Vietnam War: USS Coral Sea (CV-43)

USS Coral Sea (CV-43)
USS Coral Sea (CV-43), 1986. US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Coral Sea (CV-43) - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Aircraft Carrier
  • Shipyard: Newport News Shipbuilding
  • Laid Down: July 10, 1944
  • Launched: April 2, 1946
  • Commissioned: October 1, 1947
  • Fate: Scrapped, 2000

USS Coral Sea (CV-43) - Specifications (at commissioning):

  • Displacement: 45,000 tons
  • Length: 968 ft.
  • Beam: 113 ft.
  • Draft: 35 ft.
  • Propulsion: 12 × boilers, 4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines, 4 × shafts
  • Speed: 33 knots
  • Complement: 4,104 men

USS Coral Sea (CV-43)- Armament (at commissioning):

  • 18 × 5" guns
  • 84 × Bofors 40 mm guns
  • 68 × Oerlikon 20 mm cannons


  • 100-137 aircraft

USS Coral Sea (CV-43) - Design:

In 1940, with the design of the Essex-class carriers nearly finished, the US Navy commenced an examination of the design to ascertain whether the new ships could be changed to incorporate an armored flight deck.  This alteration came under consideration due to the performance of the Royal Navy's armored carriers during the opening years of World War II.  The US Navy's review found that though armoring the flight deck and partitioning the hanger deck into several sections reduced damage in battle, adding these changes to the Essex-class ships would greatly reduce the size of their air groups. 

Unwilling to limit the Essex-class' offensive power, the US Navy decided to create a new type of carrier that would retain a large air group while adding the wanted protection.  Significantly larger than the Essex-class, the new type that became the Midway-class would be able to carry over 130 aircraft while including an armored flight deck.  As the new design evolved, naval architects were forced to reduce much of the carrier's heavy armament, including a battery of 8" guns, in order to reduce weight.  Also, they were compelled to spread the class' 5" anti-aircraft guns around the ship rather than in the planned dual mounts.  When finished, the Midway-class would be the first type of carrier to be too wide to use the Panama Canal.

USS Coral Sea (CV-43) - Construction:

Work on the third ship of the class, USS Coral Sea (CVB-43), commenced on July 10, 1944, at Newport News Shipbuilding.  Named for the critical 1942 Battle of the Coral Sea which stopped the Japanese advance toward Port Moresby, New Guinea, the new ship slid down the ways on April 2, 1946, with Helen S. Kinkaid, wife of Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, serving as sponsor.  Construction moved forward and the carrier was commissioned on October 1, 1947, with Captain A.P. Storrs III in command.  The last carrier completed for the US Navy with a straight flight deck, Coral Sea completed its shakedown maneuvers and began operations on the East Coast.

USS Coral Sea (CV-43) - Early Service:

After completing a midshipmen training cruise to the Mediterranean and Caribbean in the summer of 1948, Coral Sea resumed steaming off the Virginia Capes and took part in long-range bomber testing involving P2V-3C Neptunes.  On May 3, the carrier departed for its first overseas deployment with the US Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean.  Returning in September, Coral Sea aided in the activation of the North American AJ Savage bomber in early 1949 before making another cruise with the Sixth Fleet.  Over the next three years, the carrier moved through a cycle of deployments to the Mediterranean and home waters as well as was re-designated an attack aircraft carrier (CVA-43) in October 1952.  Like its two sister ships, Midway (CV-41) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV-42), Coral Sea did not participate in the Korean War.  

In early 1953, Coral Sea trained pilots off the East Coast before again departing for the Mediterranean.  Over the next three years, the carrier continued a routine cycle of deployments to the region which saw it host a variety of foreign leaders such as Francisco Franco of Spain and King Paul of Greece.  With the beginning of the Suez Crisis in the fall of 1956, Coral Sea moved to the eastern Mediterranean and evacuated American citizens from the region.  Remaining until November, it returned to Norfolk in February 1957 before departing for Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to receive a SCB-110 modernization.  This upgrade saw Coral Sea receive an angled flight deck, enclosed hurricane bow, steam catapults, new electronics, removal of several anti-aircraft guns, and relocation of its elevators to deck edge.

