Cold War History

USS Hornet during the Cold War

Modernization & Redesignation

HORNET was decommissioned on January 15, 1947, and remained in storage at Hunter's Point until her reactivation on March 20, 1951. HORNET was transferred to the New York Naval Shipyard for modernization and decommissioned at New York on May 12, 1951.

HORNET’s 27-month, $50 million renovation, known as SCB-27A, gave her more powerful catapults and arresting gear, a strengthened flight deck, a new streamlined island, new ammunition lifts and numerous other improvements to facilitate the Navy's new jets and heavy attack bombers. This program upgraded virtually every system aboard the ship and brought her to the forefront of carrier technology. Hornet received the new designation "CVA" for attack carrier.

On October 10, 1952, HORNET received the new designation "CVA" for attack carrier. On September 11, 1953, HORNET was recommissioned at New York Naval Shipyard. During sea trials, HORNET landed its first jet, an F2H-3 Banshee, on December 8, 1953.

Hainan Incident

Since HORNET was base on the west coast, the navy decided to send it to California on an around-the-world cruise, via the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Indian Oceans. The eight-month cruise started on May 11, 1954, and ended in Manila Bay in late June when HORNET joined the Pacific Fleet.

On July 25, 1954, HORNET fighters assisted in a search for survivors of a British Cathay Pacific DC-4 commercial airliner that had been shot down by two Communist Chinese La-7 Fins fighters. The British airliner had crashed off the Chinese island of Hainan and HORNET pilots were able to locate several survivors in what became known as the “Hainan Incident.”

WestPac & Another Conversion

During 1955, HORNET conducted operations and training in the Pacific. In January 1956, HORNET was ordered to Bremerton, Washington to start her next modernization, called SCB-125 by the Navy. While at Puget Sound Naval Ship Yard, HORNET was fitted with an angled flight deck.

The idea of providing an angled landing area on an aircraft carrier was a simple idea that originated with the British Navy. The straight flight deck of an aircraft carrier had always posed an unresolved problem for carrier operations… aircraft couldn’t be launched and recovered at the same time. With an angled deck, aircraft could land on the angled portion, freeing up the bow to continue catapult launchings. Furthermore, the area between the angle and the catapults could be used to store aircraft.

Modernization was completed in August 1956 and also included the fitting of an enclosed hurricane bow. Following tests, training, and carrier qualifications, HORNET departed for a six-month deployment with the Seventh Fleet in the western Pacific. In June, Chinese anti-aircraft gunners shot at two of HORNET’s aircraft but, other than minor damage, both aircraft returned to HORNET safely.

HORNET returned to San Diego in late July and then spent the rest of the year conducting training around the California coast before heading to the western Pacific in January 1958 for another cruise.

On June 27,1958, HORNET was redesignated an “anti-submarine warfare support” aircraft carrier, CVS-12. Her CVS conversion was done at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. In April 1959, HORNET departed for the western Pacific in her new role as an ASW carrier. As an ASW carrier, one of the more noticeable changes was the addition of helicopters and piston-engine aircraft.

HORNET returned to Long Beach at the end of 1959 and then started another WestPac Cruise in March 1960.

Returning to Bremerton in February 1961, HORNET was dry docked for four months. In November, HORNET crewmen helped fight the famous Hollywood Hills fire that devastated the Los Angeles suburb. HORNET’s two diesel generators were used to feed electricity into the Southern California power grid.

HORNET started her seventh WestPac Cruise in June 1962 and returned to Long Beach at the end of the year where four of the remaining 5-inch guns were removed. In early October 1963, HORNET departed for her eighth WestPac Cruise. In April, HORNET returned to Hunter’s Point to undergo another modernization and conversion called FRAM II. The conversion was completed in February 1965.

Vietnam Era

On August 11, 1965, HORNET departed for her ninth WestPac Cruise and first Vietnam cruise. Most of her time was spent supporting Navy and Marine aircraft on an around-the-clock SAR (search an rescue) mission. Her helicopters flew inland flights in support of strike aircraft while her assigned A-4E Skyhawks flew 110 combat missions off another carrier.

During the WestPac Cruise, HORNET made several trips to Japan, Hong Kong, and one to Australia, in addition to visiting Iwo Jima and later traveling to the exact spot off Santa Cruz Island where USS Hornet CV-8 had been sunk in 1942. HORNET arrived back in San Diego in early March 1966 and entered dry dock for overhaul.

On August 25, 1966, HORNET served as the Prime Recovery Ship for Apollo AS-202’s suborbital space flight. The unmanned capsule was recovered 300 miles north of Wake Island.

HORNET left for her tenth WestPac Cruise and second Vietnam cruise on March 27, 1967. During this time, HORNET supported Seventh Fleet units in and around Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin. HORNET tracked Soviet submarines and was over flown several times by Soviet aircraft.

After several trips to Japan and Hong Kong, HORNET returned to Long Beach on October 28, 1967. HORNET entered dry dock in Long Beach in late November and remained there until May, 1968. After completion of the overhaul, HORNET departed for her eleventh WestPac and third Vietnam Cruise, arriving in Japan on October 26, 1968.

Arriving in the Gulf of Tonkin shortly after the bombing halt, HORNET pilots conducted surveillance and ASW operations before stopping at Hong Kong and Japan. HORNET remained off Vietnam for most of the remainder of the cruise, finally returning to San Diego on April 13, 1969.

HORNET’s service off Vietnam and her last WestPac Cruise was over. However, the tired ship still had a couple of significant missions to accomplish.

For a comprehensive description of HORNET’s Cold War history, purchase Grey Ghost: The Story of the Aircraft Carrier Hornet.

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