Intrepid Museum 2019 events
Rainbow Band
Intrepid
Donate to the Intrepid Museum
Home > October 2014 > This Month in Intrepid’s History
This Month in Intrepid’s History
Seperator
Posted: 10/28/2014 9:29:00 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.

October 1944: Leyte Gulf

Seventy years ago this month, in the waters around the Philippines, the U.S. Third and Seventh Fleets met the Japanese Combined Fleet in the largest naval engagement in history: Leyte Gulf. Several events will undoubtedly stand out as we explore Intrepid’s long and proud history, but  Leyte Gulf in October 1944 looms largest.

On October 20, the Seventh Fleet landed troops under General Douglas MacArthur on an island called Leyte, which began the liberation of the Philippines. In the days that followed, the Combined Fleet converged on Leyte from three different directions in an attempt to destroy the invasion, while Intrepid and the Third Fleet moved in to defend it. The ensuing battle consisted of four major and several minor engagements spread across four days and hundreds of miles of ocean. As for Intrepid, one could argue that no carrier was involved in more parts of the battle or inflicted more damage on the Japanese during the conflict. However, our ship’s significance at Leyte Gulf goes beyond tactical contributions. Throughout October 1944, Intrepid was the flagship of Task Group 38.2, one of four formations of the Third Fleet, led by Admiral William Halsey. From Intrepid, Rear Admiral Gerry Bogan, 38.2’s commander, led nearly a quarter of Halsey’s Fleet into action at Leyte Gulf.
 
This Month in Intrepid’s History

With Intrepid as his flagship, Rear Admiral Gerry Bogan led Task Group 38.2 into action at Leyte Gulf. Courtesy of the National Museum of Naval Aviation.
 
Admiral Bogan was originally from Mackinac Island, Michigan, and the son of a physician. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1915, going on to serve in World War I and earn his wings in 1925. By 1944, Bogan was part of an early generation of naval aviators that were now starting to reach flag rank. Earlier in World War II, Bogan had captained the USS Saratoga off Guadalcanal, then a small group of escort carriers during the Saipan invasion as a newly minted Rear Admiral. Along the way, he developed a reputation as an intelligent and tenacious combat leader. Barrett Gallagher, a Navy photographer who observed Bogan’s staff during the war later wrote, “Bogan was a hard man to work for, but he was also one of those tough operators who commanded respect and loyalty from his staff and from everyone under him because he measured up to his own standards. The term ‘he’s a Bogan man’ became a password in many circles.” All in all, he considered Bogan to be a man of “strong opinions and outspoken eloquence”—qualities that served him well in the coming battle.

On the morning of October 24, 38.2 was one of three Third Fleet task groups arrayed on the Eastern side of the Philippines to protect the invasion force anchored at Leyte Gulf. While guarding San Bernardino Strait, a key passage through the central Philippines, Intrepid had also been sending search planes west since dawn. Two nights prior, U.S. submarines on the far side of the Philippines spotted Center Force—a large Japanese formation built around five modern battleships—approaching the archipelago from the west. At 8:10am on October 24, an Intrepid pilot sighted them again, 220 miles out and heading for San Bernardino Strait. Center Force’s position meant that 38.2 would be the only task group in range for the next few hours. This was an especially serious problem because Bogan’s task group was the weakest of the three. A few days prior, he had five carriers: three large Essex Class carriers and two light carriers. But since then, two of the Essex carriers had been detached, while one of the light carriers, USS Independence, was reserved for night operations. This left Bogan with only Intrepid and light carrier Cabot with which to attack. At 9:10am, with orders from Halsey to “Strike….Repeat Strike. Good Luck,” he launched a mere forty-two planes against the massive Center Force.
 
This Month in Intrepid’s History

The above map shows the scale and complexity of the battle of Leyte Gulf. Each number indicates one of the four major engagements. The track lines indicate the movements and positions of the three fleets involved and their various sub-formations. Courtesy of the United States Army.
 
At 10:26am, Bogan’s forty-two planes went into action against a Japanese force thirty ships strong. Air Group 18’s historian later described them as “undoubtedly the toughest targets from the standpoint of anti-aircraft fire that naval aviation had yet encountered.” Yet for all its fire power, Center Force’s greatest weapon may have been intimidation. At the head of the Japanese battle-line sailed the two largest battleships ever built: Yamato and Musashi. Dubbed super-battleships, each vessel displaced nearly 72,000 tons and mounted nine of the largest guns ever taken to sea, each capable of hurling a 3000-lb shell twenty-six miles.
 
This Month in Intrepid’s History

Japanese Center Force in route to the Philippines with orders to destroy the American invasion force in Leyte Gulf. The super-battleships Musashi and Yamato are the second and third from the right. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Historical Center.
 
