World War II: USS Hornet (CV-12)

USS Hornet (CV-12) at sea during World War II
USS Hornet (CV-12), 1945. Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Hornet (CV-12) - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Aircraft Carrier
  • Shipyard: Newport News Shipbuilding Company
  • Laid Down: August 3. 1942
  • Launched: August 30, 1943
  • Commissioned: November 29, 1943
  • Fate: Museum Ship

USS Hornet (CV-12) - Specifications:

  • Displacement: 27,100 tons
  • Length: 872 ft.
  • Beam: 147 ft., 6 in.
  • Draft: 28 ft., 5 in.
  • Propulsion: 8 × boilers, 4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines, 4 × shafts
  • Speed: 33 knots
  • Range: 20,000 nautical miles at 15 knots
  • Complement: 2,600 men

USS Hornet (CV-12) - Armament:

  • 4 × twin 5 inch 38 caliber guns
  • 4 × single 5 inch 38 caliber guns
  • 8 × quadruple 40 mm 56 caliber guns
  • 46 × single 20 mm 78 caliber guns


  • 90-100 aircraft

USS Hornet (CV-12) - Design & Construction:

Designed in the 1920s and early 1930s, the US Navy's Lexington- and Yorktown-class aircraft carriers were built to conform to the restrictions set forth by the Washington Naval Treaty. This pact placed restrictions on the tonnage of different types of warships as well as capped each signatory's overall tonnage. These types of limitations were affirmed through the 1930 London Naval Treaty. As global tensions increased, Japan and Italy left the agreement in 1936. With the collapse of the treaty system, the US Navy began conceiving a design for a new, larger class of aircraft carrier and one which drew from the lessons learned from the Yorktown-class. The resulting design was wider and longer as well as included a deck-edge elevator system. This had been used earlier on USS Wasp. In addition to carrying a larger air group, the new design possessed a greatly increased anti-aircraft armament.

Designated the Essex-class, the lead ship, USS Essex (CV-9), was laid down in April 1941. This was followed by several additional carriers including USS Kearsarge (CV-12) which was laid down on August 3, 1942 as World War II raged. Taking shape at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, the ship's name honored the steam sloop USS which defeated CSS Alabama during the Civil War. With the loss of USS Hornet (CV-8) at the Battle of Santa Cruz in October 1942, the name of the new carrier was changed to USS Hornet (CV-12) to honor its predecessor. On August 30, 1943, Hornet slid down the ways with Annie Knox, wife of Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, serving as sponsor. Eager to have the new carrier available for combat operations, the US Navy pushed its completion and the ship was commissioned on November 29 with Captain Miles R. Browning in command.

USS Hornet (CV-8) - Early Operations:

Departing Norfolk, Hornet proceeded to Bermuda for a shakedown cruise and to commence training. Returning to port, the new carrier then made preparations to depart for the Pacific. Sailing on February 14, 1944, it received orders to join Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher's Fast Carrier Task Force at Majuro Atoll. Arriving in the Marshall Islands on March 20, Hornet then moved south to provide support for General Douglas MacArthur's operations along the northern coast of New Guinea. With the completion of this mission, Hornet mounted raids against the Caroline Islands before preparing for the invasion of the Marianas. Reaching the islands on June 11, the carrier's aircraft took part in attacks on Tinian and Saipan before turning their attention to Guam and Rota.

USS Hornet (CV-8) - Philippine Sea & Leyte Gulf:

After strikes to the north on Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima, Hornet returned to the Marianas on June 18. The next day, Mitscher's carriers prepared to engage the Japanese in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. On June 19, Hornet's planes attacked airfields in the Marianas with the goal of eliminating as many land-based aircraft as possible before the Japanese fleet arrived. Successful, American carrier-based aircraft later destroyed several waves of enemy aircraft in what became known as the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot." American strikes the next day succeeded in sinking the carrier Hiyo. Operating from Eniwetok, Hornet spent the remainder of the summer mounting raids on the Marianas, Bonins, and Palaus while also attacking Formosa and Okinawa.

In October, Hornet provided direct support for the landings on Leyte in the Philippines before becoming embroiled in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. On October 25, the carrier's aircraft provided support for elements of Vice Admiral Thomas Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet when they came under attack off Samar. Striking the Japanese Center Force, the American aircraft hastened its withdrawal. Over the next two months, Hornet remained in the area supporting Allied operations in the Philippines. With the beginning of 1945, the carrier moved to attack Formosa, Indochina, and the Pescadores before conducting photo reconnaissance around Okinawa. Sailing from Ulithi on February 10, Hornet took part in strikes against Tokyo before turning south to support the invasion of Iwo Jima.

USS Hornet (CV-8) - Later War:

In late March, Hornet moved to provide cover for the invasion of Okinawa on April 1. Six days later, its aircraft aided in defeating Japanese Operation Ten-Go and sinking the battleship Yamato. For the next two months, Hornet alternated between conducting strikes against Japan and providing support for Allied force on Okinawa. Caught in a typhoon on June 4-5, the carrier saw approximately 25 feet of its forward flight deck collapse. Withdrawn from combat, Hornet returned to San Francisco for repairs. Completed on September 13, shortly after the war's end, the carrier returned to service as part of Operation Magic Carpet. Cruising to the Marianas and Hawaii, Hornet helped return American servicemen to the United States. Finishing this duty, it arrived at San Francisco on February 9, 1946 and was decommissioned the following year on January 15.

USS Hornet (CV-8) - Later Service & Vietnam:

Placed in the Pacific Reserve Fleet, Hornet remained inactive until 1951 when it moved to the New York Naval Shipyard for an SCB-27A modernization and conversion into an attack aircraft carrier. Re-commissioned on September 11, 1953, the carrier trained in the Caribbean before departing for the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean. Moving east, Hornet aided in the search for survivors from a Cathay Pacific DC-4 which was downed by Chinese aircraft near Hainan. Returning to San Francisco in December 1954, it remained on the West Coast training until assigned to the 7th Fleet in May 1955. Arriving in the Far East, Hornet aided in evacuating anti-communist Vietnamese from the northern part of the country before commencing routine operations off Japan and the Philippines. Steaming to Puget Sound in January 1956, the carrier entered the yard for a SCB-125 modernization which included the installation of an angled flight deck and a hurricane bow.

Emerging a year later, Hornet returned to the 7th Fleet and made multiple deployments to the Far East. In January 1956, the carrier was selected for conversion to an anti-submarine warfare support carrier. Returning to Puget Sound that August, Hornet spent four months undergoing alterations for this new role. Resuming operations with the 7th Fleet in 1959, the carrier conducted routine missions in the Far East until the beginning of the Vietnam War in 1965. The next four years saw Hornet make three deployments to the waters off Vietnam in support of operations ashore. During this period, the carrier also became involved in recovery missions for NASA. In 1966, Hornet recovered AS-202, an unmanned Apollo Command Module before being designated the primary recovery ship for Apollo 11 three years later.

On July 24, 1969, helicopters from Hornet recovered Apollo 11 and its crew after the first successful moon landing. Brought aboard, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were housed in a quarantine unit and visited by President Richard M. Nixon. On November 24, Hornet performed a similar mission when it recovered Apollo 12 and its crew near American Samoa. Returning to Long Beach, CA on December 4, the carrier was selected for deactivation the following month. Decommissioned on June 26, 1970, Hornet moved into reserve at Puget Sound. Later brought to Alameda, CA, the ship opened as a museum October 17, 1998.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Hornet (CV-12)." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). World War II: USS Hornet (CV-12). Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Hornet (CV-12)." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).