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This Month in Intrepid’s History
Posted: 6/11/2014 9:44:25 AM

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 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

Departing California, Intrepid sails past Alcatraz bound for Hawaii, June 1944. Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

June 1944: Transport

On June 3, 1944, after more than two months of repairs and upgrades, Intrepid finally left Hunters Point, California to rejoin the Pacific Fleet. Not only was the damage to hull and rudder repaired, but shipyard personnel also upgraded the anti-aircraft batteries, catapults and other equipment, bringing Intrepid in line with the latest modifications to the Essex-class design. However, for the next six weeks, instead of heading into harm’s way, the carrier crisscrossed the Central Pacific without launching a plane or firing a shot. Instead, June 1944 was all about transport.

This Month in Intrepid’s History

Without an air group aboard during the journey from Hunter’s Point to Pearl Harbor, Intrepid’s flight deck was covered with military cargo, June 1944. Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

Intrepid’s first stop was Naval Air Station Alameda, not far from Hunters Point. With Air Group 6 long gone and no replacement group yet aboard, Intrepid’s flight deck and vast hangar bays were empty. Therefore the U.S. Navy planned to use Intrepid during its journey back to Pearl Harbor as a makeshift cargo and passenger vessel. Crew and shipyard staff went to work lining the flight and hangar decks with every type of military supply imaginable. The ships characteristic “flat top” profile was replaced by row upon row of trucks, planes and crates. One newly arrived sailor, Walter Kuczma, remembered mistaking Intrepid at first glance for a dockside warehouse.1 Meanwhile in other parts the ship, hammocks and cots accommodated 743 passengers. These guests included officers and enlisted men from every branch of the service and even ten civilians. Temporarily transforming a fleet carrier into a transport ship may seem strange, but it was actually a fairly common practice throughout World War II. By 1944 with the sea lanes between the West Coast and Pearl Harbor relatively secure, using a carrier as a floating pallet during transit was efficient and a relatively safe use of the U.S. Navy’s resources. Even today when a carrier is transferred to a new homeport, sometimes the ship’s flight deck transports the personal vehicles and possessions of crew members’ families.

This Month in Intrepid’s History

A closer view of Intrepid’s cargo on the flight deck, June 1944. Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

When Intrepid reached Pearl Harbor on June 14, passengers and equipment were offloaded. In their place the aircraft, pilots and crew men of Air Group 19 reported aboard, but only temporarily. Intrepid’s next task was to transport Air Group 19 to the Marshall Islands for eventual transfer to USS Lexington (CV-16). Arriving off the island of Eniwetok on June 30, Intrepid put some of its newly upgraded equipment to good use. At Hunters Point, a second aircraft catapult had been installed on the flight deck. While at anchor off Eniwetok, Intrepid used the two catapults to launch the entire air group. Later that day, one crew member proudly wrote in his diary “we catapulted 125 planes, a fleet record for one day’s launching."2 When the ship left the Marshalls on July 4, the areas aboard previously filled with passengers and cargo were now filled with patients. Intrepid’s new mission was to carry 551 casualties, primarily from the invasion of Saipan, back to Pearl Harbor. For the next seven days as the ship headed east its hangar deck became one massive hospital ward.

This Month in Intrepid’s History

While returning to Pearl Harbor from the Marshall Islands, the hangar deck served as a hospital ward for 551 wounded service men. Courtesy of the National Museum of Naval Aviation.

While Intrepid spent June crisscrossing the Central Pacific on transport missions, 15 other U.S. carriers were busy engaging the Japanese in the last and largest carrier-on-carrier battle of the war, the Battle of the Philippine Sea. In two days of fighting, U.S. aircraft, guns, and submarines claimed three enemy carriers, 450 planes and the vast majority of their air crews. Though six other carriers escaped to fight another day, the loss of so many trained pilots over the Philippine Sea marked the end of Japanese naval aviation as an effective fighting force. Intrepid may have been far removed from the fighting but nonetheless, the battle’s outcome would have important strategic implications for our carrier during its continuing journey through the Pacific War.

This Month in Intrepid’s History

In addition to cargo, Intrepid carried 743 passengers. Here a few men find accommodation in and among the trucks and jeeps. Courtesy of the National Museum of Naval Aviation.

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
1 "Walter R. Kuczma" in World War II in Their Own Words: An Oral History of Pennsylvania Veterans, ed. Brian Lockman and Dan Cupper (Mechanicsburg Pa: Stackpole Books, 2005), 35.
2 Elefant Diary June 22, 1944