Steamship Saturday – U.S.S. Hornet, CV-12

Steamship Saturday

U.S.S. Hornet, CV12

USS Hornet, 707 W Hornet Ave, Alameda, CA

U.S.S. Hornet, CV-12 at Pier 3, Alameda Point, California

Having previously visited the Red Oak Victory and the Jeremiah O’Brien, we continue our series of historic steamships that are now museums in the San Francisco Bay Area as we stop today at Pier 3 of the former Naval Air Station in Alameda, California and visit the U.S.S. Hornet, CV-12.

The U.S. Navy has had a Hornet in its fleet almost continuously since the Revolutionary War:

• USS Hornet (1775), was a ten-gun sloop commissioned in 1775, and served in the American Revolutionary War.
• USS Hornet (1805 sloop), was also a ten-gun sloop and took part in the First Barbary War
• USS Hornet (1805 brig), was a brig-rigged sloop of war launched on 28 July 1805 and sank in a storm on 29 September 1829.
• USS Hornet (1813) was a five-gun schooner used as a dispatch vessel between 1814 and 1820.
• USS Hornet (1865), the first to be steam propelled, was an iron, side-wheeled steamer.
• USS Hornet (1898), a converted yacht, was a dispatch vessel in the Spanish–American War.
• USS Hornet (CV-8), a Yorktown-class aircraft carrier, launched the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo in April, 1942, fought at the Battle of Midway, and was sunk at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on 26 October 1942.
• USS Hornet (CV-12) was originally to be named Kearsarge, but was renamed in honor of CV-8 and active through the rest of World War II. She is preserved as a museum ship in Alameda.

The current Hornet is the F/A 18 fighter jet. A move is afoot to once again have a floating rather than airborne Hornet. A new class of ship,the Landing Helicopter Assault (LHA-R) amphibious assault ship, is under development. Requests are being made to Congress that one of these new LHA-R’s be named Hornet.

There is a historical significance to CV-12 being docked at Pier 3 at the former Naval Air Station (now called Alameda Point) in Alameda. It was at this very pier that CV-12’s antecedent,  CV-8, docked and the 16 B-25 bombers used in the famous Doolittle Raid over Tokyo in April, 1942 were loaded onto her flight deck.

The B-25 bombers used in that famous raid received their final preparations at McClellan Air Field near Sacramento, California and were flown to the Alameda NAS. While the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo did little physical damage to the city, the daring raid did exactly what it was supposed to do – rattle the Emperor of Japan and his military chiefs and put them on notice that the U.S. would punch back and punch back hard against the Japanese push across Asia and the Pacific.

Hornet CV-8 went on to serve in the Battle of Midway, 4-7 June, 1942 and then was the only operational carrier during much of September and October, 1942 supporting the Battle of Guadalcanal. On 26 October 1942, during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, her planes attacked and badly damaged the Japanese carrier Shokaku. In return, however, CV-8 received heavy bomb and torpedo damage, necessitating her abandonment. Though accompanying U.S. destroyers attempted to scuttle her, she remained afloat until torpedoed and sunk by Japanese ships early in the morning of 27 October.

CV-12 Christening

Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and his wife, Mrs. Annie Reid Knox, ship’s sponsor, at Hornet‘s christening ceremonies, 30 August 1943. The carrier was built at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company shipyard, Newport News, Virginia.

CV-12 was under construction at the Newport News Shipyards in Newport News, Virginia when CV-8 was lost. Originally to be christened Kearsarge, she was re-named Hornet to carry on the Navy’s tradition of having a Hornet in service. CV-8 was a Yorktown-class carrier, CV-12 was of the newer Essex-class. She was laid down 3 August 1942, launched on 30 August 1943 and commissioned on 29 November 1943.

CV-12 plan views (1)

The Essex-class carriers (with some exceptions) had a displacement of 27,100 tons (40,600 tons fully loaded), were 896′ long with a beam of 101′. (The Titanic always seems to be the standard of comparison. Titanic measured 882′ 9” long and had a beam of 92′.) In her original configuration, Hornet‘s flight deck measured 191.9’.

