USS HORNET CV 8
The seventh USS Hornet (CV 8) was launched on December 14, 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 October 20, 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 February 2, 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 March 4, sailed for the west coast via the Panama Canal. The aircraft carrier arrived in San Francisco March 20. 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 April 2nd 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 USS Hornet (CV 8) joined USS Enterprise (CV 6) off Midway and Task Force 16 turned toward Japan. With Enterprise providing air combat cover, USS 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 April 18, 1942, a Japanese patrol boat, No. 23 Nitto Maru, sighted Hornet. The cruiser USS 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 USS 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. USS Hornet brought her own planes on deck and steamed at full speed for Pearl Harbor. Intercepted broadcasts, both in Japanese and English, confirmed at 1446 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."
USS Hornet (CV 8) steamed from Pearl Harbor April 30, to aid USS Yorktown (CV 5) and USS Lexington (CV 2) at the Battle of the Coral Sea. But that battle was over before she reached the scene. She returned to Hawaii May 26th 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 June 4, 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 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 eight 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 sunk. 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 USS Nautilus (SS 168). The fourth Japanese carrier, Hiryu, was sunk the following day; gallant Yorktown was lost to combined aerial and submarine attack.
USS Hornet (CV 8) planes attacked the fleeing Japanese fleet June 6, 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 finish 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, USS Hornet had new radar installed and trained out of Pearl Harbor. She sailed on August 17, 1942 to guard the sea approach to bitterly contested Guadalcanal in the Solomons. Bomb damage to Enterprise (August 24), torpedo damage to USS Saratoga (CV 3) (August 31), and loss of USS Wasp (CV 7) (September 16) reduced carriers in the South Pacific to one, the Hornet. She bore the brunt of air cover in the Solomons until October 24, 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 on October 26, 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, 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 Mason, the last man on board, climbed over the side and survivors were soon picked up by destroyers. The abandoned USS Hornet (CV 8), 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 shellfire from destroyers Mustin and Anderson. Japanese destroyers hastened the inevitable by firing four 24-inch torpedoes at her blazing hull. At 0135, October 27, 1942, she finally sank off the Santa Cruz Islands. Her proud name was struck from the Navy List on January 13, 1943.