USS Coral Sea (CV-43) - Pacific:

Rejoining the fleet in January 1960, Coral Sea debuted the Pilot Landing Aid Television system the following year.  Allowing pilots to review landings for safety, the system quickly became standard on all American carriers.  In December 1964, following the Gulf of Tonkin Incident that summer, Coral Sea sailed for Southeast Asia to serve with the US Seventh Fleet.  Joining USS Ranger (CV-61) and USS Hancock (CV-19) for strikes against Dong Hoi on February 7, 1965, the carrier remained in the region as Operation Rolling Thunder began the following month.  With the United States increasing its involvement in the Vietnam War, Coral Sea continued combat operations until departing on November 1.

USS Coral Sea (CV-43) - Vietnam War:

Returning to the waters of Vietnam from July 1966 to February 1967, Coral Sea then crossed the Pacific to its home port of San Francisco.  Though the carrier had officially been adopted as "San Francisco's Own", the relationship proved icy due to the residents' anti-war feelings.  Coral Sea continued to make annual combat deployments in July 1967-April 1968, September 1968-April 1969, and September 1969-July 1970.  In late 1970, the carrier underwent an overhaul and began refreshed training early the next year.  En route from San Diego to Alameda, a severe fire erupted in the communications rooms and began to spread before the heroic efforts of the crew extinguished the blaze.  

With anti-war sentiment increasing, Coral Sea's departure for Southeast Asia in November 1971 was marked by crew members taking part in a peace demonstration as well as protesters encouraging sailors to miss the ship's departure.  Though an on-board peace organization existed, few sailors actually missed Coral Sea's sailing.  While on Yankee Station in the spring of 1972, the carrier's planes provided support as troops ashore battled the North Vietnamese Easter Offensive.  That May, Coral Sea's aircraft took part in the mining of Haiphong harbor.  With the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in January 1973, the carrier's combat role in the conflict ended.  After a deployment to the region that year, Coral Sea returned to Southeast Asia in 1974-1975 to aid in monitoring the settlement.  During this cruise, it aided Operation Frequent Wind prior to the fall of Saigon as well as provided air cover as American forces resolved the Mayaguez incident.

USS Coral Sea (CV-43) - Final Years:

Reclassified as a multi-purpose carrier (CV-43) in June 1975, Coral Sea resumed peacetime operations.  On February 5, 1980, the carrier arrived in the northern Arabian Sea as part of the American response to the Iran Hostage Crisis.  In April, Coral Sea's aircraft played a supporting role in the failed Operation Eagle Claw rescue mission.  After a final Western Pacific deployment in 1981, the carrier was transferred to Norfolk where it arrived in March 1983 after an around-the-world cruise.  Sailing south in early 1985, Coral Sea sustained damage on April 11 when it collided with the tanker Napo.  Repaired, the carrier departed for the Mediterranean in October.  Serving with the Sixth Fleet for the first time since 1957, Coral Sea took part in Operation El Dorado Canyon on April 15.  This saw American aircraft attack targets in Libya in response to various provocations by that nation as well as its role in terrorist attacks.  

The next three years saw Coral Sea operate in both the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.  While steaming the latter on April 19, 1989, the carrier rendered aid to USS Iowa (BB-61) following an explosion in one of the battleship's turrets.  An aging ship, Coral Sea completed its final cruise when it returned to Norfolk on September 30.  Decommissioned on April 26, 1990, the carrier was sold for scrap three years later.  The scrapping process was delayed several times due to legal and environmental issues but was finally completed in 2000. 

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "Vietnam War: USS Coral Sea (CV-43)." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). Vietnam War: USS Coral Sea (CV-43). Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Vietnam War: USS Coral Sea (CV-43)." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).