CV-12 bow shot

A bow shot of CV-12 in her original configuration (compare the bow with the first image at the top of the page). Hornet here is painted in the “Dazzle” camouflage scheme.

Essex-class carriers were armed with 12 – 5″/38 cal. guns, 32 – 40mm anti-aircraft guns and 46 – 20 mm anti-aircraft guns. They could hold a maximum of 82 aircraft. Powered by 150,000 horsepower Westinghouse Geared Turbines driving 4 propellers, the Essex carriers were capable of 33 knots (41.25 miles per hour) at flank speed. The crew numbered 3,448.

CV-12 shakedown cruise

CV-12 leaves Newport News on her shakedown cruise.

It must be a magnificent thing to see an aircraft carrier during flight operations. First of all is the sheer size of the ship. During flight operations, the ship turns into the wind and the engines are brought up to flank speed. This means that this huge ship is pushing through the water at 40 miles per hour! This gives the planes more lift as they leave the ship’s flight deck.

Kamikaze attack on CV12

The realities of battle: “A Kamikaze just misses U.S.S. Hornet. This picture was taken on the Hornet (CV-12) off Okinawa during April 1945 by Photographer’s Mate 2/c Paul D. Guttman, and it was definitely not taken with a telephoto lens! The black specks visible in the midst of the blast aren’t flaws in the film, they’re bits of shrapnel from the exploding plane. Paul was knocked unconscious by the blast, and came to later, in Sick Bay. He wasn’t even aware that he’d taken this picture until sometime later, after the film was developed!”

“The other carrier visible in the background, wreathed in smoke from the firing of her own AA guns, is probably U.S.S. Intrepid (CV-11).”

CV-12 served nobly in the Pacific through the end of World War II. She participated in the famous “Marianas Turkey Shoot” and the invasion of Okinawa. On 4-5 June, 1945 Hornet and several other ships in the Pacific fleet were battered by a fierce typhoon. The first 24′ of her flight deck were smashed and splintered by the storm.

Below: Hornet during a typhoon 4-5 June, 1945. The wind and waves are crashing over the flight deck. The forward antenna mast has already crashed into the sea.

CV-12 in typhoon

Below: the storm destroyed the forward 24′ of the flight deck. After the storm passed, Hornet conducted flight operations by sailing IN REVERSE at flank speed!

CV-12 flight deck:typhoon

Below: the damage to the flight deck seen from the starboard side.

CV-12 after typhoon

After World War II, Hornet underwent modernization at the New York Naval Shipyard from 1951-1952, and was subsequently redesignated as CVA (Attack) – 12 on October 1, 1952. Fitted with an angled deck during a later conversion at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in 1956, Hornet underwent still another conversion at this shipyard in 1958 during which she was converted to an antisubmarine warfare aircraft carrier (CVS-12). She was deployed to Vietnam during that conflict.


Perhaps the ship is most famous for having recovered the astronauts in the Apollo 11 and 12 missions.


Above: Hornet recovering the Apollo 11 space capsule.
Below: President Nixon greeting the astronauts on board 


Decommissioned on 26 June, 1970, Hornet was stricken from the Navy list on 25 July, 1989. In April 1993, the carrier went to the Aircraft Carrier Hornet Foundation for use as a museum at Alameda, California. In 1998, the U.S.S. Hornet officially became a floating museum at Pier 3, Alameda Point, Alameda, Calif.

You can visit Hornet if you are in the Bay Area. Youth groups (such as the Scouts) can stay overnight onboard the ship. There is a well-attended New Year’s dance party on the flight deck of the ship each year. Visit the ship’s website for more information.


“Chris-to-Fear” advises us of this event on the Jeremiah O’Brien:

O'Brien Cruise

Tickets and info HERE


One Comment

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  1. jack darnell 19/03/2016 — 05:40

    Thanks for a little Naval History I did not know. I did know sailors who served aboard the CVS-12. I had never heard of the strait deck dude steaming in reverse to recover planes. I did know of the flight deck damage. I was fortunate enough to be aboard most carriers on the East coast. One as ships company and the rest as an inspector. Of course I enjoyed this entry, and thanks.


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