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Intrepid: The Epic Story of America's Most Legendary Warship
by Bill White and Robert Gandt
Broadway Books, 2008, 348 pages

The publication of this history covering the aircraft carrier Intrepid's entire life until today coincided with the ship's return to New York City in October 2008 and her reopening as a museum in the following month. Also in 2008, Blackstone Audio released an unabridged audio version of the book. Bill White, one of the coauthors, serves as President of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, and Robert Gandt has written several works of military aviation and military fiction. The "Fighting I," although sometimes derisively called "Dry I" for the amount of time that she spent in dry dock for repairs, got hit by five kamikaze aircraft, more than any other US carrier. This book devotes several pages to the five kamikaze crashes and the death and devastation caused by them.

The first half covers Intrepid's service during World War II starting from her commissioning in August 1943 to her return to America in December 1945. The distinguished service of different air groups with fighters, bombers, and torpedo bombers aboard Intrepid during the war also receives attention in this history. The book's second half, entitled "Metamorphosis," describes her return to service in June 1954 after a modernization that took over two years. Intrepid spent much time from 1955 to 1964 deployed to the Mediterranean, and she had three combat tours to Vietnam from 1966 to 1968 during the war there. The book also has two chapters that cover Intrepid's service as a recovery ship for astronauts. The renowned warship was finally decommissioned in March 1974, but Intrepid opened as a museum ship in August 1982 at Pier 86 on the west side of Manhattan.

The authors do an excellent job of striking a balance between general history and personal vignettes. About 55,000 men served aboard Intrepid, so of course the book cannot dwell on personal experiences of individual crewmembers and air group personnel. The wartime experiences of six men get mentioned several times in the book, including radarman Ray Stone, who has written a book on his personal experiences aboard Intrepid (see "My Ship!" The U.S.S. Intrepid). White and Gandt's book highlights the story of Alonzo Swann, who survived when a kamikaze aircraft hit his gun tub manned by all African American stewards except one. The following excerpt describes what happened to Swann after the kamikaze hit (pp. 92-3):

Alonzo Swann Jr. was dazed but conscious. The impact had hurled him against the steel bulkhead of the gun tub. He shook his head trying to focus his eyes. All he could see was orange flame and bodies. His shipmates were still there, still at their guns.

Then he heard screams. His best friend, another steward's mate named Samuel Gant, was entangled in the straps that secured him to his gun mount. Gant was burning to death. Though he was badly burned himself, Swann rushed back into the inferno to try to rescue his shipmate.

He couldn't get the straps free. Swann was reaching for a knife to cut the strap when the burning ammunition in the tub exploded.

The damage control party was there in the next minute. Swann was badly injured. Sam Gant had been killed by the blast. Gently they removed the dead and injured gunners from the gun tub and laid them on the hanger deck, where corpsmen could treat them.

Nine gunners had died at their battle stations. Six were severely wounded.

In 1993, Swann received the Navy Cross, the Navy's highest award for valor, in a presentation ceremony aboard Intrepid. A few months later in 1993, former President Ronald Reagan visited Intrepid to receive the Intrepid Freedom Award, and Reagan singled out Swann for recognition at the presentation ceremony. He had been promised the Navy Cross by Intrepid's captain soon after the kamikaze crash, but in a ceremony a few weeks later he and the five other surviving African American gunners each received only a Bronze Star, the military's fourth highest award for valor, most likely due to racial discrimination.

The two authors performed thorough research to write this history as evidenced by eight pages describing the sources, which included interviews with many former crewmembers and air group personnel. White, the Intrepid Museum President who has worked full-time there since 1992, is uniquely qualified to write about the museum and the many events celebrating American heroes that have taken place aboard ship. He also describes Intrepid's role in 2001 as the emergency headquarters of the FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force after terrorists brought down the two towers of the World Trade Center. Considering White's connection to the Intrepid Museum, it is probably natural that at times the narrative plays up the accomplishments of Intrepid and her crew, but overall the authors present an objective history.

Intrepid got hit by kamikaze aircraft five times on four separate dates. On October 29, 1944, a Zero smashed into Gun Tub 10 and killed 9 men. On November 25, 1944, Intrepid's "darkest day," a Zero and its 550-pound bomb crashed into the flight deck, and six minutes later another Zero slid down the flight deck with its bomb punching a hole in the flight deck just a few yards aft of the first hit. The two crashes killed 69 men and wounded another 150. Intrepid had to return to San Francisco for repairs and did not return to battle until she left Ulithi as part of Task Force 58 on March 14, 1945. On March 18, 1945, a twin-engine bomber made a suicide attack and crashed 50 feet abeam of Intrepid, which threw fire and fragments into the hanger bay on the starboard side. The crash caused several casualties but no deaths. On April 16, 1945, another kamikaze plane carrying a 550-pound bomb went through the wooden flight deck into the hanger deck below where the bomb exploded. The attack killed 9 men and injured nearly 100, and 40 planes were destroyed. Intrepid returned again to San Francisco for repairs and did not return to battle in the Pacific until early August. The common theme between the five attacks was that each kamikaze aircraft got hit and was spewing flames and smoke but somehow was able to continue on to hit Intrepid.

The sections describing Japan's kamikaze operations contain a few errors. The kamikaze attacks that the book states happened on October 26, 1944, and that sank the escort carrier St. Lo actually took place on October 25 (pp. 85-6). The authors state these kamikaze aircraft came from the 201st Air Group (Sentai), but the Japanese word for "Air Group" is Kokutai (p. 85). Although the book describes a kamikaze attack by a twin-engine Betty bomber on March 18, 1945, that crashed next to Intrepid and hurled flame and debris onto the ship's starboard side, this aircraft most likely was a twin-engine Frances (Ginga) bomber (pp. 128-9). The Japanese Navy did not send any Betty bombers on kamikaze attacks that date but did send eight Frances bombers (Hara 2004, 178-9; Osuo 2005, 207). The Japanese word kikusui, meaning "floating chrysanthemum," refers to the series of ten mass kamikaze attacks led by Vice Admiral Ugaki during the Battle of Okinawa, but the book mistakenly uses the word kikusai in several places (pp. 136-7, 143, 145).

Among the twenty pages of historical photos with about half taken after Intrepid became a museum ship, there is only one photo related to the five kamikaze attacks (shown at bottom of this web page). Two full-page maps show the locations of Intrepid's major actions during World War II, although the one showing the Battle of Leyte Gulf is misplaced in the book's postwar section. The front has a two-page Intrepid Time Line that summarizes significant events in the ship's history, and the back includes a listing of those men from Intrepid who gave their lives, a description of Intrepid Museum exhibits, extensive sections on Acknowledgments and Sources, and a full index.

Senator John McCain appropriately wrote the book's Forward. He served on Intrepid, his first ship, as a naval fighter pilot. Five days after the two kamikaze hits on Intrepid on November 25, 1944, his grandfather, Admiral John S. "Slew" McCain, had surveyed the severe damage on the flight and hangar decks. He also commanded Task Force 38, which included Intrepid. Senator McCain's father, Admiral John S. McCain Jr., as Commander in Chief of US Forces in the Pacific, commanded Intrepid during her third deployment to Vietnam.

This definitive history of the aircraft carrier Intrepid most likely will continue to be read for many years as the legendary warship continues to serve as a museum and as a site to honor America's heroes.

Japanese kamikaze aircraft bursts into flames
after hitting USS Intrepid on November 25, 1944

Sources Cited

Hara, Katsuhiro. 2004. Shinsou kamikaze tokkou: Hisshi hitchuu no 300 nichi (Kamikaze special attack facts: 300 days of certain-death, sure-hit attacks). Tokyo: KK Bestsellers.

Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kougekitai no kiroku (kaigun hen) (Record of special attack corps (Navy)). Tokyo: Kojinsha.