Two and a half years after aircraft carriers decimated battleships at Pearl Harbor, one would think that pilots from a new carrier like Intrepid would have little to fear from such vessels. Yet the nightmarish scale of Yamato and Musashi, along with the rumors of invincibility that preceded them, gave many Intrepid pilots pause. John Forsyth, a Helldiver pilot with the first strike, later wrote that before Leyte Gulf “when wardroom conversation lagged, someone would mention the name Yamato, and the stomachs of all would tighten at the thought of the great behemoth on the prowl.” According to Forsyth, the men of squadron all agreed “the only sane course to follow on sighting something like Yamato was ‘a fast 180-degree turn and getting the hell out.’” Sane or not, that morning Forsyth and his fellow pilots did exactly the opposite.

Through the chaos and confusion, one section of six Intrepid Avengers moved in for a torpedo run on Musashi. Three approached from each side, setting up for low slow torpedo runs and trapping the battleship between them. In the middle Avenger on the starboard side, pilot Will Fletcher looked left and watched his wingman blown out of the sky. Continuing on through intense fire, he planted the first torpedo into Musashi seconds before he too was shot down. Watching from above, Forsyth later wrote that “the guts and courage to press home a torpedo attack go unexcelled in the annals of flying.”
 
This Month in Intrepid’s History

Japanese warships take evasive action as planes from Intrepid and Cabot attack Center Force October 24, 1944. Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
 
In the meantime, though still alone, Bogan’s carriers launched a second strike of equal strength. This time pilots from Intrepid and Cabot used smoke from Musashi as a beacon, putting eight more torpedoes and multiple bombs into the burning vessel. By midafternoon Bogan sent what he had left on a third and final strike just as planes from the other two task groups finally joined the fray. At 2:00pm, Center Force began to turn and withdraw, but it was already too late for Musashi. Hit by nineteen torpedoes and seventeen bombs, nearly half of both from Bogan’s planes, the super-battleship went under.
 
This Month in Intrepid’s History

Musashi already on fire and taking multiple hits from torpedoes and bombs. October 24, 1944. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Historical Center.
 
Center Force was retreating, but the battle of Leyte Gulf was far from over. On the flag-bridge of the battleship New Jersey, Halsey, shortly after learning of Center Force’s withdrawal, was informed that at least four enemy carriers had been spotted to the north. Halsey now had two enemy forces to worry about, but quickly concluded that given how much damage had already been inflicted on Center Force, it was no longer a serious threat. He ordered all three task groups to head north for a confrontation with the Japanese carriers the following morning. Halsey considered detaching his Fleet’s six battleships to remain and guard San Bernardino, even going so far as to tell his task groups to prepare to do so, but he ultimately changed his mind.

Back on board Intrepid, Bogan was strongly opposed to this course of action. He was not convinced Center Force had been defeated; they might turn around and try again. Secondly, while the Seventh Fleet was far from defenseless, most of its firepower and all of its battleships had been sent further south of Leyte Gulf to engage another smaller Japanese battleship force. If all of the Third Fleet sailed north, the invasion force would be dangerously exposed.
 
This Month in Intrepid’s History

Intrepid Helldivers return to Task Group 38.2 after a strike against Center Force October 24, 1944. During three strikes that day, Intrepid lost three Helldivers and three Avengers to enemy action. Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
 
At sunset, Bogan ordered Independence to use its night flyers to keep watch over Center Force. By the time the task group pulled out of flight range hours later, it was clear from Independence’s reports that Center Force had turned around and was on its way back toward San Bernardino. The same reports were sent to Admiral Halsey but as time went on the whole fleet continued north and Bogan grew more worried. “It was extremely frustrating,” he later wrote. “My staff and I discussed this thing for forty-five minutes, because I didn’t think that the message that Eddie Ewen, the skipper of the Independence, sent out was sufficiently strong to alarm Halsey to all the implications.” Upon contacting Ewen himself, Bogan also learned that navigation lights controlled by the Japanese had been turned on throughout San Bernardino Strait, a clear indication ships were expected though that night.

Convinced Center Force was on its way back, Bogan decided the time had come to appeal directly to Halsey. Though it was something of a violation of tradition to question the Admiral’s orders at this stage, he contacted the New Jersey’s flag-bridge by radio. Bogan intended to ask Halsey to send both 38.2 and the battleships back south, but as Halsey was asleep, he spoke instead to the senior staff officer. Hearing Bogan mention the lights the staff officer replied, “Yes, yes, we have that information,” brushing off Bogan’s concerns and ending the conversation. Despite his best efforts, Intrepid and the Third Fleet spent the rest of the night sailing away from Leyte Gulf.

The following morning around 6:00am, Intrepid and eight other carriers launched waves of aircraft against the Japanese carriers. As it turned out, the Japanese carriers had only a handful of aircraft on board because they were just a decoy. Luring the Third Fleet north was the Japanese plan from the very beginning. Lacking trained pilots to outfit the carriers, the Japanese sacrificed the carriers in order to clear a path for their battleships to converge on Leyte Gulf. The fact that Center Force had been spotted first was a setback but now, because of Admiral Halsey’s orders to head north, the Japanese plan was back on track.

