Identified initially as Hull #385, USS Hornet (CV-8) was built at the Newport News shipyard in Norfolk, Virginia, beginning in September of 1939.
Hornet was launched by Mrs. Frank Knox, wife of the Secretary of the Navy.
Hornet was commissioned. Her commanding officer was Captain Marc “Pete” Mitscher, who would become a recognized master of carrier warfare during WWII.
Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) attacked Pearl Harbor.
Immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack, President Roosevelt tasked senior U.S. military commanders with finding a suitable response to assuage the public outrage and a daring plan began to take shape.
An initial proof-of-concept test was conducted off Norfolk, VA. Two lightly loaded B-25s were flown off the brand new Hornet following completion of her sea trials. Following this success, 24 bombers were requisitioned and modified.
Hornet departed Norfolk, heading for the Panama Canal and then on to Pearl Harbor to help staunch the Japanese threat.
Captain Mitscher received a new set of Top Secret orders that would take the brand new ship on a very circuitous route to Pearl Harbor.
Hornet moored at pier 2, Alameda Naval Air Station while twenty-two USAAF B-25 Mitchell bombers flew into NAS Alameda. Sixteen would ultimately embark on Hornet.
134 Army pilots and aircrew, led by LtCol Jimmy Doolittle, boarded the ship and Hornet slipped out to a mooring in the San Francisco Bay for the night to wait for the heavy fog to dissipate.
Hornet and her escorts (Task Force 16.2) steamed under the Golden Gate Bridge, beginning the legendary mission known as the Doolittle Raid.
Hornet rendezvoused with Task Force 16.1 under the command of Vice Admiral William Halsey aboard the USS Enterprise (CV-6).
Early in the morning, the U.S. force was sighted by a Japanese picket boat that immediately radioed a warning to its headquarters. To ensure the safety of the task force, it was decided to launch the strike immediately—250 miles farther from Japan than planned. The weather conditions were miserable with rain, 20-knot gusting winds, and huge waves crashing over the bow. While none of the B-25 pilots, including Doolittle, had ever taken off from an aircraft carrier before, all 16 planes were launched safely in one hour, bound for the Japanese homeland.
The Doolittle Raid of April 18, 1942 was the first U.S. air raid to strike the Japanese home islands during WWII. The mission is notable in that it was the only operation in which U.S. Army Air Forces bombers were launched from an aircraft carrier into combat. The raid demonstrated how vulnerable the Japanese home islands were to air attack just 4 months after their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. While the damage inflicted was slight, the raid significantly boosted American morale while setting in motion a chain of Japanese military events that were disastrous for their long-term war effort.
Hornet was quickly refitted for major combat operations and departed for the Coral Sea.
Battle of Coral Sea, for which the Hornet arrived too late to participate.
Hornet was positioned 325 miles northeast of Midway Atoll and waited for the invasion fleet to arrive.
Battle of Midway – four Japanese fleet carriers launched an air raid against Midway’s defenses. During this time, American reconnaissance aircraft located the Japanese fleet.
Battle of Midway
Japanese political leadership and senior military commanders were stung by the Doolittle Raid of April, 1942 when sixteen U.S. aircraft bombed Tokyo and other major cities. The raid, while militarily insignificant, showed the existence of a gap in the defenses around the Japanese home islands. Sinking America’s aircraft carriers and seizing Midway Island, the only strategic island besides Hawaii in the eastern Pacific, was seen as the best means of eliminating this threat. Fleet Admiral Yamamoto was tasked with creating a plan to invade and hold the island. His invasion plan was complex and included a second operation against the Aleutian Islands near Alaska, dividing his naval forces. Due to battle damage following the Battle of Coral Sea, his Carrier Strike Force consisted of only four fleet aircraft carriers guarded by just a handful of cruisers and destroyers. Achieving complete surprise over the Americans was his key prerequisite for success. Unfortunately for Yamamoto, the U.S. Navy had broken a key Japanese naval code (JN-25) and was aware of his invasion plans.
The First Marine Division assaulted both Tulagi and Guadalcanal. Neither American nor Japanese strategists predicted the bitter six month contest of attrition that would take place on and around these remote jungle islands.
Enterprise was put out of action by bomb damage from an enemy air attack. One week later, USS Saratoga (CV-3) was heavily damaged by an enemy submarine.
USS Wasp (CV-7), sailing only a few miles away from Hornet, was hit and sunk by three torpedoes from a submarine.
The Japanese decided to launch a major offensive on Guadalcanal while at the same time “sweeping” the American fleet from the Solomon Islands.
