USS Hornet (CV-12) became one of the more storied American aircraft carriers of the World War 2 (1939-1945) period during her time at sea and in service to the United States Navy (USN). She was born as part of the important Essex-class, a group originally planned to number 32-strong but, in any event, ended with 24 ships completed to the short- and long-hulled standards. Rather amazingly, all 24 of the class survived their time in war and saw retirement.
The contract to construct USS Hornet (CV-12) was awarded to Newport News Shipbuilding on September 9th, 1940 though, at this time, she was ordered as USS Kearsarge. Her keel was laid down on August 3rd, 1942 and the hulk was formally launched on August 30th, 1943. Formal commissioning occurred on November 29th, 1943 - by this time, she was renamed as USS Hornet (CV-12) in honor of the USS Hornet (CV-8) that was lost to Japanese forces during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands (Solomon Islands Campaign) on October 27th, 1942 (CV-8 would become the last fleet carrier of the USN to be lost in action).
As built, CV-12 displaced 27,500 tons under standard load and upwards of 37,000 tons under full wartime load. Dimensions included a running length of 872 feet, a beam of 147.5 feet, and a draught down to 34.2 feet. Installed power was conventional, incorporating 8 x Babcock & Wilcox boiler units feeding 4 x Geared steam turbines outputting 150,000 horsepower to 4 x Shafts under stern. Aboard was a mixed crew of 2,600 officers and enlisted personnel as well as onboard security and an air wing. Armor protection for the ship ranged from 4" at the waterline and 1.5" at the deck to 1.5" at the hangar areas and 4" at the bulkheads.
Armament, strictly self-defensive in nature, was drawn up as a mix of conventional, ballistic-minded weapons constituting 4 x 5" (127mm) Dual-Purpose (DP) guns in twin-gunned mountings and 4 x 5" DP guns in single-gunned mountings. 8 x 40mm Bofors autocannons were fitted as quadruple mountings for the Anti-Aircraft (AA) role. Additionally, there were 46 x 20mm Oerlikon AA guns in single-gunned mountings as a last line of defense. The warship would depend more on Combat Air Patrols (CAPs) and accompanying warships for its protection and survival in the grand expanse of the Pacific Theater.
The design carried between 90 and 100 aircraft of various makes and models. These were served from the hangar deck to the flight deck by way of two centerline elevators and a single edge-deck elevator. Full-service facilities were given to enact repairs at sea when needed. Attention was given to proper armament and fuel stores as well as machinery spaces.
USS Hornet followed the usual "shakedown" period of cruising/trials in the relatively calm Caribbean water region (near the island of Bermuda) post-launch. Like other warships of the Pacific Theater, she transited the Panama Canal to reach the warzone against the Japanese joined as part of "Fast Carrier Task Force" in March of 1944. During her early-going, her warplanes provided cover for the amphibious landings at New Guinea and then directly attacked Japanese positions on the Caroline Islands (as part of the Marianas Campaign).
Before the end, the warship would take part in every single notable amphibious operation had by the Americans in the Pacific Theater. She was present at the Battle of the Philippine Sea had on June 19th, 1944 and Hornet's warplanes were put to great use against Japanese land positions once more. In addition to this, American airmen engaged directly with less-experienced Japanese aviators sent in massive waves against the USN task force - resulting in the aerial blood bath that came to be known as the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot" with the Americans enjoying an astounding advantage in the air, soundly decimating Japanese forces during the battle.
Hornet's warplanes conducted all manner of raids, patrols, reconnaissance, and support actions against the Japanese during the island-hopping campaign. Notable actions occurred in the Marshall Islands chai, Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and over Japan proper. During the invasion of Leyte on October 20th, 1944, she was once again called upon to lay suppressing fire against enemy forces and launched successful raids during the Battle for Leyte Gulf as part of the Philippines Campaign.
In January of 1945, specially-equipped warplanes conducted critical photo-reconnaissance of enemy positions at Okinawa and, in February, the attack commenced as the amphibious assault was underway to retake the island - and open a direct route to the Japanese mainland. At this time, Hornet's warplanes were already reaching Japan soil on a regular basis - proving that the enemy was no longer safe in his own backyard. The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) suffered its last final blow with the loss of IJN Yamato, the storied battleship falling victim to aerial torpedoes launched by Hornet's aircraft in a last desperate attempt for the Japanese to turn the tide at Okinawa.
Rather amazingly, despite repeatedly coming under enemy fire, USS Hornet was never directly damaged. She suffered some damage to her flight deck during a strong typhoon from June 4th-5th but enemy bombs and torpedoes could not find their mark against her - a sort of sweet revenge for the fallen of CV-8. Her airmen went on to destroy some 1,410 enemy aircraft (even an astounding 72 in one day!) and nearly 1.3 million tons of enemy shipping during her contribution to the Pacific Campaign. Her final bow in the World War was during "Operation Magic Carpet", the returning of American G.I.s back stateside by way of Hawaii and then San Francisco. On January 15th, 1947, she was decommissioned from service and placed in reserve.
Post-World War 2
USS Hornet was recommissioned for service once more on March 20th, 1951 and transited the Panama Canal to New York waters to be decommissioned (May 12th) and rebuilt under the SCB-27 modernization program as an "attack aircraft carrier". Following this work, she emerged with the new hull identifier of "CVA-12". She was recommissioned September 11th, 1953 and trials were had in Caribbean waters before the warship went on an eight-month tour of the world that included stops at Mediterranean ports, in Indian Ocean waters, and around the South China Sea. She then undertook a period of training in San Diego waters by December of 1954.
In December of 1955, she underwent a new modernization under the SCB-125 program tag which added a more modern, angled flight deck and was given a "hurricane bow". Following this, she became "CVS-12" and reclassified as an "Antisubmarine Warfare Support Carrier".
Beyond her time in the Vietnam War (1955-1975), USS Hornet became a critical contributor to the active Apollo Space Program which helped to pace the Americans ahead of the Soviets and ultimately land a man on the moon - Hornet being charged with the recovery of space capsules related to the reentry phases. The warship then faced another decommissioned, this time on June 26th, 1970, and was placed in mothballs at Puget Sound. The name was struck from the Naval Register on July 25th, 1989 but she was saved from the scrapman's torch when designated a "Historic Landmark" in 1991.
Today, she exists as a floating museum at Alameda, California - a fitting end for a fine warship. During her storied tenure, USS Hornet and her crews amassed eleven total citations and medals for service during World War 2, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War.