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Home > November 2014 > This Month In Intrepid’s History
This Month In Intrepid’s History
Seperator
Posted: 11/24/2014 10:14:35 AM

USS Intrepid was commissioned on August 16, 1943, joining the U.S. Navy in the middle of World War II. For the next two years the ship and crew trained, fitted out and 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 was 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.

November 1944: Kamikaze!

Historians refer to the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944 as history’s “last fleet action.”1 Having sustained such heavy losses in the battle, the Japanese Combined Fleet remained almost entirely inactive for the remainder of the war, never again contesting for control of the sea. Instead, in the month that followed the battle, USS Intrepid twice encountered a weapon far more dangerous than the Japanese ships—a weapon that brought Intrepid and its crew the closest they ever came to destruction.

Around noon on October 29, 1944, off the coast of the Philippines, a lone Japanese Zero fighter approached Intrepid’s starboard side. Intrepid’s guns opened up at the enemy plane. Pulling high above, the pilot rolled the plane over and dove straight for the flight deck. Fire from six 20-mm cannons, manned by a crew of African-American steward’s mates in Gun Tub 10, shredded the Zero’s wing. Losing control, the Japanese pilot veered away from the flight deck and right into Gun Tub 10, killing ten men and wounding ten others.

 

Gun Tub 10 was a segregated battery manned by African-American steward’s mates under the command of a Mexican American non-commissioned officer. (National Archives and Records Administration).
 

The valor displayed by the men of Gun Tub 10 that day is the stuff of legend. In the aftermath, witnesses noticed five of the six guns were still pointed straight into the sky. The gunners had continued to shoot at the plane as it came toward them, pouring fire until the moment of impact. The lone outlier gun had done the same but was split in half by the plane’s impact. Gun Tub 10 stopped the first kamikaze attack on Intrepid, but unfortunately this attack would not be the last.

 

Gun Tub 10 after being hit by a kamikaze aircraft on October 29, 1944. While one 20-mm cannon was bent down by the plane, those around it still point straight to the sky. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum)

For U.S. Navy veterans of the Pacific War, no enemy weapon or tactic provokes a stronger sense of fear and anger than the kamikaze suicide plane. For most Americans, the notion of ritualistic suicide as military doctrine was and still remains incomprehensible. As Air Group 18’s historian put it, “It is difficult for us to fathom such mystical hocus-pocus as this.”2 Hocus pocus or not, the kamikazes were a grim reality. Helldiver pilot John Forsyth noted, Kamikazes became a way of life. It was eerie to fight a foe where every attacker, down to the last man, had to be killed before he reached you or he got you.3

In the weeks that followed the first kamikaze attack on Intrepid, other planes tried to attack Intrepid but none managed to reach it. In fact, by November 22, 1944, following several days of routine patrols, Avenger pilot Kenneth Barden wrote in his diary, “This is too easy. Am afraid it won’t last long.”4 Unfortunately it didn’t.
                 
The early afternoon of November 25, 1944, found Intrepid still launching strikes against targets in the Philippines. Throughout the morning, enemy attacks had gradually increased in scale, frequency and intensity. At 12:33pm, as Intrepid and USS Hancock sailed side by side, a kamikaze dove toward them. On its way down, it veered toward Hancock and exploded just above the ship. Hancock was showered with wreckage, starting fires and destroying aircraft waiting to take off.

From Intrepid’s flag bridge, Rear Admiral Gerry Bogan ordered his ships into a series of evasive turns. Twenty minutes later, two more kamikazes approached Intrepid. As Bogan watched, the ship’s anti-aircraft guns brought down one plane, but the other plane kept coming. Years later, Bogan described how the aircraft climbed to 400 feet and then “did the wingover and dived right in the center of the flight deck.5
 

A column of fire and smoke billows from Intrepid’s flight deck after the first of two successful kamikaze attacks on November 25, 1944. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum)

A cloud of smoke rose thousands of feet into the sky, and the kamikaze continued down, punching through to the hangar deck. Intrepid’s damage control teams responded immediately, but just five minutes later their best efforts and many of their lives were cut short by a second kamikaze. Bogan later explained that instead of diving from on high, the second plane came in as if it were making a carrier landing,” smashing into the flight deck belly first.6 Though much of the plane remained on the flight deck, the bomb it carried punched through, exploding in the hangar among the damage control teams.

Intrepid was burning out of control. Nearby ships could see nothing but smoke where Intrepid had been. In the meantime, two more carriers were hit by kamikazes and also burning.
 

After the second kamikaze hit, smoke consumed Intrepid, shrouding it from the view of surrounding ships. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum)

Reacting coolly but decisively, Bogan ordered his task group into a hard turn to port. As the ship tilted through the sharp turn, burning aviation fuel spilled off the port side, effectively keeping it from destroying more of the ship. This quick thinking ultimately earned Bogan the Navy Cross.

All across Intrepid, some men fought the fires, and others manned defenses or did what they could for the wounded.  While on duty in the flag bridge, radarman Jack Alexander heard a call go out asking for anyone who knew CPR to report to the flight deck. With permission from Bogan, he raced down from the bridge to help. On the 50th anniversary of the attack, Alexander described what he saw: “A terrible, horrible scene to see, forty or more unconscious men lying on the flight deck.”7 Many of these men were fellow radarmen. They had been gathered in ready room #4 just beneath the flight deck when the first plane punched through the room next to theirs. For over an hour, Alexander and others worked desperately to resuscitate these men, with little success, their efforts all the more frustrating because apart from a little bleeding from the mouth, the radarmen appeared to be otherwise unhurt. A later investigation concluded that the plane’s impact had killed them all instantly.

As Alexander was heading down to the flight deck from above, radarman Ray Stone had already reached it from below—but just barely. Following the attacks, Stone stayed at his post in the Combat Information Center until the smoke made it impossible. Desperately groping through the darkness to find the ladder topside, Stone was almost overcome by the smoke when he stumbled back into the ladder. Stone and the men with him were able to reach fresh air on the flight deck.
 

With the fires finally out, crewmembers gather around the hole made by the second kamikaze on November 25, 1944. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum)
 

While helping out on the flight deck, Stone realized that there was another radar set that might need to be manned on the flag bridge, the same one Alexander had left. Racing up the ladder to the flag bridge, Stone later recalled opening the door and stumbling right into the arms of Admiral Bogan himself. He steadied me while looking me over. My face was covered with soot, my shirt cut in half and I only had one shoe, but at least there was no blood.

Bogan asked Stone, Had a rough day, son?

“Yes, sir, but I’m OK. I’m here to man the radar, sir,”8 Stone replied.  Stone took his place at the set, but fortunately the attack was over.

 

Former crewmember Ray Stone (pictured) survived the events of November 25, 1944, though many of his fellow radarmen did not. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum)
 

At 3:53pm, nearly two hours after the second hit, the last of the fires had finally been put out. The crew had saved their ship, but the damage was staggering. Two gaping holes in the flight deck led down into a nightmarishly charred hangar. Two of three aircraft elevators were out of operation, twenty-two planes were destroyed,9 and the ship would be out of action for the foreseeable future.

All of that pales in comparison to the human cost. Sixty-nine men were dead, eight-five were wounded, and many of the survivors were left with memories that would haunt them for the rest of their lives.
 

After the attacks, the hangar deck was a charred ruin. Crewmembers attempted to salvage a propeller from one of twenty-two Intrepid aircraft destroyed during the attacks. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum)
 

Sixty years later, in his memoir My Ship, Stone spoke of the human cost by imagining the lives his fallen friends would never get to live:

“Compton would never ‘grow the gal-darn-dest, biggest cabbages and carrots you ever did see up thar in Alaska.
Casteel would never get to entertain people as an actor.
Nitro would never play first violin with the San Francisco Philharmonic.
Schultz wouldn’t dance at any more wild three-day Polish wedding receptions in Chicago.
Yoeder wouldn’t get to change diapers on his new born baby.
Robinson wouldn’t have to explain why he got ‘The Bluebirds of Happiness’ tattooed across his chest.
Krouch would never know how his young sons matured and how they, and their children, would visit his ship many years later.
All their talents and aspirations were buried with them, deep in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”

 
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
August 1944
September 1944
October 1944

 

Footnotes:
1. H. P. Willmott, The Battle of Leyte Gulf: The Last Fleet Action (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2005).
2. Air Group Eighteen’s Combat Itinerary
3. John F. Forsyth, Helldivers US Navy Dive-Bombers at War (Oscelola, WI: Motorbooks International, 1991), 138.
4. Barden Diary November 22, 1944
5. Reminiscences of Vice Admiral Gerald F. Bogan, (Maryland: U.S. Naval Institute, 1970), 120.6.
6. Ibid., 116.
7. Raymond Stone, My Ship: USS Intrepid. (New York: GP Books, 2003), 174.
8. Ibid., 178.
9. Anthony Zollo, Day by Day: An Account of the Carrier Intrepid in WWII (Virginia: Donning Company Publishers, 2001), 216.

 


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