When Hornet and Enterprise were just north of the Santa Cruz Islands, search aircraft from the opposing forces found each other’s main fleet. Within ten minutes, Hornet was hit by four bombs and two torpedoes, and sustained significant damage from two Val dive bombers that crashed into her. Hornet lost her propulsion capability and was dead in the water. After most of the crew was transferred from the ship, a damage control party put out the fires and repaired some of the damage. Later that afternoon, she was attacked again and hit by another torpedo and two bombs. At this time, she was abandoned and sank early the next morning – one year and seven days after being commissioned. Approximately 140 of her sailors and air crews were killed that day.
Battle of Santa Cruz Islands
During September and October, both the Japanese and the American forces on and around Guadalcanal had escalated the fighting in an almost piecemeal fashion, with reinforcements pouring in on both sides. The stakes became improbably high for this remote island and it became a national test of willpower. US military planners were determined to keep the supply lines open with Australia while the Japanese were just as determined to cut them.
There had been many smaller naval clashes in the Solomon Islands area but in late October, the Japanese decided to launch a major offensive. Their tactical goals were to gain control of Henderson airfield on Guadalcanal, eliminate the 10,000 American troops on the island and destroy all allied warships in the Solomons area. On October 11, a massive naval force left Truk to provide cover for the invasion forces with four aircraft carriers, four battleships, ten cruisers, and 30 destroyers.
Unfortunately for them, VADM “Bull” Halsey had just been given command of the US South Pacific Force. On October 24, Enterprise (CV-6) and South Dakota (BB- 57) arrived from Pearl Harbor along with their escorts, in effect doubling the firepower of the US Navy in the area. The US now had two aircraft carriers, one battleship, six cruisers, and fourteen destroyers in their strike team – the odds were only 2 to 1 against them, which was not bad by 1942 standards. Halsey immediately ordered this force to move north of the Santa Cruz Islands to intercept the IJN fleet and keep them from supporting the invasion force.
The Navy’s aircraft carrier hull number 12 was originally slated to be commissioned as the USS Kearsarge. However, the ship’s name was changed to honor the fallen USS Hornet (CV-8) after she was sunk at the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands while protecting US forces holding Guadalcanal. USS Hornet (CV-12) was commissioned November 29, 1943, becoming the eighth ship to bear the name.
USS Hornet left Pearl Harbor en route to the forward area. Her combat debut as the flagship of Rear Admiral J.J. “Jocko” Clark came quickly as she joined famed Task Force 58.
Battle of the Philippine Sea where pilots from Hornet and other carriers destroyed enemy aircraft with minimal losses in what came to be known as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”.
Hornet participated in the Western Carolina Islands operation with air support strikes on Peleliu.
Hornet air group 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.
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.
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.
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.
The carrier and crew weathered a severe typhoon that threw 120-knot winds at the warship. The flight deck of the Hornet and her sister ship Bennington (CV-20) were heavily damaged and both were put out of action.
Hornet steamed through the Golden Gate. She offloaded planes and ammunition then entered dry dock at Hunters Point Naval shipyard for repairs from the typhoon.
After armistice signed with Japan, Hornet was used as a troop transport in Operation “Magic Carpet,” bringing veterans of the Pacific back to the West Coast.
Hornet returned to San Francisco and was designated an inactive part of the 19th Pacific Fleet.
Hornet is decommissioned at Hunters Point, San Francisco.
Hornet was recommissioned at Hunters Point after 4 ½ years. The carrier departed San Francisco and transited the Panama Canal en route to Brooklyn Naval Shipyard in New York.
Underwent modernization renovation in New York. 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.
Hornet was recommissioned at New York Naval Shipyard.
During sea trials, Hornet landed its first jet, an F2H-3 Banshee.
Since Hornet was based on the West Coast, the Navy returned it to California on an around-the-world cruise, via the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Indian Oceans. The cruise lasted eight-months and ended in Manila Bay in late June when Hornet joined the Pacific Fleet.
Hornet fighters assisted in a search for survivors of a British Cathay Pacific DC-4 commercial airliner that had been shot down by two 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.”
During this year, the Hornet conducted operations and training in the Pacific.
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.
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 and spent the rest of the year conducting training around the California coast before heading to the western Pacific.
Modernization was completed 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 7th Fleet in the western Pacific.
Hornet left for another Western Pacific cruise.
Hornet was re-designated an “anti-submarine warfare support” (ASW) aircraft carrier, CVS-12. Her CVS conversion was done at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
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 and started another WestPac Cruise.
Returning to Bremerton, Hornet was dry docked for four months.
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 and returned to Long Beach at the end of the year where four of the remaining 5-inch guns were removed.
Hornet returned to Hunter’s Point to undergo another modernization and conversion called FRAM II.
Hornet departed for her eighth WestPac Cruise.
The conversion to FRAM II modernization was complete.
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 and rescue) mission. Her helicopters flew inland in support of strike aircraft while her assigned A-4E Skyhawks flew 110 combat missions off another carrier.
Hornet arrived back in San Diego and entered dry dock for overhaul.
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. 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.
Hornet entered dry dock in Long Beach in late November.
