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Home > September 2014 > This Month in Intrepid’s History
This Month in Intrepid’s History
Posted: 9/24/2014 8:54:04 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.
This Month in Intrepid’s History

On September 4, 1944, more than six months after being knocked out of the war by a torpedo at Truk, Intrepid is on its way back into action. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.)
September 1944: Back in Action

By the time Intrepid finally returned to action on September 6, 1944, the Honolulu Conference had focused U.S. strategy squarely on the liberation of the Philippines. Instead of invading straight away, the 3rd Fleet sought first to isolate and soften Japanese defenses through a series of raids in the region around the archipelago. Throughout September and the first half of October 1944, these operations were Intrepid’s primary mission.

On September 6, 1944, Intrepid launched its first planes in combat since February’s torpedo hit. The target was Babelthuap in the Palau Islands. For three days Intrepid aircraft pounded the island and others nearby in preparation for the upcoming invasion of nearby island Peleliu by the U.S. Marine Corps. Air Group 18’s historian later wrote that “on the whole the day was disappointing, an anti-climax.” Japanese opposition was light at best and came only from the ground. Leaving the Palau Islands behind on September 8, Intrepid headed for the Philippines. For the next six days the carrier launched deck load after deck load of planes in an ever-northward climb through the archipelago. The goal of these strikes was twofold: eliminating aircraft that might threaten the Palau invasion, while also contributing to the continued weakening of the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Marine Corps landed on Peleliu on September 15 and immediately ran into stiff opposition. In contrast to the weak resistance Intrepid pilots had faced just one week earlier, the marines found themselves in the midst of one of the bloodiest island battles of the war. Instead of meeting the marines on the beach in costly counter attacks, Japanese troops dug deeply into the soft coral that made up much of Peleliu’s terrain. Shielded in caves from the pre-invasion bombardment, the Japanese were able to make the marines fight for every inch of the island. Intrepid raced back to the Palau Islands and spent September 17 providing close air support to the beleaguered 1st Marine Division. On September 18, it was back to the Philippines for four more days of raids.
This Month in Intrepid’s History

Elements of the 3rd Fleet including Intrepid and the battleship New Jersey ride out a typhoon at sea. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.)
Intrepid’s second foray through the Philippines yielded some impressive milestones for ship and crew. On September 21, Intrepid aircraft were part of the first attack on Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines, since it fell to the Japanese in mid-1942. Two days later, squadron commander Lt. Cmdr. Mark Eslick led 12 of his Helldivers on a 700 mile round trip strike against Coron Bay. The raid sank seven enemy freighters and damaged several more, earning a congratulatory message from Intrepid’s task group commander who opined that the Japanese “will soon have only Canoes.” All in all, the most important result of the raids was that they exposed the weakness of Japanese defenses in the Philippines. In response, Admiral Halsey recommended— and the Joint Chiefs approved—moving up the invasion to October 20, 1944.

In the meantime, Intrepid, having spent 13 of the last 20 days in combat, began a two week period of rest, replenishment and transit. During this gap in the action, the ship took on supplies at the island of Saipan while sending crewmembers to a “beer party” ashore, rode out a typhoon at sea and sailed into the newly captured anchorage of Ulithi for the first time. Finally, on October 7, Intrepid headed north of the Philippines for its last pre-invasion foray. The Third Fleet attacked targets on and around Okinawa on October 10, then Formosa on October 12, 1944.
This Month in Intrepid’s History

USS Miller arrives on October 11, to deliver mail to the ships of Intrepid’s task group. While at sea, mail delivery could be sporadic at best and was often a cause for celebration. A few weeks earlier on September 16, Avenger pilot Kenneth Barden received 11 letters at once and confided to his diary that it was “A bigger thrill than my first strike.” (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.)
Today we call it Taiwan, but in 1944 Formosa was a well-defended island fortress. Regarded by both sides as something comparable to an “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” the island was defended by over 1,000 navy and army aircraft under the command of Admiral Shigeru Fukodome. The assault began in earnest on October 12 and lasted for three days, quickly becoming what Halsey later referred to as a “knock-down, drag-out fight between carrier-based air and shore-based air.” In the skies over Formosa, the pilots of Air Group 18 finally found the intense aerial combat many had long sought. On the first day alone, Intrepid launched 154 sorties—that is, attacks from a defensive position—against targets on the Northern half of the island. For some it was a sobering experience. Avenger pilot Kenneth Barden wrote in his diary that night, “The picnic is now over. Whatta battle we had today.”

Yet while Japanese resistance was substantial, it was also largely ineffectual. To gather aircraft for Formosa’s defense the Japanese had combined army aircraft and all that remained of their carrier aviation. Of these, over 500 were lost at a cost of just 89 American aircraft. Fukodome later wrote of the battle, “our fighters were nothing but so many eggs thrown at the stone wall of the indomitable enemy formation.”

Intrepid’s contributions to the battle’s outcome were substantial, as were the costs. Over the course of the engagement, Intrepid pilots shot down 46 aircraft, destroyed 18 more on the ground and laid waste to installations across northern Formosa. On the night of October 12, Intrepid’s anti-aircraft gunner beat off the first attack on the ship since February and scored their first three victories of the war. However, it came at the price of 17 men dead or missing, including Lt. Cmdr. Eslick.
This Month in Intrepid’s History

October 14, 1944 on Intrepid’s flight deck crew members prepare aircraft for the final day of strikes against Formosa.(Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.)
Departing Formosa, Intrepid headed back toward the Philippines again, this time to support and defend the invasion. What little had remained of Japanese naval aviation after the battle of the Philippine Sea was exterminated in the skies over Formosa. As the Japanese moved on to defend the Philippines, rather than carriers, they would confront Intrepid with an older weapon of naval warfare.
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
1 Cruise Book 1963 pg 49



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