested—and wounded—in battle numerous times, and the workers at Hunter’s Point would always meet the challenge of returning this great ship to fighting condition.

Jessica Williams
Curator of History