Hornet leaves dry dock after a completed overhaul and departs for her eleventh WestPac and third Vietnam Cruise.
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.
Returns to San Diego after being stationed off Vietnam for most of the remainder of the cruise.
Hornet was selected by the Navy as the Prime Recovery Ship for the Apollo Program.
Apollo Program Recovery
USS Hornet (CVS-12) was selected by the Navy as the Prime Recovery Ship (PRS) for Apollo 11, America’s first lunar landing mission. On July 24, 1969, President Richard Nixon, ADM John S. McCain (CINCPAC) and a number of other dignitaries were present while Hornet recovered astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and their spacecraft Columbia. Armstrong and Aldrin were the first two humans to walk on the Moon.
The Navy units embarked on the USS Hornet that participated in the Apollo 11 recovery were: Helicopter Anti-submarine Warfare Squadron Four (HS-4) flying the Sikorsky SeaKing SH-3D helicopter; Underwater Demolition Teams Eleven and Twelve (UDT-11 and UDT-12); Airborne Early Warning Squadron VAW-111 flying the Grumman E-1B Tracer, and Fleet Logistics Support Squadron VR-30 flying the Grumman C-1A Trader.
The eight-day Apollo 11 mission marks the first time in mankind’s history that humans walked on the surface of another planetary body. On July 20, 1969, two astronauts, Mission Commander Neil Armstrong and LM pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr, landed on the Moon in the Lunar Module (LM) Eagle. During a historic 2 ½ hour lunar surface excursion, the astronauts set up scientific experiments, took photographs, and collected rock and soil samples. After the Eagle rendezvoused with the Command Service Module (CSM) Columbia, the astronauts returned to Earth, landing in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Apollo 11 fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s challenge for America to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth before the 1960’s decade had ended.
Apollo 11 was launched on a Saturn V on July 16, 1969 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After 1 ½ Earth orbits, the S-IVB stage was re-ignited, putting the spacecraft on course for the Moon. The S-IVB was fired again once the CSM reached the Moon to insert the spacecraft into orbit around it. On July 20, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin entered the Lunar Module (LM) Eagle and descended to the lunar surface. The LM landed in the Sea of Tranquility with Armstrong reporting, “Houston, Tranquility Base here – the Eagle has landed.” Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface several hours later stating, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”.
Aldrin descended the ladder several minutes later. Both astronauts unveiled a plaque on the LM descent stage with the inscription: “Here Men From Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D, We Came In Peace For All Mankind.” The astronauts deployed the scientific instruments, took photographs, and collected 22 kilograms of lunar rock and soil samples. The astronauts traversed a total distance of about 250 meters. The EVA ended after 2 hours, 31 minutes when the astronauts returned to the LM and closed the hatch.
After spending over 21 hours on the lunar surface, the Eagle blasted off. Once the LM had docked with Columbia, the two astronauts transferred to the CM, and the LM was jettisoned into lunar orbit (the crash site of the Eagle on the Moon is still unknown).
Three days later, just before Columbia was positioned for reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, it was separated from the Service Module. Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24 at 5:50 a.m. local time, after traveling over 950,000 miles in a little more than 8 days. The splashdown point was 920 miles southwest of Honolulu and 13 miles from the USS Hornet.
Four months later, the USS Hornet (CVS-12) repeated this flawless performance as PRS for the recovery of Apollo 12, America’s second lunar landing mission. On November 24, 1969, the spacecraft Yankee Clipper, with its all-Navy astronaut crew of Pete Conrad, Alan Bean and Dick Gordon, splashed down a little over 2 miles from the aircraft carrier.
Departed Hawaii for primary Apollo 11 recovery area, and President Richard Nixon arrived on board to observe Apollo recovery mission.
Recovered the Apollo 11 astronauts, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Mike Collins.
Hornet returned to Long Beach with a banner proclaiming “HORNET PLUS THREE,” which declared them to be the recovery vessel for Apollo 11.
Departed Long Beach for Hawaii as primary recovery platform for Apollo 12 mission.
Departed Pearl Harbor for primary Apollo recovery area to pick up the spacecraft Yankee Clipper, with its all-Navy astronaut crew of Pete Conrad, Alan Bean and Dick Gordon, splashed down a little over 2 miles from the aircraft carrier.
Hornet returns to Long Beach, CA.
The Navy announces CVS-12 will be deactivated in June.
An S-2E Tracker makes last arresting landing aboard Hornet.
Hornet begins deactivation at Long Beach, CA.
Hornet decommissioned at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, WA.
The Navy ordered Hornet stricken from the Naval register.
Hornet designated a National Historic Landmark by National Park Service. She is listed on the National Register of Historic places, #91002065.
Hornet was donated to the Aircraft Carrier Hornet Foundation.
Hornet was opened to the public as the USS Hornet Museum.
USS Hornet was designated as a California State Historic Landmark.