USS Hornet during World War II
A New Hornet is Launched
One of twenty-four Essex class aircraft carriers, the CV-12 was named Kearsarge when her keel was laid at Newport News on August 3, 1942. After the first carrier HORNET (CV-8) was sunk at the Battle of Santa Cruz in October 1942, the Navy changed the name of CV-12 to HORNET to carry on the name of her predecessor.
By the conclusion of World War II, she had amassed an unequalled combat record.
Commissioned only 15 months after the laying of her keel, HORNET and her green crew were rushed through their shakedown cruise in only 14 days instead of the usual 4 to 5 weeks.
Off to War
HORNET left Pearl Harbor on March 15, 1944 en route to the forward area. Her combat debut as the flagship of Admiral J.J. "Jocko" Clark came quickly as she joined famed Task Force 58. For the next 18 months, HORNET would never tie-up at a pier. For fourteen of those months, HORNET would be in the most forward areas of the Pacific war -- sometimes within 40 miles of the Japanese home islands.
VF-2 and the Philippines
Aboard as HORNET's lethal sting was Air Group 2, which had previous combat experience while assigned to Enterprise (CV-6). Air Group 2 included F6F Hellcats, TBM Avengers, and SB2C Helldivers. HORNET's initial baptism under fire was participation in the Asiatic-Pacific raids and the Hollandia operations. In June 1944, HORNET began seven weeks of intensive air strikes in the Marianas Islands including the strategic islands of Saipan, Guam, and Tinian. During this period more than 3,000 sorties were flown from HORNET's flight deck against Saipan. VF-2 would distinguish itself by splashing 233 Japanese aircraft.
During the Battle of the Philippine Sea on June 19th, Hellcat pilots from HORNET destroyed enemy aircraft with no losses in what came to be known as the "Marianas Turkey Shoot". The following afternoon, a TBM from Wasp (CV-18) spotted the retiring Japanese fleet and a strike was immediately launched. Pilots from HORNET were the first to attack, scoring lethal hits on Zuikaku-class carrier. It was long after dark when the returning aircraft arrived over the Task Force. All were critically low on fuel, many badly shot up and their pilots wounded. From flag plot aboard Lexington (CV-16), Admiral Mark Mitscher gave his famous order to "turn on the lights", thus risking the submarine threat, but allowing the exhausted aviators to find carrier decks upon which to land.
On June 24th, while conducting raids against the Bonins Islands of Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima, VF-2 pilots downed a record 67 enemy planes in one day. HORNET participated in the Western Carolina Islands operation with air support strikes on Peleliu. By September 1944, HORNET VF-2 had the distinction of being the top fighter squadron in the Pacific with more total victories and more "ace" pilots any other fighter squadron up to that time. Out of the VF-2s 50 pilots, 28 were confirmed aces, having scored five or more victories in aerial combat.
Following operations around Western New Guinea and the Philippines, HORNET participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, launching 2 long-range strikes against a rapidly retiring Japanese fleet and scoring hits on several capital ships. Leyte Gulf would become the greatest Naval Battle in history, with a total of 321 ships and 1,996 aircraft participating in the four actions which put an end to the Japanese fleet as an offensive force. In November, HORNET and Task Force 58 began intensive operations in the Philippines and surrounding areas. For the next two months, strikes were made against positions on Formosa, Luzon, Saigon, Cam Ranh Bay in French Indo-China, and Hong Kong.
Return to Tokyo
On the morning of February 16, 1945, HORNET kept a date the old HORNET (CV-8) had made some 34 months before when she conducted the first carrier strikes on Tokyo, neutralizing air fields and hitting shipping and targets of opportunity. Strikes began in mid-February against Chichi Jima and Iwo Jima in preparation for the Marine invasions. HORNET aircraft rocketed, bombed, and strafed positions on Iwo Jima for six straight days in direct tactical support of Marine operations there. When Iwo Jima was secure, HORNET turned her attention once again to Tokyo, pulverizing airfields in the metropolitan area.
Okinawa operations began on March 18 in preparation for the Marine invasion. HORNET was at sea for 40 days straight, launching strikes on 32 of those days. During this intensive period, HORNET pilots flew over 4,000 combat sorties. U.S. Marines hit the beaches on April 1 with HORNET aircraft riding shotgun overhead. For the next two months, Air Group 17 pounded enemy airfields and installations on Okinawa, Kyushu, and Shikoku.
The Japanese command sent the superbattleship Yamato on a one-way kamikaze mission in an attempt to annihilate the U.S. fleet with her 18" guns. Upon discovery of the Japanese fleet, American carriers launched 280 planes against the foe. HORNET aircraft were the first to strike Yamato, delivering 4 torpedoes and three bombs into the armored giant. When she finally went down, the 72,000-ton behemoth took 2,488 of her crew to the bottom.
