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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Hornet

 

A large strong wasp whose sting is severe

 

VII

 

(CV-8: t. 19,800; l. 809'9"; ew. 144'; dr. 21'8" ; s. 33 k.; cpl. 1,889; a. 8 5", 16 1.1 mg.; cl. Hornet)

 

The seventh Hornet (CV-8) was launched 14 December 1940 by the Newport News Ship Building & Dry Dock Co., Newport News, Va.; sponsored by Mrs. Frank M. Knox, wife of the Secretary of the Navy; and commissioned at Norfolk 20 October 1941, Captain Marc A. Mitscher in command.

 

During the uneasy period before Pearl Harbor, Hornet trained out of Norfolk. A hint of a future mission occurred 2 February 1942 when Hornet departed Norfolk with two Army B-25 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.

 

Hornet arrived San Francisco 20 March. With her own planes on the hangar deck, she loaded 16 Army B-25 bombers on the flight deck. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James H. 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 off Midway and Task Force 16 turned toward Japan. With Enterprise providing air combat 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 Hornet. The cruiser Nashville sank the craft which already had informed the Japanese of 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 0800 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 lumbered down the flight deck, circled Hornet after take-off, and set course for Japan. By 0920 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 1445 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 30 April, to aid Yorktown and Lexington 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.

 

Japanese carrier-based planes were reported headed for Midway the early morning of 4 June 1942. Hornet, York-town, and Enterprise launched strikes as the Japanese carriers struck their planes below to prepare for a second strike on Midway. Hornet dive bombers missed contact, but 15 planes comprising her Torpedo Squadron 8 found the enemy and pressed home their attacks. They were met by overwhelming fighter opposition about 8 miles from three enemy carriers and followed all the way in to be shot down one by one. Ens. George H. Gay, USNR, the only surviving pilot, reached the surface as his plane sank. He hid under a rubber seat cushion to avoid strafing and witness the greatest carrier battle in history.

 

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. The fourth Japanese carrier, Hiryu, was sunk the following day ; gallant 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 the 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 our other ships at Midway spelled the doom of Japan.

 

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 approaches to bitterly contested Guadalcanal in the Solomons. Bomb damage to Enterprise (24 August), torpedo damage to Saratoga (31 August), and loss of Wasp (15 September) reduced carriers in the South Pacific to one—Hornet. She bore the brunt of air cover in the Solomons until 24 October 1942 when she joined Enterprise northwest of the New Hebrides Islands and steamed to intercept a Japanese carrier-battleship force bearing down on Guadalcanal.

 

The Battle of Santa Cruz Island 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 aleo attacked by Hornet aircraft. Meanwhile, Hornet, herself, was fighting off a coordinated dive bombing and torpedo plane attack which left her so severely damaged that she had to be abandoned. Commented one sailor, awaiting rescue, when asked if he planned to re-enlist, "Dammit, yes—on the new Hornet!" Captain Mas-on, the last man on board, climbed over the side and survivors were soon picked up by destroyers.

 

The abandoned Hornet, ablaze from stem 'to stern, refused to accept her intended fate from friends. She still floated after receiving nine torpedoes and more than 400 rounds of 5-inch shellflre from destroyers Mustin and Anderson. Japanese destroyers hastened the inevitable by firing four 24-inch torpedoes at her blazing hull. At 0135, 27 October 1942, she finally sank off the Santa Cruz Islands. Her proud name was struck from the Navy List 13 January 1943.

 

Hornet (CV-8) received four battle stars for World War II service. Her famed Torpedo Squadron 8 was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation "for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service beyond the call of duty" in the Battle of Midway.