USS Hornet (CV-8)
The seventh USS Hornet (CV-8) of the United States Navy was a Yorktown class aircraft carrier of World War II, notable for launching the Doolittle Raid, as a participant in the Battle of Midway, and for action in the Solomons before being irreparably damaged in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.
She was launched 14 December 1940 by Newport News Shipbuilding of Newport News, Virginia, sponsored by Annie Reid Knox (wife of Secretary of the Navy Frank M. Knox), and commissioned at Norfolk 20 October 1941, Captain Marc A. Mitscher in command.
World War II
During the uneasy period before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hornet trained out of Norfolk. A hint of a future mission occurred 2 February 1942 when Hornet departed Norfolk with two Army Air Force B-25 Mitchell medium bombers on deck. Once at sea, the planes were launched to the surprise and amazement of Hornet's crew. Her men were unaware of the meaning of this experiment, as Hornet returned to Norfolk, prepared to leave for combat, and on 4 March sailed for the West Coast via the Panama Canal.
Doolittle Raid, April, 1942
Hornet arrived San Francisco 20 March. With her own planes on the hangar deck, she loaded 16 Army Air Force B-25 bombers on the flight deck. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle 70 officers and 64 enlisted men reported aboard. In company of escort ships Hornet departed San Francisco 2 April and embarked on her mission under sealed orders. That afternoon Captain Mitscher informed his men of their mission: a bombing raid on Japan.
Eleven days later Hornet joined Enterprise (CV-6) off Midway and Task Force 16 turned toward Japan. With Enterprise providing combat air cover, Hornet was to steam deep into enemy waters where Colonel Doolittle would lead the B-25s in a daring strike on Tokyo and other important Japanese cities. Originally, the task force intended to proceed to within 400 miles of the Japanese coast; however, on the morning of 18 April a Japanese patrol boat, No. 23 Nitto Maru, sighted the United States task force. The cruiser Nashville (CL-43) sank the patrol boat, but it had already contacted other Japanese forces and exposed the presence and location of the American task force. Though some 600 miles from the Japanese coast, confirmation of the patrol boat's warning prompted Admiral William F. Halsey at 08:00 to order the immediate launching of the "Tokyo Raiders".
As Hornet swung about and prepared to launch the bombers which had been readied for take-off the previous day, a gale of more than 40 knots churned the sea with 30-foot crests; heavy swells, which caused the ship to pitch violently, shipped sea and spray over the bow, wet the flight deck and drenched the deck crews. The lead plane, commanded by Colonel Doolittle, had but 467 feet of flight deck while the last B-25 hung far out over the fantail. The first of the heavily-laden bombers, timing itself against the rise and fall of the ship's bow, lumbered down the flight deck, circled Hornet after take-off, and set course for Japan. By 09:20 all 16 of the bombers were airborne, heading for the first American air strike against the heart of Japan.
Hornet brought her own planes on deck and steamed at full speed for Pearl Harbor. Intercepted broadcasts, both in Japanese and English, confirmed at 14:46 the success of the raids. Exactly one week to the hour after launching the B-25s, Hornet sailed into Pearl Harbor. Hornet's mission was kept an official secret for a year; until then President Roosevelt referred to the origin of the Tokyo raid only as "Shangri-La".
Hornet steamed from Pearl Harbor 30 April, to aid Yorktown (CV-5) and Lexington (CV-2) at the Battle of the Coral Sea. But that battle was over before she reached the scene. She returned to Hawaii 26 May and sailed 2 days later with her sister carriers to repulse an expected Japanese fleet assault on Midway.
Battle of Midway, June 1942
Japanese carrier-based planes were reported headed for Midway the early morning of 4 June 1942. Hornet, Yorktown, and Enterprise launched strikes as the Japanese carriers struck their planes below to prepare for a second strike on Midway. Hornet dive bombers were unable to locate their targets, but 15 planes comprising her Torpedo Squadron 8 found their enemy and pressed home their attacks. They were met by overwhelming fighter opposition about 8 miles from three Japanese carriers and were shot down one by one as they attempted to engage the ships. Ensign George H. Gay, USNR, the only survivor of thirty men, reached the surface as his plane sunk. He hid under a rubber seat cushion to avoid strafing, and witnessed the greatest carrier battle in history. The Torpedo Squadron 8 was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation "for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service beyond the call of duty".
Of 41 torpedo planes launched by the American carriers, only six returned. Their sacrifices drew enemy fighters away from dive bombers of Enterprise and Yorktown who sank three Japanese carriers with an assist from submarine Nautilus (SS-168). The fourth Japanese carrier, Hiryu, was hit late in the afternoon of 4 June and went down in the early hours of the morning on the following day. Yorktown was lost to combined aerial and submarine attack.
Hornet planes attacked the fleeing Japanese fleet 6 June 1942 to assist in sinking cruiser Mikuma, damaged a destroyer, and left cruiser Mogami aflame and heavily damaged. Hits were also made on other ships. Hornet's attack on Mogami wrote finis to one of the decisive battles of history that had far reaching and enduring results on the Pacific War. Midway was saved as an important base for operations into the western Pacific. Likewise saved was Hawaii. Of greatest importance was the crippling of Japan's carrier strength, a severe blow from which she never fully recovered. The four large aircraft carriers sent to the bottom of the sea carried with them some 250 planes along with a high percentage of Japan's most highly trained and battle-experienced carrier pilots. This great victory by Hornet and the other ships at Midway is widely seen as a turning point in the battle for the Pacific.
Solomons campaign, August–October, 1942
Following the Battle of Midway, Hornet had new radar installed and trained out of Pearl Harbor. She sailed 17 August 1942 to guard the sea approach to bitterly-contested Guadalcanal in the Solomons. Bomb damage to Enterprise (24 August), torpedo damage to Saratoga (CV-3) (31 August), and loss of Wasp (CV-7) (15 September) reduced carriers in the South Pacific to one: Hornet. The Hornet bore the brunt of air cover in the Solomons until 24 October 1942 when it joined Enterprise northwest of the New Hebrides and steamed to intercept a Japanese carrier-battleship force bearing down on Guadalcanal.
The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands took place 26 October 1942 without contact between surface ships of the opposing forces. That morning Enterprise planes bombed carrier Zuiho. Planes from Hornet severely damaged carrier Shokaku, and cruiser Chikuma. Two other cruisers were also attacked by Hornet aircraft. Meanwhile, the Hornet was attacked by a coordinated dive bombing and torpedo plane attack which left the ship so severely damaged that it had to be abandoned. Commented one sailor, awaiting rescue, when asked if he planned to re-enlist, "Dammit, yes—on the new Hornet!" Captain Charles P. Mason, the last man on board, climbed over the side and survivors were soon picked up by destroyers.
US forces then attempted to scuttle the abandoned Hornet, which survived nine torpedoes and more than 400 rounds of 5-inch shellfire from destroyers Mustin (DD-413) and Anderson (DD-411). Japanese destroyers hastened the inevitable by firing four 24-inch torpedoes at her blazing hull. At 01:35, 27 October 1942, she finally sank off the Santa Cruz Islands. The carrier's name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register 13 January 1943.
Hornet received four battle stars for World War II service.
- USS Hornet for other Navy ships of the same name.
- List of aircraft carriers and list of aircraft carriers of the United States Navy
- List of World War II ships
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