An End to the War
HORNET withstood everything that the Japanese could throw at her and remained defiant as her air groups stung again and again at the heart of Japanese aggression. It would take the fury of the sea itself to force her to return home for repairs. On June 5, 1945, the gallant carrier and crew weathered a severe typhoon that threw 120-knot winds at the warship. Lookouts reported HORNET taking green seas over the flight deck as 60-foot waves pounded the vessel. During the relentless battering, 24 feet of HORNET's forward flight deck collapsed back to frame #4. The next morning, as HORNET backed down at 18.5 knots, aircraft were launched over the stern to assist in reassembling the Task Group. Ten days later, HORNET departed for the West Coast for repairs.
In 18 months of combat operations HORNET was under heavy attack 59 times, but was never hit by a single bomb, torpedo, or Kamikaze! HORNET's air groups (AG 2, AG-11, and AG-17) and ship's guns shot down 668 Japanese planes and destroyed another 747 on the ground, and were credited with 73 ships sunk, 37 probable and 413 damaged. Her air groups flew 18,569 combat sorties and logged over 23,000 arrested landings of her flight deck. HORNET holds many records including the number of pilots (10) who achieved "Ace in a Day" status by scoring five or more aerial victories in a single day while flying from her deck. HORNET's much celebrated World War II homecoming occurred on July 8th as the veteran carrier moored at NAS Alameda's carrier Pier #2.
Following overhaul and repairs at Hunter's Point shipyard, HORNET made five "Magic Carpet" cruises, returning servicemen from Pearl Harbor and Guam. She was decommissioned on January 15, 1947 and remained in storage at Hunter's Point until her reactivation and modernization in 1951.
News Stories of the Time
Eight Carriers Win Presidential Citation
by United Press
WASHINGTON, July 1, 1946 - Thirteen aircraft carriers which bore the brunt of the Pacific air-sea offensive were singled out for special honors today. Eight of them were awarded the presidential unit citation. The other five received the Navy unit commendation.
The carriers receiving the Presidential unit citation were the ESSEX, HORNET, LEXINGTON, BUNKER HILL, YORKTOWN, SAN JACINTO, CABOT and BELLEAU WOOD. Those awarded Navy unit commendations were the ENTERPRISE, HANCOCK, WASP, COWPENS and LANGLEY.
The ENTERPRISE previously was the first capital ship to receive the presidential unit citation.
Their planes made 82,304 sorties, in which they destroyed 92,782 enemy planes including 52,212 on the ground and 4,057 shot down in air battles. Another 122 enemy planes were destroyed with ships anti-aircraft fire.
During these engagements, the carriers lost a total of 1,047 planes in action. Of these, 833 fell to enemy anti-aircraft and 214 lost out in air battles.
Truman Honors Heroes of Eight Flattops
By Associated Press
WASHINGTON, July 16, 1946 - President Truman summoned 22 naval heroes to the White House today for a ceremony honoring eight battle-tested aircraft carriers and the sailors who manned them. Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, now commander of the Eighth Fleet, was chosen to receive Presidential Unit Citations on behalf of the ships. He came as war-time commander of the historic Task Force 58, which helped annihilate Japanese naval power in the crucial days of the Pacific war. In the place of his fighting comrade, the late Vice-Admiral John S. McCain, who led the assaults of Task Force 38, was the latter's widow. Truman picked the south grounds of the White House for the ceremony in which ships, as well as men, were to receive the homage of a grateful Nation.
For extraordinary heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces in the air, ashore and afloat; read each of the eight citations. They differed only as to detail.
For the BELLEAU WOOD, it was for heroism in the Pacific area from September 18, 1943, to August 15, 1945; for the CABOT, from January 29, 1944, to April 8, 1945; for the ESSEX, August 31, 1943 to August 15, 1945; for the HORNET, March 29, 1944, to June 10, 1945.
So on, down through the line ............. the
BUNKER HILL, the LEXINGTON, the SAN JACINTO, the YORKTOWN.
Officers, Men Invited
These officers who commanded or served aboard the ships in wartime, plus over a hundred other lesser officers and enlisted men, were invited to the ceremony:
For the BELLEAU WOOD: Rear Admirals John Perry, Alfred M. Price and William G. Tomlinson.
The BUNKER HILL: Rear Admirals John J. Ballentine and Marshall R. Greer, Comdr. George A. Seitz and Capt. Thomas P. Jeter.
The CABOT: Rear Admiral Malcolm F. Schoeffel and Comdrs. Stanley J. Michael and Walton W. Smith.
The ESSEX: Capt. Roscoe L. Bowman and Carlos W. Wieber.
The LEXINGTON: Rear Admirals Ernest W. Litch, Thomas H. Robbins and Felix B. Stump.
The SAN JACINTO: Capts. Clifford S. Cooper and John A. Moreno.
The YORKTOWN: Rear Admirals Joseph J. Clark, Thomas S. Combs and Ralph E. Jennings.