As the morning wore on, Bogan picked up some of the increasingly desperate transmissions from the small part of the Seventh Fleet left guarding Leyte Gulf. Waging a desperate battle with Japanese battleships, cruisers and destroyers, the Seventh Fleet requested immediate aid from the Third Fleet. Busy with the Japanese carriers, Halsey held off any response until inquiries from his superiors at Pearl Harbor finally forced his hand. Just before noon, Bogan’s task group and the six battleships were sent racing back south at top speed. In an attempt to get there faster, Intrepid, Cabot and the two fastest battleships were sent ahead. But despite their best efforts, by the time they arrived, it was too late.
 
This Month in Intrepid’s History

Admiral William “Bull” Halsey commanded the U.S. Third Fleet at Leyte Gulf. His controversial decision to take the fleet north the night of October 24, was strongly opposed by Rear Admiral Gerry Bogan aboard Intrepid. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Historical Center.
 
Fortunately, earlier that day on the way to Leyte Gulf, Center Force encountered the remnants of the Seventh Fleet. In what historians now call “the Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors” a small group of destroyers and poorly-armed escort carriers fought a desperate running battle that finally stopped Center Force just outside Leyte Gulf. Today, their gallant stand is remembered among the U.S. Navy’s proudest moments, though it cost the Seventh Fleet four ships and 1,500 men. The following morning, Bogan’s carriers launched their fifth and final strike. They managed to pick off a few stragglers as the rest of Center Force retreated east, finally ending the battle of Leyte Gulf.

Though the invasion beaches were secure and the Japanese Combined Fleet was severely weakened, much of Center Force escaped to fight another day. Reflecting on the missed opportunity, Bogan later wrote, “It could have been a slaughter; it could have meant the end of Japanese naval power right there, completely.” Halsey “had the jackpot in his hand” but by taking everything north he “paid off at three to one” instead. For the rest of his life, Bogan remained an outspoken critic of Halsey’s actions at Leyte Gulf, but in the days immediately following, he had other, bigger concerns. Just hours after it helped to stop Center Force, the escort carrier USS St. Lo became the first American carrier sunk by a Kamikaze. For the next month, Intrepid’s Admiral and crew had their hands full trying to avoid the same fate.
 
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
 


Share


Syndication
RSS

News Archive

December 2019(3)
November 2019(7)
October 2019(2)
September 2019(2)
August 2019(1)
July 2019(2)
June 2019(1)
May 2019(4)
April 2019(3)
March 2019(1)
February 2019(3)
January 2019(2)
December 2018(5)
November 2018(2)
October 2018(4)
September 2018(7)
August 2018(7)
July 2018(2)
May 2018(5)
April 2018(4)
March 2018(2)
February 2018(6)
January 2018(5)
December 2017(2)
November 2017(3)
October 2017(3)
September 2017(1)
August 2017(6)
July 2017(7)
June 2017(5)
May 2017(10)
April 2017(1)
March 2017(4)
February 2017(9)
January 2017(6)
December 2016(3)
November 2016(5)
October 2016(3)
September 2016(3)
August 2016(3)
July 2016(1)
May 2016(1)
April 2016(4)
March 2016(4)
February 2016(3)
January 2016 (6)
December 2015(5)
November 2015(5)
October 2015(6)
September 2015(9)
August 2015(8)
July 2015(7)
June 2015(7)
May 2015(9)
April 2015(5)
March 2015(5)
February 2015(7)
January 2015(2)
December 2014(6)
November 2014(5)
October 2014(6)
September 2014(8)
August 2014(7)
July 2014(5)
June 2014(5)
May 2014(9)
April 2014(7)
March 2014(7)
February 2014(5)
January 2014(4)
December 2013(7)
November 2013(8)
October 2013(8)
September 2013(8)
August 2013(9)
July 2013(9)
June 2013(2)
May 2013(2)
March 2013(5)
February 2013(3)
January 2013(6)
December 2012(12)
November 2012(3)
October 2012(1)
September 2012(3)
August 2012(4)
July 2012(2)
june 2012(6)
May 2012(4)
April 2012(7)
March 2012(1)
February 2012(4)
January 2012(1)
December 2011(2)
November 2011(4)
October 2011(2)
September 2011(5)
August 2011(6)
July 2011(6)
June 2011(10)
May 2011(11)
April 2011(10)
March 2011(11)
February 2011(9)
January 2011(6)
December 2010(10)
November 2010(8)
October 2010(5)
September 2010(7)
August 2010(11)
July 2010(9)
June 2010(9)
May 2010(10)
April 2010(5)
March 2010(6)
February 2010(3)
January 2010(3)
December 2009(3)
November 2009(8)
October 2009(3)
September 2009(4)
August 2009(4)
July 2009(11)
June 2009(5)