Rainbow Band
Donate to the Intrepid Museum
Home > August 2014 > This Month in Intrepid’s History
This Month in Intrepid’s History
Posted: 8/21/2014 9:25:53 AM

USS Intrepid was commissioned seventy-one years ago, as of 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 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.

August 1944: Halsey's 3rd Fleet
This Month in Intrepid’s History

Commander Richard Gaines cuts an Intrepid-themed cake in honor of the ships first anniversary, August 16, 1944. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.)
Seventy years ago on August 16, 1944, the men of Intrepid gathered to celebrate the first anniversary of the ship’s commissioning. To commemorate the occasion the cooks baked a 728-pound (330 kg) Intrepid-themed cake. The batter alone required no less than 1,080 eggs. Though the refreshments were memorable, the anniversary celebration was tempered by the realization that Intrepid was finally returning to the Pacific War. Addressing the crew as he cut the cake, Commander Richard Gaines told his men, “She’s a happy ship today as we realize the direction we are sailing. We can’t win the war without smelling the smoke of battle. We are on our way again for just that.” The ships newspaper put this sentiment a little more bluntly, when an editorial observed, “We can understand the celebrating of a birthday or a personal anniversary, but as far as fighting ships are concerned, only their victories and those of the fleet should be celebrated.” Both comments were timely. By the end of the day Intrepid left Pearl Harbor to join a new fleet with a new commander and mission. By the end of August, the ship and crew were on their way back into the “smoke of battle” and the Pacific War.

From Pearl Harbor Intrepid headed first to the Marshall Islands to rendezvous with elements of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. Commanded by Admiral Raymond Spruance, the 5th Fleet was the same formation that Intrepid had left behind in February. However, in the interim, it had grown considerably. Including Intrepid, the 5th Fleet’s carrier force now numbered 16 carriers, six battleships, and 80 cruisers and destroyers. Only half of these ships were present when Intrepid arrived on August 24, but nonetheless many crew members were struck by the sight of so many warships. Expressing wonder to his diary, one sailor wrote of the impressive visual, “Whatta fleet there is here!!!”

What made the fleet new for Intrepid that August wasn’t so much its size as its name and commander. The job of leading an armada the size of the 5th Fleet was too big a responsibility for one admiral to take on for the duration of the war. Therefore, the U.S. Navy developed what became known as the “two platoon system.” Every six months two senior admirals switched off as commander of the fleet. When the admirals switched so did the fleet’s number designation or “name.” Thus, on August 26, 1944, two days after Intrepid rejoined the 5th Fleet, Admiral Spruance turned command over to Admiral William Halsey. What had been Spruance’s 5th Fleet became Halsey’s 3rd.
This Month in Intrepid’s History

An Intrepid sailor gazes out at other ships of the 5th Fleet gathered at Eniwetok, August 26, 1944. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.)
As admirals, Spruance and Halsey could not have been more different. Spruance’s nickname was “electric brain.” Known for his brilliant mind, he was quiet, reserved and intellectual. Halsey on the other hand was nicknamed “Bull.” Though impulsive, loud and egotistical he was also determined, capable and very popular. Halsey’s carrier Enterprise was the first to reach Pearl Harbor after the attack. He went on to command the task force that launched the Doolittle Raid and then led the U.S. Navy to victory in the brutal Solomon Islands campaign. By August 1944, Halsey was a hero to sailor and civilian alike. His image and quotable tirades against the Japanese graced propaganda posters all over the Pacific and throughout the United States. This positive impression of Halsey was, at the time, shared by many of Intrepid’s sailors. Many men were genuinely excited about being under the famous admiral’s command, though undoubtedly also curious as to where he would lead them.

By the summer of 1944, a long simmering debate among U.S. military leaders over the best direction from which to advance on Japan boiled over. While the U.S. Navy had pushed from island to island across the Central Pacific, U.S. Army forces under General Douglas MacArthur were advancing north from Australia. As the two offensives came together the U.S. needed a unified strategy. On July 26, Intrepid was at Pearl Harbor when President Franklin Roosevelt arrived for the Honolulu Conference, an event that defined strategy for the next phase of the Pacific War. The president met with his top Pacific commanders, General MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz, to discuss where their forces should go next. These men did not see eye to eye on everything but at Honolulu they did agree in principle on the objective advanced by MacArthur, liberating the Philippines.
This Month in Intrepid’s History

Intrepid’s crew stands at attention on the flight deck as the heavy cruiser Baltimore enters Pearl Harbor carrying President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (USS Intrepid Cruise Book 1963)
Of course, the men aboard Intrepid were largely unaware of the decisions made, having more pressing concerns of their own. The presidential visit became something of a chore for many of them. As FDR’s ship entered Pearl Harbor sailors were ordered to don full dress uniforms and stand at attention on the flight deck in the hot Hawaiian sun. Meanwhile Air Group 18 pilots spent hours flying in parade formation above, leading the air group historian to later predict victory for the president’s opponent in the coming election “by Servicemen’s vote alone.” In any case, the decisions made at Honolulu would have important implications for Intrepid, defining ship and crew’s mission from the end of August to the end of 1944.
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