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This Month in Intrepid’s History
Posted: 7/22/2014 1:56:03 PM

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.
This Month in Intrepid’s History

Unlike Air Group 18, most of Intrepid’s crew were veterans who had already been onboard for the Invasion of the Marshalls and the Raid on Truk. Officers and men of the “lightning gang” pose on the flight deck on August 3, 1944. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.)
July 1944: Air Group 18

Of the three air groups that saw action on Intrepid during World War II, Air Group 18 was on board longer, saw more action and suffered more casualties than any other. While aboard Intrepid, the men of Air Group 18 and the sailors of the ship’s company melded together into a well-oiled weapon of war. As a team, they confronted their ship’s busiest day, largest battle and worst damage of the war. Yet despite all they would go through together, in July 1944 their partnership began with a less-than-promising start.

Air Group 18 was formed in California in July 1943 and comprised fighter, bomber and torpedo squadrons. Each squadron was equipped with the newest type of aircraft available for their respective mission types. Meanwhile, its leadership included a cadre of experienced officers. Among them were Annapolis graduates, “Old Navy” pilots who saw action at Midway and Coral Sea, and flight instructors reassigned to combat duty. However, the majority of the pilots assigned to the new air group had never seen combat and only recently graduated from flight training. For six months the veterans drilled and trained the rookies while still in the states. Then, in February 1944, Air Group 18 hitched a ride on USS Lexington (CV-16) to Hawaii where they tested and trained for six more months.
This Month in Intrepid’s History

Bombing Squadron 18 (VB-18) was known by the nickname “The Sunday Punchers.” The above collage includes names and portraits of the squadron’s personnel and their unit insignia. (Courtesy of the National Museum of Naval Aviation.)
All through their training, rumors circulated among the air group about when and which carrier they would eventually be assigned to. By the spring of 1944, these rumors coalesced around USS Intrepid still under repair in California after being hit by a torpedo in February at Truk. Originally, the air group was informed they would board sometime in May. However Intrepid was still under repair at Hunter’s Point, California and that long-awaited day was pushed back again and again. By mid-June, Kenneth Barden, an Avenger pilot with Air Group 18, noted in his diary that Intrepid had finally arrived at Pearl Harbor but would require two more weeks of repair. Calling it “a jinx ship” Barden complained, “Why, oh why, should all this happen to Air Group 18?”

Then, on July 27, the load-in began. Air group ground personnel, supplies, and personal possessions came aboard in port, while planes and pilots were scheduled to fly aboard at sea a few days later. Initially, the air group found the ship’s crew to be somewhat skeptical of them. While the air group was unproven in combat, by July 1944 Intrepid had taken part in two major engagements of the Central Pacific Campaign and survived the first serious damage done to an Essex-class carrier in combat. While the tensions manifested mostly in pranks and boasting, Air Group 18’s Intelligence Officer George Race later wrote in the unit history that they “wondered at times if the carrier would prefer to operate without planes.”
This Month in Intrepid’s History

Intrepid’s scorecard depicting aircraft and ships thought to have been damaged or destroyed by the ship and its air groups as of May 1, 1945. Air Group 18 added more to the scorecard than any other air group to serve aboard. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.)
On July 28, Intrepid left Pearl Harbor for what turned out to be another abortive sortie. During a speed test on the way out of the harbor, the ship began to shudder violently and had to turn back. A propeller shaft bearing had been damaged by a lubrication system failure. Though their departure had been postponed yet again, the incident was something of a moral victory for the air group. It gave them even more ammunition with which to chide the sailors of the “jinx ship” which they began referring to as the “Dry I,”  “Decrepit” or “Queen of the Dry Docks.” The unit history wryly notes, “Going back into Pearl Harbor, an observer swore they had to send out an extra tug to keep the big ship from automatically turning into a dry dock.”
This Month in Intrepid’s History

A SB2C Helldiver from VB-18 prepares to land on Intrepid, August 12, 1944. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.)
With Intrepid out of service for another two weeks, their skipper, Cdr. William Ellis, led Air Group 18 through a regimen of further training and drills. The men called Ellis “El Gropo,” a nickname that referred both to the commander’s penchant for massed attack training missions called “group gropes,” as well as his occasional tendency to get lost during them. Then on August 10, Intrepid headed back out to sea again and this time functioned properly. The full air group was finally able to come aboard. Meanwhile the officers and men of the air group and ship’s crew were ordered to cease chiding each other. One day later El Gropo led his pilots in yet another group grope, this time using Intrepid as their target. Impressed, Captain Bolger reported to the high command of the Pacific Fleet that Air Group 18 was ready for combat. At least one sailor expressed guarded agreement with the captain. Writing in his diary on August 12, Jacob Elefant noted, “Well finally we’re all set to join the fleet again.  We have Sqd. 18 aboard and they seem to be pretty good. We'll soon find out.”
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