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This Month in Intrepid's History
Posted: 11/18/2013 9:20:24 AM

Intrepid at War: November 1943

Intrepid WWII

Intrepid underway at sea without its air group. Sea trials at the end of November 1943 were designed to test the ships speed and maneuverability. (From the 1963 Cruise Book)

The 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 her 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 heavy. Travel with our museum Tour Guides here each month as they follow Intrepid’s journey and its crew’s experience throughout World War II.

November 1943: Trials

Post Shakedown Cruise, the USS Intrepid returned to Portsmouth, Virginia, on November 1 for a few weeks of rest and replenishment. While the ship underwent a few small modifications based on lessons learned during Shakedown, crew members received a short pre-Thanksgiving leave. For some, this was a chance to visit with families one last time before shipping off to war. On November 25, the ship headed back out to sea, but the crew found the time to hold the first-ever Thanksgiving dinner aboard. The cooks whipped up a holiday meal that was a carbon copy of Thanksgiving back home, including turkey, all the trimmings and dessert. The printed menu even included an Intrepid-themed Thanksgiving prayer courtesy of the ship’s Chaplin:

“This day we render thanks, O God, for the many blessings and gifts received. To us, Thou hast entrusted a great and mighty nation in which we enjoy the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Grant us, O loving Father, the daily strength of body and soul to preserve these rights, to overcome our enemies and to honor thee ever in justice and charity. Amen.”


Intrepid's first Thanksgiving

The menu for Intrepid’s first Thanksgiving promised the crew a holiday dinner just like Mom was making back home. (Courtesy of former crew member Raymond Stone)

While the crew enjoyed their meal, USS Intrepid sailed north for further trials. Off the coast of Maine, the ship began a series of speed and maneuverability tests, intended to determine the ship’s capabilities in the hands of a now fully-proficient crew. Intrepid was a large and complicated machine requiring a great deal of skill and efficiency to operate.

Keeping the ship underway during these tests would have been impossible without the superb leadership of Commander George Crissman, the Engineering Officer. Crissman and his men operated eight Babcock and Wilcox boilers to make steam, which was then fed through four Westinghouse steam turbines. The turbines provided the 150,000 horsepower necessary to run the motors that turned each of Intrepid’s four propellers and made the ship move. To reach a desired speed, the men in Engineering had to maintain constant steam production while simultaneously opening and closing valves allowing precise measurements of steam into the turbines. With a moment’s notice, Crissman and his men had to be ready to work their magic and bring the ship to full speed ahead, to full reverse, and back to full speed ahead as quickly as possible. Intrepid’s World War II Cruise Book later called these operations, “a feat that would give many an old Machinist’s Mate grey hairs, but which these boys performed with no apparent effort.”

Not only did Intrepid’s crew test the endurance of their ship, they tested the endurance of the Essex-class as a whole. These trials took place off the coast of Maine for an important reason: cold water. The new Essex-class carriers were yet unproven in colder temperatures and part of the crew’s mission was to demonstrate its ship’s strength in any climate. For such an important mission, the Navy wanted a captain capable of handling responsibility. Fortunately, the USS Intrepid had Captain Thomas L. Sprague in command.
Captain Thomas Sprague

Intrepid’s first Captain Thomas Sprague commanding Intrepid from the navigation bridge. (Photo from the National Museum of Naval Aviation)

Naval Historian Clark Reynolds described Thomas Sprague as “an aviator’s aviator, excellent tactician, bold, always seeking perfection; friendly; calm in battle; much respected.” He had graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1917. After receiving his commission, Sprague was assigned to the light cruiser USS Cleveland running convoys across the Atlantic Ocean in World War I. In 1920 he entered flight school at Pensacola, Florida, and graduated a year later. Throughout the ‘20s and ‘30s, Sprague climbed through the ranks while serving in important jobs ashore and at sea including Air Officer aboard the carrier USS Saratoga, Navigator aboard the carrier USS Langley and as Superintendent of Flight Training back at Pensacola. In 1940 he served as Executive Officer aboard the carrier USS Ranger and a year later was given the command of escort-carrier USS Charger. These experiences more than prepared him to take command of the 3rd Essex-class carrier in the summer of 1943.

At Intrepid's commissioning ceremony, an experienced Captain Sprague told his young crew, “No ship that ever put to sea in time of war has had a better name than ours, Intrepid. Fearless, bold, brave, undaunted, courageous, resolute, valiant, heroic – these are the words that define our name. Let us live and fight our ship by that name.” Now at the end of November, with Intrepid’s last trials complete, Sprague turned his ship back toward Norfolk to pick up provisions. The next time it left port, his ship would be heading for the combat zone and to prove itself worthy of the name Intrepid.