View a CRUISE MAP showing operations in European waters.
In Transit from CONUS (Continental U.S.) to Portugal (16-28 April)
"During the transit," according to official Navy records, "the Task Group encountered the first of what later proved to be considerable Soviet surveillance." At the same time, Intrepid's pilots and aircrewmen were kept busy conducting flight operations, conducting their own scrutiny.
The squadrons aboard were: VS-24, VS-27, VS-31, VA-45, VAW-121, and HS-11.
"Operation Rusty Razor" (28 April-10 May)
Official Navy records state that during its transit from Lisbon, Portugal to Plymouth, England the Intrepid participated in its first NATO exercise of the deployment, "Operation Rusty Razor." Also taking part, "under the tactical command of Commander Antisubmarine Warfare Group Four, were units of Portugal, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Canada, West Germany, and Belgium." Official records of VS-27 state that French ships also took part in "Rusty Razor," although France was no longer an official part of NATO in 1971. The VS-27 report also states: "The ASW forces sanitized designated areas for later transit by the CVA [attack carrier] strike force. Squadron flight crews localized opposing submarines and conducted simulated attacks." Judging by the map that was later printed in the ship's cruise book (the Navy equivilent of a high school or college year book), this exercise took place in the North Atlantic, off the coasts of Portugal, France, and England.
At Sea in the Baltic (14-21 May)
After leaving Plymouth, England on 14 May Intrepid entered the English Channel. From there, the ship transited the North Sea, sailing up around the northern tip of Jutland (the peninsula that comprises the largest part of Denmark) and passing through the Kattegat to become either the "first carrier to conduct flight operations in the eastern Baltic," or the first U.S. carrier in the Baltic since World War II. Another sources states that Intrepid was the first American "warship" of any kind to operate in the Baltic. In any case, the ship's presence in that body of water, which the Soviets considered their private domain, reportedly made them very nervous. At this time, three destroyers accompanied Intrepid--the U.S.S. Joseph P. Kennedy (DD-850), the U.S.S. Taussig (DE-1030), and the U.S.S. Hartley (DE-1029).
For five days Intrepid operated in an large expanse of water bounded more or less on the west by the Danish island of Bornholm, on the north by the Swedish island of Gotland, on the south by the coasts of East Germany and Poland, and on the east by the coasts of Latvia and Lithuania, which were then both part of the Soviet Union. At one point, the ship came within 20 miles of the Latvian coast. Judging by the operations map that was printed on the inside cover of the ship's cruise book, Intrepid came within 500 miles of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), "as the crow flies." As a ship sails, it was probably further. (Even so, it was undoubtedly a lot closer than the Soviets would have liked.)
According to official Navy records, "Soviet surface, subsurface an air surveillance was considerable" during this period. Survelliance was conducted by Soviet "fishing trawlers" (intelligence gathering ships) as well as military vessels of all types. The occasional presence of patrol boats flying the East German and Polish flags enabled Intrepid's crew to know when the ship was close to the shores of those particular countries.
Once, at some point during the cruise, a Soviet trawler came so close to the ship's port (left) side that the Intrepid's sailors could make out the facial features of the trawler crew, who crowded their decks to have a look at the American warship. Of course, Intrepid sailors did the same.
One of the most dramatic moments of the cruise came one day in the Baltic when a Soviet Kamov Ka-25 helicopter, either operating from shore or from one of the cruisers that constantly tailed the Intrepid, "buzzed" the flight deck from stern to bow, just above the tops of parked aircraft. Intrepid sailors were taken aback by the Soviets' boldness but such maneuvers were not unusual. It was all a part of that dangerous and provocative "cat and mouse" game that both navies played with one another throughout the Cold War. A photo of this aircraft, or one like it, later appeared in the ship's cruise book.
During these five days, one of HS-11's helicopters flew from the deck of the Intrepid to the Danish island of Bornholm, to bring Guilford Dudley--the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark, aboard for a visit. Intrepid crewman later heard that this seemingly innocent occurrence led the Soviets to lodge a protest with the U.S. government, because an international agreement of some kind had declared Bornholm completely off-limits to military activity. The Russians charged that when the U.S. helicopter landed there, this action technically violated the agreement. Later during this cruise the Intrepid also reportedly violated a treaty with Denmark regarding nuclear weapons. (For more information, see The Nuclear Information Project: The Visit by USS Intrepid (CVS-11) to Copenhagen, 1971.)
Admiral Kierkegaard of the Swedish Navy and other Swedish dignitaries, for whom "an ASW demonstration was performed," also visited the Intrepid during operations in the Baltic. (At various other points during the cruise, several other "distinguished guests" came aboard for short visits. These included Norwegian Minister of Defense A. J. Fostervall, West German Minister of Defense (and future West German president) Helmut Schmidt, Vice-Admiral V.P. Depoix of the U.S. Second Fleet, "Dennis the Menace" cartoonist Hank Ketchum, Vice Admiral Robert L. Townsend-Commander of the Naval Air Force, Atlantic Fleet, P.K. Crowe-U.S. Ambassador to Norway, Rear Admiral H. S. Skjong of the Royal Norwegian Navy, a Mr. Clark Mays, Brigadier General D. E. Stout of the U.S. Air Force, and dozen or so Playboy "Bunnies" from the London Playboy Club.)
In Transit from the Baltic to the Mediterranean (24-31 May)
On Thursday, 27 May, during its transit from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, as Intrepid was passing through the English Channel near Folkestone, it veered into a "shipping graveyard," an area where the hulls and superstructures of sunken ships lie out of sight just beneath the surface of the water, posing a hazard to shipping. Entering this spot could have resulted in disaster. If the Intrepid, which had a deep draught of 23 feet, had torn a hole in its side or bottom, it would almost certainly have sank and become a danger to shipping herself. Fortunately, the British coast guard was alert that day and fired three rocket flares into the sky, which alerted the ship's helmsman to the danger.
A tremendous shuddering as the ship tilted violently and abruptly to one side alerted crewmembers to the fact that something out-of-the-ordinary was occuring. For what seemed like several minutes the entire vessel creaked and groaned ominously, while inch-thick steel bulkheads popped like flexible sheets of metal, making loud booming noises. Then just as quickly as it had begun, the shuddering stopped and the ship leveled out.
Apparently, few crewmembers knew precisely what had happened until some of the men began getting letters from friends and relatives, containing newspaper clippings. It was then that they were shocked and surprised to learn not only how close they had come to disaster but also that the U.S. Navy, according to the Dallas Morning News and other newspapers, was denying the British coast guard's report.
Mediterranean Operations (31 May-6 or 7 July)
For a little more than a month, Intrepid operated in the western Mediterranean, calling at Naples, Italy, Cannes, France, and Barcelona, Spain. In between ports, the ship took part in various exercises.
Following the ship's departure from Naples on Friday, 11 June, Intrepid "participated in the Bilateral Exercise CONSTELLATION with the Sixth Fleet units and French forces in the Western Mediterranean." During this time "ASW protection" was "provided throughout the exercise" for two attack aircraft carriers (CVAs) and one helicopter carrier (CVH), as well as Intrepid.
During the five full days (24-29 June) that Intrepid was at sea between Cannes and Barcelona, the ship "participated in coordinated ASW/ITASS operations" with the submarine U.S.S. Greenfish "and patrol aircraft."
In transit from Copenhagen, Denmark to Greenock, Scotland (29 July-1 August)
On 30 July, the day after Intrepid left Copenhagen, one of the ship's helicopters, belonging to HS-11, crashed into the North Sea. As quickly as it could, the Intrepid moved to the crash site, where the crew was found relatively unharmed, waiting in a large life raft with the abandoned chopper resting on its side in the water, its cargo hatch wide open.
Ship's divers wearing wetsuits went into the water to try to attach cables to the helicopter, so that it could be hoisted to the flight deck with the ship's crane but the men had trouble doing their work. In the meantime, the cargo hatch remained open and with each succeeding wave, the chopper filled with seawater until at length, it slowly sank beneath the surface from the weight of all the water inside it and then disappeared altogether.
While all this was going on, some Soviet ships lay at a distance from the Intrepid, curiously keeping an eye on the proceedings.
On Monday, 2 August, Intrepid steamed into the Firth of Clyde, on the west coast of Scotland, near the U.S. Navy's submarine base at Holy Loch.
At Sea (12-16 August)
For four days, following the port call at Greenock, the Intrepid took part in ASW exercises in the Norwegian Sea with the newly commissioned nuclear powered submarine Bluefish (SSN-675) and the much older diesel powered Sirago (SS-485) as well as any "Soviet vessels of opportunity" that happened to be operating in the vicinity. On 14 August, Intrepid crossed the Arctic Circle for the first time, which entitled its sailors to be receive the designation "Blue Nose." All crewmembers later received decorative certificates attesting to this fact, signed by the captain of the ship.
Operation Royal Knight (25 September-5 October)
During this ten-day period, Intrepid was primarily in transit from Norway to Scotland; where it was due to arrive at Greenock again at 4 p.m. on 5 October. According to official Navy records, Intrepid also participated at this time in a NATO ASW exercise code-named "Royal Knight," which took place in the Norwegian Sea and involved "three aircraft carriers, six submarines, numerous surface ships and a variety of shore based aircraft" that "sanitized areas to be transited by the [carrier] U.S.S. Independence strike force." Our own ship's aircraft "gained several submarine contacts by Jezebel, radar and visual sightings and conducted numerous exercise attacks." Navy records state further "Units from Great Britain, the Netherlands, West Germany, Norway, and Canada also participated under the command of Commander Striking Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet."